Saturday, 19 March 2011

What is the current state of clerking?

What is the current state of clerking?

It is impossible at present to say with any degree of precision how many clerks there are. Although each governing body must appoint a clerk (and there are about 24,000 schools), a clerk may serve more than one governing body. Clerks employed by a local authority may clerk several governing bodies. There is no reliable contemporary data.

Currently the post of clerk is fulfilled by a wide range of individuals:

School staff (often the headteacher's PA) who have had the role of clerking to governing body bolted on to their existing post

Retired education professionals wanting to maintain links

Women using the post as a stepping stone to returning to full-time employment

Those needing flexible hours to fit with domestic arrangements

Parents and carers wanting to help their children's schools.

These people may be employed by a clerking service and bought in by governing bodies or recruited and employed directly by a governing body.

The quality and effectiveness of clerks depends upon:

The status they are afforded by the governing body

The quality of the relationship between the clerk and the chair

The effectiveness of the chair in leading and managing the work of the governing body

Access to and learning from high quality training

Access to regular updates and briefings.

Many school staff serving as clerks receive no training as the school is reluctant to allow them to attend during school hours and so have no clear understanding of the role they are meant to fulfil. Often they receive no job description or pay for the work they undertake in this capacity. This understandably results in a lack of priority being given to the role and a lack of enthusiasm for it. They are exposed, too, to conflict of interest: in their school role they are line-managed by the headteacher or another member of staff; in their clerking role they are supposed to be allied to the governing body. This tension can make it impossible for this category of clerk to be effective. There are also problems regarding confidentiality. Arguably this clerk has the worst of all worlds.

So the gap between where we are now and where we should be, according to the reports mentioned above, is large - though variable. In order to narrow the gap, we need to improve the training and accreditation of clerks, raise their status and pay them more – in short, to professionalise them.

All of this is in the hands of the governing body – you get the clerk you deserve and are prepared to pay for.

In the next article David Marriott will be looking at what we can do to narrow that gap between where we are now and where we should be.

This article is based on a paper shared at the Co-ordinators of Governor Services (COGS) conference 2010, It was written by David Marriott and was first published on

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