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, or it's proposed should work, at the school
A named pupil at, for candidate for admission to, the school
Any other matter that the governing board thinks should remain confidential because of the nature of it
This applies to committee meetings as well as full board meetings and is set out in regulations 15 and 26 of The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 and the model articles of association.
If you're in an academy you should check your own articles to make sure this still applies.
The public can request to see these minutes under the Freedom of Information Act, which we look at in more detail at the end of this article.
Non-confidential minutes should be shared freely among the board. It's for the board to decide whether to share confidential minutes with governors who weren't at the meeting, but don't have a conflict of interest.
If a governor has left the meeting because of a conflict of interest they shouldn't normally receive the minutes to that part of the meeting (for example, if a discussion of a staff restructure affects a staff governor's role, they shouldn't be sent those minutes)
When dealing with issues that shouldn't be discussed with the whole governing board, such as a staff disciplinary issue. The staffing committee may inform the governing board of any person involved and any decision reached, but details of the discussion should remain confidential as other members may need to sit on an appeal committee and must have no prior knowledge of the case
The minutes of the pay committee should be withheld from staff governors (except the headteacher)
When discussing a contract with a business owned by a governor (at least until the decision on the contract has been made)
How to make minutes confidential
When the board decides that particular items are confidential, these are recorded separately in the minutes as 'confidential part 2' items. These should be recorded on a separate sheet and clearly marked as confidential.
It's up to you to decide how to circulate confidential minutes, but the board should agree a method of doing so.
Encrypt emails or password protect your documents: the level of encryption depends on the information in the minutes, as highly sensitive information will need a higher level of encryption
Use a dedicated governor email address
You should also:
Double check you've selected the right address before clicking send
Use bcc (blind carbon copy) rather than cc (carbon copy) to send emails without revealing others' email addresses
Check any group email addresses: make sure you really want to send your email to everyone in that group
If your clerk sends confidential minutes to all governors in error, you should speak to the chair of governors as soon as possible to agree what to do.
You must record that there was an error at the next full governing board meeting, so that all governors are aware. This shouldn't go into detail, but should cover the fact that the error has occurred, and that any risks and the impact are being looked into. All governors should be made aware that it's still confidential information. The chair, headteacher and clerk (and the chair of the committee, if it's committee minutes) should have a conversation before the next full governing board meeting to agree the best way to handle it.
If the next board meeting is not for some time, the chair may decide to speak to governors individually in order to mitigate and minimise the impact.
We were given this advice by our associate education expert, Brendan Hollyer.
Ofsted's access to minutes
Inspectors can ask to see a governing board's confidential minutes. This is because inspectors can have access to any information that's relevant to the coverage of an inspection.
Releasing minutes under the Freedom of Information Act
You must release confidential minutes under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000.
You can only refuse if:
It would cost too much or take too much staff time to deal with the request
The request is vexatious
The request repeats a previous request from the same person
One of the exemptions in the Act applies
The exemptions exist to protect information that shouldn't be disclosed, for example, because it would harm someone or would be against the public interest. Exempt information includes that which:
Accessible to applicants by other means
Intended for future publication
Supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters
Containing personal data which would contravene the Data Protection Act if it were disclosed
If you're refusing all or any part of a request, you must send the requester a written refusal notice. This includes if you're either refusing to say whether you hold information at all, or confirming that information is held but refusing to release it.
You should consult the ICO guidance before refusing an FOI request.
You can read more about the Freedom of Information Act in another of our articles. This Act is separate from the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and isn't affected by the changes to data protection law.