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How to approve a school policy: process
Governors are responsible for approving most of a school's policies. Read about how policy approval can be delegated, what to ask before approving policies, and good practice on signing and storing them.
Be clear on who needs to approve the policy
Whose approval is required depends on the policy:
- Some statutory policies have specific approval rules, while others are up to your board to decide
- For non-statutory policies, it's up to your board to decide who can approve them
The most common options are: the full board, a committee, a group of governors, or an individual - potentially a governor or the headteacher.
Approval rules should be set out in a:
- Policy review schedule, which includes the review frequency and approval rules
- Scheme of delegation
- Committee's terms of reference
Check these sources to see who needs to approve an individual policy.
Delegate to committees where you can
Ideally, you should divide policies up equally between committees. This distributes the workload and gives governors experience with different elements of your school's policies and procedures. The committees should feed back their approval decision to the full governing board.
Policies can be delegated to the headteacher, but it may be best not to. This is because it would create additional work for the headteacher that could be avoided.
Our expert, Fred Birkett, explained this.
Consider the policy: where approval is delegated
If policy approval has been delegated:
- The committee, group of governors or individual will look over a first draft presented by senior leaders, comment on the strategic direction of the policy and ask questions to make sure it's up to scratch (use our article on how to review a policy to help)
- Next, either:
- The committee, group of governors or individual will approve the policy
- Senior leaders will take the policy away to do further work, before bringing it back for approval by the committee, group of governors or individual
Consider the policy: where the full board must approve it
In practice, even policies that require full governing board approval are looked at in detail by a committee at the initial drafting stages. (Again, use our article on how to review a policy to help.)
After the committee has looked over the document, senior leaders might take it away to do some more work on it, before presenting a final version to the full governing board for approval.
Questions for the full board to ask
The full board isn't expected to go through the granular detail of every policy as well as a committee. Even so, the board has collective responsibility for the school's policies. This means governors should still ask some questions before just approving the policy, for example:
- Why is this policy being reviewed/written? Is it in order to meet new requirements, or has it been amended in response to feedback?
- How has this policy changed?
- What is the intended impact of this policy?
- How does the policy reflect the values, vision and ethos of the school?
- How does the policy feed into the school development plan?
- Has the policy been written in plain English? Is it easy to understand?
These were suggested by our expert, Phil Preston.
If you disagree with the policy
Where you don't agree with the policy, your course of action will depend on what type of grievance you have.
If you disagree with operational matters - like the method of behaviour management in the classroom - you should respect the headteacher's expertise and approve the policy. The day-to-day operations of the school are outside your remit as a governor.
If your issue with the policy is strategic, then you should express those concerns at the meeting to discuss approving the policy. For example, if incidents of bullying have been rising under the current anti-bullying policy and yet the 'new' policy is fundamentally the same, you should bring this up. Senior leaders may agree to take away the policy and revise it. If not, your concerns should be minuted.
If you're not sure what your issue would count as, read our article that includes practical examples of strategic vs operational issues.
Brendan Hollyer, one of our associate governance experts, explained this.
To formally approve a policy, follow the same process as you would for making any other decision at your meeting.
Where it needs to be approved by a committee, the quorum and voting procedures should be set out in terms of reference.
Where it needs to be approved by your full governing board:
- In maintained schools, the vote should be taken at a quorate meeting and passed by a majority of votes, as stated in The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013
- In academies, check your articles of association for your specific voting procedures
Chairs and clerks please note: if any governors disagree with the policy, they should be allowed to air their views first. These should be anonymously recorded in the minutes as evidence of challenge. Then the matter should be put to a vote, either publicly or by secret ballot.
Formally adopt externally set policies
Your school might have policies that are set by the local authority or academy trust. You might not be able to change these at all, or might be allowed to make minor edits to personalise them, or choose between set options.
For example, maintained schools might be required to follow the pay and employment policies set by the local authority.
It's best practice to formally adopt these policies and record this in the minutes. Doing this makes sure there's a record of which policies are being used in your school.
There's no rule on whether a policy must be signed.
However, it's good practice for the chair of governors to sign a policy if the full governing board has approved it. If the governing board has delegated approval to a committee, it can ask the chair of that committee to sign the policy.
The governance team at One Education explained this.
There are also no requirements for how policies are stored, but it's good practice to have a master file of signed paper copies. This may be easier to show inspectors and parents who don't have access to computers.
Most schools do this as well as storing copies electronically.
Vicky Redding, one of our governance experts, recommended this.
Read more about storing governing board documents.
Fred Birkett is an experienced teacher and education consultant. He has been a governor for 20 years in primary and secondary schools and a chair of governors for half that time.
Phil Preston is an education consultant and experienced practitioner in new schools provision, school organisation development planning and governor development. He has been head of service in the education departments of three local authorities, as well as being a governor and governor trainer.
Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.
Brendan Hollyer is the vice-chair of governors at a primary school and an all-through special school. He has been a national leader of governance since 2014 and provides training and support to schools in the south east. Brendan has also worked as the director of conversions and governance for a multi-academy trust.
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