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The Crucial Relationship between Chair, Headteacher and Clerk (or should that be Governance Professional?)

The Crucial Relationship between the Chair, Headteacher and Clerk (or should that be Governance Professional?)

The importance of the relationship between the Headteacher and Chair is well documented but what about the third and equally important member of the leadership triumvirate, the Clerk?

When I first became a Governor some 25 or so years ago the Clerk sat quietly in the corner writing minutes and only spoke occasionally, usually to advise on vacancies and once a year to temporarily chair the meet during the sometimes farcical election/re-election of the Chair for the next year.

Now, the more enlightened Governing Boards are tapping into their Clerk’s extensive knowledge and fully utilising them as a professional advisor to the Board. No longer just a ‘note taker’ but a Governance Professional!

When I clerked several years ago I always sat down with the Chair at the outset and asked them did they want me just to take notes and speak when I was spoken to or did they want me to join in when I felt I had something useful to add. They all chose the latter.

Governance can be quite insular insomuch as Governors are often only familiar with their own Board, not knowing really how good, bad or indifferent they are but your Clerk, who in most cases has significant experience of other Boards, can add real perspective to your meetings and make you a better Board for it.

When I run one of my governor training sessions I facilitate an exercise whereby I ask attendees to list characteristics the Chair should expect from the Headteacher and vice versa and as you would expect we generally get the same words on both lists….. integrity, trust, commitment, mutual respect, honesty etc.

So if this is happening with support and challenge in the right balance, plus an attitude of ‘we are all in this together, we share everything good and bad’, then the Board is usually in a good place as a foundation for ongoing improvement in school.

If the relationship between the Head and Chair/Governing Board is less harmonious for whatever reason then another of the Clerk’s great skills will be much in demand, that of mediator and influencer which will help the GB follow the rules and focus on its work.

The Clerking Competency Framework is intended to be used by Governing Boards to guide them in their roles as well as the Clerk’s role. Governing Boards are encouraged to use it to understand how professional clerking can improve the quality of governance. The Education Committee’s report, as far back as 2013, said “As professional bodies, school governors need professional support. The role of a Clerk to a Governing Body should be classed as a professional post.”

As alluded to earlier the title of ‘clerk’ is possibly misleading and out of date. Governance Professional is far more apt in today’s governance world as the Clerk plays an essential role not only in the smooth running of governance but, more importantly, in supporting school improvement.

The Clerk therefore must be properly qualified and remunerated, and capable of servicing and advising the Board with independence. They should be employed to carry out this role with a separate job description and a specific contract, with sufficient time to manage the business of the Board and with ongoing CPD to ensure that their skills and knowledge remain up to date.

A good clerk will:

·         Plan the annual business of the Governing Board

·         Circulate agenda and papers prior to a meeting

·         Produce clear, accurate minutes

·         Maintain Governors records

·         Provide administrative and clerical support

·         Proactively manage vacancies

·         Circulate information to Governors

An outstanding clerk, through effective organisation and planning will:

·         Ensure agenda reflect the strategic priorities of the school

·         Support the Governing Board in fulfilling its key roles

·         Spread the Governing Board workload

·         Build in monitoring and accountability

In order for the Clerk to support the board effectively and help them to understand governance, they need to build a sound relationship with the Chair and the Head.

To achieve this they need to:

·         Act with integrity, objectivity and honesty.

·         Keep information confidential.

·         Be able to communicate clearly and succinctly the information they have to share.

While a Clerk is the ‘servant’ of the board, he/she must never be subservient for that leads to weak and ineffective clerking (and Governance).  Instead the Clerk must develop a relationship with Governors (especially the Chair and Head) based on mutual trust and confidence.  This makes the Clerk’s life less stressful when the time comes to advise the Board that a course of action is non-compliant and must be re-thought or changed. The Board will respect someone who points out non-compliance and couples it with an attitude of finding a compliant alternative course.

So to get the best from your Clerk (Governance Professional), and to ensure the relationships between the Clerk, the Head and the Chair is maximised, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

1.      Does the job description of Clerk facilitate the behaviours highlighted in the Clerking Competency Framework or it is that of a minute taker?

2.      Is the Clerk’s role clearly understood and shared with the Governing Board by the Head, Chair and Clerk? – if not the Governing Board may be missing out on advice, guidance and skills of the Clerk.

3.      Does the work of the Governing Board facilitate opportunities for the Clerk to provide advice and guidance –even when the Governing Board does not realise it is required?

4.      Are there opportunities for the Clerk/Chair of Governors/Head to evaluate the role and contribution that the Clerk makes to the Governing Board’s effectiveness? Is there an annual appraisal or regular review.

5.      Does the relationship between Clerk/Head/Chair facilitate an open working relationship where each feels able to contribute to the improvement of governance overall through open and frank discussion?

6.      Will Clerking in different contexts (e.g.: Multi Academy Trust, Trust Board, Local Governing Board, Full Governing Board (maintained) have differing expectations and requirements?

A huge thank you to my good friend and fellow governance consultant Lisa Lever for her significant contribution to this article. 

I also have to thank others who have helped shaped my thinking over the years enabling me to write this piece. They include: Roland Roberts – Chair to Governors of Streetly Academy & Chair of Walsall Governors Association Phil Hand – Managing Director of Newport Educational The National Governance Association

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