Director’s Letter | December 2018

Director’s Letter | December 2018

It’s been a very busy few weeks on a personal level, so much so that I have only eaten three mince pies! More to come I’m sure but before I go to weigh myself I wanted to express my deep gratitude for the professionalism, enthusiasm and commitment from all Trust staff wherever you work. This holiday always seems to go in a flash so I sincerely hope you manage to have some time to recharge the batteries. I will be enjoying holding, feeding and nappy changing our newly born third granddaughter (India Ellen Read) who arrived on 5 December.

New academies

Since the last Director’s letter in October the Trust has welcomed the following academies:

Co-op Academy Broadhurst*, Manchester

Co-op Academy Parkland*, Bradford

Co-op Academy Walkden, Salford

Co-op Academy Woodslee*, Wirral

Co-op Academy Friarswood*, Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffordshire)

*primary academy

It is important to stress that academies joining the Trust undertake their own due diligence process so there should be no surprises when they join our Trust. We are aware that some of the changes that occur when schools become academies can make them feel a little daunted but we try our utmost to smooth over these and support as much as we can.

Being a co-operator

I led a school assembly on the theme of co-operation at Co-op Academy Portland recently and spoke to the school council. I drew on the example of the Rochdale Pioneers and how revolutionary they were. This hit a chord with the student council who were keen to see the home of the Co-op for themselves. So, in mid January they are heading for Manchester (and if time to Rochdale). It is very important that we try to provide a context to the Co-op, its relationship with the Trust and how we draw on the Ways of Being Co-op in order to  explain the behaviours we need to show as co-operators. Much of this was covered brilliantly at the recent Co-operative Co-ordinators (Co-Co) meeting. I was energised by the enthusiasm and total commitment shown and I know some newly joined colleagues were astounded by the power of the group and couldn’t wait to get back to their academy to share the news and ideas.

Twitter and what it reveals about the curriculum

I am very keen on twitter and I am pleased that many of our academies and many of you also tweet regularly. Logging on each day provides me with an uplifting and heartwarming glimpse of the wide range of experiences and opportunities you provide for our young people. In a recent two day period I viewed:

I am always interested in blogs and tweets that are either written by or referred to by our staff.

Some of these are truly innovative and effective and I would urge you to view them. I find these really useful and interesting

Katy Hobson – Co-op Academy Woodlands

Jennifer Webb – Co-op Academy Leeds

Early Years – Co-op Academy Oakwood

Yolanda Martin – Co-op Academy Nightingale

Tom Trower – Co-op Academy Woodlands

and of course, most of our academies are tweeting everyday from their accounts.

Trust Strategic Plan

Something that sounds quite dull, but actually isn’t, is the Trust’s new strategic plan. You will recall that I visited all academies during the late spring/early summer to seek views from all colleagues on what the Board needed to consider for the next four years. I read over 200 emails and many of your ideas have been woven into the new strategic plan. We are currently producing materials for sharing the plan and some of its key elements with you all in the spring of 2019.

However, key elements of the plan include; more specific performance indicators that will roll out to all staff for inclusion from September 2019, a snappy explanation as to how we believe we add social value and four key priorities that include how we will:

  • be a learning organisation
  • regularly evaluate and be mindful of risk
  • enable digital technology to help us to be more effective and efficient
  • be prudent, cost effective and locally empowered

It is clear that our academies are doing their utmost to provide relevant, interesting and worthwhile opportunities as part of the curriculum. In many respects this is vital work because it enables the broadest range of opportunities that are likely to draw greater interest from the children. This theme is picked up in the new strategic plan . For the first time the new plan  explains what type of curriculum we expect to see provided in the Trust. I have copied an extract from the statement below to give you a sense of it.

When a child leaves one of our academies they will know how to keep themselves safe and healthy. They will have had a broad experience that included academic, sporting/physical activity, dramatic, artistic, musical and most importantly, personal growth opportunities. Our academies will provide time for students to learn and enjoy their studies before and after the school day. We know that this can play a crucial role in keeping their interest and excitement. This is particularly important for some of our most vulnerable children.

Leeds/Bradford Hub

The previous strategic plan provided a steer on the creation of a hub structure as a way of managing the growth of the Trust. With the current number of academies in the Leeds/Bradford area and more seeking to join it makes sense that the first local hub should be established in this area. I will provide more details in the New Year but it is hoped we will have a permanent local base (we are being evicted in the nicest possible way from Co-op Academy Nightingale in mid summer 2019 due to their expanding numbers) for colleagues providing back office support across a number of academies in the hub in addition to meeting facilities and be led by a Hub Leader, Lynda Johnson (currently Education Director) for East Pennines.

Annual Governor Conference

A few weeks ago nearly 100 colleagues attended the annual governor conference at 1 Angel Square. The day opened with the Trust Board sharing successes, some disappointments and their vision for the future.

Feedback from the conference is still coming in, but it suggests all respondents indicated their total enjoyment of the day and the vast majority felt that they had learned a lot and were empowered to share their learning with their governing body.

The next conference will not take place until early 2020 so the audited accounts for the Trust will be available for scrutiny at the conference. On the subject of auditing I would like to thank the key staff in each academy and those in the central Trust who made the external audit go smoothly again this year. For those not involved it is easy to underestimate the work involved but having been a headteacher in local authority schools it is very clear to me that the audit process for academies is much tougher and includes many more checks and balances. The published report will appear on our website early in 2019.

New Education Director

I am pleased to inform you that Ian Burchett was appointed as the Manchester Education Director. He commences his duties in January 2019. Ian is currently working for the Inspiration Trust where Lord Agnew was chair of trustees. Ian is an Executive Principal across both primary and secondary phases. He will have special responsibility for apprenticeships and linking in with the Co-op.

Departures and arrivals

As I mentioned in the previous Director’s letter, Rebecca Ingram (Co-op Academy Oakwood) is leaving her post at the end of the year. Rebecca has been a longstanding servant to her academy and played a crucial role in establishing Co-op Academy Nightingale, particularly through the building and opening phases of the academy. We wish her well for the future. Rimah Aasim has been appointed as temporary headteacher until the end of the academic year.

Johanna Jobson (Co-op Academy Beckfield) headteacher for the past six years has decided it is time to seek new challenges and she will leaving in April 2019.  A recruitment campaign for her position resulted in a very strong field and I am delighted to inform you that Richard Ireland, Deputy Headteacher at Christ Church Academy, Shipley was an incredibly strong candidate and was the unanimous choice of the governors. Interestingly, the school council who met and chatted with the candidates, accompanied by two interview panel members, confirmed our view. Richard starts in April 2019.

The Trust Board is in the final stages of the recruitment process for my replacement. If an appointment is made Russell Gill, the chair of the Trust Board, will communicate the news to you all.

CPD for Facilities staff

The first meeting of the Facilities team in the West Pennines area was held at Co-op Academy Portland this month. High on the agenda was CPD for facilities and support staff across the Trust. The development of a CPD calendar will be circulated in the new year with specific training on health and safety. The development of a road map for career progression signposting specific training and milestones for career development will open up some exciting opportunities for team members in 2019.

East & West Pennines

In the East Pennine region, there is a continued focus on improving outcomes in mathematics.

Co-op Academy Woodlands are leading the way as they are involved in the Maths Mastery

project.  This is a two year funded project with White Rose Maths and provides training and in-school development support to further enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics. Co-op Academy Nightingale and Co-op Academy Beckfield are also partners in a one year  Maths Mastery readiness project that  commenced recently and will feed into the project that Woodlands is involved in. Co-op Academy Parkland are now into their second year of a mathematics improvement project with the West Yorkshire Maths Hub and there are positive signs of improvement. In addition, to these tailored programmes, all the primary and secondary academies are taking part in a series of five professional development sessions hosted by experts from White Rose Maths. Session 2 has now been completed and these are proving very successful. All academies are to be supported by a specialist leader in mathematics to ensure that learning from the training is being used and developed in each of the academies but in a bespoke way.

In partnership with Carnegie Leaders in Learning (Leeds Beckett University), we have also started the facilitator training programme so we can offer the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leaders.  We have 12 primary and 6 secondary middle leaders enrolled on the first cohort which will start in the spring term 2019 and continue until summer term 2020.

In West Pennines, a sharp focus has been given to academies requiring additional support due to disappointing test and/or assessment outcomes. Academy leaders, in conjunction with the Education Director, have identified where support is needed most. As a result Trust consultant support has been arranged for areas such as middle leadership, mathematics, safeguarding and humanities. Future sessions planned include Effective leadership and the role of middle leaders/heads of department. In addition, Co-operative Academy Reviews have been arranged drawing on expertise from within our own academies.

To help prepare for the eventual development of hubs in Greater Manchester and Wirral/North Staffs, and following discussions with the Trust’s Head of HR, the Education Director (West Pennines) has established monthly team meetings for regional HR, governance, finance and resources, and buildings and premises colleagues. Two meetings in, these sessions have already raised awareness of each others roles and responsibilities, identified common areas of work, and led to a greater sharing of practice in these areas.

Workload update and establishing a working group to consider setting

You will recall the Trust produced a report in late 2016 to try and reduce the workload pressures experienced by staff. This report has been reviewed twice to check on progress. A key measure of its impact was gained through the 2018 Foretel survey. Despite a lot of activity and clear impact a significant number of staff were not fully aware of the report’s existence or had forgotten about it. With this in mind I have shared a slide deck with headteachers and Principals that outlines what the Trust undertook and how it has impacted positively in a number of areas. I have asked them to share this with you. I have also written a blog that you may be interested in which covers a lot of the approaches our academies have made. You can read that here.

A working party on setting and streaming

Recently, my six-year-old granddaughter told me that she had been moved down from her top set to middle set in reading! This highlighted a concern I’ve had for many years about who benefits most from setting? A recent study from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Queen’s University Belfast has raised several concerns about allocating pupils to classes based on their attainment. These include bias and misallocation. Based on analysis of data from

over 9,000 Year 7 pupils at 46 secondary schools in England, researchers found that almost a third of pupils were placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their  Key Stage 2 SATs mathematics results would have warranted. Of this group, almost equal proportions were misallocated upwards (15.7%) and downwards (15.5%). The researchers discovered that once differences in socio-economic background were taken into account, girls were 1.55 times more likely to be misallocated to a lower mathematics set than boys.

Black pupils were 2.54 times more likely to be misallocated to a lower set in mathematics, compared with white pupils. This was part of findings showing that top-set students were more likely to be white and middle class, while bottom-set students were more likely to be working class and black. The group also found that teachers who are highly qualified in their subject are less likely to teach lower sets; some young people in lower sets feel limited or ‘babied’ by their teachers; and those in lower sets have less self-confidence in the subject.

The project team developed a resource for teachers, ‘Dos and Don’ts of attainment Grouping’, that draws out tips for best practice in setting and in mixed attainment grouping, based on the research evidence. I intend leading a Trust investigation into this. It is not too late to volunteer to join the working group. If you want to join please chat to your line manager and then drop me an email at

Initial IRIS Meeting

On the 5th December, we held our first leaders network meeting for Iris which uses video technology to improve teaching practice. This was an inspiring event where leaders shared the exciting work and development taking place in each academy.  I can confidently say that everyone benefited from hearing about the projects taking place as well as the strategies they had used to involve staff in developing their own expertise and trying out new approaches.

Leaders are now looking forward to further development in research groups over the next two terms.  Their commitment and enthusiasm in developing teaching and learning is infectious and a privilege to be part of.

Data Protection

Following a review of the Trust’s progress in securing compliance with data protection law, GDPR Sentry were appointed the Trust’s Data Protection Officer, from 1 October 2018.  GDPR Sentry has responsibility for operational compliance while the Trust retains strategic oversight (through the role of the Head of Governance and Communications).

As part of its new responsibilities, GDPR sentry is conducting  compliance reviews with each academy which will identify areas where essential actions are required to improve practice or to mitigate risks.  Outcomes of the reviews will be shared with governing bodies and a summary, with the Trust Board.

Recent meeting of the Trust Board

The Trust Board met on 6 December preceded by the audit and risk committee. The main items covered were a:

  • presentation from the external auditor and approval of the near final draft of the report
  • discussion about the progress being made in regard to Connell 6th Form College joining the Trust
  • summary of the actions being taken to address the roll out of the Civica accounting system
  • consideration of the review of the Trust’s approach to registering risks planned for spring 2019
  • discussion about the Director’s report
  • update on the progress of the recruitment of the new CEO
  • approval of the Trust’s strategic plan and the communication strategy that will help roll it out to all staff, governors and parents/carers in spring 2019
  • approval of the Trust’s annual Modern Slavery statement that will sit on the Trust website
  • paper explaining how the Trust had adopted the two year National Joint Council pay deal for 2018 and 2019 and the changes proposed to the NJC spine points to be introduced in April 2019. It also explained that the Trust is starting to consider how we might harmonise support staff grading across the Trust longer term.

Double Discount

And finally, Co-op staff members will receive double discount (20%) on products from 20-22 December.

Dates for the diary

Mid January will see the ‘Your Voice’ Foretel annual parent/carer, staff and, for secondary students issued.

Friday 22 March is the Annual Recognition Evening for staff at Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City FC.

May I wish you all a happy festive holiday and please, please, please take some time to recharge those batteries.


Frank Norris

Director of the Trust