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What price a good clerk?

Making decisions is a costly business. As an experienced chair of governors I know that the clerk's contribution to school improvement is in ensuring the governors' and headteacher's time is used effectively.

A familiar scene is 10 or more governors plus the clerk and head sitting on primary school chairs making decisions. This takes voluntary time - at least two and a half hours per governor - plus the paid professional time of the clerk and head.

Strongly influencing the length and effectiveness of the meeting is the agenda. Complied by the chair in consultation with the head, it is the clerk who determines the structure and quality of information. Assembling and collating the papers lies with the clerk, a task made easier by many governors accessing email. When governors are fully informed and understand the purpose of each agenda item, decision making is an efficient process and time is used effectively. Poorly structured agendas with tabled reports lead to long, rambling meetings with decisions deferred.

Governors can now receive A Guide to the Law for School Governors on CD-Rom, as well as download it from the inernet, although many seldom consult it. For the clerk, it is an essential source of information on procedure and good practice advice, along with that from the local authority, Governornet and National Governors' Association websites.

Minutes tell the story of meetings, record the decisions and note the resulting actions. An effective governing body always follows up on action points and reports to the next meeting. The clerk is key to making this happen.

Governors are volunteers and busy people, so notifying them of action points shortly after the meeting is essential. Similarly, reminding them of these actions two to three weeks before the next meeting is another task for the conscientious clerk.

No matter how tight the budget, the governing body must have a good clerk.

Carol Woodhouse, Chair of governors, Musbury Primary, near Axminster in Devon, and judge of the National Governors' Association's Outstanding Clerk of the Year award.

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