Denise Maloney has been part of virtual governing board meetings since before the country went into lockdown and face to face meetings were no longer possible. Denise talks about the tools she has used with her boards so all boards can make virtual meetings a success during these challenging times.

“For 16 years, I was a chair in several schools and led governance improvement. I’ve recently stood down from the role and am now an active governor, trustee on a MAT board, and a clerk to several schools in different local authorities. I run governor training and am a governance consultant, working to upskill boards and individual governors.

My professional background is in business, but more recently I’ve worked in governance consultancy alongside training, mentoring and supporting governors and trustees.

Before we went into lockdown, I’d been looking at ways for governors for join meetings if they couldn’t be there in person. Previously, some governors had joined meetings via Skype, but it didn’t work brilliantly. I knew there were lots of considerations to weigh up – the first and most important being putting together policies to cover remote meetings and decision making. We needed this to run in conjunction with our current terms of reference and the code of conduct.

Using Zoom effectively

I trialed several virtual meeting providers but kept coming back to Zoom. I used the free version initially which allowed 40 minutes free access, but this wouldn’t have been sufficient for meetings.

I decided to pay for the licenced version, which allows up to 100 people and is secure. Lockdown was looming by this time and it was clear that remote meetings would be the only way forward. You can hide backgrounds on Zoom, which was a positive, and it’s easy to use and download for attendees. Before anyone assumes I’m on commission for Zoom – I’m not! But it has been the most effective virtual meeting tool I’ve used.

Once you’ve registered for Zoom, you can join a meeting by clicking a link sent out as an RSVP invite. The waiting room means you can make sure only those who are invited can attend the meeting, and the meeting can be locked so no one else can join once all attendees are present.

Not everyone had used Zoom before, so I offered trial runs to any governors who weren’t confident with the platform. I then planned out how meetings could work.

Top tips I’ve found since holding remote meetings via Zoom: 

  • It works best with everyone on mute other than the chair, headteacher, and clerk, so that the chair and head can focus on their items.
  • Different on-screen views can be personalised, but gallery is always good.
  • Files and paperwork can be shared via a file share facility, or on screen.
  • Any questions that governors have can be typed into a chat facility. The chair can take these at appropriate times and those who wish to answer can be unmuted.
  • Voting can still take place by attendees using the thumbs up emoji (needs must in times like this!)

Overall, meetings seems to be much more focussed, although not shorter in most cases. More information can be taken in.

We can all still recruit governors by using the same technology we use to meet. We’re able to speak with them and co-opt them, if suitable, at remote meetings.”