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The power behind the thrones

Bob Doe examines the various incarnations of a governors'clerk

Most governing bodies do not have a clerk who can advise them on education, the law and the governors' role, according to a new guide for clerks that is being offered free to all schools.

The ISCG Manual for Clerks and Governing Bodies has been compiled by the independent Institution for School and College Governors and is based on its survey of clerking arrangements. The manual aims to provide a reference for clerks and a guide to help governing bodies conduct their business more effectively.

"A good clerk can transform the work of the governing body," says the manual. The ISCG survey found that governors needed effective administrative support if they were to carry out their many responsibilities effectively. But half the clerks in the survey provided only secretarial services and were not expected to give advice and a quarter of those provided by the local authority gave only basic assistance.

"There is no single right role for the clerk," says the manual."But whatever the arrangements in a particular school, it is essential that the clerk's responsibilities should be clearly defined in a job description." So selecting a clerk should be a matter of careful consideration and the manual duly warns,"governing bodies should think carefully about the common practice of using the school secretary. The potential for conflict of loyalty has to be weighed against the convenience of having someone who works in the school. " It is not good practice for the head, chair or any other governor to act as clerk. "A governors' role is to contribute to discussion not to be tied up in the process of recording the business of the meeting."

Most clerks get paid something, though often this is little more than a token amount. One in five of those surveyed were paid less than Pounds 500 a year. One in 20 were paid between Pounds 500 and Pounds 1,000. A few clerks (4 per cent) received over Pounds 1,000 and usually worked in grant maintained or voluntary aided schools where more was demanded of them. The top rate found was Pounds 6,000 a year.

The ISCG warns that there are two common problems with clerks: those who advise too intrusively and those that are too much under the chairman's thumb. "Clerks are there to serve the whole governing body . . . every governing body has the status in law of a corporate body which means that it has a legal existence separate from that of its individual members. This means governors must act collectively."

The manual goes on to remind readers that "individual governors have no power to act on the governors' behalf unless powers have been delegated to them by formal resolution of the governing body". Chairs, especially, might need to be told that they have no power to take action except in an emergency or when specific authority had been delegated.

And on who is fit for the role, it is quite clear on who is not: "the clerk is answerable to the governing body, not the head. This is one reason why it may not be appropriate for a junior member of the school staff to act as clerk. "


* Minute governors meetings * Clerk committee meetings (all, some or none) * Send out papers before and after meetings * Take action on behalf of the governing body * Call emergency meetings * Monitor attendance and quorum at meetings * Arrange committtee meetings * Routine correspondence between meetings * Deal with documents sent to governing body * Set up complaints, exclusion, admissions and appeals hearings * Follow up decisions to ensure action taken * Keep a register of governors' interests and ensure these are declared * Advise on legal and procedural matters

The ISCG Manual for Clerks and Governing Bodies. One copy free from ISCG, Avondale Park School, Sirdar Road, London W11 4EE. Tel: 0171 229 0200, fax: 0171 229 0651

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