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A clerk's guide to producing minutes
Getting the minutes right is essential to your role as a clerk. Use our minutes template and advice on taking and writing up notes, and our checklist for checking the minutes, to help you do this.
Our governance experts Fiona Stagg and Vicky Redding helped us write this article.
Prepare before the meeting
It will make your job easier if you know what's going to be discussed in the meeting, the key documents that will be considered, and the key decisions the board needs to make.
Make sure you know:
- The date of the meeting and the date that papers need to be sent out on
- Which papers need to go out with the meeting pack, who is providing them, and which papers link to which agenda item
Once you've got all the information you need, spend time reading through it yourself. The more you understand about the school and what's going on, the less you'll have to stop meetings for clarification, or go back and forth with the chair or headteacher later.
Check whether your local authority or academy trust has any guidance or rules on how the minutes need to look. They might also have a standard template you need to use. If so, pre-populate it as far as you can.
If they don't, create your own or use ours below.
Download our template
Use our KeyDoc template to help you minute the meetings of your governing board.
- Write your notes straight into the template during the meeting to save time and make sure you're recording the right information in the meeting
- Write your notes another way (see some options below) and add the notes into the template when writing them up later
Choose your preferred method of recording
- Use good old fashioned paper and pen. If you do this, use black ink so the minutes are easier to scan and photocopy, and make sure you number your pages so it's easy to keep the notes in order
- Use note-taking software such as Evernote or OneNote (included with Microsoft Office 365) to take your notes. They include features to make your notes easier to manage – you can tag, search, and annotate your notes, share them with colleagues, attach documents, and create templates
- Record the meeting using a dictaphone or a recording app to help you write up the minutes later. Agree this with your board first, and make sure this is covered by your data protection or records retention policy. If you record anything referring to named individuals, this counts as personal data, and must be treated in line with The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Be clear what will happen to the recordings after you've used them – under the GDPR you need to delete them once they're no longer necessary. This is likely to be once the minutes have been formally approved, as you may need to refer back to the original recordings if there are questions about the minutes
Whatever medium you choose, you're likely to be more efficient if you're consistent and use the same system every time.
Distinguish between public and confidential information
Most minutes must be made available to "any interested person", but you are able to keep some confidential if they relate to:
- A named person who works at the school, or who is a candidate for a job at the school
- A named pupil at, or candidate for admission to, the school
- Any other matter the governing board thinks should remain confidential i.e., because it's sensitive
This is explained in our article on confidential minutes from meetings.
Keep confidential information distinct when taking minutes
You should make sure it's easy to tell which of your notes are confidential and which are free to be released to the public. When taking notes, you could:
- Write any confidential parts of the minutes in a coloured pen or font
- Write the confidential notes on a separate page to the public information
Afterwards, write up these notes in a clearly marked 'confidential appendix' or 'Part 2' document, and make sure you only send them to those who are allowed to see them.
If governors ask you not to record something
If a governor asks you not to write notes while something is discussed, ask for their approval to record it as part of the confidential minutes.
Ideally, you would take notes of all relevant discussion in the meeting. If the governors later decide the decision isn't confidential, or you need to refer to the point in relation to another item in the minutes, you can still easily review the conversation.
See the article on confidential minutes (linked above) for information about keeping confidential minutes secure, and what to do if you accidentally make confidential minutes public.
Use the right language and tone
When taking the minutes in the meeting, remember that minutes should:
- Paraphrase. You need to capture the key points, not every single thing that was said
- Be an objective record of what was discussed and the agreed actions – stick to the facts
- Be concise and easy to understand
- Be written in the past tense
- Clearly show the questions that governors asked – you could mark them out with a 'Q' at the start, use bold or a different colour, or write them in a clearly marked section of a template you're using
- Clearly show the agreed action points – you could mark them out with an A at the start, use bold or a different colour or write them in a clearly marked section of a template you're using
- Use reported speech. It can help bring minutes to life, but is rarely the most succinct way of explaining something, so only use it sparingly
- Vary from board to board on how much detail they include. There's no universally accepted style or format for meeting minutes – some boards like the ‘less is more’ approach and others prefer to see fuller evidence of the discussion. Check with your board to see what it would prefer
Minutes should not:
- Be written as a narrative or story
- Include flowery language or unnecessary information or phrases – use plain English and avoid jargon and 'management speak'
- Contain any personal opinions or observations
- Mention anyone by name. The governing board has collective responsibility for its actions and decisions, so highlighting individuals' contributions is unnecessary. Their role (e.g. 'a governor' or 'the chair') will do, unless:
- The governor has specifically asked that their challenge or objection is recorded
- You're welcoming a new governor to the board
- You're deciding link governor roles or committee membership
- A governor is responsible for an action
Recording decisions and votes
There's no requirement to record votes in a particular way.
Usually it's enough to say "the board decided that..." or "it was unanimously agreed...", especially if the board reached an agreement through a discussion.
If a vote took place and involved a show of hands, for example, you could note the numbers for and against, and then state the decision.
Whatever works for you and your board, just make sure you're consistent. It doesn't matter if you use 'agreed', 'resolved' or any other word to indicate that the decision has been made, as long as you use the same word throughout the minutes – otherwise you're likely to cause confusion. Forbes Solicitors told us this.
It's a good idea to clearly highlight the decisions made in the minutes. Our template for the minutes (above) includes specific sections at the end of each agenda item for you to record the decision reached, but you could also use bold or a different colour pen/font, for example.
Demonstrate the board's effectiveness
Minutes can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the governing board. It's important to record challenge (and even disagreement) to demonstrate that the board is fulfilling its statutory duties. The Governance Handbook says these are:
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
- Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
- Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
Highlight the questions asked
Look out for whether the question is actually providing challenge, or whether it's just clarification or a request for further information. Check if your board wants all questions highlighted, or just the challenge.
If you're not sure what makes something a 'challenging' question, take a look at some examples here.
Use 'impact statements'
You could also include 'impact statements' to describe the impact of a decision the school has taken, or the impact of a development within the school. For example:
- Following questions on the headteacher's report, you could state: "The governing board has held the headteacher to account"
- Following a discussion of before and after-school provision: “Governors ensured the provision of extended services meets the needs of parents and pupils”
- Following a discussion of the school’s values: “Governors ensured the school’s values are central to day-to-day activities”
- Following a discussion of the pupil premium: “Governors understand the impact of pupil premium funding on pupil performance and held the headteacher to account for its use”
For example, Kettleshulme St James CofE Primary School in Cheshire East includes an impact statement at the end of all its minutes. In the minutes of its summer term governing board meeting in 2018, the final page says "Governors have scrutinised the budget before approval" and "Governors have agreed a framework for SEND moving forward".
Download the minutes from the 'Governors' page on its website.
Write up your notes afterwards
When writing up the minutes:
- Accept that however good you are at paraphrasing, writing up the minutes can take longer than the meeting actually lasted. If you can, set aside uninterrupted time to get them finished. You could time yourself writing them up to get a benchmark of how much time you need to give yourself
- Read the whole of the notes you've written for each agenda item before you decide how to write it up. You need to decide the logical order to write up the information in, which may not follow the exact order of the discussion. People tend to repeat themselves, double back, or go round in circles sometimes, and it's your job to make this coherent
- Always go back at the end to do a full proofread. Don't rely on spell check or autocorrect – they can often miss things or change your text to something completely different. They also don't help you spot where you've left the previous date wrong date on the minutes (easily done if you're using a template)
- Go back at the end and check over your original notes. If you're working digitally, keep them saved in a separate document so you have the original version to refer back to. You may find out that you've missed out an agenda item from your final write-up or similar
When sending the draft minutes off for approval:
- Think about how you'll do 'version control' of the documents - some chairs or headteachers may re-write sections when you first send the draft minutes to them. You could ask them to make any changes using the 'track changes' feature on Microsoft Word, or add their notes in comment boxes on Google Docs instead of changing the text themselves
- Set a clear deadline for when you want comments on the minutes, to make sure people respond promptly
- Keep draft minutes until the minutes have been approved at the next meeting, just in case you need to refer back to them
Read more about the process for amending and approving draft meeting minutes.
Use our checklist to check them over
It will help you spot any errors and be sure you haven't missed anything.
We've also created a checklist for chairs and headteachers to use when reading the draft minutes. Give it to them to help them understand what they should be checking for.
Fiona Stagg is a national leader of governance and an independent clerk. She is also an experienced chair of governors, conducts external reviews of governance, and supports and mentors chairs and clerks. She is also a facilitator for the DfE's governance leadership programme.
Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.
Recommendations of commercial suppliers in this article is not an endorsement.
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