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Clerking in practice: Part 2

It is usually best for the clerk and chair to sit close to each other. That way, the chair can easily ask the clerk for advice or help, and the clerk can, as unobtrusively as possible, guide the chair if necessary, so that the agenda is followed, and the meeting conducted in a business-like manner.

Once the board meeting has begun the clerk will be required to concentrate for at least two hours. If he or she finds that the room temperature is too hot or too cold, it is in order to ask the chair to pause the meeting for an adjustment to be made. This is not because the clerk is the most important person in the room, but because the clerk is the one person who cannot get up during the meeting to fetch a hot drink, or go to their car to fetch a blanket to get warm!

Of course, when the meeting is in full flow the clerk’s primary task is to keep notes of what is going on, so that later he or she can draft the minutes. The new clerk, perhaps fearful of missing anything, may be tempted to try to keep virtually word for word notes. But over time, and with growing confidence born out of experience, the clerk will settle on the “right” amount to note down during meetings. The objective here is ultimately to produce minutes which give an accurate summary of the background to the decision, the decision itself, and any actions arising from it. I believe it is important to specifically record any professional advice which influences the board when making significant decisions. Into this category I place legal, financial and HR advice in particular. It is vital to find ways of recording governors’ challenges to school leadership, and responses to those challenges. As a rule of thumb, your minutes should include sufficient information to enable a governor who was absent to read the minutes and find out what decisions were taken. Verbatim note taking, and verbatim minutes, are not required.

Listen for the main thrust of what governors and senior staff are saying. Listen to the discussion for a short time before summarising it on paper, if possible using short phrases and bullet points, rather than long sentences. You will find this process easier if you come to the meeting having acquired a reasonable knowledge of the matters in hand – gained, of course, by reading the board packs in advance.

I learnt early on that my efficiency improved, and my level of stress reduced, when I began to develop my own form of shorthand. Gradually, I created word abbreviations, pictures, and symbols in the margin of my notebook which suited my style and helped me to capture words and phrases in shortened form.

During the meeting, make a note of times when governors arrive late, or leave early, and note these details in the minutes, along with the time the meeting ends.

If, at the end of a particular agenda item, you are unsure what they decided, be sure to ask the chair to sum it up before moving to the next item of business. If you are unsure, it is likely that others are unsure too!

At the end of the meeting gather up and pack away all of your items – such as paperwork, equipment, and diary – and gather up any papers left behind by others. Ask the headteacher to dispose of them securely. I have usually helped move plates and crockery off the board table to the sink or a side table, so that the room is fairly tidy for the next day.

All that is left (apart from going home for a well-earned supper) is to draft the minutes, but that is a story for another day!

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