Schools without professional clerk are breaking government rules


Schools are breaking government rules by failing to employ a professional clerk to advise governors on their legal duties in meetings.

The governance handbook clearly states that a board must use a “professional clerk” to take minutes, organise the board and help navigate the law.

But Julia Millard, an advocate for National Leaders of Governance, has warned that some schools are deputising their heads’ PAs to take minutes during important meetings.

Schools are unlikely to get into trouble for breaking the rules, unless poor or inaccurate clerking is part of a wider governance problem, the National Governance Association has said.

More clerks must be recruited and existing ones developed, the national schools commissioner David Carter told Schools Week.

The board should be assured the person in place has suitable training and knowledge

“We all need to do more to recruit and develop more clerks” because “at their best” they have great oversight into the challenges faced by schools, he said.

The handbook says “the clerk should be the board’s governance professional”, and the board should be “assured” the person in place has suitable training and knowledge. The board should also “expect to pay an appropriate amount”.

One issue is the difficulty of defining a “professional” clerk because there is currently no specific qualification for the job, said Gillian Allcroft, the NGA’s deputy chief executive.

Instead some schools are using a PA or the school business manager, according to Millard. This means they won’t necessarily be an “independent voice who isn’t worried the headteacher is their boss”.

The government has beefed up its recognition of the role of the clerk in recent years. For example, there is now a certificate in clerking of school and governing boards available through the National Governance Association.

Clerks also play a role in ensuring the termly report headteachers have to give to governors is done properly, Millard said.

For instance, clerks would be expected to know that simply providing a “verbal” report would not be good practice.

Speaking to delegates at the conference, she warned that a verbal headteacher report could be “very dangerous” because the board wouldn’t have time to scour through a written report for inconsistencies.

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  1. Martin Matthews

    A good article raising a legitimate concern. A professional clerk ensures due process is followed which keeps governance aligned to the Nolan principles and the myriad of regulations and advice.
    How can a “minute taker” know if a legal and important decision is made correctly or challenge poor practice?

  2. Mark Watson

    I feel frustrated that I seem to be the only one interested in accuracy here, but:
    1. The Governance Handbook is DfE guidance, not “government rules”.
    2. Nowhere in the Handbook does is say a Board “must use” a professional clerk, clearly or not.
    The Handbook does say that one of the ‘key features’ of effective governance refers to employing a professional clerk but it also says that Governors should be “recruited through robust and transparent processes against a clear articulation of required skills which are set out in a role specification” and I’d bet my mortgage this is ignored up and down the land.
    The Handbook also says that professional clerking is “crucial” but this does not amount to a requirement to employ one.
    Of course having an excellent clerk would be a massive help to any Board, but misrepresenting that Boards are breaking rules by not having a professional clerk is not helpful and is a scare story.
    With my cynical hat on, I can’t help noting the coincidence that this story has come out soon after ISBL and CIPFA launched their “professional clerking programme” – for every individual that goes on the course they get £425 (£75 from the school and £350 from the DfE).