September 29, 2015

Director of the Trust Letter - September

Director’s Letter to staff and governors


I hope you have settled well into the new academic year even if, like me, the summer break appears a distant memory. I would like to offer a special welcome to all of the new staff and governors to our trust. I hope that you have been given a good welcome and are being given the skills and support to do your very best.

Life is rarely dull in education but in August, with schools generally closed and my family taking a couple of weeks’ holiday in the UK, I looked forward to the opportunity to recharge the batteries. Unfortunately, with little school news, apart from the GCSE and A Level results, the media invariably run stories that often irritate me because they are usually so wrong. One such story was about the high number of students ‘bunking off’. A traditional view held by certain newspapers and television stations that the national data simply doesn’t support. Sadly it fills a few column inches. As this story broke towards the end of last month I was interviewed by BBC Radio early in the morning and asked about the amazing attendance rates at our academies but particularly the one in Manchester. I was asked to reveal the magic approach that Manchester had adopted as if they had struck upon something no one else had considered. I remember stating that it all boils down to having key people with real intent, determination and a genuine desire to improve pupil/student lives. I emphasised the importance of the whole academy wanting and expecting excellent attendance. There is something in the eyes of colleagues who really mean what they say and this is what makes the difference. I knew as soon as I said this that the interviewer was disappointed because it wasn’t as sensational as he expected but it was the truth, as far as I was aware. In many ways the story reminded me of what our pupils/students, staff and governors have achieved and how we all (including me!) need to push on and eke out just a little bit more. We need to continue to show real intent, professionalism and a willingness to work hard in a cooperative manner. No trick or magic potion, just consistently driving, striving and improving.

Chain effects report and a new academy

Following the General Election ministers have made clear their intention of pushing on with the academies and free schools programme. This has provided some clarity for schools considering the academy route in the next few years. The number contacting the trust in recent months has increased markedly. Some have mentioned that they have been spurred on by the trust’s very strong performance in the most recent Sutton Trust Report. This annual report compares the performance of the 30 or so largest academy groups and it reveals a continuing improvement in performance for our trust especially in terms of the progress made by disadvantaged pupils. The report can be found using the following link

The process undertaken when considering whether a new school/academy should join the trust involves the central trust team undertaking a process called ‘due diligence’. Our trust allocate the leadership of this work to a trusted colleague and the central trust team lead on various aspects of the evaluation. The ‘due diligence’ process involves a number of visits to the school/academy and extensive discussions and debate. A key consideration is whether the new school/academy fits our profile of academies namely, it is in the Leeds-Manchester-Stoke area, is committed to co-operative values and has the potential to improve under our guidance. I am pleased to announce that following a recent ‘due diligence’ process with Manchester Creative and Media Academy (MCMA) in north Manchester the trust board agreed to work being carried out to bring this academy into our trust as soon as possible. I spoke with staff at this academy along with Clare Oakley (Partnership Manager for The Co-operative Group) and Joan Keysell (Chief Operating Manager for our trust). There was genuine warmth and excitement about the future and we feel privileged to help them on their journey of improvement. You can find out more about the academy on this link . Joan and I also spoke directly with staff at the nearby Co-operative Academy of Manchester to ensure they were kept up to speed with developments.

The central trust team will continue to review all requests from schools/academies to join the trust with care. Our trust board has made clear that it wishes to expand but not at all costs. There is much evidence that suggests rapid expansion by academy trusts can result in diluted impact overall so we are determined to keep focusing on our existing academies and carefully consider the timing of any new schools/academies joining the trust.

With another secondary academy shortly to join the trust I am pleased to inform you that Tony Stephens, the trust’s Secondary Improvement Manager, has agreed to increase his contract to ensure there is no dilution in the support available. Tony and I are in the process of agreeing the level of support required for each academy and you will notice much greater activity in this area over the coming year. The primary phase work will be led on a temporary basis by Sue Eland, an experienced school improvement consultant, who lives close to our Leeds primary academies. Sue commences early duties in early November.

End of key stage results

With constantly changing grade boundaries across many examinations it has proved particularly difficult to accurately predict end of key stage examination results. This means that when predictions are not quite met there can be a general sense of disappointment but on closer scrutiny results invariably show improved overall performance. This was the case for our trust this year. Headline figures at Key stage 2 revealed Woodlands with their best ever results and Brownhill and Oakwood achieving similar results to the previous year. All met the government’s floor standard. The GCSE results showed further gains overall but two academies were affected (like many nationally) by a large jump in the marks required for a Grade C in mathematics. Nonetheless, all academies appear to have met the government’s floor standard with The Co-operative Academies of Leeds reporting against a new Progress 8 measure. This is the first time all academies have met the floor standard.

As you know, our students generally have very low starting points when they join our academies and this means that they need to make strong progress to catch up. The Chain Effects report reveals that our secondary academies have the lowest attainment on entry and the third highest level of free school meals amongst the 30 or so largest academy chains. When we take this into account our results are highly creditable but we know that strong progress is only the start and we need to help our students to achieve the highest grades possible. I am very confident that the improvements that are so evident in our academies will continue to deliver improving results over the years ahead.

Ann Nichols and Andy Charlwood

Two important governors are standing down as Chair of Governors at their respective academies. Ann Nichol has decided after 18 (or is it 19?) years at Oakwood to vacate her role as Chair of the governing body. I was present last week when Ann attended a farewell presentation event. The hall was full of colleagues and friends and it was a fitting tribute to an excellent governor and friend of the academy. Andy Charlwood has decided to stand down as Chair of Governors at Brownhill but he intends continuing as a governor. Andy has played a crucial role during the move from a state school to an academy in recent years. Work is underway to appoint chairs of governors at these academies. All other academies currently have chairs of governors with a strong link to The Co-operative Group so colleagues with a similar profile are being sought.

Masters’ programme

I am delighted that a new Cooperative Masters’ degree developed through the trust will commence this term in association with Manchester Metropolitan University and The Co-operative College. Nine students drawn from nearly all of our academies will begin the course in mid-October. The cost of the degree is being heavily subsidised by the trust and it is hoped that further opportunities for colleagues to embark on this training will follow in the coming years. It is not too late to apply so please chat to your headteacher/Principal if you are interested.

Links with the sponsor

We are a unique trust because we are the only one nationally that is inextricably linked with a major business sponsor. Getting the most out of this link is crucial because it can provide many additional opportunities for pupils/students, staff and governors. The appointment of Joan Keysell to the central trust team following many years as a senior manager in The Co-operative Group has already made a significant difference. She has opened important doors for us with Richard Pennycook, The Cooperative’s CEO and Alan Leighton its chairman. A further strengthening of the link with the sponsor has come through the recent appointment by The Group of Clare Oakley as Co-operative Partnership Manager and Rebecca Blakesley as Co-operative Partnership Adviser. These are key roles in coordinating the activities made available to academies. A good example of the power of the link is demonstrated by a recent conversation I had in an academy car park when the Head of mathematics and I were politely interrupted by six students. One had visited The Co-operative’s HQ in Manchester earlier in the term and was keen to try and arrange additional work experience opportunities for herself and her friends. Rebecca, Clare and Joan have drawn on their strong links and arranged for the Leeds based students to spend a week at 1 Angel Square (1AS) during October half term. Earlier this week all of the Manchester academy’s prefects attended 1AS receiving leadership training from the Group’s leadership team. If you have any ideas how we can better develop the link between the academies and the sponsor please let your headteacher/Principal or me know.

During the next few months I will be visiting each of our academies to provide a presentation on the strategic direction of the trust as agreed by the trust board recently. I will be joined by the chair of governors and the headteacher/Principal. This will be a further opportunity to suggest ideas on how we can improve our work.

Induction Event

I have recently written to all new staff inviting them to an induction event at 1AS in Manchester on Monday 5 October between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. This provides a chance for me to introduce some of the central trust staff and explain the roles they play, outline how we are supporting each academy, explain the professional development opportunities available to them and provide an opportunity for colleagues to mingle and get to know each other. A tour of the impressive building will be followed by a buffet. Travel expenses will be covered by the trust.

I am aware that some (not so new) staff have asked for an opportunity to visit 1AS and have a chance to chat with me and other colleagues so the induction evening has been extended to include any interested staff member. A letter explaining this should have been forwarded to you recently. If it hasn’t please ask your Headteacher/Principal for a copy.

Issues from the recent Trust Board

The Trust Board meets every three to four months. Additional meetings are slotted in when required. The most recent meeting was in early September and the board considered the following issues:

Approval sought for the following issues

Decision or action

Considered ‘due diligence’ report for Manchester Creative and Media Academy

The trust should progress subject to a small number of outstanding issues being resolved

Considered interest from other schools/academies wishing to join the trust

Director to provide a further update at the additional trust board meeting in mid-October

Consider a small number of changes to the scheme of delegation following the annual review led by the Finance Director

Changes approved and should be shared with headteachers/Principals and governing bodies

Determine the safest bank to hold our accounts with

Finance Director to undertake further discussions with existing bank and consider possible alternatives

Agree the format for presenting trust board and governing body papers

Chief Operating Manager to progress and share with governing bodies

Discuss approach to bonus payments for staff at top of salary scales

Head of HR to consult further with unions and headteachers/Principals and governing bodies

Consider Performance Management, Pay Policy 2015/16 and Safer Recruitment policies

Approved and to be placed on trust website

Approval of the trust’s strategic plan 2015-2018

Approved to be shared by the Director of the Trust alongside the chair of governors and Headteacher/Principal at special events in each academy this term

Discussion on the following issues


Director’s report, board effectiveness review and audit and risk committee report

Matters for noting

INSURANCE and BOARD AGENDA TIMETABLE                                                     


- Sutton Trust                                               

- Primary SAT Results (More detailed report to be presented in October)                       

- GCSE Summary Paper (More detailed report to be presented in October)                                 


Declaration of Interest forms


Recognition Evening and annual Governor Conference

Feedback from the initial recognition evening last February was very positive but the timing in the early evening was tricky for pupils and students. I felt sorry for the basketball team stuck in a traffic jam on the M6. We have therefore decided to hold a staff recognition evening and a pupil/student afternoon at different times of the year. The 2016 Recognition Evening will take place on Thursday 25 February between 6pm and 8pm and the student recognition event will be held in the summer term. The date has yet to be agreed with the headteachers/Principals. The events will take place at 1AS.

The annual governor conference, which is open to all staff, will take place on Saturday 23 April between 10am and 3.30pm at 1AS. Further details will follow later in the term.

Support for elite performance in sport and the arts

Recently, the Heads of Physical Education from across our academies met to consider a response to a government consultation on PE and sport. I will post the ideas and thoughts that were generated on our trust website shortly. Particular attention was given to additional support that the trust can offer to encourage and support elite performance. With this in mind the trust is considering establishing a small fund for such individuals. Criteria for this funding will be posted on the trust’s website shortly but in the meantime any academy wishing to apply for funding to cover items for an individual such as travel to and from home to a centre or specialist equipment that is not available through the sporting or cultural body then please provide a summary of the request and why the individual pupil or student requires the support to me for consideration. I will seek the support of some trust board and central trust board members in the consideration process.

  • Last week many staff from the Co-operative Academy of Leeds raised money for a homeless charity by sleeping rough. This brought home the specific problems of living on the street and the risks involved.
  • Well done to Jo Speak, Head of School at Oakwood Primary Academy, for her fascinating keynote at the BELMAS conference last week. The trust hosted the annual conference for academics covering leadership and management at 1 Angel Square. Jo’s presentation drew on her experiences working with pupils in Mexico through the British Council and the way democratic leadership is being developed at Oakwood.


I look forward to meeting you during the next few weeks at the various events around the trust.

Best wishes


Frank Norris

Director of the Trust