March 14, 2017

Director's Letter | March 2017

Dear Colleague,

Last week included so many memorable events I have felt compelled to write to all staff earlier than planned so that I can share my excitement.

As you know, our trust is expanding at a steady and considered rate. We saw MCMA join the trust in March 2016 and we have already got approval for Failsworth School to officially join in the next few months. Last week I was informed by the Regional Schools Commissioner that Priesthorpe School, in Pudsey (Leeds) had been given permission to join the trust.

Priesthorpe School has over 1000 students and is already committed to co-operative values and principles. The school approached the trust about a year ago and we have been working assiduously to help them join the trust. Staff from the school have been participating in our trust’s professional development programmes and I know Martin Blacoe, the headteacher, and the governing body are very excited at the potential for further involvement and cooperation. We now embark on the legal process for academisation and I will keep you informed on the likely conversion date as soon as I can. There are a few other schools/academies in discussion with the trust at the moment about joining but our trust board will only agree this if there are clear benefits for our trust and we can improve pupil/student outcomes at the joining school/academy. We are not after growth at any cost.

The trust’s third recognition event was held at 1 Angel Square, Manchester last week and was a truly great success. Just over 150 colleagues attended and there was real pride in the faces of the winners. Many commented on the fact that the award meant so much because nominations had been made by colleagues back at their academy. This year the trust board decided to present the coveted Pioneers’ Award to Marianne Goodwin, a senior leader Senior Assistant Vice Principal at CAS and Geoff Clark, one of the longest serving governors in the trust who has been with CAM since the outset. Both are very worthy winners. There was a lot of Twitter coverage on the night and since and I will ensure the photographs are posted on to our website sometime next week. With at least two more academies ready to join the trust and the possibility of a few more down the line further consideration will take place shortly on the 2018 event. The photograph below has all of the main award winners relaxing at the end of the event.

Fairtrade fortnight has really taken off this year and the range of activities that have already taken place in each of our academies has been remarkable. I attended an inspirational morning last week at MCMA along with Brad Hill, the Co-op’s Fairtrade guru, Joan Keysell and Joe Dundas. We were joined by the Year 9 football team from CAS and ‘Fred The Red’, the Manchester United mascot. All of this followed the recent, and what I hope will be an annual event, Fairtrade Conference for students and pupils from each of our academies held at 1 Angel Square. Colleagues from the Coop and the Fairtrade Foundation provided information and ideas on how to share the Fairtrade message. All of this has clearly worked because the level of activity at the moment is intense. The picture below drawn by Keisha, a Year 3 pupil at Oakwood really caught my eye.

You will recall the work colleagues from all academies undertook last year in producing a Workload Report. This included a number of recommendations and suggestions and the group will soon meet again to consider the progress made by each academy. This week colleagues have been invited to the DfE to contribute their thoughts on workload issues and there has been much positive comment from the trade unions who have drawn attention to it as some of the best practice they have seen. Following this good work, I have decided to form a new working group to consider how we can improve the performance of one of the lowest performing groups, namely White British pupils/students. The working group will draw on the findings that have come from the trust’s secondary CPD programme that has 3 focused on this area as well as include a primary phase dimension. If you would like to get involved, please discuss the matter with your headteacher/Principal. Meetings will be telephone conference and be held for an hour between 4pm and 5pm. I anticipate there will be three-four meetings and then some editing of the draft reports. I hope to commence the work around Easter and complete by end of June.

Staff from The Co-op (the trust’s sponsor) have started holding sessions at each academy for all trust staff on the benefits of The Co-op’s membership offer. These sessions explain more about The Co-op, how it works, why its members are central to its work and what our staff can gain from becoming a member. You are expected to attend but there is no pressure on you becoming a member. I suspect though that once you’ve heard what they have to say, if you are not already a member you may be inclined to join. It only costs £1! There are many Co-operative schools and academies and a few cooperative trusts but in order to be a true co-operative they need to have members. By encouraging our staff to be members of The Co-op we are making ourselves a truly co-operative organisation and connecting ourselves even more closely to our sponsor.

I was pleased to visit Oakwood Primary Academy a few weeks ago to see the nearly completed extension to the building. The academy had a pitifully small and totally inadequate staffroom and the new extension has created a much better space as well as increase the teaching areas and office space. A ribbon cutting event is called for and dates are being considered. A special note of gratitude must go to the builders who completed the work on time, shared the progress with the pupils and worked really well with the staff. While I’m covering building extensions I am pleased to report that CAM’s £18.6m extension has actually started…… or at least fencing and boarding have been erected and the sound of drilling has been heard.

Recently, I visited Leeds Council Chambers with pupils from each of our primaries to take part in a debate on Fairtrade led by The Mayor. The pupils were stunning particularly those who held a view that Fairtrade was likely to see a price rise and parents/carers couldn’t afford this. It led to a really interesting debate. The motion that Fairtrade products should be provided in our schools was passed and I agreed to discuss this at the next meeting I have with headteachers and Principals.

The mid-year review of progress for the Workload Report is due to take place this month. It will be interesting to begin to gauge its impact within the trust. However, I’m pleased to report that two of the report’s authors, Georgina Winterburn and Caroline Foster, were invited to a meeting with Justine Greening at the DfE in London this week. I would love to report that a decision was made by the Secretary of State following the meeting for all schools nationally to adopt our approach to workload but life is never quite as straight forward as that. It was, however, heartening to see our trust influencing strongly on a national debate. 

To help people save more for their retirement, the government requires employers to carry out an exercise once every 3 years to enrol their workers into a workplace pension scheme. This applies to those workers who aren’t already in one, and who meet certain eligibility criteria. The Trust is preparing to carry out this exercise in early May and I was shocked to discover that a few staff eligible for either the local authority or teacher pension schemes had decided to opt out. May I urge you to reconsider this decision? It is important to note that there is a sizeable additional amount paid in to your pension by the Trust on top of the figure deducted from your pay that goes towards your pension. The current schemes are judged as ‘gold standard’ and paying in early reaps much better rewards further down the line. More details on the enrolment exercise will be sent out in due course.

Recently, The Co-op made three big announcements. Firstly, it announced it had worked with the Fairtrade Foundation to create a new sourcing model which will ensure that more than 200 Co-op products will switch to 100% Fairtrade cocoa by May 2017. Secondly, The Co-op announced a ground breaking new scheme to help integrate victims of the disturbing UK modern slave trade back into communities. In a bid to tackle what the Prime Minister has described as the great human rights issue of our time The Co-op will provide jobs for known victims and raise awareness of modern slavery amongst its millions of members. Under the scheme, known as the Bright Future programme, the Co-op provides survivors with a four-week paid work placement followed by a non-competitive interview. If this is successful and there is a position vacant, the candidate will be offered a job. The first beneficiary of the scheme is already working in a Co-op store in the North West. And finally, The Co-op announced Steve Murrells as the new CEO to take over from Richard Pennycook. 6 Richard is very well known to our academies having visited many of them in the last few years. I wrote to him on his final day to thank him for his commitment and support. Russell Gill, the chair of the Trust Board is arranging for Steve Murrells to visit some of our academies in the near future.