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Coronavirus Guidance for School Governors

Should we cancel or postpone our governing body meetings?

Our advice is to take a look at your forthcoming meeting agenda and see which items are ‘to note’, which items are ‘for approval’ and which items are ‘for decision’. Any items that are for approval or decision should be discussed between the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors with statutory deadlines in mind and a plan for when and how the decision can be made put into place. Options for making decisions remotely are via email or via virtual meeting. If there are approvals that need to be done or decisions that need to be made for the effective running of the school, then they should be made in order to ensure the school can function effectively. With that being said, school leadership teams are under a lot of pressure with emergency planning currently, so any meetings that can be postponed at this time in order to allow leadership teams time to work on the operational issues at hand should be considered.

Can we run virtual meetings?

There are two areas to consider for the provision of virtual meetings: ensuring that these meetings are legally able to take place and using technology that allows them to take place successfully.

Ensuring that any virtual meeting is legal requires academies and trusts to look at their articles of association. In the DfE’s current model articles, clause 126 lays out how trustees can attend meetings remotely. Trusts should check their own articles if they differ from the model. For maintained schools, you should turn to your standing orders or terms of reference, which should detail whether you have agreed the terms for remote meeting attendance and decision-making. If you haven’t, then this could be added and agreed at an extraordinary meeting or by Chair’s action in an extenuating circumstance such as emergency school closure.

In terms of using the correct technology, video conferencing is best. Using a software that allows for the Chair to control who is muted and for people to raise their hands to speak is our recommendation – this will help the meeting to run smoothly and stop people from speaking at the same time. We recommend looking at an online video conferencing software such as; Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It can be more challenging to chair and to clerk a virtual meeting, so think about slimming down your agendas to cover only key topics and make pressing decisions. Virtual meetings are becoming more popular with busy governors and this could well be the first step to making them work for your school.

What can we do via email?

You can use email for discussions and for making approvals of policies in preparation for ratification and discussion at a meeting. If you need to publish policies, as long as the required committee or board has had the chance to read and comment on them, they can be published as ‘requiring ratification’ until such chance that the governing body or board can discuss them in a meeting. 

Decisions cannot be made via email. Governors and trustees in both academies and maintained schools are required to be present in order to make a decision. A virtual meeting is required in order for governors or trustees to discuss something before a decision can be voted on. If a decision needs to be made urgently, and email is the only option, this can be done in the interim, but the decision is not binding and should be ratified in a meeting at the next available point.

Any approvals or decisions made via email should be done with a clear timescale noted and questions and responses sent to the clerk so that a clear note of the decision or approval, comment and action can be maintained.

School closures – how do we make this decision?

This is an operational decision to be taken by the Headteacher and not one that needs to be made at an extra-ordinary governing body meeting. The Chair of Governors can expect the Headteacher to discuss this with them in advance and the governing body should be notified of any such decision as part of the wider communication. Maintained schools should notify their local authority if they are closing.