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Is anyone here the Chairperson of a charity run pre school ?

(14 Posts)
Tillyscoutsmum Fri 17-Jun-11 21:42:37

I am currently a Trustee and our Chairperson is stepping down. I have been asked to take over as Chair but would really like to pick the brains of anyone in a similar position.

Anyone out there ?

peanutbutterkid Sat 18-Jun-11 13:47:02

Don't do it? grin Let some other poor sod take it on. Poisoned chalice.
Bitter, who me?

teacherwith2kids Sat 18-Jun-11 15:59:46

I have done it in the past - for a pre-school my children were attending, where the committee was a bunch of mums I knew and where the fabulous staff were very happy to hold the hands of every committee and chair who came through.

Had a very happy time for 2 years, survived an Ofsted, a major renovation of the pre-fab we were housed in and the discovery that we needed a new building (at which point I moved on to chair the New Building Committee!).

What in particular would you like to know?

Tillyscoutsmum Sat 18-Jun-11 20:42:54

Thanks both. Clearly very different experiences of it !

I just wondered how formal it was and how involved you were.

If you'll allow me to waffle for a minute, this pre school has been running for 35 years. The current Chair has been in place for about 3 years. I've been a Trustee for 1 year and have a child attending the pre school and another one who will go next year. At the moment, there seems to be a real conflict between the Manager & staff of the pre school and the Chairperson. On the basis I have children there, I obviously want to avoid any conflict.

I have mentioned my concerns to the Manager (who is the person who has asked me to consider the role) and she tells me that in 35 years, there has never been any conflict until this current Chairperson and its merely down to a conflict of personalities.

From what I can gather though, the Trustee/Chair role used to be very informal and they didn't get involved in things like staff appraisals, pay rises etc. The current Chair has said she had to change things because the Charities Commission weren't happy with the lack of formality.

Hope that makes sense ?

I'd quite like to do it. I have the time to spare. I want to re-train as a teacher in due course so think it would be something that would look good on my c.v. but I don't want any bad feeling against me (and my dc's potentially).

teacherwith2kids Sat 18-Jun-11 21:58:27

Can I just clarify the position regarding being a Trustee vs being the Chairperson in your case

For the Pre-school I chaired, we had a group of Building Trustees [technically custodian trustees] (we owned the building, and this group held the trusteeship of that building) and a committee, who were the Charity Trustees of the Pre-school itself.

In your case, when you say you are a Trustee, is this that you are a Charity trustee? And is the Chairperson the Chair of that Charity trustee group? I just don't want to confuse things...

If the Trustees are Charity Trustees, then you have fairly serious legal responsibilities (for example you are jointly and severally liable for financial losses incurred by the charity if they are incurred because of your mismanagement or because you acted in bad faith, you are the employers of the staff etc). It is therefore normal to be involved in discussions about pay rises etc as you employ the staff and have the responsibility to ensure that such rises are affordable..

It is the Trustees' responsibility (severally) to ensure that the charity is properly managed, and that staff employment is in line with employment law. You could delegate staff appraisals to the Manager (because you can delegate some aspects of running the charity day-to-day to employees), though you should do the Manager's. You should be involved in recruitment. As a committee, you must have a good handle on the finances through a clear budget managed by the treasurer.

As Chair, you do not in fact have greater legal responsibilities than you doi as a Trustee. The main difference is that you tend to be the 'front man' for dealing with staff.

If I were you, I would read
a) the constitution of your pre-school. This may well be in the Prospectus, otherwise ask for it.
b) Guidance from the charity commission

I would then consider whether the issue with the current Chair is because the manager and staff are used to 'managing themselves' (in which case the problem is ongoing, as your legal position as Trustees makes this a state of affairs that cannot continue) or because the current chair is particularly abrasive. I would also look VERY carefully at the accounts - managing a solvent pre-school with a healthy revenue stream, a number of good fund-rasing activities and a full roll is very different from managing one with a falling roll, not quite enough money and lurching from one financial crisis to another! During my period as Chair, we faced a big problem because the neighbouring school wanted to shift to a singe entry in September, whereas they had run 3 entries, one each term. In the end, a compromise of 2 entries was reached and that kept our revenue stream healthy. But that kind of thing can put a big hole in a previously balanced budget.

Funnily enough, I went on to retrain as a teacher....

peanutbutterkid Sun 19-Jun-11 08:45:33

Proving mismanagement is notoriously difficult, especially as so many people are involved typically. I had a long email chat with Charity Comms man who confirmed that in reality the risk of preschool committee members being found liable for negligence was virtually nil. We had a local preschool which shut down due to failure to pay NI contribs over a long period (suddenly saddled with 22k bill by taxman). The staff (maybe 8 of them?) got none of their legally entitled redundancy pay; they were cheesed off but advised it was pointless to try to sue.

OP: do you have experience of sitting in on meetings and know a lot about how the preschool already works? Are you or do you mind becoming well-versed in employment law, writing and reviewing policies and procedure documents, health and safety, suitable person vetting, risk assessment, fund-raising, personell management, procurement, end of year accounts, filing (Charity commission) annual reports, and Ofsted's expectations of educational standards? It's a much broader remit than what most teachers train for. You will effectively be running an externally assessed small business, subject to as much red tape as the govt. can throw at it. Be ready for a steep learning curve. Nobody around here lasts as Chair for more than a year (I meant to stay for 3 yrs but only made it to 7 months).

As for your worry about continued Chair-Staff conflicts, they are inevitable. Don't take it on if you don't want to risk it. You are boss of the staff, and you are more legally responsible than they are for good management of the setting. Even when professional managers come in, the staff rarely appreciate it.

There sometimes are LEA-run courses you can go on to help you learn how to manage a preschool. If it's not too far a drive and you can get a place.

teacherwith2kids Sun 19-Jun-11 09:09:15

OP, I never answered your question about formality - a certain amount of formality is absolutely essential, in that all meetings have to be properly conducted and minuted, there has to be a formal set of accounts, appraisals and recruitment have to be done formally to ensure that they match legal requirements etc. However, my committee was a group of fellow mums who also enjoyed a laugh, so we did have a good time while doing it.

I was also really lucky in that I had good people to delegate responsibility to. The village had a large number of 'sole trader' trademen, whose wives / partners typically did the accounts and correspondence for them, so we had a succession of very able treasurers who took care of the accounts and their filing and very able secretaries who took great minutes. Similarly several of the committee LOVED fundraising, so they became events organisers and except for turning up and manning stalls etc I didn't have to get very involved in that. The staff were dedicated and experienced, so they would typically draft policies and procedures related to the setting, which the committee and I then just had to review. They were also well-versed and very well-trained in the EYFS, OFSTED requirements and all the tracking paperwork, so with a little help from my PSLA representative, meetings with other pre-schools and the school, and from other teachers in my family, we could cover that. Look at your committee and your backup - do you have expertise that you can draw on?

My steepest learning curves were with CRB checking, as the requirement for EVERYBODY to be checked (not just staff) was new at the point at which I took over, and with matters related to the building, as we had to install a ramp as access and this entailed a complete renovation of the building.

HumphreyCobbler Sun 19-Jun-11 09:16:01

My DH is. I will ask him to discuss stuff with you later when he is in.

There is a lot of responsibility for an unpaid volunteer imo. The madness in Wales is that they don't want the manager to be the registered person, but for the Chair to take on that role. This means that were anything to go wrong then the person who has no dealing with the day to day running of the pre-school would be legally responsible.

The other major problem is that people always moan about stuff with no idea that if those in charge did not give up their time for free then there would be no pre-school provision at all. This is just life, but deeply disheartening nonetheless.

HumphreyCobbler Sun 19-Jun-11 09:26:36

It is not just the charity responsibilities you need to be aware of, it is the regulatory body requirements. In England this is the CQC, in Wales the CSSIW.

HumphreyCobbler Sun 19-Jun-11 09:29:56

peanutbutterkids sums it up, should have read before posting.

if you want to avoid conflict do not take this on (sorry)

teacherwith2kids Sun 19-Jun-11 09:36:11

Are you sure about the CQC? Isn't that just for adult social care?

Before my time as Chair, the pre-school was responsible to Ofsted for the educational part of its work, and to another body who inspected the safety, care etc (may have been part of the Local Authority, apologies for being vague but the files have long since passed to the next Chair).

By the time I was involved, Oftsed had taken over both roles so we were inspected by Ofsted in terms of education AND care, and had to submit accounts and other financial information to the Charity Commission.

Safeguarding has taken a higher profile since I was chair, that is definitely something you should take a look into, see who is the named person with responsibility for safeguarding etc.

teacherwith2kids Sun 19-Jun-11 09:38:30

Googled - yes, Wales is different as their inspection regime is not through ofsted but through Estyn and they have a different remit from Ofsted.

In England, Ofsted does both parts, so CQC does not have the same role as CSSIW.

HumphreyCobbler Sun 19-Jun-11 09:42:05

Thanks - was just posting to say that it is possibly different in England. But the fact remains that the responsibilities will be there, whoever regulates it.

Tillyscoutsmum Sun 19-Jun-11 21:05:55

Thank you for all the posts.

In response to a few questions, I am already a charity trustee so have some legal responsibility. I have attended Trustee meetings so am aware of the how the pre-school is run. We have a great Treasurer and she is very supportive. I have HR experience so am ok with employment law, personnel issues etc. I have also been in charge of fund raising for the last 12 months. I also run my own business with DH, so have some knowledge of accounting H&S procedures etc. I'm a Chartered Surveyor so am fine with the property/buildings side of things.

Where I'm really lacking is with the EYFS and OFSTED requirements, so would need to do some work on that but the Manager has been in charge for 35 years and is very well versed. We've had Outstanding awarded for the last 2 inspections.

Your posts have all been really helpful. Thank you again. Its given me lots to think about.

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