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Clerks: Are you prepared for the meeting?

We know that clerks should send agenda and supporting documents to members of governing boards at least a week before meetings. This discipline helps the Chair and Headteacher to focus, well in advance, on the purpose of the meeting, and allows other participants to come prepared for challenge and discussion, having had sufficient time to read the agenda packs before the meeting.

But are you also aware of the need to prepare yourself for the meeting? You too should be conversant with the agenda and other reports and documents which the governors have seen, and should have read through everything that the governors have had opportunity to read, before they arrive for the meeting. This much is recognised by the Clerk’s Competency Framework, which includes this line:

“I am well prepared for meetings having read all relevant papers and followed up on actions and matters arising from previous meetings”.

There at least two good reasons for identifying this as a competency. First, the well prepared clerk will be best placed to understand, follow and record the discussion at the meeting. There are few worse things than going into a meeting at which one struggles to know who the Board members are, and what they are talking about. At least the latter can be avoided if due preparation has been done. Second, by reading through the headteacher’ s report, committee minutes, data update and policies, the clerk will sometimes identify issues which might arise in the meeting, or which should be flagged up. This could be something simple, such as a decision of a committee which appears not to have been actioned, or something potentially more serious such a conflict of interest to be explored.

All of this assumes that schools routinely ensure that clerks have access to everything that governors see. Experience suggests that many chairs and heads think a clerk can survive with just an agenda and a set of minutes, and few more will begrudgingly let the clerk see the head’s report and the policies. But good governance demands that the clerk sees what the governors see. As the clerk builds a relationship of trust with the school, so the flow of information should increase, but there may be a small number who will remain deaf to all entreaties to cooperate.

It has been suggested that in FTE250 companies the Chair, CEO and company secretary are usually the best informed people in the boardroom. In our context, the read across is that the Chair, headteacher and clerk will be the best informed.

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