December 14, 2015

Director of the Trust Letter - December

Director’s letter to staff


December 2015


It’s that time of the year when we all begin to reflect on how quickly the year has passed and what the achievements (and disappointments) have been. The festive period brings with it for me a notable birthday (and unfortunately it is not my 50th!) so I will hopefully be sitting around with family and friends and trying to recharge the batteries. I hope you all have some rest and relaxation because I believe it is vitally important in ensuring we are all ready to go on our return.


Interest in our trust


The last few months have seen a significant increase in the number of schools and academies seeking a discussion to consider joining our trust. In many respects the decision by the government to force schools that are not ‘good’ at their next inspection to be driven down the academy route is making some look, for what they may term, a ‘safe harbour’ before this happens. We have to be very careful in ensuring any new academy is a good fit for our trust and make it clear that our cooperative values are at the heart of our work. If new academies don’t want to ‘buy in’ to these then the relationship is unlikely to work. I tried to make this point clear when I spoke to staff at various academy events this term. I really enjoyed the sort of roadshow I embarked on when I explained the trust’s strategic plan including its ambition for the future. A further highlight was the inaugural Primary Conference for our Leeds staff when I was joined by Russell Gill, the chair of our trust board. Seeing over 250 colleagues together really struck home what a significant resource we have in driving up educational standards in inner Leeds.


Coping with increasing demand


In addition to the work on future acquisitions, we have some considerable developments within our existing academies as we work with councils to resolve pressures on pupil/student places. These include:

  • The Co-operative Academy of Manchester is about to start a £17m extension to its building to accommodate an increase of 120 students per year from 2017
  • Nightingale Primary Academy has agreed to admit an additional Year 2 class from January 2016
  • The Co-operative Academy of Leeds has begun to engage with Shakespeare Primary School on plans to move into the accommodation they may leave behind when they move to a larger new-build primary school close by. This will increase CAL’s numbers by about 300 students
  • Oakwood is about to embark on a major building extension to alleviate pressure on its current site
  • The Co-operative Academy of Manchester opened its new business incubation space called The Hive.  Further details and photos of the space can be found at


In addition, The Co-operative Academy of Stoke recently adapted specific areas to accommodate extra teaching space, Brownhill Primary Academy created additional teaching classrooms from a central area that was underused as well as refurbishing all classrooms with new seating and tables and not to be left out Woodlands completed a major extension to improve kitchen facilities.


Professional development for staff


There has been a significant increase in the number and range of professional development opportunities made available by the trust. These include the deployment of high quality external consultants (well-regarded experts in their field including many ex-HMI) under the management of Tony Stephens, the trust’s Secondary Academy Improvement Manager. Each secondary academy has an agreed programme that outlines the commitments required between now and the end of July 2016. Feedback from these opportunities, which usually start with key leaders from all academies coming together for a day of intense training and analysis at 1 Angel Square, has been extra-ordinarily positive.  I am pleased to welcome Sue Eland as the Primary Academy Improvement colleague who commenced her work in early November. Sue has already held meetings with each of the primary Executive Headteachers and is establishing a programme of support that complements the existing work.


I am delighted to report that the inaugural Primary Conference in Leeds was a great success. It was attended by all staff (teaching and non-teaching), governors, visitors from a few local schools not in our trust and some of the trust board. Russell Gill and Joan Keysell provided excellent opening presentations that covered the trust’s strategic plan and the heritage of the cooperative movement and why we all need to be 21st Century Pioneers. I provided two keynotes on effective teaching and the importance of good questioning skills for all staff. The afternoon sessions were in workshops led by senior staff from each of the primary academies, Russell Harvey, the chair of Governors at Woodlands Primary Academy and an external consultant the trust uses for safeguarding training and development. The feedback from the event was incredibly positive. It was the first time we have had all of our Leeds primary staff in one place at one time. Further work has taken place to determine how we can capitalise on the great day. A big thank you to Bev Blanchfield. Maeve Birdsall, Juliet Caunt, Adele Clark and Sarah Woodlands for their sterling work in organising the event.


The trust has now established a Masters’ programme in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Co-operative College. Ten colleagues have embarked on the course and no doubt are feeling a tad nervous as their first written piece is due for submission shortly. The programme is heavily subsidised for staff by the trust and is part of our ongoing work to ensure that colleagues feel well supported in their work and career development.


Recognition Events


Last year the trust staged its first recognition event at 1 Angel Square. The evening proved very successful so a further two events are planned. The first will be early evening of Thursday 25 February at 1 Angel Square, Manchester and will be for staff only. We intend including a number of improvements on last year’s arrangements and Joan Keysell will share these with the academies before the festive break. A recognition event for pupils and students is planned for late in the summer term. A date is currently under consideration.


Annual Governor Conference at 1 Angel Square, Manchester


Please note that the annual governor conference is to be held on Saturday 23 April. All governors are expected to attend. Any staff colleague is also very welcome.


Manchester Creative and Media Academy


Good progress is being made in preparing for the transfer of MCMA into our trust in early spring 2016. Senior leaders have been fully integrated into the support work we undertake across the trust and fortnightly discussions have taken place with the Principal and the nominated chair of governors. We will be stepping up the integration work we want to undertake with the academy early in the new year.


Data protection


During the next few months the trust will reviewing the arrangements for data protection. We all have a responsibility to follow existing policies and procedures. If you are unsure of these please contact your line manager and seek support and advice. May I remind all staff that laptops should not be left unattended without control/alt/delete actions being made to lock the screen while you are away. In addition, memory sticks must not be used unless they are appropriately encrypted. The Information Commissioner’s Office already impose punishing fines for any serious breaches and will be led by increased EU security measures and fines next year.






Foretel survey 2016


Last year all secondary academies undertook a survey of students, staff and parents/carers views. The results were very positive and shared openly with the trust board. The views of staff are really important so please complete your survey when you receive it.

We realised that we needed to do more to help gather the views of parents and carers so this year arrangements have been made for them to return their views online or receive hardcopies of the questionnaires with pre-paid postage envelopes. This year the four primaries are embarking on the survey so in a bid to incentivise online returns, Co-operative Electrical is supporting the survey by providing a 40” plasma TV for a Trust-wide draw and a discount voucher for all parents completing a survey.



Appointment of a Communications Officer for the primaries


The four primary academies, with the support of the central trust, have appointed a Communications Officer, Ciara Mahoney to lead on communications issues. It is hoped that Ciara will take a lead on newsletters, social media and general communications work. Just in case you didn’t know, the trust has a twitter account at @CoopAcademies and the trust website contains fairly frequent news and views. This can be found at


Audit outcomes


A big thank you to the many staff who have made this year’s audit process go so smoothly. As the trust’s Accounting Officer I place great importance on having a very healthy audit. This year we have strengthened the work with the introduction of an internal audit which recently reported very favourably on the trust’s internal controls. Further audits during the coming year will consider among other things, governance and procurement arrangements.


Working with our sponsor


During the early autumn The Co-operative Group appointed Clare Oakley as their Partnership Manager and Rebecca Blakesley as Co-operative Partnerships Advisor. These posts further strengthen our links with our sponsor, The Co-op, and will enable us to continue to secure high quality governors, provide more work experience opportunities, increase the opportunities for business volunteers and experts to work in our academies and ensure that the business plays a major role in raising aspirations for our pupils and students. A good recent example of this is the way six students from The Co-operative Academy of Leeds undertook work experience at 1 Angel Square, Manchester during their October half term break. The students were placed mostly within the Food business with some working on the Co-op’s Charity Partnership with the British Red Cross, giving their ideas on how the Co-op can encourage its younger customers to get involved. What is most impressive about this story is that the students themselves made a request for the work experience opportunity following a visit some made to 1 Angel Square earlier in the year. Clare and Rebecca were central to the successful experience by encouraging staff to offer placements and to provide support.

Today the Oakwood Primary Academy choir sang to co-op staff at 1 Angel Square and performed at two Executive lunches. They went down a storm.

International dimension


Six teachers from Oakwood’s partner school in Mexico visited Toad Lane in Rochdale and then 1 Angel Square to hear about the co-operatives heritage and find out how education works in the UK and how the sponsor supports education in our academies. I was very interested in the question from one of the delegates, ‘How do you cope with corruption?’ It appears that this is a major problem in Mexico with some schools favouring children from certain families in return for money.


Last week, students from two of our secondary academies visited 1 Angel Square to take part in a live video link with a small remote village school in Tilimuqui in northern Argentina. The co-op in the UK has purchased Fairtrade wine from the local co-operative vineyard in the village for a number of years. A small amount from each bottle sold in the UK has been used to support the building of a primary and secondary school and will shortly enable a health centre to be built. Our students spoke fluent Spanish to the students in Argentina in front of nearly 1000 Co-op staff. They were a credit to our trust and to their academies.

Trust Board issues and decisions

The recent trust board meeting discussed the following issues and approved the following:




Consider trust self-assessment

Trust-wide self-assessment shared. Not a requirement for DfE or EFA but viewed as best practice

Insert short summary statement for consideration at next trust board meeting

Consider external audit report

External audit nearing completion. Very positive outcome.

Accounting Officer and chair of trust board to sign and forward to EFA

Consider internal audit report

Trust board appointed an auditor to undertake regular internal checks. This time it focused on internal processes. All academies were given ‘Substantial Assurance’ opinions.

Finance Director to take forward recommendations

Financial forecast

Updated prediction of 2016/17 results including impact on reserves

Research and model potential impact of changes to grant funding

Evaluation of the trust’s first year

Consideration of the progress made and how this related to the ‘cost benefit analysis’ undertaken in summer 2014.

Director of the Trust to share with Headteachers and Principals and chairs of governors

Revised structure for central trust staff

Agreement that the:

  • Chief Operating Manager role should be made permanent
  • existing Administrative Officer role should include managing operational issues around clerking of governing body meetings

In addition a

  • fixed term appointment be made for trust communications work and
  • consideration of Human Resources support for helping the recruitment of staff in each academy

Relevant central trust lead to begin work and to include the news in the next Director’s letter to staff

Risk management

Risk ratings for the trust were considered. Satisfaction with the revised template

Minor amendments to template and more detail on how actions will reduce the level of risk

Building proposals at CAM, refurbishment at Woodlands and increasing pupil numbers at Nightingale

  • CAM’s £14+m extension approved
  • Full refurbishment plan for Woodlands confirmed
  • Agreement that 30 Year 2 pupils should join Nightingale in January 2016

Executive Headteachers/Principal should be informed

Approval of HR policies

Trust-wide policies for Management of health & safety, Performance management for support staff and Special leave approved

Be placed on the trust website and implemented

Director’s report

The Director provided a commentary on activity within the trust


Director’s performance review

Trust board considered the performance objectives of the trust’s Director

Agree objectives for the coming year

Living Wage

The Living Wage Foundation has recommended an uplift in the Living Wage to take effect before April 2016

The Living wage should rise from £7.85 per hour to £8.25 from January 2016 across the trust



I wish you all an enjoyable break over the festive season. Please make sure you do re-charge the batteries.


Frank Norris