Why are the minutes important?
The minutes of a governor meeting are the formal record of that meeting. Governors need to be able to evidence that through their discussion and decisions they are exercising effective governance. All stakeholders (including parents, pupils, staff, members of the wider community and, of course Ofsted) can and do ask to look at minutes, and of course the governors themselves will review their own past minutes as an aide memoire of what discussion has been previously had and what next steps were agreed – so that they can monitor ‘over time’, as part of their role of holding the school leadership to account for school improvement.
Once the minutes of a governor meeting are ‘approved as a true record’ by the governing board (this happens at the following meeting) and signed as such by the chair of the meeting in which they were approved, this copy becomes the public record. The minutes include the papers that were considered at the meeting, so a full set should be stored together (also with the agenda of the meeting.) Any person can ask the school for a copy of the approved minutes and associated documents; the only exception is where there were ‘Part II Items Deemed Confidential’ which for this reason, are minuted separately, with any Part II papers also being kept separately. The is more information about Part II minutes below.
Minutes might also have to be produced in a court of law or tribunal if the governing board were to be challenged on any decisions.
Minutes Review – Do your minutes stand the test?
Fulfilling all these functions in one document is a demanding task. It is for the governing board to agree that the minutes are a true record of the meeting, but of course it falls to the clerk (with support from the chair and headteacher) to get the minutes into shape and ready to be approved.
Looking at your minutes: check if you can answer Yes to the following questions:
Headings and attendance
- Do your minutes include the name of the school?
- The title of the meeting?
- The date and time of the meeting?
- The names of those who attended, separated into:
- associate members
- others in attendance (and role – e.g leadership team / observer / link advisor / invited party etc)
This is important because at Full Governing Body meetings, only the governors are part of the voting process (although all can take part in the discussion if invited to.)
- Have you recorded that the meeting is quorate? (If the meeting is not quorate, then it shouldn’t be going ahead as decisions cannot be taken.)
- Have you minuted that you are in attendance as clerk?
- Are the names of those who sent their apologies – and whether the governing body accepted those apologies - noted in the minutes? If apologies are NOT accepted this must also be minuted. If governors are absent (ie no apology) this should be minuted. (Repeated non-attendees, where apologies were not accepted or governors were absent without apology can be disqualified after a certain number of meetings/period of time.)
- Is timed attendance noted (ie is it minuted where someone has arrived late or leaves the meeting early)?
- If a governor declares an interest and withdraws from that part of the meeting, is this minuted?
These are both important, as it must be clear who was (and wasn’t) involved in the discussion and decision making at any point in the meeting.
- Bringing the minutes of the previous meeting to be approved as a true record.
- Election of chair and vice chair
- Appointment of a clerk to the governing board
- Membership items: notice of vacancies and appointments (e.g. foundation governors)
- Appointments / ratifications of appointment by the board (e.g. co-opted and LA governors, associate members)
- Annual review of committee structure and delegation (Terms of Reference)
- Any variations to the Instrument of Government
- Governors given opportunity to declare any pecuniary or related party interests
- Policy ratification (where it is a statutory policy)
- Any decisions taken by the board must be clearly minuted.
Evidence of good governance
- The governing board receiving reports (e.g. headteacher’s report, reports from subject leaders, data packs, external reports, governor visit reports). Reports should be circulated with the agenda at least 7 days in advance of the meeting date.
- Evidence of governors’ strategic role and understanding of the school’s vision, strengths and weaknesses (and what’s being done to address these.)
- Governors asking questions about progress to date in key priority improvement areas: “how does the school know this” and “what are the next steps” - evidence they are undertaking their core support and challenge role
- Governors evidencing their understanding of the barriers and progress of different groups of pupils (eg pupils with SEND, disadvantaged pupils, vulnerable pupils, differing ability/prior attainment, different demographic groups, boys and girls, year groups / Key Stages etc)
- Governors evidencing their understanding of the 'intent' of the curriculum, in relation to the learners specifically at their school
- Governors’ acknowledgment of the successes of the school, staff and pupils.
- Governing bodies or committee involvement in formulating, promoting, monitoring and evaluating policies.
- Discussions and monitoring of the budget referenced to the strategic planning priorities.
- Are acronyms given in full when used for the first time?
- Are the minutes clear, written in plain English, unambiguous and easy to follow?
- Are any decisions clearly identified?
- Are the actions points clearly identified?
- Are actions clearly assigned to individuals/groups and timescale recorded?
- Could someone not on the governing board reading the minutes understand the business of the meeting?
- Can items be tracked from the agenda to the minutes, and from meeting to meeting (rolling action log)?
- Would the minutes stand up to scrutiny in a court of law?
- Does the choice of font type, size and general formatting help governors access the information quickly?
- Has consideration been given to decide on items of confidentiality?
- Are pages numbered (1 of 3, 2 of 3 etc)?
Once the minutes of the previous meeting are approved as a true record:
- Is the signature of the chair and date included at the end, and are all loose leaved pages initialled and dated?
- Has the document been (re)named ‘approved minutes’ for clarity and stored in an easily accessible electronic format (eg pdf). Have any previous draft versions been removed from the governors’ / school’s filing system to ensure they are not referred to in error?
Part II Minutes
During its discussion, a governing board may decide that an item under discussion is to be deemed confidential and 'put into Part 2' (boards usually use Roman numerals, ie Part II. ) The law (for maintained schools) says that the governing body may exclude from any item required to be made available, any material relating to:
(a) a named person who works, or who it is proposed should work, at the school;
(b) a named pupil at, or candidate for admission to, the school; or
(c) any other matter that, by reason of its nature, the governing body is satisfied should remain confidential.
It is good practice for 'Part II items' to be the last agenda item. This is because staff governors (and other governors who are also staff) will typically need to withdraw before Part II items are discussed (there is potential conflict of interest). By having these items at the end, staff can simply leave the meeting early. Also, it would be expected that any other attendees (ie non-governors) would withdraw when Part II items are under discussion. The clerk would only be required to withdraw if it were his/her role up for discussion.
Minuting Part II items:
- These should be minuted in a separate document, with all the relevant heading and attendance information at the top. The document should be clearly marked Part II Minutes: Items deemed Confidential. Any associated documents should also be named as Part II: Deemed Confidential.
- Circumstances impacting on individuals may be under discussion in Part II but the person reporting to the board (eg the headteacher) would not name these individuals; instead, the discussion would refer to ‘a member of staff’ or ‘a child whose parents are appealing for a place at the school’ etc. Clerks should be aware that Part II items wouldn't necessarily be exempt from a Subject Access Request; ie this is a matter of whether there is inclusion of personal data that the individual had a right to see, or not (ie the decision would fall under GDPR). Similarly a Freedom of Information request from a third party would not automatically fail - it would be up to the Information Commissioner's Office (ie not the school) to ultimately decide. In any event, Part II Items should not be discussed in a way that identifies individuals, as this is not necessary for governance (strategic level) business. The exception would be for governor panel meetings (ie complaint review panels / staff grievance panels / staff conduct and appeals panels / pupil exclusion review panels etc) where the invited parties would of course be identifiable in the minutes taken (however, if there are other children referred to, for example in event logs being provided as part of the evidence under consideration, their names should be redacted - use instead of 'child A', 'child B' etc can helpful for clarity.)
- Storing Part II minutes: these need to be kept securely (ie paper copies kept in a locked file) and care must be taken with the circulation of draft and approved versions (ie use of password protect).
- Approval of Part II minutes: these minutes must also be approved as a true record of the Part II confidential part of the meeting, by the governors who were present, and should be signed by the chair. Minutes of panels form the record of the evidence that was ‘heard’ (ie the verbal representations, questions asked and answers given) before the parties withdrew and the governor panel discussed and reached its decision. Minutes of panel meetings should be approved as a true record by the panel members (they will form part of the documentation pack if there is an appeals process).
Post-meeting (good practice)
- Clerk to turn his/her notes taken at the meeting into the draft minutes asap (ideally within a week) and send these draft minutes to the chair of governors and headteacher for their review, whilst the meeting is still relatively fresh in memory.
- If you are new to a governing board, even if you are an experienced clerk, do ask specifically for support and input from the chair and headteacher for those first few sets of minutes. It takes time to get a feel for the dynamics and flow of a board's discussion and these individuals will help ensure those key points, which need to be in the minutes, are (in particular relating to key priorities that are being monitored over time - before you start working for a new board, it is worth reading through previous minutes so that you know what these are).
- Once comments have been received from chair and headteacher (agree a return deadline) the clerk can finalise the ‘draft minutes – for approval’. It is good practice to send this document to all governors as soon as possible (ideally within 2 weeks of the meeting) so that they can follow through with any actions they agreed to undertake. If at this point, you receive comments back from individual governors (e.g. typos) you can make those amendments. If you receive a comment / request for an amendment more than a typo - or that you are not sure about, you should discuss this with the chair.
- The ‘draft minutes – for approval’ document is sent out a second time, with the agenda and the other papers, at least 7 days in advance of the next governor meeting. If they are minutes from an FGB meeting, this would be with the agenda for the next FGB. If they are committee minutes this would be with the agenda for the next committee meeting. If there is an FGB meeting before the next committee meeting, the draft-for-approval committee minutes would normally be circulated with the FGB agenda ‘for governor information’ (ie to inform the discussion at the FGB) however the approval process for those committee minutes would typically wait for the next committee meeting.
- At the meeting where the minutes are up for approval, the chair of that meeting will ask whether the governors agree to approve the minutes as attached to the agenda? Hopefully the governors agree and the minutes are approved. The version - as was attached to the agenda- is then renamed ‘approved minutes’ and stored appropriately (e.g. pdf). The clerk would bring a paper copy to the meeting and ask the chair to sign / initial and date every loose leaf. This paper copy then goes in a file at the school.
The clerk would also minute (in the current meeting’s minutes) that “the minutes of the previous meeting on [date] were approved as a true record of the meeting and a copy was signed by the chair.”
If there is a request for a minor amendment which all agree should be made, then the clerk can minute, for example that “the minutes of the previous meeting on [date] were approved as a true record of the meeting subject to the following single amendment: item 4 ‘Key Stage 2’ should read ‘Key Stage 3’.” The draft-for-approval document can be changed to incorporate this small amendment and then saved as ‘approved’ as above. The hard copy can be handwritten amended by the chair and initialled on that change, as well as signed and dated as above.
If there is disagreement in terms of the minutes being a true record, hopefully this will have been raised in advance (the governors have had the document for some time, with it being reissued 7 days previously) and it will fall to the chair to resolve this. If it cannot be resolved without governor discussion then the chair will bring it to the meeting. If it isn’t resolvable inside the time available, then the minutes would be noted as having not been approved (and an action being for this to be resolved before the next meeting when the minutes will be re-brought for approval. This action would typically be owned by the chair to consult with the rest of the board and any involved parties, with the clerk in a supporting role.)