THEY are the cream of the clerking world - two men and eight women who have variously helped their boards and schools out of special measures, ushered them into - and out of - the grant-maintained sector, handled difficult staff disciplinary cases and challenged directors of education on legal matters. Most importantly, they have supplied the chocolate biscuits at meetings.
The 10 regional winners (see panel below) in the National Association of Governors and Managers' awards for outstanding clerks have been whittled down from an initial list of more than 450 nominations and 30 finalists.
Two of the 10 regional winners are members of education authority clerking services. But most are administrators and school secretaries employed by the schools for whom they clerk. They have to maintain a clear distinction between their two roles.
Jane Phillips, NAGM's chair, said: "I'm chuffed by the quality of the people we have found. We were looking for people who are efficient and produce the paperwork on time to allow the governing body to run smoothly.
But we were also looking for those who were proactive in improving the work of their boards, or doing something innovative."
Each regional winner receives pound;300 for themselves and pound;100 for their schools, plus a hand-held computer.
The overall winner - to be announced at an awards ceremony in Birmingham later this month - will also collect a laptop, a personal cheque for pound;1,000, and pound;750 for their school.
All contenders were judged against criteria for clerks developed for the Department for Education and Skills. The specifications set out the skills, personal qualities and abilities required to carry out the role in a way which has a positive impact on the work of governing bodies. They also provide the baseline for a new national training programme for clerks, due to roll out to English schools in September.
Meanwhile, NAGM is hoping to make the awards a biennial celebration of the work of clerks - funding permitting.
The NAGM award ceremony for outstanding clerks takes place on April 12. The award is sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills, The TES, Best Insurance and Toshiba. Tim Boswell MP will open proceedings with Bob Doe, TES editor, as master of ceremonies. Mike Tomlinson, formerly chief inspector of schools, will present the prizes.
THE 10 REGIONAL FINALISTS - AND WHY THEY WERE NOMINATED
David Craddick, Midlands
Nicholas Chamberlaine school, Bedworth, Warwickshire. "Gets the best out of people."
Val Greig, north London
Evelyns community and Colham Manor primary, Hillingdon. "Major aid to governors."
Rosalyn Hodge, South-west
North Newton primary school, near Bridgwater, Somerset. "Introduced community to governors. Supports but does not take over."
Megan Martin, Yorkshire and Humberside
Christ Church (Pellon) Church of England primary school, Halifax. "Works with interest of school and community to fore."
Jean Matthews, North-west
Ellesmere Port Roman Catholic high school, Whitby, Cheshire. "Board transformed from coping to highly effective."
Susan Smith, Eastern and Central
Sprowston high school, Norwich. "Tactful. Broke down 'them and us' feeling with staff."
Sue Sparrey, West Midlands
Shirley Heath juniors, Solihull. "Excellent people skills."
Ann Turner, North-east
Hartlepool LEA, 18 local schools. "Committed to helping governors work effectively."
Alison Webb, South-east
Hampshire LEA, three Fareham primaries.
"Offers guidance without undermining."
Dr Neville Wrench, south London
Sutton grammar school for boys, Surrey. "Understands chairs' different styles."