How to approve a school policy: process
Governors are responsible for approving the majority of school policies. Understand how approval can be delegated and why it can be a good idea, and what to ask before approving anything. Also read good practice on signing and storing them.
Ask if you really need the policy
Policy overload causes hours of lost work for you and your school leaders. Make sure your school only creates policies when they're absolutely necessary.
Use the flowchart below when reviewing an existing policy to sense check if you still need it or if you can trim it down.
You can also use our flowchart before asking your school leaders to write a new policy, to determine whether the policy is really what’s needed, or whether you could achieve the same outcome by another means.
For a list of the statutory policies your school must have, see this article.
Flowchart: do we need a policy on this?
Be clear who needs to approve the policy
This 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. It'll typically be:
- The full board
- A committee
- A group of governors
- An individual governor
To find out who needs to approve an individual policy, check your:
- Policy review schedule, which includes the review frequency and approval rules
- Scheme of delegation
- Committee's terms of reference
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. Committees should feed back their approval decision to the full governing board.
Policies can be delegated to the headteacher, but it may be best to avoid giving them the extra workload.
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
- Ask questions to make sure it's up to scratch (use our article on how to review a policy to help)
After, they'll either:
- Approve the policy, or
- 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 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 after a committee has seen it. Even so, the board has collective responsibility for the school's policies.
This means governors should still ask questions before approving the policy, such as:
- Why is this policy being reviewed/written? Is it to meet new requirements, or 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 improvement plan (SIP)?
- 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
Your course of action will depend on what type of grievance you have.
If you disagree with operational matters (such as 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.
If your issue is strategic, you should express those concerns at the meeting to discuss approving the policy. For example, if incidents of bullying have been rising under your current anti-bullying policy and yet the 'new' policy is fundamentally the same, you should bring this up. Senior leaders may agree to take the policy away and revise it. If not, your concerns should be minuted.
If you're not sure if your issue is strategic or operational, read our article.
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 a committee needs to approve it, the quorum and voting procedures should be set out in its terms of reference.
Where your full governing board needs to approve it:
- 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, allow them to air their views first and record them anonymously in the minutes as evidence of challenge. You should then put the matter 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 (LA) or academy trust. Whether you can adapt these or not will depend on the LA or trust, but you might:
- Not be able to change these at all
- Be allowed to make minor edits to personalise them
- Be able to choose between set options
For example, maintained schools might be required to follow the pay and employment policies set by the LA.
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 board has delegated approval to a committee, it can ask the chair of that committee to sign the policy.
You can sign them either on paper, or electronically, for example using a web-based e-signing platform or the cloud. Your chair and whichever senior leader has responsibility for the policy will decide what type of signature is required.
The governance team at One Education explained this, and the DfE confirmed that electronic signatures are valid and enforceable.
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 in addition to storing copies electronically. Your board could use a dedicated platform such as The Key's GovernorHub, which makes it easy to upload, circulate and manage the review dates of policies.
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.