May 10, 2016

Director's Letter May 2016

5 May 2016


Dear Colleagues

I have been a teacher since 1979 and during this period some significant shifts in the education climate have taken place. The introduction of the National Curriculum, the emergence of Ofsted, the introduction of end of key stage testing and the changes driven through by the Labour government under the ‘Education, Education, Education’ theme (which, by the way, created the possibility of sponsorship of academies) all resulted in significant changes on the education landscape. It would be fair to say that the budget statement last month that all schools must become academies by 2022 had the potential to eclipse many of the changes that had gone before. Last week the government announced it was back tracking on the pledge and according to the Secretary of State would ‘now change the path to reaching that goal’. My personal view is that this could see a shift to the criteria for ‘coasting schools so that more were identified through this route. The issue may have come off the front pages of newspapers but I don’t think it is completely going away.

The budget statement explains why the number of schools choosing to contact the trust to discuss the possibility of joining has increased significantly. To help support schools in determining whether they might be a good fit for our trust we have produced a list of questions they need to consider. I thought you might be interested because you are our best ambassadors. The questions can be found on the trust website at

Our current strategic plan states that we will grow to 14 academies by 2018 with the emphasis on our existing locations and with quality rather than quantity. The trust board frequently refers to a phrase one of the board members used a year or two ago where they see our trust being a ‘bright beacon rather than a dim glow’. With all this in mind the trust board is meeting soon to consider recent events and reflect on whether the strategic plan needs amending. Those who attended the recent trust governor conference had the opportunity to influence thinking and there will be further opportunities for governors in our academies to comment on any proposed changes. I will, of course, keep you all in the loop.

Growth in pupil/student numbers

A number of academies are managing significant growth in pupil/student numbers at the moment. Some like CAM, Brownhill and Oakwood are embarking on major building projects whereas all others are quickly increasing numbers so that they will all be full within a couple of years.

Central trust appointments

I am pleased to announce that Joe Dundas has been appointed as the trust’s Communication Officer for one year and commenced his duties on 1 April. Joe was formerly the Marketing and Operations Executive at CAS. I am also pleased to announce that Jennica Rama, formerly HR Officer at a small academies trust in Warrington, has been appointed as HR Officer for one year and commenced her duties on 3 May. Both colleagues have made a very strong start and will regularly visit at each academy in due course.

Support from the sponsor

Many of you will be aware that our business sponsor The Co-operative Group has been involved in a rebuilding exercise over the past couple of years. The annual results issued last month showed strong improvement and a clear sign that the medium term strategy was on course. On 21 May, the annual members’ meeting will take place in Manchester and the results of the online voting by the 8 million members will be revealed.

At the meeting a number of major announcements will be made and some of these will indirectly affect our academies in a very positive way. I will write to you all after the meeting to inform you of the changes. Don’t forget that if you are a Co-operative member and have spent £250 or more in their various businesses you can vote at

As you know our sponsor provides many governors for our academies and a host of additional opportunities for pupils/students and staff. I was delighted to accompany Richard Pennycook, the CEO of The Co-operative Group on a visit to CAM recently and yesterday he contributed to a Question Time session at CAL taking questions from Year 10 business students..

Last week seven students from CAL ‘pitched’ for funding from the sponsor for a project they were involved in. Most of these students had proactively set up work experience opportunities for themselves at 1 Angel Square in Manchester last October half term. They were amazing and made a big impression on us all. Their ‘pitch’ was successful and will enable them to provide a lasting memory of their time at the academy to all of their year group.

Three of our four secondary academies have now signed up to take part in the Co-op’s E-mentoring programme, which is conducted online via a closely monitored, secure web server. Students have been identified from the academies and each one is in the process of being matched up to a dedicated Co-op volunteer who will provide one-to-one support for the student.

Female students with an interest in IT were invited to attend a screening of the film ‘Code Girl’ that was organised by the Co-op and hosted in the academy cinema at MCMA. Yes, that’s right MCMA has its own cinema! The film aims to inspire young women to pursue a career in technology. Students from both CAM and MCMA came to watch the film and afterwards took part in a Q&A session with female IT colleagues from the Co-op digital team to learn more about their job roles and their career paths within the IT world. We shall be offering this opportunity to CAS and CAL in due course.

In March, students from CAL visited Manchester as guests at Camp Digital, an event sponsored by the Co-op that brings together hundreds of people from the digital and design sector for two jam packed days of workshops, seminars and discussions. Students had a fantastic time and even had the opportunity to pitch their own ideas to the professionals there. This was a fantastic opportunity to expose students to the real world and to the booming digital sector.  

The Co-op arranged for the donation of a number of Fairtrade Easter eggs to each academy in order to reward students and promote co-operative behaviours. The primary academies ran a Fairtrade poster competition to encourage pupils to think about Fairtrade and the benefits of it and the winners were given an egg as a prize.

Following the Group’s live link up with the high school in Tilimuqui, Argentina which was funded through Co-op Argentine Fairtrade wine, and which involved students from CAL and CAM, the Group’s Fairtrade wine buyer is assisting our academies to establish ‘pen pal’ links between Year 8 students with a view to a possible exchange at a future date.

Governance Update

During the past few months I have stepped in to cover for chairs of governors who have stood down. We are fortunate to be able to provide governors from employees within The Co-operative Group and during the past six months we have tried to link these opportunities more closely to their performance management process. This has now created a significant increase in the number of colleagues wishing to become governors.

The new MCMA Governing Body is now up and running and held its first meeting in March. Simon Wetherell, the Group’s Director of Facilities joins senior managers from the Group’s Retail Logistics, Estates and Membership Departments as well as new governors from MMU School of Education and Manchester University Careers Service on the governing body. You may have heard some odd stories in the press recently about the government wanting to stop parents from being on the governing body. This certainly isn’t the case for our academies and although we do find it tricky at times to get parents for these roles we have no intention of withdrawing this important role.

Foretel survey

Each academy involved students (secondaries only), parents and staff in the annual survey of their views managed by an independent company called Foretel. The senior leadership team at each academy have now met with the Foretel staff to discuss the draft findings and to begin the process of producing an action plan that will be shared with the governing body. The responsibility for sharing the results rests with the governing body and the Headteacher/Principal. I have asked that staff be briefed on the findings this term. I thought you would be interested in the findings for the trust overall. They are much better than last year’s findings and reflect the positive findings for the individual academies. We still have much to do but it is reassuring to discover that the hard work of many is having a positive impact.

This engagement and culture review has been a major milestone for the Trust. Both secondary and primary schools were invited to participate as well as all staff and parents to ensure the fullest picture possible across the Trust. The volume of students invited to participate also increased (secondaries only) although logistics made it difficult to include everyone, so only a sample were selected. The total number of responses has therefore gone from 775 in 2015, to 2437 this year; of these parent responses have grown from 88 to 454 in the secondary schools with an additional 330 from primary school parents. Pleasingly, language barriers do not appear to have had a detrimental impact on the parents’ desire to get involved in the survey. The results also show that parents want to know how to become more involved in the academy and their child’s education.

Whilst the individual reports and/or executive summaries will help understand individual academy progress and future challenges, the general tenet of these results is that good progress is being made right across the Trust. There is a lot of pride from staff, parents and students in their association with the academy. Improvement is identified in many areas and where it can be measured (secondary comparisons to 2015), staff are less likely to want to leave for a similar role in another school if they were given the choice.

There is a growing belief that being part of the Trust is of benefit to the individual academies. In addition to improved scores, staff comment on areas such as the value of development days/conferences with staff from other academies and having a clearer purpose.

Irrespective of their stage of development, each academy appears to have valuable learning regarding improvements made, that might also be relevant to other academies; hopefully this will fall out of the individual SLT discussions.

However, there are a number of themes worth considering across the Trust due to the consistency with which they arose:

  • Behaviour – definite improvements identified but some inconsistency of delivery and pockets of concern
  • Morale – what learning is there from improvement this year and how much is in the control of the Trust/Academy. What will be the impact of the budget announcements and how can these be leveraged?
  • Similarly for:
    • Work-life balance
    • Communication
    • Parental involvement (how to) and homework support
    • Awareness of Governing Body

Trust Recognition Evening

This year’s staff recognition evening was a great success with over 160 in attendance. The personal comments made by Co-operative staff when making the awards made clear the power of the co-operative values and their relevance for today’s world. This was an important contribution in our desire for trust staff to be 21st Century Pioneers.

As Lorinda Robinson, former chair of governors at Nightingale Primary Academy said ‘It was a truly inspiring and enjoyable event, very well organised and a great reflection of the difference that the CAT is making in the communities that we serve’.

The nominee from each academy received an award, and an overall winner for each category was announced. I thought you would be interested in these.

  • EAL Team at Oakwood Primary Academy            
  • Maria Herlingshaw at CAL
  • Michael Moore at MCMA                               
  • Woodlands Primary Academy Governing Body
  • Liz Garrity at CAS                                               
  • Jacqui Emmett at Brownhill Primary Academy
  • Lee Davies at CAM                                              


This year the trust established a special award for outstanding contribution to the trust, its staff, families and communities. The award, known as the Pioneers’ Award went to Mel McMorrow at CAM and Nightingale Primary. Next years’ event is provisionally planned for 23 February 2017.


I was delighted to discover that Liz Garrity’s work at CAS on character education was included in the publication ‘Teaching character through subjects’ published by University of Birmingham and sponsored by the DfE.

Annual trust Governor’s Conference

Nearly 40 colleagues attended the third annual governor conference at 1 Angel Square on Saturday 23 April. The theme was the ‘seismic shift in the education landscape’. We were fortunate to have Mark Williams Senior HMI provide the keynote speech on how the new Ofsted school inspection framework was bedding down and the impact it was having on judging governor effectiveness. In addition, governors had the chance to consider how the trust might need to adapt to manage the recent government announcement on full academisation and chose to attend two of the excellent seminar sessions during the afternoon. A personal highlight was the session led by Emma Williams from CAS on e-safety. This academy, under Emma’s leadership, has taken training and management of online safety to a very high level and it was great to have an academy leader sharing their expertise and experience. Next month the trust will begin to draw on the considerable expertise from within The Co-operative Group to support online safety development. More on this will follow.

Overall, the conference was a great event and early feedback from those who attended is very positive. A provisional date for next year is Saturday 6 May 2017.

Trust Workload Group

A few months ago, all staff were invited to join the trust’s workload group to investigate reasons for any pressure points on workload and try and find solutions that can shared across the trust. I received more applications than I could handle and ensured that all academies that had shown interest had at least one colleague included. The first telephone conference is this week and the group hopes to produce a report with some suggestions and recommendations in the autumn. The names of the colleagues involved are:

Simon Kirsima (Brownhill), Ruth Hopkins (Woodlands), Tina Herbert (MCMA), Richard Stead (CAL), Angela Elsworth (CAM), Georgina Winterburn (Brownhill/Woodlands), Rebecca Smith (MCMA), Sarah Tasker (Oakwood), Caroline Foster (CAL) and Jessica Clarke (Nightingale).

On a related issue, the trust has been engaging with DfE officials about the current pressures on teacher recruitment and retention. Senior government colleagues met central trust staff earlier in the year when we explained that the picture is patchy with many applicants for some posts and none for others. Other DfE colleagues recently made a visit to CAM to speak to staff directly. This was a very positive meeting where we were able to explain how our trust supports new staff and tries to extol the benefits of working at academies with a clear set of values and principles.

Trust’s Masters’ Co-operative Leadership Programme

The first group of students for the trust’s Masters’ programme have nearly completed their first year. It has been a resounding success. Joan Keysell and I have attended a number of the sessions and I have to admit that I feel I have got as much from them as the students!

I was invited to an international conference on Co-operative Education last month, unfortunately it didn’t involve exotic travel because it was held in Manchester. I was surprised to discover that our Masters’ course contained one of the largest groups of students to ever undertake such a course…..worldwide! Our programme is certainly breaking new ground.

Shortly, further information will be forwarded to you all about next year’s Masters’ programme. It is hoped that up to four students will be subsidised by the trust to undertake the first year of the course and will be joined by colleagues drawn from non-trust schools and academies. We hope that the existing students from our trust will act as mentors for those on their first year.

We anticipate that in 2017-2018 the trust will return to supporting a full group of colleagues drawn from our academies unless, of course, the coming year’s arrangements force us to reconsider. If you are interested in the Masters’ programme please contact your headteacher or Principal after you have received the official flyer that will be issued shortly.

Going forward

I try to write these letters to staff twice a term. I know that some of you read them because you kindly thank me for them when I visit academies. However, we all need to move with the times so I will be moving to a termly letter from now on because the trust will be issuing shorter and more regular updates under the leadership of Joe Dundas. If you have any news items that are worth sharing please send them through to Joe at


Best wishes



Frank Norris