May 01, 2015

Director of the Trust Letter - April

Director’s letter

April 2015

Dear Colleagues

The last time I wrote to you was shortly after the trust’s first Recognition Event at the end of February. This update provides an opportunity to explain some of the key issues the trust and its academies are handling as we move into a rather uncertain time with the impending General Election.

The education policies of the various political parties are becoming clearer but the great unknown is whether a single party will have a clear majority (and be unfettered) or whether a combination of parties (and a combination of their education policies) will win the day. At this stage it is difficult to second guess but it is fair to say that the budgets for education are likely to be squeezed hard whichever party or parties form the next government. Our trust, including all of the academies in it, will have to continue considering very carefully how to improve efficiency. Having an effective trust with academies performing well and a link with a forward moving business sponsor is a strong starting point but we need to be proactive and make sure we achieve even more for the benefit of our pupils and students.

New trust, Governor Conference and governor training

As part of the development of our single trust the trust board has reviewed its objectives and is beginning the process of sharing and developing this statement further. The process began at the second annual trust Governor Conference last Saturday at 1 Angel Square, Manchester. With over 40 delegates and strong representation from many academies it gave us an opportunity to share and discuss the trust’s direction of travel. A modified version of the strategy will be reviewed by the trust board at their next meeting in July and then in early autumn I plan to visit all of our academies to explain to pupils/students, staff, governors and parents the exciting plans we have for the future.

In an attempt to strengthen the induction arrangements for governors to our trust I have arranged to meet with all who are new to being a governor at 1 Angel Square, Manchester at 6pm on Tuesday 16th June. This event will include a meal and a chance to meet other governors, as well as training on the role and how it should be conducted. For governors and staff wanting to know more about The Co-operative Group, our trust and its plans for the future an evening event also starting at 6pm will be held at 1 Angel Square on 8 July. Both events will end at 8pm. Please inform Heather Unwin at heather.unwin@co-operative.coop if you wish to attend either event.

Last week the trust board held its regular meeting at Oakwood Primary Academy in Leeds. Prior to the meeting many of the board members visited the other Leeds academies in our trust and enjoyed meeting pupils/students and staff during a tour of the academy. The board discussed a range of issues but the majority focused on finance and human resources issues. I have asked Mike Gerrard (Trust’s Finance Director) and Juliet Caunt (Head of HR) respectively to summarise the issues for you below:

Finance

We face a challenging operating environment, including the likelihood of little or no inflationary increases in income and difficult recruitment markets for new and replacement staff.  The Board discussed and agreed parameters for next year’s budget which will help us maintain a robust and prudent approach.

Continuing the theme of sound financial management, the newly created Reserves Policy defines a working range of reserves for each school in order to ensure that schools focus their resources on current pupils/students as well as maintain a degree of contingency to cope with unforeseen events, and the overall financial strength of the Trust is maintained.

The Board considered options to replace the Responsible Officer role as this is no longer a Department of Education requirement.  The creation of a single Trust as a single employer means the previously adopted approach of peer review across schools is not an option.  In order to ensure the Trust continues to receive assurance of the operation of key financial controls, an internal audit service will be procured from an experienced firm of advisers. 

In terms of external audit, the Board supported the appointment of Baker Tilly as auditors for the current year, with a tender process in the following year.

The scale of cash balances across the Trust provides an opportunity to create a single Investment Policy which will support robust and consistent investment decisions which secure Trust assets.  An external adviser will be appointed to draft the policy.

Finally, the revised risk management process which focuses on the key risks, is now a standing item on Board agendas and is being rolled out to individual schools.

Human Resources

The Trust Board approved the adoption of the current Living Wage of £7.85 per hour with effect from 1 September 2015.  This will apply to all staff employed directly by the Trust, with the exception of apprentices and interns.  The delay until September is necessary to enable these increased costs to be planned in to budgets for the 2015/16 academic year.  The Board also agreed that they would aspire to maintaining a salary differential of no more than x10 between the lowest paid and highest paid employee/s in the Trust, excluding apprentices.  The differential is currently just below x8.

The Board considered draft equality objectives for the Trust, to help move forward our work around equality, diversity and inclusion.  The Trust values variety and individual differences, and aims to create a culture, environment and practices at all levels which encompass acceptance, respect and inclusion.  Further information on these objectives will be cascaded later on in the term.

The trust meets regularly with recognised trade unions at its Joint Consultative Negotiating Committee. We have recently consulted on a trust-wide staff code of conduct and capability policy, and these were approved by the trust board.

Links with the DfE

A few weeks ago the trust hosted a DfE event at our headquarters in Manchester. It was a great opportunity to explain the progress we have made and the journey we are on to other prospective sponsors. It was helpful sharing the platform with Russell Gill, the chair of our trust board. He spoke eloquently about the reasons why The Co-operative got involved in the academy programme and the central role it plays in the Group’s desire to support some of our most vulnerable communities. I was able to explain the unique relationship we have as a trust with our business sponsor and our journey of improvement.

New appointments

I am pleased to inform you that Jo Speak, the interim Deputy Headteacher at Oakwood Primary Academy has been appointed permanently to this position. I am delighted Jo has joined us because she has made a very strong and positive impact since she started at the academy in January 2015.

I mentioned in the previous Director’s letter that the trust board approved the creation of two part time academy improvement manager posts (east and west Pennines) and a chief operating manager role. The school improvement manager posts replace the position vacated by Steve McMullan when he joined the ranks of HMI at Ofsted in January. I am delighted to report that Tony Stephens, an experienced and highly regarded school improvement colleague was appointed to the west Pennines role and began his duties last week. Outside of his role with the trust Tony provides a very informative bulletin of education news and events every few months and circulates it to over 20000 colleagues. If you would like to be included in the circulation list just let him know at tony.stephens@co-operative.coop. Please note that the bulletin is not an official trust document.

It was not possible to secure a suitable candidate for the east Pennine academy improvement manager position so a further round of recruitment will commence shortly. I have asked Brian Padgett, a recently retired HMI, and Tony Stephens to provide some cover but I will continue to have overall responsibility for these academies until a permanent appointment is made.  With an inspection due at Oakwood, a new headteacher to appoint at Woodlands and a new Principal at The Co-operative academy of Leeds starting on 1 June it looks like I will continue to be very familiar with the M62. The trust board hopes to appoint the Chief Operating Manager shortly.

Growth in pupil/student numbers

We are seeing unprecedented increases in pupil/student numbers across all of our academies. Some, like The Co-operative Academy of Leeds, have been full for some time but this situation has now been reached in many of our primary academies. This is good news but it also presents a number of challenges. The Manchester academy has agreed to admit a further 30 students in Year 7 this September and has received £350000 from the local authority to make necessary adaptations to the building to accommodate the increase. Approval has been granted for an extension to Oakwood Primary Academy that will commence in the next few months.

Our new-build primary academy (Nightingale) in Leeds has been handed over to the trust and the local authority by the builders. The ‘snagging’ process is nearly complete and it is hoped that by 8 May the fixtures and fittings will be in place so that the formal exchange of lease can be completed. We have planned a formal opening on 11 June with Richard Pennycook (Group Chief Executive of Co-operative Group) and other local dignitaries and we hope a good dose of press coverage.

Professional development

An aspect of professional development we have been keen to enhance has been in leadership development at all levels across the trust. We have established very effective links with national organisations such as Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders so if you would like to benefit from these programmes and opportunities please speak directly with your headteacher/Principal.

The trust has developed a Masters’ Leadership Degree through Manchester Metropolitan University under the guidance of Chris Walton, Headteacher at Woodlands Primary Academy. Having held discussions with all headteachers and Principals we believe there is sufficient demand from our academies to offer between 12 and 16 places starting in September. The trust is looking to offer financial support for those participating on this course. More details will follow from Chris shortly.

Recently the trust was able to provide training on English and SEND to staff and governors from across the trust. A follow up task from one of these sessions was the need to undertake a formal review of progress in implementing the new SEN code of practice. Eric Craven, ex-HMI and senior inspector for SEN will shortly forward a template to support this task. He is available on 8 July at 1 Angel Square, Manchester to help finalise the reviews face to face or by telephone, whichever is the easier. I have asked Phil Jarrett to provide a follow up session on English issues for staff and governors on Tuesday 10 November at 1 Angel Square, Manchester.

I was pleased to see very good attendance from across the trust for the first Safeguarding Network session recently. Further meetings are planned and details are being finalised at the moment.

I have tentative plans for providing an opportunity for Heads of History and History Co-ordinators to come together to work through and share the approaches they have adopted following some significant curriculum changes introduced by the government. More details will be shared with headteachers/Principals in due course.

Engagement between the sponsor and academies

I have met most of the academy headteachers/Principals with Rebecca Blakesley (National Projects Assistant and responsible for links with our academies) to agree a programme of engagement between each academy and The Group. This will ensure that all activities are well planned and the outcomes understood. The management of this work will fall to the Chief Operating Manager in due course.

Some examples of the many ways our academies and the sponsor engage include:

  • The Student Council from the Stoke Academy received leadership training led by a Co-operative Group manager in early January. The session was a great success and provided time for them to consider how best to develop student voice in the academy.
  • Eight pupils from Woodlands had a great day combining a visit to Toad Lane, Rochdale (where the co-operative movement began) with a trip to 1 Angel Square, Manchester as part of a Primary Rewards Programme. This was the first of its kind for a primary academy and we hope to offer this opportunity to other primaries in the future.
  • Mike Greenacre (Trust Board member and chair of governors at our Stoke academy) and Joan Keysell (Member Learning Manager at The Co-operative Group) participated as panel members in a Question Time session at The co-operative academy of Leeds (CAL)
  • CAL’s student council visited the 1 Angel Square building for a regular meeting held in the Boardroom. (I have plans to bring all such groups together to contribute to the Co-operative Young Members Board)
  • CAM held their Peer Mentor Training Day in the auditorium of 1 Angel Square in March to enable students to develop the skills and qualities to be a good peer mentor.

A final word and looking forward

I have enjoyed working with senior leaders from our primary academies in preparing for our first Primary Academy Conference at The Village, Leeds on 23 October. It is a great example of the power of collaboration and co-operation. The agenda is developing nicely and it will be wonderful having so many trust staff in one place to share expertise and ideas. I am conscious, however, that I have not been as visible as I used to be in some of our academies due to offering school improvement work across all of our academies. So if you have an idea for greater collaboration and co-operation between our academies and you would normally just tell me directly I would urge you to email me at frank.norris@co-operative.coop

And finally, may I take this opportunity of thanking Eileen McCarthy, the Principal at The co-operative academy of Leeds, for her commitment, drive and energy. She has played a crucial role in helping the academy improve. I wish her well as she embarks on the next stage of her career at the end of May.

Frank Norris

Director of the Trust

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