Taking part in good governance…

Ex- officio Clergy Governors

“All church schools have an ex officio seat on their governing body which is reserved for the incumbent of the parish. This is confirmed by the Statutory Instrument of Government of the school which will specify the parish concerned. In a few cases, where the school catchment covers several parishes, there may be two ex officio governors specified in the instrument. Where the parish is incorporated into a larger team ministry the Instrument of Government may be re-written to show that the ex officio seat may be taken by any member of the wider ministry team and need not be the priest with particular oversight of the parish in which the school is located. Any such re-writing of the Instrument requires the new Instrument to be agreed by the Diocesan Board of Education and also agreed and lodged with the Local Authority, while duplicate copies will be held by the school’s clerk to the governors.

The ex officio governor is a full member of the governing body with additional particular responsibilities relating to the church foundation of the school. Historically the ex officio governor automatically became chair of governors, but this is no longer an expectation placed upon them. Although not stated explicitly in the instrument, they are naturally regarded as the lead foundation governor. The ex officio remains a governor of the school for as long as they are priest of the parish. There is no legal restriction on the number of ex officio posts an incumbent can hold.

In a parish interregnum it is important for the school to maintain the balance of foundation governors on its governing body, especially in the case of Voluntary Controlled schools where there may be only a total of three foundation governors. A process known as an “Archdeacon’s Appointment” is used to temporarily nominate someone to fill the ex officio seat on the governing body; this appointment lasts until the arrival of the new incumbent. The PCC will be expected to nominate the person to be an Archhdeacon’s Appointment to the school in exactly the same way as it nominates other foundation governors.

The Diocesan Board of Education expects incumbents who, for any reason, do not feel able to take up the ex officio post on a school’s governing body to use the Archdeacon’s Appointment process to find a substitute foundation governor for the school. Like all other foundation governors, the Archdeacon’s Appointment governor is not required to live in the parish, or to be an Anglican, and may be lay or ordained. In this case the temporary governor does not have a set term of office and will be expected to stand down when the incumbent determines to return to their governing body role or a new incumbent is appointed.

The stipulation that a person is disqualified from holding or from continuing to hold office as a governor if he or she: fails to attend the governing body meetings – without the consent of the governing body – for a continuous period of six months, is not applicable to ex officio governors.i It is therefore of particular importance that an incumbent who chooses not to be a school governor acts in the best interests of their school in finding a substitute governor, rather than simply not attending meetings.”

See the DfE’s Governors’ Guide to the Law

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/governance-handbook


The distinctive role of the ex-officio governor

By virtue of being the parish priest,  the ex-officio governor has a particular leadership role within the foundation group:

  • As priest, in their person and approach they set the framework within which the school and church will work together in the community as a whole, not just on the governing body.  They will be responsible for developing the parish’s relationship with its school, and helping both groups towards a fuller understanding of how church and school can form a powerful Christian partnership.
  • As priest, leading acts of worship for the school, both in church and in school, forms a strong basis to the  key relationship between school and church.  It also is a visual expression of  the parish’s Christian commitment to the school.
  • As lead foundation governor,  they have a role, working with the other foundation governors, in  monitoring and supporting the school’s distinctive Christian ethos (to ensure that it fulfils the expectations of its foundation).  (This includes specific responsibilities relating to SIAMS.)
  • As the person who would normally open each meeting of the Governing Body with prayer, they set the tone for that meeting and for the way in which the governors as a whole are reminded of their school’s Christian foundation and all that that means in the deliberations that follow.
  • As pastor and theologian, their relationship with the Headteacher can be pivotal to the school’s development as a Christian community and in supporting the headteacher’s ministry as spiritual leader of the school.
  • As leader of the local Christian community, they are instrumental in calling out and supporting lay vocations in governorship, classroom support and teaching.

The gift of time

The school will readily absorb as much of their priest’s ministry time as they are prepared to give!  The Church believes the Church schools should ‘stand at the centre of the Church’s mission to the nation’ (Dearing Review). Individual circumstances will dictate how much time can be given to school ministry, and this will certainly be affected by the number of schools in a benefice to which a priest relates.  Issues to bear in mind as decisions about time are made include:

  • Becoming Chair of Governors can be a difficult role for the parish priest to perform as it is extremely time-consuming.
  • If at all possible, priests should not sit on more than one Governing Body. This can be difficult in multi-parish benefices where there is more than one Church school and therefore more than one ex-officio seat.  Priests may also be invited to sit upon the governing bodies of community schools in their benefice (which may even be in the village where the rectory is located).  When hard decisions have to be made, it is important that ex- officio places on Church school governing bodies are filled by an Archdeacon’s appointment, so as not to leave a school unsupported.  (Here clergy on ministry teams can support each other by sharing ex-officio duties, but this may require an adjustment to the school’s Instrument of Government – please contact the Diocesan Office if necessary.)
  • Governors’ meetings, especially committee work, are likely to average out to at least one hour per week in term time.  To be a full and effective governor the ex-officio needs to commit to committees.

As the ex-officio governor, there are certain, perhaps obvious, additional areas of school life with which a priest will be asked to be involved:

  • Being  prepared to act as a member of any Appeals or Grievance panel, where one’s natural pastoral role will be seen as a strength.
  • Being involved in staff appointments, especially in ensuring that the school is concerned to maintain its Christian ethos through the staff it appoints. The appointment of a new Headteacher will be a time of particular importance for the future of the school and the links between school and parish.
  • Also, all the “unplanned” aspects of pastoral ministry will be present in the school e.g. bereavement; personal crisis; controversy; accident; celebration.  If the school is seen as an integral part of the parish they will expect their priest to be alongside them at such times, just as they would be for any other family in the community.

Many ex-officio governors see their strength to be in a chaplaincy role in the school, rather than in the increasingly technical role of governor, although this should not be thought of as an “either / or” decision.  The following suggestions may help cement the idea that the ex-officio role is “more than a governor”:

  • Establishing  a clear pattern of visits, perhaps based around times of leading collective worship,+ which can incorporate a pastoral meeting with the staff over coffee, a chat with the Head, or a classroom visit, thus fulfilling both the pastoral and monitoring roles appropriately.
  • Making  sure that the school understands the priest’s pastoral role with them is an important part of the parish community’s commitment to them.
  • Encouraging fellow foundation governors to also visit and involve themselves with the school in the name of the church.
  • Using one’s network of contacts to engage other members of the ministry team, and of other denominations, with the school, without losing the important sense of identification of parish priest and school.

All Schools

All schools within a parish or benefice rightly form a part of a parochial ministry.  Although it should be easier to establish a working relationship with Church schools, there is much excellent work going on within community schools through local ministry teams. This is especially true of the local high school, which is unlikely to be a Church foundation but which should welcome  support for its work with young people from the clergy whose parish schools feed into the secondary school.


Always promoting good governance…

Planning good governance: Image by Jessica Lewis, Creative Commons, Unsplash.com