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Approving school policies: governors' role

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Last updated on 22 June 2017
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
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.

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  1. 1 DfE guidance on requirements for approval
  2. 2 Approval by the full governing board
  3. 3 Delegating the approval of policies
  4. 4 Approving draft policies
  5. 5 Before approval: amending and enforcing policies
  6. 6 Signing policies
  7. 7 Storing policies

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  • 4 external links

DfE guidance on requirements for approval

The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance on statutory policies and other documents that schools are required to have in place.

This guidance also covers how often each policy must be reviewed, and sets out who is required to approve it.

For more information on this list of statutory policies, see another article from The Key:

Approval by the full governing board

The DfE guidance linked to above says that some policies and documents are required to 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 both maintained schools and academies are:

  • The special educational needs (SEN) policy
  • 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:

  • The staff discipline, conduct and grievance policy
  • The instrument of government

The DfE guidance linked to above also has details of which documents must be approved by the full governing board in the following types of school:

  • Sixth-form colleges
  • Further education (FE) colleges
  • Independent schools
  • Pupil referral units (PRUs)
  • Non-maintained special schools

Delegating the approval of policies

Policies 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 approved by school leaders

You can check the DfE guidance linked to above to see whether a particular policy can be delegated to school leaders. Policies that can be include:

You can check the DfE guidance ... to see whether a particular policy can be delegated to school leaders

  • 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.

Approving draft policies

Governors have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with policies that sit with committees

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, reviewed and ratified.

Before approval: amending and enforcing policies

Rectifying a mistake in a policy

A member asked us whether it is possible for the chair, or the chair of a committee, to correct a mistake in a policy before it is reviewed and approved. We put this question to Nicki Wadley, a governance consultant.

Nicki explained that making alterations to a policy is the responsibility of the governing board or the committee to which it has been delegated. The chair of either the committee or the governing board cannot make alterations on their own.

Nicki said that if a governor has noticed a mistake in a policy they should contact the committee responsible and suggest that it is amended before it is next approved.

Enforcing policies before approval

A policy cannot come into force until it has received the appropriate level of approval

We asked Vicky Redding, another of our associate education experts, whether it is possible to implement a policy before it has been fully approved.

Vicky explained that a policy cannot come into force until it has received the appropriate level of approval, in line with the statutory requirements outlined in sections 1 and 2 of this article.

For example, the guidance says that the SEN policy must be approved by the full governing board. It therefore cannot be implemented until the full governing board has considered and officially approved it. Vicky added that this is also true of a draft policy that has been reviewed by a committee and is waiting to be approved, or ratified, by the governing board.

In another article from The Key, we look at the words 'approving' and 'ratifying' and the way these words are used by schools, local authorities (LAs) and the DfE.

Vicky said that until a draft version of a policy has been properly approved, the school should continue to use the existing version of the policy.

If there is a serious concern about the validity of the existing policy, such as it being out of date following changes to legislation, Vicky said the chair could consider calling an extraordinary meeting of the governing board. This would enable the draft to be approved as soon as possible.

Signing policies

We asked the Governor Support team at One Education if the chair of governors must sign all school policies.

A representative said that there are no fixed rules on whether policies need to be signed, and by whom. However, the governing board must record its approval of every policy in the minutes of the relevant governing board meeting.

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.

Storing policies

We also asked Vicky whether policies can be stored on the school’s computer system, instead of as printed copies.

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.

Sources and further reading

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.

This article was updated in response to feedback from the clerk to governors at a medium-size primary school in the east of England.

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence.