March 04, 2015

Director of the Trust Letter - February

Dear Colleagues

It is amazing how quickly time flies once the term has begun. If you are like me the festive break feels like an age ago and it’s hard to believe we are now in March. A quick glance at your diary for the past few months will probably reveal the reason or reasons why time seems to be motoring along. Inevitably, life across our seven academies is a mixture of thrill, excitement, enjoyment and a heavy dose of hard work. Trying to sum all of this up in a Director’s letter will inevitably fail to some extent but I hope you don’t mind if I concentrate on some of the key issues from my viewpoint.

Trust Recognition Event

Recently, children and young people, staff, governors, parents and friends of our academies attended the inaugural Trust Recognition Event in Manchester. Over 180 were in attendance and it was wonderful having pupils and students from all of our academies in one place for the first time since The Co-operative Group began to sponsor academies in 2010. The six co-operative values were at the heart of the awards and it was remarkable how each academy had identified the group or individual to receive each award. It demonstrated just how relevant the values are and how they can be a central pillar for our work. I would like to thank the headteachers and Principals for managing the awards at their academies, Heather Unwin for coordinating the entire event and former soldier Tom Coleridge, who was shot and disabled in Afghanistan, who was the guest of honour at the event.

Unannounced Behaviour and safety inspection at Stoke

In late January, our academy in Stoke received an unannounced inspection from three Ofsted Her Majesty’s Inspectors. The focus of the visit was initially thought to be for general issues regarding behaviour but it quickly became apparent that it was looking in depth at safeguarding and even more closely at the academy’s efforts to tackle radicalisation. It was coincidental that the Chief Inspector at Ofsted was in front of the education select committee discussing the issues surrounding the Trojan Horse letter in Birmingham on the morning of our inspection. Clearly, the issue of radicalisation is an important one and presents risks to all pupils and students nationally. We do however need to be alert to any signs and it is essential we all follow the agreed procedures for sharing any concerns. I am delighted to report that the findings of the inspection at Stoke were very positive. You can read the report at

Bringing our academy staff together

The distance between the three cities where our academies are located makes it difficult at times to enable staff and governors to come together to discuss key issues. This makes the meetings that do occur really important. Recently, the trust has arranged for Phil Jarrett (ex-senior HMI and author of the seminal report ‘Moving English Forward’) and Eric Craven (ex-HMI with responsibility for SEND) to share with staff and governors their important insights into school improvement. Both sessions, held in Manchester, were very well received and I received a host of thank you emails from those that attended. It was particularly pleasing to see governors and staff from our academies working together to agree plans of action etc. Eric Craven is supporting SENCOs in the summer term when they undertake a review of the impact of the new SEND Code of Practice for governors. By working together on this we can ensure a consistent and well informed approach across all of our academies.

A further area of co-operation that is about to begin is that of the trust’s Safeguarding Network. You will recall that the trust provided a secondment opportunity to lead the network. Unfortunately, this secondment could not be progressed so I have asked Carolyn Eyre, a colleague well known to our Leeds academies to lead on this work. The first meeting is at 1 Angel Square on 20 March between 12.30pm and 3.30pm and includes lunch. All safeguarding leads and governors linked to safeguarding have been invited.

Ensuring the sponsor makes a strong impact

During the past few weeks I have visited most of our academies with a colleague from The Co-operative Group to discuss how we can further strengthen existing links with the sponsor. We intend to establish a clearer programme of timetabled activities so that the sponsor and each academy know when and what they are engaging in and have sufficient time on both sides to plan the process. We currently engage with each academy in different ways and there exists an impressive range of activities already. Some recent examples include:

  • 40 students from The Co-operative Academy of Stoke (CAS) visited 1 Angel Square in Manchester to develop their leadership skills and to re-examine the arrangements for student voice in the academy.
  • Students from the academy parliament at The Co-operative Academy of Leeds (CAL) held a meeting in the Board Room of The Co-operative HQ where they met colleagues from the The Co-operative Young Members’ Board.
  • Eight pupils from Woodlands Primary Academy visited the Toad Lane Museum in Rochdale, then had lunch in the restaurant at 1 Angel Square before offering advice to a store manager on how to improve service for young people.
  • A senior manager from the sponsor was joined by a previous senior executive from Co-operative Travel as panel members at CAL’s Question Time session.

We have some exciting ideas and suggestions made by schools and we are considering these at the moment. I will let you know more of this in future. I would like to thank Laura Boonham for her work in helping to develop the links between the academies and the sponsor. Laura is leaving The Co-operative Group at the end of February to start work as the Communities Project Manager at The Co-operative Academy of Manchester. Rebecca Blakesley, National Projects Administrator in the membership team at The Co-operative Group will be picking up Laura’s duties and can be contacted at or 08437519192 or 07753307394. A recent publication outlines the work that currently exists between The Co-operative Group and our academies and this can be found using the following link


Our trust benefits from the considerable skill and expertise of a committed group of governors. Recent Ofsted inspection reports have all identified the significant contribution they offer. A key aspect of the governance arrangements has been the leading role played by senior managers from with The Co-operative Group. As you know, The Co-operative Group has faced a number of challenges in the last couple of years and this has resulted in a root and branch review leading to the current ‘rebuild phase’. Inevitably, there have been changes in role for some colleagues and some have decided to seek opportunities outside of the business. The recent changes have resulted in some governors from the sponsor moving on but I am delighted many remain in post and are keen to continue their work with the academies. The trust will shortly commence a drive to attract more governors from within The Co-operative Group and its membership. I will keep headteachers/Principals and chairs of governors informed.

The second annual Governor Conference will be held at 1 Angel Square, Manchester between 10am and 3pm on Saturday 25 April. All governors will shortly receive a formal invitation from me but I would like to take this opportunity of inviting any members of staff to join us for the event. This would be voluntary but the trust will pay travel expenses for both governors and staff. The focus for the event will be the new trust’s direction but there will also be a number of opportunities to work in smaller seminar groups covering a wide range of education and related issues. Last year’s event was well received and I am personally looking forward to it. If you are a member of staff wishing to come along please let your Headteacher/Principal know and email Heather Unwin at

The trust will shortly be inviting all new governors (that is governors that have never held such a role before) to an induction session at The Co-operative’s Headquarters in Manchester on 8 July between 6pm and 8pm. A meal and refreshments will be provided. This session will enable governors to meet other new governors and provide a chance for them to understand more fully their roles and responsibilities. For governors with some experience but either new to our trust or wanting to know more we will be hosting a similar event focusing more on the trust and its links with The Co-operative Group and the wider co-operative movement on 16 June between 6 and 8pm. Again a meal and refreshments will be provided.

All governors have access to online training through the Modern Governor programme. This training covers a wide range of issues including safeguarding, child protection, understanding pupil/student data and performance management. If you require login details you should use your National Governors’ Association details at . If you have any difficulties please contact Heather Unwin at

Benefits package

Just a quick reminder that the trust launched its current employee benefits package to all staff at the start of the year. If you haven’t received your pack via your academy, please ask a senior member of staff or contact Juliet Caunt at I am pleased to report that five members of staff have already taken advantage of the cycle to work scheme.

Senior staff changes announced recently

Chris Walton, the Headteacher at Woodlands Primary Academy, will be moving on at the end of the summer term to take up an exciting challenge at a primary school in Sheffield. Chris has been Headteacher at Woodlands for nine years and has been very helpful in supporting the development of a Masters’ leadership programme. More on this later. An advert for Chris’ post is currently on the trust website.

Rob Browning, the Vice Principal at CAL, has been appointed as the Headteacher at Thornton Grammar School in Bradford and will commence his duties after the Easter break. Rob has demonstrated a clear understanding of co-operative values and an undoubted commitment to the students and staff at CAL. His knowledge of assessment data will be missed. The academy has made some internal appointments to cover Rob’s departure including Mary Ruggles who steps up Acting Vice Principal.

John Knowles joined CAM as a Vice Principal with responsibility for the curriculum and assessment in January 2015. John was previously a senior manager at Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury. Mel McMorrow was promoted to a Vice Principal role at CAM during late autumn 2014 and this news missed a suitable Director’s letter for inclusion. Apologies, Mel.

Jenny Crowther-Green has recently been appointed as substantive Vice Principal at CAS following a period of temporary promotion to the role. Jo Speak has joined Oakwood Primary Academy as temporary Deputy Headteacher until the end of the summer term.

Central trust management structure

Following the departure of Steve McMullan (Deputy Director of the Trust) to Ofsted as Her Majesty’s Inspector from the beginning of January I have taken on the role of school improvement across the trust. The trust is replacing Steve’s role with two part time school improvement managers covering east and west Pennines. In addition, the trust is creating a new role of Chief Operating Manager drawing on the annual donation made by the sponsor to help develop co-operative values. All vacancies are on the trust website together with all other vacancies from across our trust.

Budgets looking forward

With the General Election looming we are all beginning to get a sense of how the various parties would support school budgets if they were elected. There is clearly a difference between an election promise and what actually occurs so our budget setting this year (that includes a three year projection) is going to be based on no actual growth in the funds we receive unless there is a likely increase in pupil/student numbers. This is a rather gloomy presumption but it is a sensible position to take. Finance staff in the academies are working with Mike Gerrard (Finance Director for the trust) to guide governors through this process. Agreed budgets will be confirmed in the summer term.

Looking ahead

The trust continues to be approached by schools and academies from around the country making enquiries into joining the trust. Most of these fall outside our current northern base but a few do and we are considering these carefully. The trust board makes the final decision on these matters and always considers the benefits and risks associated with such decisions.

The trust board recently reviewed the trust’s strategy going forward and has agreed a refreshed approach. We intend giving this prominence at the annual governors’ conference in late April and I am working with others in establishing a mechanism for sharing this with pupils/students, staff and parents and carers during the summer term.

The fantastic facilities at 1 Angel Square in Manchester are being used by the DfE on 20 March for a new sponsor event. Senior government officials will be in attendance and it will provide our trust with an opportunity to inform them of the great work being undertaken on a daily basis in our academies.

If you would like to know more about the achievements of our academies just use the link below and it will take you to the trust website where you can get a link for each academy. Most have recent newsletters posted that provide an insight into an amazing range of activities and achievements.

Best wishes