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All aboard for clerks' training

Next month sees the launch of a national programme to improve a vital governor service, writes Carol Woodhouse

CLERKS to governing bodies at last have their own national training programme.

The five-part course was piloted in 11 local education authorities in the North and was the brainchild of Consortium 52, the association of 52 northern LEAs and dioceses (see TES, November 1, 2002). The Department for Education and Skills will now launch the programme nationally via three conferences next month.

So how will the training work, what will clerks need to do to complete it, and what will they get out of it?

Clerks come from a wide range of backgrounds: they can be a school's administrative officer or bursar; employed and provided by the LEA or diocese; or be an independent "freelance". But any clerk who works in the day with clerking duties in the evening can find it difficult to get time for training.

So any training that aims to ensure clerks meet the standards expected (as set out in last year's national job description and person specification, see must be flexible.

The new programme has two parallel courses - a taught course and a distance-learning course - to maximise access for all.

Central to both is a course reader and assessment book. Distance-learners are supported by a guide, four video clips of governing body meetings, four interactive video clips and an audiotape. The taught course uses the same video and audio materials but students attend 15 hours of training. There is a detailed trainers' guide with slide presentation and handouts.

The first of the five training modules introduces clerks to how they and the governing body fit into the national educational picture. Modules two, three and four explore the three separate roles of the clerk, as identified in an earlier report by Information for School and College Governors: administrator, information manager and adviser.

Consequently, the modules are very different in character. Module two covers those "front of house" skills, such as note-taking, which many think of as clerking. But module three emphasises the clerk's vital role to play in keeping records keeping and managing governor information. Today, that means being able to use a computer for administrative tasks and to search the DfES website for data. Giving advice can be difficult, particularly when it has not been asked for, but that is part of the job: giving procedural and general advice is addressed in module four.

All this theory is fine but it must be put into practice - the purpose of module five. All students doing this module must work alongside a clerk mentor and clerk a governing body meeting, at which they take notes and give advice.

Consortium 52 has frequently been asked whether an experienced clerk needs five modules of training. Feedback from the pilot suggests even "old hands" benefited.

"Training much needed - I was originally thrown in at the deep end," said one. Another added: "Good. Managing information was a weak point of mine."

Governor trainers also backed the programme. One said: "Even experienced clerks benefited from the course, for example understanding some of the acronyms and some of the curricular terminology."

Experienced clerks can "fast track" through distance learning by skipping the teaching and going straight to module assessments to demonstrate their competence.

To meet DfES deadlines, the clerks on the pilot course completed it in six weeks including over the Easter break. But all said this was too rushed, and that a month per module would be appropriate.

Trying out materials was an essential part of the development process and, thanks to the diligence of trainers and clerks in the pilot, these have been much improved.

Clerks will be accredited via a statement or possibly some kind of certificate verifying they have all the required "competences", skills, knowledge and understanding.

The DfES has put pound;275,000 into the programme and is ensuring that all LEAs receive master copies of the training materials. The cost to schools of getting their clerk trained will vary according to how their education authority delivers the programme. But now it is in place, the onus is on governing bodies to ensure that the clerk they appoint is properly trained and accredited.

Carol Woodhouse is Consortium 52's project manager. The management team are Joy Bellis, Lancashire; Helen` Richardson, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and Richard Smith, Hull

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