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With a little help from a critical friend

Karen Thornton reports on a new national training scheme that aims to produce hordes of perfect clerks.

A CRITICAL friend, a sounding board, an expert guide - a good clerk is an invaluable asset togovernors. But how can we ensure that all clerks make a telling contribution?

The answer is training - and the Government is finally waking up to the need for it. The Department for Education and Skills has asked a consortium of 52 local education authorities and 26 church authorities to come up with a national training programme for clerks.

Consortium 52 has been building on early work carried out last year by Information for School and College Governors, a non-profit company of governors which produces publications and organises training, for the DfES.

ISCG drew up preliminary job and person specifications for clerks, and identified three levels of service they could provide - from basic minute-taker to sophisticated and well-informed adviser.

The model job description covers such things as clerks' role in managing meetings and providing advice. Suggested tasks include developing a welcome pack for new governors, and maintaining registers of governors' financial interests and terms of office.

The perfect clerk will be a person of integrity, able to maintain confidentiality, impartial, flexible, sympathetic to the needs of others, with good interpersonal skills and a positive attitude to learning, change, and training.

Consortium 52 is now working on a training programme that will develop such clerks. Governors can expect the them to:

* convene meetings;

* maintain records;

* offer procedural advice and guidance before, during and between meetings;

* take follow-up action, as required, and

* take and distribute minutes; Panels of clerks and chairs of governors are advising and testing out the course materials, which should include CD-ROMs.

There are two versions of the programme under development: one for delivery by LEA advisory services or independent consultants, and another "distance learning" pack for clerks who cannot get to meetings or who prefer self-study. But even the latter will have some face-to-face contact with tutors.

The draft programme envisages five modules. The first will be a general one about governing bodies. The remainder will outline the clerk's roles: administrator; information manager; adviser, and "in action" in meetings. This last, practical unit takes 10 of the total 40 hours. It trains a clerk to "walk the talk" and deliver theoretical knowledge in real meetings. The draft programme will go to ministers on January 31. If approved, it seems likely that training packs will be sent to LEA and other trainers, who can then decide how to use it.

There have been concerns about the 40-hour time commitment involved. But Carol Woodhouse, project manager, said: "When we talked to clerks, they weren't particularly worried about it. We are talking about 15 hours contact time, around 2.5 days, and existing clerks are already doing that anyway. The additional work is self-study."

Persuading schools and governors to give clerks time and cash to undertake training also may prove difficult. Consortium 52 is hoping that its programme will at least boost the status of clerks by giving them a higher, national profile.

Comments on the job description and person specification for clerks should be emailed to

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