Director's Letter | May 2017
I’m sitting in a busy office in Manchester but my thoughts are with the students and pupils across the trust facing a series of assessments and examinations. I know, because I have seen it first hand, the significant effort staff have put in to support them and that each of you will probably be as anxious as I am feeling. It is a particularly uncertain environment for secondary students with the first set of tougher GCSE’s in English and mathematics and the impact of very late decisions by the government over whether a Grade 4 or Grade 5 is a good pass or not. In addition, this is SATs week in the primaries and also a busy time for the other key stage assessments that are undertaken for our younger pupils. At this time, it is easy to assume that everything hangs on these assessments but our Trust strongly believes that a good education is so much more. Achieving strong progress that eventually leads to good attainment, having a great attitude to learning that supports personal development throughout their life and a willingness to co-operate and make a real positive difference in society are at the heart of our work. Easy to state, I know, but these are truly what a good education is all about.
I have been reflecting on previous letters I have written to staff with the help of Joe Dundas, the Trust’s Communication Manager. Joe helpfully checks my letters to make sure they are clear and concise (a challenge for me, I’m afraid) and he pointed out that I appeared to have focused very heavily on teaching staff and not given sufficient attention to the work of non-teaching colleagues. I apologise for this and I will make sure I give due attention to all staff in our Trust, and that my letters are as relevant to those in non-teaching roles as to those who are in teaching roles. I thought you might be interested in knowing more about Joe’s work for the Trust so I have included a short summary below, together with a photo so that you know who he is when he visits your academy.
Joe’s main responsibility is ensuring that the whole Trust communicates effectively with each other and our stakeholders. He works closely with our academies to help them with PR, communications and media relations whilst also working with the Co-op to improve our profile within the business and the wider community. When new academies join the Trust, Joe supports them to engage with parents and students through what is often uncharted territory, using our experience to reassure and welcome them. Joe is currently overseeing the development of new academy websites - with a unique focus on our users especially those with a disability - and is leading on our new Trust identity as we begin to align ourselves more closely with our sponsors.
On 1 March, the Co-op, our Trust’s sponsor, appointed Steve Murrells as its new CEO. Steve succeeded Richard Pennycook the former CEO who had visited three of our academies in recent years. Three weeks into his new role Steve Murrells joined Russell Gill, (Chair of the Trust Board) and I on a visit to our two Manchester academies. He was really impressed with what he saw and was struck by the maturity and enthusiasm of the students he met and spoke with. I will always remember the African dance routine he joined in with at the Manchester Creative and Media Academy and the challenging questions he was posed by students at The Co-operative Academy of Manchester. Steve produced a short video with his mentor, Rebekah Cooper at the end of the visits. You can view this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYVorlzyS3E. Since her visit to the academies, Rebekah has volunteered to work on the project to redevelop our academy websites.
I was very pleased to receive an email from Steve Murrells recently indicating that the Co-op had secured a ‘homework’ session for 20 students with Professor Sir Kostya Novosolev, the Nobel Prize winner for physics. Professor Novosolev has been responsible for the development of graphene at the National Graphene Institute at Manchester University. I spoke with the Professor yesterday and have agreed a fascinating day of activities for between 3-4 students drawn from all of our secondary academies at a date to be determined in September or October. Needless to say, the call yesterday was the first I have had with a Nobel Prize winner and the planned programme will provide a unique opportunity for students and staff.
I am pleased to report that all bar one of our academies have now received their presentation on the Co-op membership offer. The final session is due to take place in June. These have been well received and it was good to see a representative from a local good cause being fully involved in the sessions. A major new benefit for employees of the Trust will be the Co-op staff discount card. Some of you wanted the card to be made available at the time of the presentations but this would have created a significant amount of additional work for the Trust and we have had some further work to do around data protection. You will shortly be receiving consent forms to complete so that we can share some of your details with the Co-op, after which you will be able to start applying for your cards. We shall issue further information about it all shortly but I anticipate the card will be available by the end of July and in good time for the Double Discount Weekend at the end of August.
I am pleased to report that there has been much progress in ensuring Failsworth School and Priesthorpe School join the Trust. It looks as though this may be on 1 July but it is always tricky to be absolutely certain over these things. I am very grateful to the significant work undertaken by key non-teaching personnel across both academies and the central trust team in progressing this technical work. I am looking forward to welcoming all staff from Priesthorpe to 1 Angel Square for their induction event on 5 July.
The level of interest in our Trust remains high and I am grateful to all academies who have welcomed a number of visitors from various schools and academies interested in seeking permission to join us. As you know, Mark Williams joined the Trust as Education Director, West on 1 January and has quickly got to grips with his work. He has been very visible across our academies and is relishing his new role. In mid-April, Lynda Johnson started in her role as Education Director, East. Lynda was a CEO of a small academy trust in Halifax and has brought a strong pragmatic approach to our work. Both Mark and Lynda are continuing to undertake a few Ofsted inspections each year so that the Trust is well sighted on any changes to inspection methodology.
I recently met with colleagues from Foretel following this year’s survey. I will be taking their trustwide report to the Trust Board in July and have reminded each academy of the need to share the results with staff, parents and carers and for the secondary academies, with the students. As part of the report to the Trust Board I intend providing a short report on how the results were shared and what actions are being taken to address any changes from the previous year. I would like to stress that we do not produce league tables for the Foretel results. We are interested in how the results this year compare to the previous year taking into account contextual issues drawn from within the academies and the wider national education climate. Also, no one in the trust, including me, gets sight of the open text comments of the Foretel survey. Using a highly reputable external company for this work ensures a high level of confidentiality and I was pleased to find out from Foretel that many staff had spoken positively about the Workload Report and its implementation. I must thank the various colleagues who have supported the development of the report and have been actively monitoring its implementation. We recently held a telephone conference to discuss progress and I will share their views shortly. I am pleased to announce that the winner of the television donated by Co-op Electrical for online Foretel submissions was won by a parent at Failsworth School.
Last week, I joined staff and governors across all of our primary academies in interviewing a number of teachers for 15 teacher vacancies. As you are probably aware recruiting high quality teaching staff is currently a challenge largely due to a reduction in the number of teacher training places available, ongoing anxieties that some teachers have about working in some of the challenging communities we serve and sadly, the rather negative view some media outlets have of the profession. I am delighted to report, however, that it appears we have filled all the positions. We revamped the way we advertised the vacancies, held a very successful open event at the four primaries and involved many colleagues across the primary academies at every stage of the process. It was a major exercise but one that produced strong results and will influence the way we recruit staff across the Trust going forward.
I place great importance on good attendance from all pupils and students. Attending regularly increases the chance of doing well at school but it is also a really important attribute in getting and keeping a job. I am pleased to report some significant improvements at a number of our academies in the past term or so, with attendance levels at a record high. Having good, and/or improving attendance is usually down to strong teaching supported by a rich, relevant and broad curriculum that entices and encourages children to attend. It also needs attendance support staff to work diligently with the children and their families/carers to ensure we work cooperatively to affect change and improvement. Thank you for the strong improvement.
Currently, the Trust’s secondary professional development programme is made available to four academies outside of our trust. This is an important statement about the programme’s quality and also provides important revenue for the trust. This term we have stepped back a little and reduced the programme to essential activities primarily due to the busy examination period and other activities. As the Trust grows we will find more staff attending from our academies and hopefully from a few outside. I believe that the ‘outside the trust’ dimension is important and we will do our utmost to maintain it for our benefit, as well as helping others. The primary professional development programme is bespoke and based around the Leeds primaries. As we begin to increase the primary presence in Manchester and Stoke we will need to adapt our approaches to support colleagues in various locations. An interesting role for Lynda Johnson and Mark Williams.
I’m delighted to report that Jo Speak, the Head of School at Oakwood Primary Academy has been appointed as Headteacher at Poplars Farm Primary School in Bradford. Jo starts her new role in September. The school has impressive views overlooking Bradford and Shipley as well as Salts Mill in Saltaire. As a keen artist, it appears the appointment is ideal for Jo.