As a relatively new chair, I would have been lost without a good clerk.
Fundamental to our effective working relationship is the clerk’s personable and approachable manner – working with nice people always makes a huge difference! But this is even more true when transitioning into a new role, particularly in a sector that has been rocked by changing circumstances with significant policy and practice implications.
The pandemic has presented those governing with unique challenges, and it has been reassuring to know that a friendly face is on hand to guide me through how various processes, procedures and other actions will work in a virtual context, beginning with efficient and effective remote access meetings. Central to this has been the clerk’s leading role in using remote access technology to streamline communication, while generally making governance roles and responsibilities, including my own as chair, more accessible.
Our clerk has also been instrumental in interpreting new guidance and signposting information relevant to potentially tricky processes such as dealing with complaints, making these procedures more manageable. The same can be said of their role in assisting those who held virtual interviews for leadership roles – a first for all involved.
When championing the role played by an effective clerk, it is important to point out that the support of a good clerk also involves the chair and board supporting the clerk in return, meaning there is a pastoral element to our relationship that begins with making them feel appreciated. Professional support in the form of securing access to additional advice and guidance as well as training is also essential, as is a comprehensive performance appraisal process.
Another element in helping the clerk feel supported involves making my own enquiries and carrying out actions independently where appropriate, in order to make sure that the clerk is not expected to do everything. The rest of the board also plays their part in making the clerk’s job easier through constant efforts to expand their experience and knowledge. However, this is still supplemented by the clerk’s helpfully proactive role in identifying training and recruitment needs based on a regular skills audit, and in diplomatically pursuing whether training and other tasks have been carried out.
This skill of diplomacy underpins another crucial role, namely the pursuit of paperwork from school leaders and other members of staff in the interests of well-prepared and focused meetings – diplomacy being crucial given the strong personalities sometimes involved. It is also impossible to overestimate the importance of paperwork being issued to the board in a timely fashion!
Many of these roles would remain relatively hidden to me were it not for being chair, hence the value of highlighting here the clerk’s significant contributions to good governance.
However, if I had to pick only one way in which the clerk goes above and beyond, it would be the simple fact that they smile often and bring a sense of humour to our governing board meetings, as everything else flows from a positive personality and mindset.
NGA is celebrating the impact clerks and other governance professionals have on governance in schools and trusts through our Visible Governance campaign.