Trust Board Panel – Questions and Answers

Trust Board Panel | Questions and Answers
Governors Conference 2018


Will there will be any need for any different structures for Governance within the Trust’s academies given the growth?

Mike Greenacre (MG): The fact is, in terms of different structures we might need, we did do a full review of our governance requirements in 2018. We had wide ranging discussions with many key stakeholders and individual academies. We asked two questions; does it need to change and how should it change?

The outcome is that we have ended up with a larger Trust board with more directors and more experience including more senior Co-op colleagues. Again, I want to stress how important that relationship is going to be going forward so that’s a very positive situation. The new subcommittees that Russell referred to are really essential for keeping a grip on all of the changes that are required in terms of governance. I’m sure they will make an even bigger contribution to the particular area each of those committees have got responsibility for. We have new terms of reference as well and these will also take account of the fact that there will be a need to constantly review governance within the Trust.

We’re also anxious to be very clear about the relationship between the Trust board and the individual governing bodies of the academies and that will be work that will be ongoing. It’s work that has worked extremely well, from my point of view, so far. So, we’re keen to continue it.

Frank Norris (FWN): From my point of view, we’ve got new clerking arrangements at our local governing bodies, which now means we’ll be at more meetings and subcommittees. We’ve always had a Senior Leader from the Trust central team at governing body meetings but these new arrangements will give us greater insight as to whether things are working well. We need to have that critically important connection between local governing bodies and the Trust board.

What risks has the Trust board anticipated given the growth and what is the Board doing to overcome those risks?

MG: I think around the Trust board we are very positive about the growth plans. Senior figures in the Co-op have developed an appreciation for the fantastic work that Frank and Russell are doing. We have a big task ahead getting to 40 academies within four years and there are a number of things we have got to be very careful of. But the fact is, that even at the moment just with the academies we’ve coming onboard, we could look to have 28 academies in total within the next 12 months. So if you’re talking about 40 and it is up to 40, that has been emphasized more than once today, then that leaves us with another 12 academies to bring on board in the next 3 to 4 years.

FWN: It’s a benefit for us that there have been some major catastrophes around Multi-academy Trusts nationally that stop us from heading off into the sunset thinking everything is going well. You don’t know what could be the first disaster. So, I actually think learning from what has not worked well in the past for others is very helpful for us as we move forward. There are staging posts along the way where we just need to stop and think whether we should be moving forward or standing still for a while. The new CEO’s appointment is a good example of a time when it might be best to just slow down and take stock for a while. So, next September when I’m no longer here as the CEO, it is probably wise to slow down a little and let things embed before deciding when to move forward at more pace.  

MG: That rapid growth obviously requires Frank, his team and the Trust Board to be very mindful of what could go wrong. If we didn’t make sure that we were constantly reviewing our structure at all levels – which is where the new subcommittees are so important – then we could make mistakes. We are in a very positive position with the quality of the people that we have in the Central Team; whether that’s finance, HR or Governance support. The team in the centre makes sure that everything is covered properly and that’s crucial if we’re going to make sure that this growth can be met safely and responsibly.  

The hub structure is something that we’ve strategically put in ahead of the growth to mitigate against those risks. We’ve already seen the development of strong foundations for the hub in Yorkshire and we’re moving rapidly with Greater Manchester. Personally, I’d like to see more growth around Stoke. I really hope we can develop Stoke and Staffordshire as a hub because we need to make significant inroads in that community, where we need to improve more lives.

Could the Board say a little about what you’re doing to improve the level of engagement with parents? One thing that we all know is that good engagement with parents has a direct link with strong student performance and attendance.

FWN: We do struggle, just from a governance perspective, to attract Parent Governors in some of our academies. There can be all sorts of barriers to overcome, such as parents whose first language isn’t English and they are confronted with 50 pages or so of dense information in quite technical language. We need to find a way round this.

Mags Bradbury (MB): I agree with Frank, we’re really proud of the fact that we push for Parent Governors. We have strong links with our Governors and our wider stakeholders, but as we grow it may be something that we need to look again at. I think the thing around parent voice and parent engagement, we know that this has such a strong and direct impact on achievement and performance. We need to look at where our academies are doing it well and learn from those academies – and that’s the power of a group. Can we take some of that learning to see where it works?

FWN: This isn’t a model where we say you must have a PTA. There has been different approaches taken by academies because they’re responding to what will work well in their community. So I think one of the things that is right and I agree, we want our academies to look at others in similar communities and learn from their successes with engagement.

We have a lot of academies wanting to join our Trust. When we talk to a school about them joining are we maintaining the rule of a 5% reserves position that all our current academies are working with?

FWN: Phil Crossley (PC) is in the room, he’s the headteacher of a school that joined last week. I wonder whether Phil would be happy to answer that question?

PC: Because we started the discussion about joining the Trust some time ago, quite early on in the process the financial position of the school was very clearly on the agenda. Before things moved on over the course of the year leading up to our transfer we were talking about our finances and how we were ensuring that we were in a stable place to move forward. That meant making sure we kept 5% reserves when we joined the Trust.

FWN: When a school shows an interest in joining our Trust, one of the Finance Directors will go out and the first thing is ‘have you got the budget?’. We are currently talking to two large schools in Yorkshire who actually came with their homework but it didn’t pass. So it has gone back to them again.

We won’t progress the due diligence formally until schools have produced a 3-year budget plan that we find credible and actually fits our 5% reserves rule. The reason that some non-Trust schools are in a bit of a mess is because they didn’t make decisions about the money early enough. We do have to be conscious of this with the national funding formula going forward, we don’t know how that’s going to play out or when it will actually happen. Nor do we yet know what the impact will be on each of our locations. So we need to be really rigorous with new academies. I’m pleased that Phil said that finances were one of the first things on his agenda, because they’re the first on ours.

Is any effort being made to increase our impact in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire and East Cheshire?

FWN: Yes, we have been working on this. Co-op Academy Friarswood in Newcastle-under-Lyme, not very far from our Stoke academy, joins our Trust on 1 December. That’s a good academy and one which is a little different to other academies in our Trust, so it  will bring something new to our group.

The thing with Stoke is that there are a lot of schools in the city which have already academised. So they are already linked with other Trusts. The key thing here is that it has to be a good fit. We were asked to look at four academies in Cheshire but we weren’t convinced that they were wedded to us and our values – nor were we convinced that they could get that financial homework done. We went, we saw and we stepped back.

The success that Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent is having will inevitably mean that other academies, particularly secondary, will want to join and work with us. And again Friarswood joining will mean that schools on that side of Staffordshire will hopefully look at us again as a Trust that wants to make a difference in those communities.

MG: Can I just add, with regards to the hub structure, and as we move forwards, we want to see a model of primary schools that are feeding secondary schools and the two can support each other.

What are the tangible changes that the Trust has made in primary schools?

Russell Gill (RG): Frank made the point that the reason people are coming to talk to us is because of the success in our academies – and that includes our primaries. There are some fantastic examples of success in our primary schools. Ofsted has been into Nightingale, Brownhill and Woodlands in the past year or so with terrific outcomes. They’re all good and they have outstanding elements within them and I think that validation is proof of something that we are doing in those academies that is working.

The Trust is able to support CPD (continued professional development) of teachers and other staff. Shaheen Rasool is a key part of that, working with academies and ensuring that good practice is being shared. That’s a real positive and something we want to continue and develop more with our hubs.

The governors are really important and we’ve had some fantastic governors in our primaries for some time.

There are lots of projects going on in our academies that we have developed with them including Massive Maths and the inflatable Arla Dairy. Our Co-op Coordinators are ensuring that these opportunities are taken but they are also working to develop the values. Again, these colleagues will be instrumental in working across hubs to develop co-operation.

Mags Bradbury (MB): One of the real successes is that we’ve used the talent in the schools. A typical expectation is that it flows down from the Central Team to the schools, but that’s probably not where our greatest primary successes have come from. I think the way that we’ve used existing talent and rising talent within schools and across other schools has been key. There has to be a model of school to school improvement as we move to regional hubs because in our primaries that has worked really effectively.

As we grow in the future, what are the thoughts of the Board around bringing in schools that are already Good and Outstanding?

FWN: We’ve done well to pull rabbits out of hats with a lot of our schools in our communities. But there is obviously a risk that if we carry on exclusively working with schools that are in special measures or require improvements then there is a risk we could fall over.

Broadhurst and Friarswood who have joined recently or are about to join are both good schools and have a lot to offer us.

The Acquisitions and Development committee of the Trust Board that I attended recently said ‘Frank, you tend to be looking at risk from a Trust level but what is the capacity in a Leeds/Bradford hub to support new schools that are not good or outstanding?’ So, we’ve started to consider risk at a hub level. In Yorkshire it’s about 75% good or better schools.

The success will come from the continued support of staff from those good schools who are going out into new academies and working with them. This is a good opportunity for me to thank staff for going themselves or releasing resources to support schools in their hubs. It’s no good having a school that isn’t good, unless those good schools are willing to put a ‘shift in’ to support those new academies.

RG: We get fixated on numbers, there is of course talk at a Trust board level about the challenges of up to 40 schools. But there is another side of this, there is an opportunity to add strength. We can bring in schools which have something to offer us and which can share their resources with other schools. It has to be the right type of growth, some of which will hopefully be good or outstanding schools joining us because they believe in our purpose and our values.

MB: We have a purpose and we have a strategy. One of the things we have always been good at doing is ensuring that the schools we support fit with us and can be supported. We’re in a good position because we have a lot of strong schools. So, we shouldn’t just be allowing schools to join just because they are outstanding – they’ve got to sign up to the co-operative values, sign up to working with other schools and sign up the finances. We’ve got to be the right type of trust. We have to be honest with ourselves and honest with those schools and say no if we don’t believe that we can offer them anything.

What does a successful academy and governing body look like?

RG: The Strategic Plan is a good starting point. The Strategic Plan is absolutely central to what this question is really asking, what are the different elements that make up a successful academy and trust? It is no accident that well governed schools that are financially prudent have successful outcomes. We layer on top of that the co-operative values. We don’t just want success, we want a particular type of success and that is why the values and purpose are so important. A co-operative centre of excellence in the community. We want to see fully rounded young co-operators who believe in this as they move through the rest of their lives.

The questions detailed below were asked ahead of the conference, but time during the conference did not allow for the answers to be given.  They are given here now for completeness.


The Co-op Academies Trust has now got sixteen academies within its MAT – is there a chance that with this very rapid growth that it could become unmanageable and ‘over trade’?

This question has been covered by some of the previous questions but ostensibly this is about managing risk and evaluating this against the opportunities that can arise from growth. Risk registers are regularly reviewed and lack of progress is tracked and addressed urgently. I think there is an awareness of the problems that can come from ‘overtrading’ but there is a genuine drive to change lives. The Trust and its sponsor are committed to improving life chances. We need to manage risk but not slacken in our desire to improve lives.

When I was appointed a governor of a member school of the Trust, it was very much smaller in scale that it is now. How many of the most recent conversions have belonged to another MAT and which have failed and been directed by the Secretary of State for Education to seek an alternative MAT and subsequently joined our Trust?

Some of the recent joiners were local authority schools that were judged to require support and therefore the Trust was approached by the DfE. Some of the schools were academies and in the case of Co-op Academy Swinton, it was judged Good by Ofsted but had a financial notice to improve from the ESFA. Crazy but true. More recently we have seen Good schools joining the Trust and I believe this reflects well on our ways of working and the values we espouse.

What support do you give your new Governor Chairs, who have no experience in Education or any knowledge of the local area?

All new chairs are appointed from within the ranks of the Co-op. They meet with a Trust officer to make sure they have the skills and expertise to undertake the role. We offer governor training for all new governors. Some of this is available face to face whereas some is online. We hold the new chair’s hand as they venture into their first few meetings with the headteacher/Principal and we always attend the full governing body and sub committee meetings so that the senior Trust colleague can offer guidance and advice and where necessary lead on particular items. The chairs meet informally with the chair of the Trust Board and the Director of the Trust once a term and there is a get together for all Coop governors where the agenda links to developing issues on future agendas. As many of the chairs work at 1 Angel Square we do bump into each other now and again and invariably the conversation moves to governance issues.

What are the Trust priorities for 2019?

  • Achieve improved rates of progress and attainment levels in the academies
  • All academies Ofsted receive better judgements than before
  • Create a hub structure organically with West Yorks starting first
  • Create an IT infrastructure plan
  • Appoint a new CEO and induct that person successfully
  • Embed all new academies with fewer new academies joining but still growing
  • Launch the strategic plan and emphasise the importance of co-operative values and Ways of Being Co-op

What does the Trust believe are the biggest issues being faced by the Academies today?

  • Recruiting good teachers particularly in shortage subjects such as maths, science, business studies, computer studies
  • Funding – not enough, uncertainty over national funding formula etc
  • Pressure caused by changes to accountability ie new GCSE programmes, tables test at Y4, harder tests, new Ofsted Framework
  • Impacts on workload (where the Trust has been very proactive and national leader) and wellbeing of staff
  • Negative impact of austerity on schools results in them being the backstop for all or much of society’s ills

In the spirit of openness, can minutes of Trust Board and committee meetings be shared with governors and school leaders?

We need to balance the desire for openness and transparency with the importance of minutes being a useful document which records the substance of the issues which are considered. We feel that the minutes of the meeting should fully and accurately record issues, some of which may be of a sensitive or confidential nature – we would rather avoid producing meeting records which are anodine, redacted or where separate confidential minutes are routinely produced. Our preference has been to openly communicate areas discussed, through the Directors’ newsletter and briefings trust meetings. These invariably include the issues discussed and the actions proposed. However, there may be more we can do, so we will look at whether a report of Board/ Sub-Committee proceedings would satisfy the appetite for greater openness.