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Time for the governance profession to unite and rise up


Governance professionals are paid to provide an invaluable contribution to good governance. NGA has championed the role since its inception; our Clerking Matters campaign since 2013 has aimed to:

  1. increase the understanding of the importance of the work of clerks and what can be expected of a well-trained clerk
  2. help governing boards find good clerks where there is difficulty in doing this
  3. help clerks know where continuing professional development can be found
  4. encourage appropriate remuneration of clerks.

Over the years since, the Department for Education (DfE) has given growing attention to the role:

  • From 2014 until recently DfE funded in large part – albeit at only £350 a head – a development programme for clerks. NGA’s Leading Governance legacy programme continues to offer a Level 3 Certificate in the Clerking of School and Academy Governing Boards accredited by the Chartered Governance Institute.
  • In April 2017 the DfE published a Clerking Competency Framework, non-statutory guidance setting out the four competencies required to deliver professional clerking to school governing boards and multi academy trusts: understanding governance; administration; advice and guidance; people and relationships.
  • The DfE has strengthened their guidance in the Governance Handbook and the Academies Trust Handbook, requiring all boards to appoint a governance professional.
  • After a recommendation from DfE’s National Leader of Governance (NLG) advisory group, on which I sat in 2020, governance professionals will be able to apply to be an NLG after the recent reforms.
  • the DfE has set up a governance support working group (on which NGA sits) to examine the needs of the academy trust sector and which we expect to report later in 2021.

There has been much change to the governance structures and therefore to the knowledge needed by governance professionals and to some ways of working, especially within multi academy. NGA has two model role descriptions, one for those leading governance within a multi academy trust and the other for those clerking at school level, whether within a MAT or a maintained school. The law being advised upon is different in those circumstances, but the expectations shouldn’t be.

Our 2021 survey of governance professionals builds upon earlier surveys in 2013 and 2016 to inform the campaign, testing progress and providing context to the ongoing debates surrounding the evolution of governance professional roles. Today’s report is based on the experiences of over 1200 governance professionals: School and trusts governance professionals 2021 and beyond by Dr Samuel Tranter with Amy Wright makes it very clear that our long-standing Clerking Matters expectations required to ensure good school and trust governance have not yet been anywhere nearly universally achieved:

  1. Governance professionals should be entitled to appropriate CPD including induction to new roles
  2. Governance professional should receive an annual appraisal, involving the chair of the governing board (even if the clerk’s services are engaged from a third party) at which CPD is discussed
  3. Governance professionals need to be invested in (both in terms of remuneration and adequate time)
  4. Governing boards need to understand the scope and importance of the role of their trusted, independent advisers.

There are lots of good people doing good work across the country, and have been for years, but this is patchy and often largely unseen.  It is not providing a firm and consistent foundation for the profession.  A significant majority of respondents - 70% - want to be recognised as a governance professional; and it is very clear that this is a profession, one profession serving both trusts and maintained schools, not divided in two by school structures, even though different governance structures require additional or different knowledge. Only a few trust governance professionals have previously worked in other sectors as governance professionals; most have previously worked for maintained schools, a move which allows progress within the profession, and there are many who still work for both academies and maintained schools. Within the governance profession there are a variety of different roles, and one of the job titles which is likely to endure is that of clerk.

Simply changing our language is not a magic wand, as some respondents pointed out. However, it is a signal and one which underlines both the need for professional recognition and reward, and in turn the adoption of the habits and behaviours of a profession. A profession requires a career pathway with qualifications and a framework which relates that to remuneration. This profession needs to find its voice and enhance its profile; it would be counter productive not be united around the need for professional appraisal, development and reward. These are two sides of a coin.

The career framework NGA is proposing be developed in collaboration with the profession and other interested parties to encompasses both qualifications and remuneration. The latter is not an easy task, and might take some time to achieve, but we cannot continue as now, finding the same findings and concluding the same conclusions ever couple of years. There needs to be a sea change, but beginning modestly enough with the raising of the lowest pay to the minimum level recommended by NGA last year.

Commitment from the profession:

We encourage you all to engage in pay evaluation, commensurate with the role you fulfil and recognising  increased proficiency and qualifications, and to seek appraisals and CPD. Your individual and collective voices need to be heard to ensure change.

Commitments from NGA:

NGA is here to support the profession, in the interests of improving governance of state schools: that is our charitable objectives. The Clerking Network should help provide a voice. We will be making clear – today and here on in – that many governing boards who have been slow to implement the Clerking Matters expectations need to invest in their governance professional. We will take forward the development of a career framework, engaging others.

Commitments needed from governing boards and other employers:

Today we are publishing an information resource for chairs covering the investments needed by boards: fair pay, appraisal and investment in development.

Commitments needed from executives:

NGA will be inviting the professional associations to work with NGA to develop a ‘what we expect’ from each other document for governance professionals.

Commitments needed from the Department for Education:

A replacement is needed for the recently ceased DfE funded Clerking Development programmes in which so many had participated. This is not big bucks for the DfE – but it makes a difference to an individual professional or the cash strapped school covering CPD. It sends a message that the profession is not overlooked.

The DfE could join NGA is making a commitment collectively to address these deep-rooted issues of pay, development and recognition, in order to attract new talent and avoid the loss of knowledgeable governance professionals from the schools sector.

At our Network meeting today the minister Baroness Berridge updated delegates on the Department’s work in this area.

Recognition as a profession.

  1. The majority of practitioners (70%) support use of the term governance professional as a collective description or umbrella term for all roles within the profession.
  2. There is an increasingly varied portfolio of governance professional roles in the state school sector, reflecting complex governance structures and various levels of support, and different job titles will continue to be needed to distinguish between those roles within the profession.

There is insufficient focus on development within the profession.

  1. Over a quarter of respondents were offered no induction training, with significant variations in quality and scope where such training was offered.
  2. Many practitioners (39%) still do not receive an annual appraisal.
  3. Where appraisals do take place, almost three quarters of them are not being used to support conversations about professional development.
  4. A majority (59%) believe minimum qualification requirements would improve the quality of clerking.
  5. Only a very small minority of those surveyed were required to hold a qualification or accreditation both initially and following any subsequent performance appraisals.
  6. Respondents were most likely to rate themselves ‘not so confident’ when it came to identifying appropriate CPD.
  7. Only a small minority saw scope for progression in their roles.
  8. Many decisions not to pursue qualifications and other training opportunities reflect a lack of perceived benefit.
  9. Paid hours do not always cover or account for the time required to undertake CPD.
  10. Over a quarter of those not pursuing accreditations/qualifications explained this as there was no benefit to doing so.

A sector-led response is required to address deep-rooted issues with pay and recognition. The profession is under-paid, especially clerks.

  1. The majority of practitioners clerking at school level (58%) are still being paid below that NGA’s recommended minimum.
  2. Low pay and lack of understanding as to what the role entails are among the reasons for wanting to leave the profession.
  3. For the vast majority (85%) of those who gained a qualification, it did not result in a pay increase, though benefits other than pay were acknowledged.
  4. Rates of pay were affected by who set the pay: only those respondents who set their own rates of pay were more likely to earn the figure recommended by NGA than to be paid at a lower level.
Emma Knights OBE
Emma Knights OBE

Co-Chief Executive

As NGA’s Co-Chief Executive, Emma promotes the interests of the school governance community nationally with legislators, policy makers, education sector organisations and the media. Emma is an accomplished writer and speaker on a range of school governance policy and practice topics.