Guidance for staff servicing formal committees.
These notes provide guidance on servicing formal meetings, for committees which are part of the formal governance structure of the university, including Boards of Studies and their sub-committees.
- central committees
- committee structure
- faculty structure chart
- templates for agenda, reports, and minutes for Senate and its committees.
For further information and guidance contact the Deputy Director (Academic Governance and Compliance), Angela Pater.
'Just a Minute? A guide to Committee Servicing' by Jean Grear, AUA Good Practice Series
'A guide for New Clerks and Secretaries of Governing Bodies of Higher Education Institutions in the UK', Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, by Allan Schofield (editor) et al, November 2012
'Effective Minute Taking' by Rob Robson, Archana Singh Karki, Philip Davis, ISBN:9781860725463
Definition of terms
Committees are a key part of the decision-making process of an organisation. They enable a group of individuals to meet, discuss issues, share information, achieve consensus, make collective decisions, or refer recommendations to a superior body. Minutes from the official institutional record of the key decisions and discussions; they are read by a variety of people external to the Board/Committee.
Terms of reference
Terms of reference set out the purpose of the Committee, which superior (parent) committee it reports to and if any sub-committees report to it. See the relevant web pages for specific committee terms of reference. These cannot be changed by the committee itself, but only the superior committee.
The composition of the committee sets out who is a member of the committee, and who is 'in attendance' (ie present by may not vote). The composition may also allow for 'co-opted' members who may have specialist knowledge and are normally appointed for a year at a time. The composition cannot be changed except by the superior committee.
This is the minimum number of members of a committee needed in order to legitimately make decisions or take actions on items (normally a third of Senate and its sub-committees, including Boards of Studies, FLTQCs etc). Sometimes the number is specified to include a particular type of response: e.g., external examiners in Boards of Examiners for Programmes.
These are the rules governing the conduct of meetings. Not all committees will have Standing Orders. If no specific Standing Orders exist for a committee which ultimately reports to Senate, use those of Senate.
Role of the committee secretary
The committee secretary is responsible for servicing a formal committee and
- Ensuring the meetings are effectively organised.
- Ensuring the effective flow of business between committees.
- Providing information and data, or obtaining it from others.
- Ensuring actions are assigned by the committee to appropriate individuals.
- Upholding the requirements of governing documents; advising the Chair.
- Recording information, preparing and maintaining accurate records and minutes.
A committee secretary is not:
- a passive recipient and dispatcher of papers
- passive if a committee acts either beneath or above its powers; misinterprets regulation or policy; or circumvents proper decision-making powers
- just a record-keeper.
There is a subsidiary role sometimes referred to as 'minute secretary' which has less responsibility and involves taking notes at the meeting, drafting the minutes and getting them agreed, without the overall responsibility for the whole committee function.
General preparation for supporting a committee
- understand the Terms of Reference to know what the committee is authorised to do and where it reports to
- ensure that all members are appointed correctly and know their formal position eg as a full member or in attendance; check the formal composition (which may stipulate that some members should only be for three years, for example) and hold elections if required; if someone leaves before the end of their term-of-office, this creates a 'casual vacancy' which should be filled for the remainder of the term
- arrange the meeting dates for the year and let the members know (some committees are organised centrally by the Secretariat)
- draw up a Calendar of Business for future topics which can be anticipated
- check the quoracy rule
- if new to the role, read the minutes of several previous meetings to understand the business and anticipate issues
- meet with the Chair about how meetings are to be conducted and what role the Secretary serves
- hold the necessary information about the committee.
Preparation for a meeting
- make all the practical arrangements: room booking/refreshments/AV/special needs requirements; ensure there will be enough seats for everyone, and check how to adjust the room temperature
- follow up on previous actions in advance of the meeting and any matters arising
- ask members in advance if they have any items for discussion
- ask for and prepare a list of apologies
- in advance, plan time after the meeting to write the minutes
- read the papers; be prepared
- have a pre-meeting with the Chair to brief them on key issues.
Preparing an agenda
- use the template to draft the agenda, including standard items
- use the Calendar of Business for items depending on the cycle of business in the year
- review the previous minutes to identify items
- in conjunction with the chair, identify current internal and external developments for inclusion
- for Senior committees, identify any policy areas for consideration based on the Terms of Reference, if appropriate
- put the items in a logical order
- ensure that it is clear on the agenda if items are for decision, recommendation upwards, or just for information; (check the Terms of Reference to identify exactly what power the committee has)
- include Reserved area business on a separate agenda (or pink paper)
- meet the Chair to agree the agenda
- provide an annotated agenda or briefing notes for the chair (not all members) to give more detail of items and background information; you may need to ask others for this information
- note if it is the first or last meeting for any members.
- Most reports will be written by other colleagues; agree a deadline with them, and ensure the reports are approved by the appropriate manager, chase them as required.
- Ask colleagues to use the report template and keep the main body of their report to a maximum of about four pages (appendices can in addition to this).
- Ask colleagues to include an Executive Summary if the main part of the report is more than a page long.
- Number the reports and appendices.
- Check the draft reports for typos, formatting and page numbering.
- Add the date at the end along with the name, job title, email and telephone number of the person who wrote the report.
Sending out papers
- papers should be sent out a week in advance of the meeting, or at least three days in advance as a minimum
- it is not good practice to allow papers to be tabled at the meeting and this should only be done in unavoidable circumstances and with the approval of the Chair; committee members will not have had time to read the report and this lead to poor decision-making
- print reserved area reports on pink paper
- papers are normally sent out in hard copy for central committees. If a suggestion is made for electronic circulation of papers, consider the following:
- accessibility - has everyone got access to a laptop/iPad
- how would electronic version be kept secure, if necessary
- hard copies will still be necessary for the Chair and Secretary and for archiving
- members may still print off papers for themselves separately on laser-printers and this may cost the university more overall in printing and staff time than central photocopying.
BSS Boards: Online committee system
BSS Boards is an online platform for managing committee and board papers, developed by Business Support Systems (BSS) with Digital, Data & Technology (DD&T).
It should be used for all formal decision-making committees but can also be used by anyone with a university account. It is not intended to replace hard copies where these are still required but will replace the Learning Materials Filestore and wikis (for committee papers) as it is more secure and more user-friendly.
Access BSS Boards
The web link to the system is https://solutions.bath.ac.uk/boards/home/SitePages/Home.aspx . you will be also sent a web-link for any Boards/Committees of which you are a member/attendee/secretary (Board Administrator).
Guidance for members/general users and separate notes for administrators (committee secretaries) can be found in the system.
Queries and initial support
Send any queries to your committee secretary, or to Angela Pater who will respond or escalate the query to Digital, Data & Technology (DD&T).
If you are thinking of buying a tablet, please consult your Digital, data & Technology (DD&T) contact; full functionality and compatibility with BSS Boards is only available with Internet Explorer running on Windows. Reduced and limited functionality and compatibility is available with other browsers and operating systems.
At the meeting
- sit next (or near) the chair
- note who is present, or have a signing-in sheet
- take the terms of reference, papers of the previous meeting and a spare set of papers, a notepad and spare pens
- ensure the new people are welcomed
- ensure the previous minutes are signed
- ensure all items are covered and assist the Chair in keeping the meeting to time
- write full notes (even though you will not need to include everything in the final minutes) and in particular ensure you record the key points
- if it is not clear what was decided, as the Chair to confirm any decision before moving on; include the date of implementation of any decision which do not take immediate effect
- advise the Chair as required if the committee is not within its powers
- be aware if some members have to leave the room for reserved business items (eg student members).
- Minutes need to be written in such a way that someone who was not present at the meeting can follow the decisions that were made. Minutes are read by a variety of people external to the Board/Committee; they are not just for colleagues who were there. Minutes can be used in external audits and legal proceedings.
- Minutes should give an accurate, impartial and balanced record of the meeting. They should be clear and concise. Use short sentences.
- The university can be asked by anyone to release any information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Be aware of this when you write minutes. Separate the minutes into sections headed 'Open', 'FOIA Restricted' or ' Reserved area business'; 'FOIA' Restricted' means the discussions may be exempt from disclosure to the public under one of the limited number of formal exemptions in the Act. Consult the Head of Secretariat or Freedom of Information Officer if you have any queries. Also see: confidentiality and reserved business.
- Use the minutes template.
- Use a standard format and number all paragraphs. Minutes numbering should ideally run on consecutively from one year to another, so each number is unique, or if the numbers start again each year, the meetings must have a unique number or date reference.
- Write minutes in the order of the agenda, even if the actual discussion happened out of order.
- The minutes should be laid out clearly so actions stand out to readers.
- Use reported speech when writing minutes and always use the past tense. Use the conditional tense, ie 'would' instead of 'will' and 'should' rather than 'shall' to denote future action. Eg do not say 'The Chair thinks the policy needs changing' but 'The Chair thought the policy needed changing'.
- Use the active voice, eg ' The Committee agreed the minutes' rather than the passive 'The minutes were agreed by the Committee'.
- Use 'the previous day' or 'the following day' rather than 'yesterday' or 'tomorrow'.
- When referring to University Officers in minutes, use their role, eg 'the Dean' rather than their name, except in the attendance and apologies sections.
- 'The Committee' is singular (as a collective) and not plural (ie use 'it' not 'they').
- Always double-check facts, figures, dates, names etc to avoid errors being identified at the next meeting.
- Number to pages (it is useful to sue the format '1 of 4' etc).
- Include all decisions or recommendations, NOT all the discussion. Only given names of individuals where necessary, eg where an action is needed, or a special contribution is made or to record any particularly strong or dissenting views. Use the phrase "after discussion, it was RESOLVED that..." if many points were made which do not require minuting.
- Common phrases to use in minutes: Committees RECEIVE and CONSIDER papers to reports, which they may formally NOTE, APPROVE or RECOMMEND action on to a superior committee. They may formally RESOLVE that something be ACCEPTED or ADOPTED, may REPORT the decisions made to another body and, less frequently, REFER BACK a paper should they not agree with what was PROPOSED.
- If the committee papers have been clearly written, a "recommendation" paragraph can easily be used to become a "resolved" paragraph.
- Make it clear that the committee has agreed to the minutes of the previous meeting; or, if amendments were agreed, specify these in the minutes eg:
- 'The minutes of the previous meeting on 1 January 20104 were agreed, subject to the following minor amendment:
- Minute 205: addition of Professor J Bloggs in the list of those present.'
- Make it clear when the committee has made a decision and when it will take effect, eg:
- 'RESOLVED that the updated Criminal Convictions Policy be approved, with effect from September 2014.'
- Make it clear when the committee is recommending an action to its higher committee (where it does not have the power to make the decision itself), eg:
- 'AGREED to recommend amendments to the Terms of Reference for the new Assessments sub-committee, as outlined in document S13/14-11, to Council for approval.'
- Refer to the relevant paper number when minuting an item, and make it clear that is has noted any papers for information, eg:
- 'RECEIVED AND NOTED paper S13/14-11' or
- 'RECEIVED AND NOTED the minutes of the Academic Programmes Committee on 9 March 20104, paper S13/14-12'.
- Make it clear when the committee has simply noted some information, eg:
- 'NOTED: that the University's recruitment figures were healthy and that the University would meet its target numbers.'
- If you need to minute a negative statement, ensure that it is clear wherever possible how the issue is being addressed.
- EG, an example of poor practice:
- 'Professor Bloggs and Dr Difficult said that they had never agreed with the recent changes to the assessment rules and that the university was going to pot.'
- This could be better phrased:
- 'The committee noted that there had been some isolated issues with the implementation of the new assessment rules in one department, and a working group had been set up to analyse the issues and report back to the next meeting with recommendations for any proposed actions.'
- Remember that you are creating the permanent formal record, or the 'memory' of the university.
Confidentiality and reserved business
Council guidance agreed to 20018 states: 'Reserved area business (the pink section of the agenda) is confidential and may not be divulged to anyone else. Reserved area business is currently defined in the Statutes of the university as concerning decisions upon:
- the appointment, promotion and other matters affecting the personal affairs of individual members of the Staff of the university;
- on the admission, academic assessment and other matters affecting the personal affairs of individual students of the university; and
- on proposal for honorary degrees.
All reserved area business is also restricted under the Freedom of Information Act and is not routinely published by the university. 'The remainder of business is separated into open/public information and information which is restricted under the Freedom of Information Act. The latter items of business are identified at the top of the agenda and are not routinely published by the university. Members are free to discuss public/open items with non-members but must be mindful of the sensitive nature of the business restricted under the Freedom of Information Act. If a member considers it necessary to discuss restricted items with non-members, it must be in a general way and in confidence. If not self-evident, the originators of restricted items will make clear any information which is particularly sensitive or must be regarded as confidential. 'The minutes of open/public business are published on the website of the university after they have been confirmed by the Chair.'
The university has identified seven categories of information which it will not routinely publish under the Freedom of Information Act:
- Information about living individuals (including, but not limited to, members of staff, students or research subjects) the processing of which is covered by the Data Protection Act 1998;
- Information that might jeopardise the health and safety of staff, students or the public;
- Information that might prejudice the university's commercial interests;
- Information that would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the prosecution of offenders;
- Information concerning legal proceedings or investigations being carried out by the university that might lead to criminal or civil proceedings;
- Information held under legal obligation of confidentiality;
- Information that is published elsewhere or that is intended for publication at a later date (e.g. draft versions of documents, information subject to amendment or approval by the appropriate university body).
Guidance on the Freedom of Information Act 2000
Publishing reports and minutes
- Once committee minutes have been agreed by the Chair, they can be circulated to members of the committee. 'Reserved area business' minutes should be printed on pink paper, the rest on white.
- Minutes of certain committees (open section only) are published more widely under the university's publication scheme
- Do not publish section of minutes headed FOIA Restricted or Reserved area business. Reserved area minutes are only for members of the committee, except student members who do not receive these. 'FOIA Restricted' covers information which the university considers exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, although if a request were made for disclosure this would need to be considered. Do not publish on the web any minutes for committees for which all business is Reserved area business.
- Minutes from the last three years should be available on the web.
Retention of committee papers
After the meeting
- Communicate committee decision/actions to relevant colleagues specifically, individually and as quickly as is possible (do not wait to finish the minutes);
- Draft the minutes for the Chair to approved ideally within four working days so the Chair will remember the discussion when s/he checks them (or check your faculty guidance for local deadlines);
- Forward reports and/or recommendations to the superior committee;
- Feedback a key summary on the web or in an email to relevant staff more generally, if the Chair agrees;
- Ensure agreed actions are carried out in the timescale agreed - remind colleagues;
- File minutes, reports and any correspondence;
Boards of examiners
Secretaries servicing Boards of Examiners should seek guidance from their faculty/school assistant registrar. Important updates on quoracy and other aspects of the conduct of Boards of Examiners for the current academic year.
Formal servicing is not required for informal meetings or ad-hoc groups or project teams. If a member of staff is asked by the Chair of such a group for support, they are advised to discuss with their line manager the nature of servicing which will be appropriate. Basic terms of reference should be drawn up to set out the purpose of the group, along with the membership. Agendas are recommended for meetings to focus discussion, along with some form of record, although bullet points or action points may be all that is necessary.
Role of the chair
The key roles of the Chair of the committee are:
- Having knowledge of the business of the committee;
- Approving the agenda;
- Managing the meeting: keeping to the agenda, keeping the meeting to time;
- Ensuring all members have a chance to contribute, especially for example, inviting comments from student members;
- Ensuring decisions are reached;
- Approving the draft minutes;
- Representing the committee at other committees;
- Appointing members, if required;
- Taking follow-up action after the meeting;
- Taking 'Chair action': decisions between meetings, if this is delegated by the committee to the Chair under Urgent Business procedures;
- Some committees (such as Senate and Council) have formal Schemes of Delegation, which set out specific powers of the Chair or specified officers.
Health and Safety guidance
If you are secretary to a committee meeting, please follow the guidance below:
- In advance, find out if a fire alarm test is planned for the day of the meeting so you can let the committee members know at the start of the meeting.
- Before the meeting starts, familiarise yourself with the fire exits from the meeting room. If there is no phone in the room, and you don't have a mobile phone, make sure you know where the nearest phone is.
- If first aid is required during a meeting, or there is any other emergency, dial 666 (internal) or 01225 383999 (from a mobile) and security will organise for a First Aider or any necessary emergency services. They will meet the services and direct them to the room, otherwise, paramedics or fire officers may get lost on campus.
- Should the fire alarm sound, encourage everyone to leave the room by the nearest exit. Follow the instructions in the room.
- If you know you have a committee member with mobility problems or a physical disability that will limit their ability to leave the building quickly, ensure a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) is developed in advance. See: http://www.bath.ac.uk/hr/stayingsafewell/fire-safety/emergency-evacuation.bho/index.html Staff should already have one.
- In emergency, if a visitor is unable to negotiate the stairs and there is no PEEP, escort them into an adjacent building and use a lift to evacuate them to a lower level if necessary. If this is not possible, then escort the visitor to a refuge point by a lift and report their location to Security and/or the emergency services.
DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER
Useful phone numbers: Emergencies: 666 (internal) or 01225 383999 (from a mobile) Security office (non-emergencies): 5349 (internal) or 01225 385349 (external) Catering: 5051 or 5345