Defender against ignorance, chaos, and litigation;Live issues;Briefing;Governors

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Wynne Creasey, outlines the qualities needed to be an administrative gymnast.

IGNORANCE IS never a good defence in law, nor is it desirable in governing bodies.

With the avalanche of legislation, can governors be confident that they know details of the law and their implications? And are they sure that meetings are as effective as they should be?

Drawing on expertise and experience, a good clerk should provide comprehensive knowledge of the law and good practice, which is vital to effective meetings .

The informed clerk draws on recent legislation, is aware of the responsibilities of governors and of local education authority guidance, consults with the chair and head, and prepares meeting agendas.

The meeting is governors' critical opportunity to influence school improvement, and a manageable, structured agenda focused on the needs of the school is essential.

Critical decisions about pupils, policies, finance, staffing and premises are taken at meetings. Timely intervention by the clerk to advise on relevant procedures and regulations can avoid abuse of power, potential litigation and improper conduct. The clerk is often called upon to advise on matters such as the constitution of committees, correct procedures for specific problems, and conflicts of interest.

The answers are buried in the education school government regulations - the clerk's bible. The clerk's knowledge of this leaves the governing body free to concentrate on its core role.

Governors with a well-informed clerk have confidence that they are unlikely to be sued. The clerk can ensure governors act "in good faith" - because doing their best is not enough in today's litigious climate.

The good clerk must also be easy to contact, as the wise chair will want to consult the clerk before taking any urgent action.

Minutes are the legal record and evidence of decisions taken. Governors should demand a high standard to stand up to scrutiny from the Office for Standards in Education, auditors and possibly the courts.

This issue has been recognised recently in the requirement for governing bodies to be clerked to "ensure the necessary standard of minutes are achieved".

The ideal clerk attends to his or her professional development, keeps abreast of legislation affecting governance, is an administrative gymnast and is able to record accurately.

He or she is a welcome, objective presence, has commitment, discretion, highly developed interpersonal skills and loyally supports the governing body in fulfilling its responsibilities.

Such a paragon of virtue may not come cheap, but, as the recent parliamentary report on governors noted, "clerking services make a significant contribution to the work of effective governing bodies and the cost of such services is a worthwhile investment".

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