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Approving school policies: governors' role
Which policies must be approved by the governing board? The DfE's list of statutory policies shows which must be approved by the full governing board and when approval can be delegated. We also relay advice on amending policies and considering policies brought by committees for board approval.
- Policies that must be approved by the full governing board
- Delegating the approval of policies
- Advice on approving policies
- Formally adopting LA policies
- Signing policies
- Storing policies
Policies that must be approved by the full governing board
Some policies and documents must be approved by the full governing board. The approval of these policies cannot be delegated to a committee, individual governor or member of school staff.
The policies and documents that must be approved by the full governing board in maintained schools, or by the proprietor in academies, are:
- The special educational needs (SEN) policy and information report
- The full governing board meeting minutes
- The child protection policy and documents
- The supporting pupils with medical conditions policy
Policies and documents that must be approved by the full governing board in maintained schools are:
- Procedures for addressing staff discipline, conduct and grievance
- The instrument of government
This is set out in guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) on statutory policies and other documents that schools are required to have in place.
Another of our articles looks at statutory policies and documents for schools in more detail. The article has a downloadable KeyDoc with information about which statutory policies are required by which types of schools, the review frequency and type of approval needed.
Delegating the approval of policies
Policies that can be approved by committees
The DfE guidance on statutory policies for schools (linked to above) confirms whether a governing board can delegate approval of different policies to a committee.
For example, page 8 says that maintained schools and academies (including free schools) must have a charging and remissions policy. Approval of this policy may be delegated to "a committee of the governing board, an individual governor or the headteacher".
Policies that can be approved by the headteacher
You can check the DfE guidance linked to above to see whether a particular policy can be delegated to the headteacher. Policies that can be include:
- The charging and remissions policy
- The school behaviour policy
- The sex education policy
Can approving the pay policy be delegated?
The DfE guidance linked to above says that maintained schools must have a pay policy, and that this policy must be approved by the governing board.
We asked the DfE whether the full governing board of a maintained school can delegate approving the pay policy. The section on the pay policy in the guidance on statutory policies refers to the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).
A DfE representative said that although the STPCD says the relevant body (usually the governing board) must adopt a pay policy, it does not stipulate that the full governing board must approve the policy.
She said that relevant bodies therefore have the option of delegating approval of the pay policy to a sub-committee, should they wish to do so.
Another DfE representative told us the Department is aware of the confusion that may be caused by this. He informed us that an update to the guidance is being worked on. We will be updating this and other articles to reflect the updated guidance when it is released.
Academies are normally free to delegate approval of the pay policy to a committee. However, governors in academies should check their articles of association to confirm this.
Delegating approval of non-statutory policies
The DfE only sets out which of the statutory policies and documents can be delegated. It does not cover non-statutory policies.
We spoke to Fred Birkett, one of our associate education experts, for advice on delegating non-statutory policies. He said that, in his experience, it is best to delegate these equally amongst committees of the governing board. This is the most efficient way of dividing the workload, and gives different governors experience of different elements of the school's policies and procedures. The committees can feed back on their approval decision to the full governing board.
Fred added that these can be delegated to the headteacher, but it may be better to delegate the approval to committees because:
- It isn't necessary for the headteacher to approve them
- Delegating them would create additional work for the headteacher that could be avoided
Advice on approving policies
We asked one of our associate education experts, Phil Preston, how much governors need to engage with policies that committees have drafted, but which must be approved by the full governing board.
He said that even if governors are not part of the committee associated with a statutory policy, they are co-responsible with their fellow governors for approving it at full governing board level.
Governors have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with policies that sit with committees, and the functions they cover. The link governor for training, or the clerk, may be able to help with this.
Questions to consider when approving a policy
Phil suggested the following questions for governors to consider when looking at a policy that a committee or the headteacher has brought to the full governing board for approval:
- Why is this policy being reviewed/written? For example, is it in order to meet 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/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?
Another article from The Key has guidance on how governing boards should manage policies, including information on how they should be written and reviewed.
Formally adopting LA policies
A governor asked us whether local authority (LA) policies need to be formally adopted and approved, for example employment policies.
Forbes Solicitors, Vicky Redding and another of our associate education experts, Brendan Hollyer, told us that when using local authority (LA) policies, it would be best to formally adopt them. As there are some policies governing boards are required to establish and approve, the Forbes representative said he would expect governing boards to do this as “a matter of formality”. Vicky explained that doing this ensures there is clarity over what policies and procedures are in place.
Vicky and Brendan recommended that schools look at LA policies, make any adaptations necessary to fit the school's context, and then approve and adopt them.
Phil Preston said that for employment policies where the LA is the employer, there should still be a record that these are the policies being used.
Do maintained schools have to use LA policies?
The DfE told us that schools do not generally have to use policies developed by their LA. While LA policies can be used as templates or guidance, schools are free to use their own wording when developing policies.
Vicky said that different LAs operate differently, and may take different positions on maintained schools not using policies that they have developed.
She explained that there may be some policies that have been negotiated and agreed between the LA, schools and unions, and which the school would therefore be expected to use. Similarly, Phil said that where the LA is the employer, schools should be following employment policies it sets.
A representative from the Governor Support team at One Education said that there are no fixed rules on whether policies need to be signed, and by whom.
She said that One Education suggests it is 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 authority to a committee to approve a policy, the governing board may decide that the chair of that committee should sign the policy.
Vicky explained that there are no requirements for how policies are stored. However, she said it is good practice to have a master file of signed paper copies because this may be easier to show inspectors. She said that most schools will do this as well as having copies stored electronically.
Vicky said that the policies kept in the master file can be signed copies. They do not need to be the original documents.
In the following article from The Key, we take a closer look at different ways to store 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.
This article was updated in response to a question from a governor at a medium-size primary school in London.
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