A minute by minute pay structure?

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Clerks are still getting pin money for doing a vital job. Ben Rooney reports

THE increasing recognition of the importance of the clerk to the work of the governing body has yet to be reflected in any kind of national standard for pay.

A TES survey of around 20 education authorities suggests that while some are paid nothing for their work, others can earn up to pound;6,000 a year.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that pay for clerks working for education authority-run services or agencies is broadly similar nationally.

Rates for clerks operating outside of an agency and employed directly by schools varied hugely.

At the top end, a Surrey secondary pays its clerk pound;6,000 per annum, for which they are expected to attend every governing body meeting and come into school once a week.

At the other end, school administrative staff are having duties written into their contracts with no recompense.

One secondary school governor said: "The head's personal assistant is clerk to governors. It was laid down as one of her duties when appointed that she must attend and take minutes at the governors' meetings (two per term, evenings), the finance committee (two per term, early evening) and any occasional disciplinary committees (typically one or two per year, evenings) as part of her job."

But between these extremes there are clerks earning more than pound;1,000 who clerk everything, some who earn this much for doing less, and others who earn a great deal less for doing everything, according to Hilary Price, head of Torbay council's governing body support unit.

She said: "Increasingly, more governing bodies are starting to invest in paying someone to clerk everything. When they do this, it certainly shows.

It gets away from the inconsistent and often poor paperwork and conduct of committees which, if ever put under scrutiny, would not stand up."

Broadly speaking, LEAs with clerking agencies, or those without but who provide strong advice to their schools, identify three levels of service clerks offer.

The most basic level is little more than secretarial: agenda preparation, attending the governing body meeting, producing minutes and maintaining membership records.

The next level would also provide advice and guidance, both legal but perhaps more importantly on "best practice". The highest-level service includes all that, and handling all correspondence for the governing body and chasing action points.

Essex, which has a reputation for supporting governors, is about average.

It pays clerks between pound;119 per governing body meeting for the most basic level, up to pound;194 per meeting at the top level.

Most of the schools subscribing to Essex's service opt for the middle level, which pays a clerk pound;154 per full governing body meeting, and pound;33 per hour for non-statutory committee meetings (with a minimum payment of two hours).

Neighbouring Hertfordshire pays broadly similar rates. Although varying payment according to the size of the governing body, its highest-paid clerks get around pound;200 per meeting. Interestingly, it offers a basic telephone, advice-only service.

For schools there are two advantages of using the LEA. The clerk should have some basic level of competence because most authorities provide training and support. Also, if your clerk is sick, the authority may be required to provide cover.

But outside the shelter of LEA agencies, rates vary dramatically. A Welsh primary chair said: "We pay around pound;1,000 for the year which covers clerking for all meetings, full governors and subcommittees. The role includes dealing with all correspondence, preparing agendas and organising additional meetings."

However, it is more common to find schools paying pin money. A Luton clerk said the town's primary schools were paying as little as pound;50 per meeting.

LEAs which do not provide a service recommend a range of pay levels to schools. Portsmouth suggests pound;10 to pound;12.50 per hour depending on the level of service offered, and that a typical governing body will need 54 hours. One outer London borough suggests payment of pound;14.99 an hour.

Others link clerk's pay to local government payscales. Richmond-upon-Thames does this, recommending pound;529.73 a term for six governing body meetings, an annual parents' meeting and three statutory committee meetings a year.

The Government has made it clear it wants the standard of governing bodies to rise and sees clerking as one way to do that.

A new national training programme for clerks, to be launched shortly, should help set standards for their work and minimum levels of competence.

But there are no plans for a national pay system.

Until that comes about, the Government's dreams of a semi-professional adviser making a real difference to governors' work may remain a pipe dream.

Ben Rooney is a former chair of governors and clerk to five governing bodies

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