January 03, 2017

Director's Letter | December 2016

Dear Colleagues

The main purpose of this letter is to thank staff for the fantastic professionalism and commitment they have shown during the past year. Inevitably, we all face ups and downs but having staff who are focused on making the learning environment interesting and relevant is what makes our trust and its academies great places to work and learn.


I was personally disappointed with the outcome of the referendum. The prospect of a ‘hard Brexit’ added to an autumn statement from the Chancellor that revealed a likely 7% fall in government spending in the next few years poses some interesting future challenges. As I type this letter there is news emerging of proposals for changes in funding for each local authority. It may be useful to remind you that in our trust each academy is responsible for managing their budgets within clear guidelines particularly regarding the level of ‘reserves’. As a charitable trust, with nearly all income coming from central government, we need to ensure we look ahead so that we can manage any future turbulence skilfully and prudently. The appointment of Gary Lagar as the trust’s new Finance and Resources Director together with senior managers in each academy and the various colleagues working on financial management and control across the trust are crucial in helping us achieve this. I am delighted to report that the recent external audit of the trust has gone very well. I am grateful for the support and leadership of Steve Cooper at CAM and all other finance staff in securing such a strong outcome. We will be meeting with finance staff shortly to work through any learning from the audit process. I will ensure you are informed when the audit statement is posted to our website. I would like to offer a special mention to Tahera Sultana who supported the trust brilliantly while we waited for Gary Lagar to start.

The great achievement by all academies in producing strong GCSE outcomes and creditable Key Stage 2 primary results seems a long a time ago but these are among the important measures for our trust and for our pupils/students. The results, together with our commitment to cooperative values and principles, explains why many schools and academies are continuing to contact us to discuss joining. As you know Failsworth School is joining the trust next year and a further three schools are at various stages of due diligence. The trust recently appointed two key Directors to support this growth. Mark Williams HMI, will be joining in January as Education Director (West) and Lynda Johnson in mid-April as Education Director (East). Mark is a well-known and highly respected Senior HMI in the north. He has extensive experience of inspecting and supporting schools and academies across the primary and secondary phases and has been Ofsted’s lead adviser to the DfE on academies and free schools. Lynda is currently CEO and Executive Headteacher at the Brighter Future Academy Trust in West Yorkshire. She will join us in mid-April.

Recently, the governing body at Nightingale Primary Academy and the trust board appointed Jack Sowter as Headteacher. Jack is currently a deputy Headteacher at an academy in North London. He is due to start on 1 June 2017. Rebecca Ingram will continue in her role as Executive Headteacher and will mentor Jack going forward.

Heather Unwin, well known to many of you as the main point of contact within the trust, is now on maternity leave as she awaits the arrival of her second child. The trust recently appointed Emma Kershaw as maternity cover for Heather and Collette Allen as an administrative and governance officer. Both colleagues will undertake clerking duties and work with academies to provide an improved governance service. All being well Heather intends returning to work in October 2017.


As many of you know, I used to be a very senior HMI and as such I have a pretty good idea how Ofsted inspections should be conducted. Earlier in the term The Co-operative Academy of Leeds (CAL) was judged as still ‘Requires Improvement’ by an Ofsted team. I know that staff, governors and students were disappointed because it is clear there have been some significant improvements at the academy and these appear to have been ignored or underplayed by inspectors in their report. The trust has complained but not about the overall judgement. Our complaint has focused on apparent weaknesses in evidence, communication and conduct issues. I am pleased to report that everyone at the academy has dusted themselves down and are now driving on again with a view to proving to the next group of inspectors that outcomes are ‘good’ at the academy.

Building projects to cope with increases in pupil/student numbers

There are various building projects underway across the trust to support local growth in pupil/student numbers. The Co-operative Academy of Manchester (CAM) is slowly edging toward agreement with the city council over an £18.5m extension that will see it begin to accept more students from September 2017. CAL is considering adopting the neighbouring primary school site when the primary moves to a newly built three form entry school site in the local area. Oakwood Primary Academy finally had approval for an extension to the side of the building to provide a larger staffroom and additional office space and learning rooms. The work began a few weeks ago and I am being kept up to speed on developments through the regular tweets including photographs from the academy. The children are loving the mechanical diggers and the presentations made to them by site staff.

Is this fair?

I’m unsure whether all staff are aware of significant changes that are being made to the calculation for determining student progress in secondary schools across the country? This measure, known as Progress 8, superseded the former indicator of ‘levels of progress’ this year. Currently, the Progress 8 measure is calculated by awarding a point for each grade rise for each student. This creates an average for each school/academy. In 2017, the government intends introducing some significant changes to the calculation that will underplay improvements for students achieving gains with lower grades and more heavily reward those achieving the highest grades. The chart below makes this very clear. I believe this to be grossly unfair and possibly discriminatory. I will be trying to raise this issue in the press over the next few weeks and would be grateful if staff played their part by writing to their MPs to draw attention to the problem. I have produced a draft letter that you can use if you wish to join with me in making a stand, you can download this here Template Letter to MP.docx


CPD for staff

This term there have been over 40 different CPD events organised for staff in our secondary and primary academies. As an example of the quality and value of these events I am delighted to report that our secondary colleagues rated this term’s events in the following way based on a scale of one to five, with one high:

o   75% rated their event as 1

o   98.7% rated their event as 1 or 2

o   1.3% rated their event as 3

This year Pensby High School and the three Manchester based ELT academies have also bought in to our CPD programme and Failsworth School has accessed our full programme since September 2016. We will be offering an invitation to Priesthorpe staff to join the programme in early 2017.

All academies have access to subject/phase consultants provided by the trust and the primaries have begun to undertake school reviews with the Executive Headteachers (Rebecca Ingram and Georgina Winterburn) joining a recently retired HMI in completing these. The outcomes have been positive and the experience very helpful. In addition, this term primary staff have been undertaking a trust–led middle leadership programme and both secondary and primary colleagues have been contributing to the creation of a senior leadership programme. This is in addition to the Masters’ Degree programme that has entered its second year in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University and The Co-operative College.

Links with the sponsor

The number of governors drawn from The Co-op continues to increase and their strong contribution is increasing. A number of training sessions have been held for governors covering induction and data/outcomes and further training on Ofsted preparation and finance are planned for the New Year. Governing Bodies have been reviewing their collective and individual effectiveness this term and have begun work on Governor Action Plans.

The Co-op hosted a small number of Year 11's from Manchester Creative and Media Academy (MCMA) on work experience during the October half term. This was the first time MCMA had undertaken work experience with the Co-op and both business colleagues and students alike were very positive about the experience. The students were keen to find out about job opportunities at the Co-op in the future! 

Co-op Food Retail and Co-op Electrical have assisted in a drive for improved pupil attendance at Brownhill and Woodlands Primary Academies. This culminated in pop-up Christmas shops at the schools to reward great attendance. An evaluation of the initiative will be undertaken to determine its overall impact and whether there is mileage in rolling it out to other academies. I would like to congratulate all academies for either maintaining high levels of pupil/student attendance or achieving real improvements in attendance levels this term. Having improving or high levels of attendance is a key indicator of a strong or improving school.

Co-op colleagues who oversee Fairtrade strategy have developed a support package for our academies to encourage and support their commitment to Fairtrade. This includes information, resources and guest speakers and a goodwill £100 in vouchers each year to spend on Fairtrade products. This was announced to the recently appointed to the trust’s Co-operative Co-ordinators by Amy Morris, Co-op International Development Officer, when she came to introduce herself to the co-ordinators at their inaugural meeting recently. An inaugural Fairtrade Conference is being held for pupils/students in Year 6 and 7 on Fairtrade issues on 31 January at 1 Angel Square.

The Co-op’s Food Buying team along with one of their suppliers, Hallmark, paid a visit to Oakwood to see if pupils could help them design the 2017 line of children’s Christmas crackers. Year 5 pupils took part in the activity which will see the final designs printed onto the Co-op’s range of children’s Christmas crackers in 2017. Year 4 pupils from Brownhill took part in the same activity last year and I’m pleased to say that the crackers are on sale now in Co-op food stores, so keep your eyes peeled! The class who took part will receive a delivery of crackers very soon, 1 box for each pupil. Next year we are considering asking all pupils and students in the trust for Christmas cracker jokes!

Students from CAL are guests of honour at the opening of the Co-op’s new flagship store in Sovereign Square in Leeds today.

Trust Workload Report

I arranged for the trust’s workload report to be issued to all staff earlier in the term. If you didn’t receive it please ask your Headteacher/Principal for a copy. I am pleased to report that the DfE has drawn attention this work in a recent publication ‘Good practice guidance and expectations for growth’ for multi academy trusts. The following link will take you to the report


British Council award

Following Oakwood Primary Academy’s nomination as International School of the Year in the TES Awards in the summer the school is now to be awarded the International School Award by the British Council.  The Lord Mayor of Leeds will present the award on Monday 16 January 2016 at 16:30- 17.30 in the Ark Royal Room, Civic Hall, Leeds. John Rolfe, Outreach and Engagement Manager from the British Council will be present. The award is being made locally because the main presentation happened at the British Council’s main office in London on a Monday night, so the school were unable to attend. If you fancy attending please let Jo Speak at Oakwood know at J.speak@oakwood.coop

Diabetes UK Good Care in School Award

I was delighted to be informed that The Co-operative Academy of Stoke had been awarded the Diabetes UK Good Care in School Award. This new award celebrates and showcases schools that deliver good care and support to children and young people with Type 1 diabetes. Our middle child was diagnosed with Type 1 when she was 9 years of age. The regular insulin injections became a feature of our lives. I was unaware that diabetics are twice as likely to suffer from arthritis until she was diagnosed a couple of years ago. She is still the energetic and enthusiastic young person we love but our family appreciated the genuine and informed care she received from her schools and university. If any academy is interested in gaining the award they just need to contact CAS. I’m sure they will advise and support.

The recent trust board meeting

The trust’s audit and risk committee and the full trust board met recently and discussed the following issues:



Actions and issues

Finance statements to year end 31 August 2016


Auditor’s report including Letter of representation and regularity assurance engagement

The auditor gave a comprehensive summary of the very positive audit outcomes. He suggested a few changes to the way we work across our academies due mainly to the current growth in academies in our trust. Gary Lagar plans to meet with finance colleagues and the auditor in the new year to discuss the audit outcomes.

Risk management

The trust reviewed its risk register. It also considered the early findings from the internal audit that has been looking at risk management processes. The internal auditors will be reporting to the audit and risk committee in early February.

A proposal for improving trust and academy websites

A paper on the development of the various websites was approved. It was also agreed that the trust should work closely with the Co-op’s branding team to consider any changes to the trust’s approach to branding. This work will need to be woven into the website work. Joe Dundas is leading on the website developments.

Due diligence outcomes for new schools/academies wishing to join the trust

It was agreed that Priesthorpe School should be given permission to approach the Regional Schools Commissioner for permission to join the trust in 2017. An update on the progress at Failsworth School was provided. A detailed summary of all other interested schools/academies was reviewed by the trust board.

HR papers on apprentices, payroll tender and general update on trust policies

Updates on the trust’s approach to the apprenticeship levy and a proposal to continue with our current payroll provider for a further two years were accepted. Agreement was also reached on paying the increased living wage as proposed by the Living Wage Foundation from April 2017. These decisions will continue to be reviewed by the trust board each year.

The terms of reference for the trust board’s outcomes sub-committee

The trust board recently agreed to introduce an outcomes sub-committee that would cover all aspects relating to pupil/student and staff outcomes. The trust board agreed on who should join this committee and how often it should meet. The terms of reference were confirmed.

The Director’s report

My report was discussed in detail.

CAT self-evaluation

The trust produced a self-evaluation last year. It has recently been updated. The trust board accepted the accuracy of the evaluation and asked to review the trust’s development plan at their next meeting in early February.


Nick’s blog

I found Nick Lowry’s recent blog on ‘Why would you be a teacher?’ a good uplifting read. You can find at on this link http://www.cas.coop/about/principals-blog/2016/12/08/who-would-be-a-teacher


Trust Recognition Evening 2017

The annual award evening celebrating the great work undertaken by staff across our trust is to be held on the evening of Thursday 2nd March at 1 Angel Square, Manchester. Last year’s event was a highlight of the year for me, for many reasons. More information will follow early next term but please engage in the nomination process at your academy when it is rolled out.

Foretel survey

Just a reminder that the annual survey of the views of students, staff and parents will commence in early January. As you may know, this is conducted independently and feedback and actions are shared with all stakeholders including the Trust Board. Your feedback and views are important so please do take the opportunity to complete the survey when it lands.

And finally

I hope you enjoy a decent break and manage to recharge the batteries over the festive period. I’m a year older on Boxing Day, a birthday I share with my diabetic daughter.

Best wishes

Frank Norris
Director of the Trust