Empowering Professionals

Selina McClure: Governance & Clerking in a Virtual World

The Covid crisis has brought many challenges but there has been an upside. Virtual meetings are often better attended, timely and more focused; just more productive.

The past year has been a steep learning curve with so much change.The Covid crisis has brought many challenges but there has been an upside. Virtual meetings are often better attended, timely and more focused; just more productive.  Boards and clerks adjusted quickly to virtual meetings last year, which was reflected in our annual governance survey.  We asked how boards adapted to the pandemic and how effective governors thought they had been. Here are some of the comments:


  • Timelier in terms of meetings that are more succinct when done virtually.
  • Much better attendance at meetings.
  • We were able to adapt well to online meetings and maintained very rapid responses to policy updates and any issues which needed prompt attention.


  • It is much harder to have a quick chat face-to-face about the more minor things.
  • Many people were hesitant to speak and as a result some issues are not widely enough explored… Business still gets covered, but with less input from some.
  • Some meetings especially with staff or with parents during discipline committees are better conducted face to face.

One of the main messages from the survey is that strong chairing & professional clerking are vital to the success of virtual (and any) meetings.

The Chair
Even the most experienced Chair needs additional skills in a virtual meeting. You need good questioning and summarising skills; techniques to make sure that there is good participation from all; you need to keep the meeting on track and manage over talkative participants. Hopefully, there will be no meetings as rowdy as the Hanworth Parish Council debacle, but you will need to manage dissent and set up the scene for heated debates. We are offering training in May on this subject – Check out our new Advanced Chairing Skills – ensuring effective governance in a virtual world session which is taking place on 18th May 2021.

The Professional Clerk
Successful governance, virtual or otherwise, depends on a good, professional clerk. We have a plethora of talent in our clerking team who offer a wealth of experience and knowledge to Governing Boards. Research shows that an effective clerk can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency of a governing board, enabling them to fulfil their roles more comprehensively and effectively.
Before the pandemic, clerks had to be within reasonable travelling distance of the schools they worked with. Now with the advantage of technology there is the potential for a highly professional stand-in clerk to always be available.

The Future – are virtual meetings here to stay?
In our annual governance survey, 80% of boards said that they would use a mixture of virtual meetings and face-to-face in the future.  As restrictions lift, it’s likely that boards will adopt a hybrid approach to meetings with some physical and some virtual.  Virtual meetings are accessible and also remove some of the barriers, such as time and travel, for people joining boards. So, if you have a vacancy then your pool of governors is also now much wider!

Smart School Services
If you would like to know more about our Professional Clerking Service, please book a Head to Head meeting.

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