Director's Letter | November 2017
15 November 2017
So much has happened in the past few weeks I thought it was time to share some of the news and developments.
Trust meets with Ofsted’s Chief Inspector
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector and Andrew Cook, the Regional Director for the inspectorate at their Manchester office. I was joined by Russell Gill (Chair of the Trust Board) and Steve Brice (Principal at Co-op Academy Manchester). We discussed a range of issues including the inspection framework for schools in the future, the inspection of multi academy trusts (something I am very keen on) and whether the term ‘outstanding’ has run its course. The meeting was very positive and cordial. It was good to discover that the Trust continues to have influence and we were keen to express our willingness to support the development of inspection frameworks.
Co-op Academy of Stoke-on-Trent Ofsted and poppy installation
A few days after the meeting with the chief inspector the Co-op Academy of Stoke-on-Trent was inspected. I don’t think the two events were related. The inspectors didn’t need to stay for the second day of the inspection and it confirmed the positive evidence the academy had provided in its self evaluation. I am delighted for the staff and students at the academy that the inspection appears to have gone really well. The report is now being quality assured by the inspectorate and we expect it to be published in the next fortnight.
I recently attended the Year 11’s Leavers’ Certificate evening at the Stoke-on-Trent academy and enjoyed a relaxed and supportive event. Attendance levels were very high and I was deeply impressed by the former Head Girl providing a heartfelt and unscripted speech explaining how the academy had had such a strong and positive impact on her life and those of others in the room. My emotion had been triggered earlier in the day when I saw for the first time the sea of poppies art installation that was being prepared for Remembrance Day.
During an earlier visit to the academy I had observed first hand the difficulties staff and students were having in ensuring the paint they used on the poppies didn’t run if it rained. In addition, the significant work they had undertaken to engage the wider community to produce sufficient poppies for the installation. The outcome was stunning. It also produced a fantastic tweet from a parent who said ‘ When work colleagues ask about your child's school and what they are doing! So proud that my child is a part of this @Coopacademy @CYL_CAS #BeTheBest ‘ .
Every term I invite the headteachers and Principals to a meeting so that we can discuss current and emerging issues. The most recent one was held at Co-op Academy Failsworth. We were joined by Pippa Wicks, the Deputy CEO of the Co-op, who was visiting our academies for the first time. Following a tour of the building, where she met staff and students and visited a number of lessons, she met the Academy’s Council. She was deeply impressed by the way the academy had encouraged students to take on more leadership roles and had embraced the four statements that show whether you are being truly cooperative.
Be yourself, always
Do what matters most
Show you care
These are complementary to the universal co-operative values and principles and have been pushed hard by the Co-op to its staff during the last year. If you’ve visited 1 Angel Square you would have seen these statements on various walls and on the lift doors. Little did we know that Pippa Wicks had devised and driven this forward for Co-op employees. She was equally impressed by the way the four statements had been incorporated into the academy’s school planning.
Following a discussion with the headteachers and Principals where they explained what made our Trust different (and better) than other trusts, they explained what the Co-op could do more to support their work and also what they could offer to Co-op to assist in their community engagement and encourage membership.
Pippa then moved on to Co-op Academy Manchester where she saw the progress being made on the £18.6m extension that is due to be completed in June 2018, toured the academy and met students with leadership responsibilities. It was wonderful experience and made me feel proud again of the students and staff and the difference you are all making.
Pippa is currently making arrangements to visit our academies in Stoke-on-Trent and Leeds. She’s quickly becoming a great fan of our Trust. This is very useful as we are trying to finalise a plan for the Co-op to support our Trust Board’s desire to grow at a faster rate than we originally thought. With nearly twenty schools and academies showing a strong desire to join we need to make a decision with the sponsor on whether this is achievable or not. We are all mindful of the difficulties the Wakefield City Academies Trust has recently encountered but we are also driven by a desire to ensure we help as many children as we can without harming those currently supported by our Trust.
Visit to Co-op Academy Woodlands
While we are covering my visits to academies I must say how impressed I was with my recent visit to Co-op Academy Woodlands. The first thing you notice as you walk through the front door is the wall displays and decoration that make absolutely clear that you are entering a Co-operative academy. In addition, and more important, was the impressive work ethic and supportive atmosphere in all of the classrooms. This explains why the progress measures for the academy are showing such a positive upward trajectory.
Pudsey Tyersal Primary School to be Co-op Academy Beckfield
The Regional Schools Commissioner contacted me in early summer to inform us that our Trust were the preferred sponsor for Pudsey Tyersal Primary School on the Leeds/Bradford border. The school went into special measures in March and required a strong trust to help achieve the rapid improvement necessary. Some of the pupils at the school progress to Co-op Academy Priesthorpe so it was a fairly obvious choice. During the past few months we have been working with the school and its community to ensure a smooth transfer into our trust for 1 December. A key decision was made by the existing governing body that they wanted to change their school name to Co-op Academy Beckfield and our Trust Board has approved this. You can find out more about our 11th academy at
Homework session with a Nobel Prize winner
The Co-op arranged for 20 or so students from our secondary academies to have ‘homework’ set by Kostya Novosolev, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered graphene and has led the establishment of the Graphene Institute at Manchester University. The students and staff were joined by Steve Murrells, the CEO of the Co-op who was responsible for securing the session. Kostya was a charming host and gave a full day to the students. They enjoyed creating graphene, viewing it through a high powered microscope, undertaking experiments with liquid nitrogen and discovering the wide range of applications for the graphene material. It was an amazing day and one that would have encouraged me to be more interested in science if I was many years younger.
Introduction of Mandarin
Recently, I attended the launch of the introduction of the teaching of Mandarin at Manchester Creative and Media Academy. It is being introduced into a few Manchester academies under the guidance of Manchester Grammar School and the Swire charity including Co-op Academy Failsworth from September 2018. The event was really interesting as it involved quite a few parents/carers as well as the students gaining an insight into the Chinese culture and the language. Shortly after, I became aware that Co-op Academy Leeds had begun to introduce Mandarin to Year 7 students. I have arranged for Swire to meet with Co-op Academy Priesthorpe and Co-op Academy Leeds to consider involving them in the launch of the West Yorkshire element of their national roll out. If you are interested in introducing Mandarin at your academy please speak with your headteacher/Principal.
Jersey Teachers Visit
In mid October, our Trust was asked by the NASUWT to host 20 or so senior leaders from Jersey. We are fortunate to have a strong relationship with the trade unions and this was a good example of this. The group visited The Federation, a new digital centre managed by the Co-op, that is just a minute away from 1 Angel Square. It hosts the 250 or so digital colleagues who work for the Co-op, start-up digital business, a 200 seater conference facility and a floor that is devoted to enabling disadvantaged Manchester residents the chance to become digitally literate.
The Trust has begun to engage more fully with The Federation and its tenants, Co-op Digital. Co-op Digital are the superstars of the international digital industry, they are rapidly revolutionising the Co-op and rely on data, user research and science to inform their decisions. I’ve recently become aware of an opportunity for a small number of Trust teachers to undertake a shadowing experience there for a few days during the school holidays. If you are interested please speak to your headteacher/Principal after considering carefully your current workload. I don’t want to overload any member of staff but I am also conscious that this could be a very exciting opportunity.
The bi-annual conference for all primary staff took place on the final Friday of the first half term at Leeds Utd’s conference centre. The theme was wellbeing for staff and pupils. The day started with a keynote from Dr Mark Bawden, who spoke about pigeons (believe it or not), determination and the need to be aware of the various viewpoints team members bring to any situation. Mark is currently the psychologist for the England cricket team and was the psychologist for the GB team at the London Olympics. He was an engaging and interesting speaker. The follow up activities were on the whole very well received according to the feedback from colleagues. The rest of the day was focused on smaller group activities which developed a deeper understanding of the need for staff to be aware of their own wellbeing and how they could help themselves to manage this. In addition, there was an opportunity to consider materials and activities that would encourage a better understanding of well being for the pupils.
Nearly 50 governors attended the annual governor conference at 1 Angel Square in early November. The themes were equity and equality. Russell Gill and I opened the day reviewing the work of the Trust and how important strong, principled governance is to our current and future success. Ian Hartwright, the policy lead for the NAHT, picked up the baton and gave a national perspective of issues that are concerning his union. The afternoon session saw central trust staff lead group sessions covering finance, HR, observing children in classrooms and induction for governors. The feedback from delegates was positive but I was grateful to one governor who identified some areas for future improvement. He was right and it reminded me how important it is to hear these voices and viewpoints. The provisional date for next year’s event is 17 November 2018.
As many of you know, Joan Keysell left the Trust at the beginning of September. She has been missed but I am very grateful to the central Trust team for the way they have stepped up and managed to keep things rolling along. I am pleased to announce that recently the Trust appointed Clare Scanlan to the role of Governance and Corporate Project Manager. This is a slightly different role from the one Joan undertook. Clare will be responsible for all governance arrangements across the Trust ensuring the highest quality of secretarial and administrative support, overall operational responsibility for the central trust administration including internal and external communication. Clare has a vast range of experience from her years as a senior manager at Ofsted including supporting the senior Executive Boards including the Chief Inspector. She will join on 1 December.
Recognition Events 2018
The 2018 Recognition Event for staff is taking place at 1 Angel Square on the evening of 1 March. Details of the awards will be circulated early in the new year. We have decided to adopt the Ways of Being Co-op for the awards this year and will need to consider more carefully managing numbers of those attending as we will have at least three new academies in the Trust by then.
At the recent Forum meeting with the headteachers and Principals we agreed to introduce student and pupil award ceremonies in 2018. These would follow the Ways of Being Co-op. We are working through the arrangements at the moment so more details will be shared in the next Director’s letter.
You will recall that the Trust produced a report last year to try and reduce workload for staff. It involved a wide range of staff from nearly all academies. I led an interim review of the impact of the report in the early summer period but I feel we should now turn our attention to a formal review to judge impact. I will ensure that a few questions relating to workload are included again in the Foretel survey and that the original working group meets to consider the outcomes. I am proposing that a detailed evaluation report is ready to share with all staff next April.
Trust Board Meeting and Strategy Meeting
The Trust Board meets four or five times a year. This is the body that is responsible for the strategic direction of the Trust and it holds me to account for the Trust’s achievements, including academic performance. The most recent meeting was towards the end of September. The following issues were discussed and actions approved:
Considered the significant level of interest in the Trust
Agreed further due diligence work on a number of individual academies so that a report on each can be brought to the December meeting
Review of the Trust’s financial position including a detailed review of some academies
An internal challenge meeting to take place for two academies in October
Considered the subsidence issue of one internal wall at Brownhill
Seek further legal advice on whether the local authority or the Trust are liable for the repair costs
Reviewed the financial position and progress on The Swinton High School joining the Trust
Further work on the budget to take place including discussions with the ESFA. Planned date for joining the Trust is February 18.
Review of the Trust’s Risk Register
Director to arrange for discussion with the Co-op’s Risk Manager
Memorandum of Understanding with Leeds Trinity University
Approved and signed
Trust Board reviewed the results for 2017 and agreed to the approach for 2018.
Director’s report included:
Branding and websites
Trust Board noted current work on new brand.
An update was provided on the progress made for the development of HR Hubs across the Trust
Health & Safety
An update on the recent audits undertaken by the external health and safety provider were discussed.
The Trust Board met to review its strategic priorities. A key element they considered was the speed of growth and the locations the trust currently has and where it may want to extend to in the future.
Director of the Trust