Clerking Governing Bodies Professionally

18 Aug

I        The Clerk Competency Framework and how it can be used

Not so long ago, the National Governors’ Association proposed that the clerk to the governing board should be renamed the “director of governance”.   This is unsurprising, as the responsibilities of the clerk have grown in proportion to those of the governors she/he serves.

In April 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) published a competency framework for clerking.  It provides non-statutory guidance on what it takes to make clerks effective in maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts.

How can the framework be used?

Governing boards can use the framework in several ways.

(i)         The first is to understand the role of professional clerking and how it can improve governance.

(ii)        They can treat the competencies as a template for a person specification when recruiting clerks.

(iii)       The framework may be used to set clerks their objectives and for performance appraisals.

(iv)       Finally, the document may be used to identify where improvements may be required in the service they receive from their clerk.

In turn, professional clerks can use the framework to assess their own practice and identify their training needs.

II       The core competencies

The framework sets out the four competencies for clerks.

(a)        The first is understanding governance.  This is possible only if clerks take the trouble to familiarise themselves with the increasing amount of literature on school/academy governance – knowing and understanding the governance legislation and the procedures related to it and the context in which the boards operate.  It will enable clerks to provide good advice on legal and procedural matters, record discussions and decisions accurately and ensure that the board uses time (during and in between meetings) well.

Clerks must know about the key features of effective governance and the core functions of their boards as set out in the Governance Handbook and the knowledge, skills and behaviour required of governors codified in the Competency Framework for Governors.

Clerks’ must have a good knowledge of a vast array of matters, which include the following.

  • Their duties and functions set out in legislation and/or the articles of association
  • The key themes of national education policy and the local educational context, the relevant duties of the boards under educational and employment legislation
  • The requirements of charity and company law
  • The Academies Financial Handbook, the boards’ responsibilities in relation to Equalities and Health and Safety legislation
  • For a Multi-Academy Trust
  1. the boards’ duties and
  2. the organisation’s policies and internal procedures and any responsibilities of the boards within them, related though not limited to a range of issues that affect all governing boards i.e.
  • Whistleblowing;
  • Safeguarding;
  • the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks;
  • Company House records and returns (where applicable – i.e. if serving

academies and Multi-Academy Trusts);

  • Edubase entries relating to the governance of the organisation;
  • the publication of information about governance on the

organisation’s website;

  • the boards’ responsibilities relating to recordkeeping and the

provision of data, including the Data Protection Act 1998 and the

Freedom of Information Act 2000 and how these apply to the

recording and retention of information relation to the boards’

operations;

  • the purpose of and framework for the boards’ accountability to and

relationship with others – including the DfE/ESFA, Ofsted and the

LAs/Dioceses where applicable and the clerks’ roles in ensuring

evidence is available to support this exercise;

  • the trusts’ funding agreements and articles of association;
  • the instruments of government where these are applicable and trust

deeds;

  • the governance structures of the organisation;
  • the schemes of delegation for governance agreements;
  • the boards’ strategic priorities;
  • the culture, values and ethos of the organisation;
  • the codes of conduct of the boards; and
  • the pupil performance and financial management information which

the boards will use to hold leaders to account.

(b)        The second competency is related to the ability of clerks to ensure that the processes and procedures of governance are effective.  In other words, clerks have to be adept in administration, that the basics are sound and the chairs and boards can get on with the job of using time well and focusing on strategic matters.   The effectiveness comes with excellent forward-planning, the production of high-quality paperwork and clear record-keeping.

When the clerk pays attention to detail – records and files information methodically so that it can be accessed with facility – much time is saved and the board’s efficiency is enhanced.

(c)        Thirdly, adept and able clerks provide timely and accurate advice and guidance. Where they are unable to do so, they signpost governors to where they can receive the best and most appropriate advice which informs efficient decision-making.  This helps boards to stay focused and operate strategically.  They are familiar with the law and can call on reliable sources of information and/or direct their governors to external and reliable sources of help.

(d)        Finally, professional clerks are good at promoting positive relationships with and between the governors they serve.   Schools’/academies’ effective working requires good relationships all around.  Clerks are pivotal to cultivating this.  Accordingly, clerks must

(i)         work well with their chairs and headteachers between meetings,

(ii)        work well with all the members at meetings,

(iii)       find new members when vacancies arise, induct them when they appear and take their places on the boards, and

(iv)       be assertive (as opposed to being aggressive) especially when their governors veer off the “straight and narrow” and develop a penchant for going down blind alleys, the wrong paths or frankly, operate illegally.

III     Final Thought

One final thought.   If governing boards or MATs are to find effective clerks, they should be prepared to remunerate them appropriately.  Currently, there is no payment structure for them. It is left to boards and MATs and/or clerks to negotiate sensible payments.   But nothing has been set out nationally to indicate what, precisely is sensible for the clerking job, when it is well done.   Some schools/academies have considerable difficulty recruiting good, efficient clerks – cases of “paying peanuts and getting monkeys”.

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