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Clerk to the Governors #6 – Running a Governing Body Meeting


After all the build-up, here it is – your first Governing Body meeting. The agenda and attachments were sent out in a timely manner, everyone knew when and where to assemble, and now we move on to the meeting itself.

For your first meeting there is one (maybe obvious!) tip to keep in mind – make sure you know where you are going. If the meeting is at night, in an unfamiliar place, check beforehand where you can park, and how you get into the building. Beware tripping over the bushes by the unlit car park and, if the school office is going to be closed, is anyone going to hear you furiously ringing the doorbell? Believe me, it happens.

Once in, you’ll find everyone very welcoming. Make sure you take a seat by the Chair of the meeting so you can converse if necessary (especially on keeping the meeting to time), and that you can easily see and hear the contributors to the meeting, to make your note taking easier.

The meeting will follow the agenda, but it may not necessarily follow the exact order of the items listed if, say, someone who is contributing to an item has to leave early. Your job as Clerk is to help keep the meeting moving, and record what was discussed and agreed.

How you take the notes is up to you. I’m an old fashioned pen and paper person, so I have a notebook and a pack of spare pens. Others are happy typing straight onto a laptop, which is a great time saver if you have the skill. It’s important to remember that the purpose of your note taking is to provide an accurate representation of the meeting, NOT a verbatim transcript – you are not a Court stenographer! There may be rare occasions where a meeting is recorded electronically, for a more detailed transcript to be minuted. This can only done with the prior agreement of all parties.

The aim is to keep meetings to a maximum duration of two hours. This is simply because it’s hard to keep people’s attention to detailed discussions for much longer than this, and if it is an evening meeting, nobody really wants to still be plodding along at ten o’clock at night, especially the Headteacher who has been there since seven o’clock in the morning. Some Chairs like to have a set time allocated to each agenda item to help guide them to a timely finish, others liaise with the Clerk as the meeting progresses, and some take no notice at all and just plough on regardless. You’ll learn what works for you and your Chair. 

As you gain experience as a Clerk, and as governors come and go over time, you may well end up being one of the most experienced people around the table. This is not a bad thing. Good Governing Bodies welcome the expertise of a Clerk who stops them wasting their valuable time discussing out of date or irrelevant information, or disappearing in debates down blind alleys. 

If, like me, you work at a number of schools, and if your Governing Bodies are open to it, it is perfectly valid for a Clerk to offer comment on what they have seen or heard practised as good governance at another school. Arguably, a Clerk operating across a number of schools sees and hears more live, current information than almost any other person about how different schools are tackling the common issues they face at a point in time. The majority of governors will not have this frame of reference for themselves. It is not for you to judge what is more effective or appropriate, this is up to the Governors, but sometimes you can give them relevant information to help with their decision making.

There will also be that time when someone says something, it goes quiet, and all eyes in the room turn and look at you. If you know the answer, great, go ahead. However, if you are being asked something you are unsure of, don’t guess. Everybody will be happy if you say, “Let me take this away and check, and I’ll get back to you with the right answer”, because the right answer is what they want too.

At the end of the meeting, probably with stiff fingers, and a slight headache from concentrating so hard on what different people have been saying, make your way back out safely, and head home to sanctuary and for a little of whatever relaxes you. For tomorrow, you have to make sense of what you have written down, and type it all up into the minutes of the meeting.

Do you want to learn more about what a "Clerk to the Governors" of a school is? Start Trevor's story, beginning with, What is a “Clerk to the Governors” of a school? #1

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