Director’s Letter | July 2018
A few weeks ago I spent a very pleasant week with my wife in Ibiza. We returned to a hotel we had visited a few years ago and, although we enjoyed the holiday, the hotel wasn’t quite as good as we remembered. While the UK enjoyed very hot and dry weather we had a few rain clouds which meant I got further into reading the two books I took with me. The first was the autobiography of Linda Ronstadt (if you don’t know who this is you are probably much younger than me) and WTF by Robert Peston. The Peston book tried to explain why the brexit vote had gone the way it did and how the country can try and come to terms with it. Towards the end of the book he gave an interesting overview of what a good school curriculum needs to look like and how examinations need to test the right sort of things and not be just an opportunity for memory and knowledge to be tested.
The Peston comments come at a time when the chief inspector at Ofsted has emphasised the need for all schools to have a clear rationale for the curriculum they are delivering. At the next Trust Forum to be held at Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent the head teachers, Principals and other senior leaders will consider the underlying principles and expectations of the curriculum we offer. As a big supporter of a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum I am really pleased to see the way many of our academies use time before and after school as well as during lunch breaks to extend and further excite and interest pupils and students in the arts and sport.
The curriculum issue is one that needs to be woven throughout the refreshed Trust strategic plan that is developing nicely following the input from many of you over the past few months. I have visited all but one of the academies and spoken to all staff about the old strategic plan and seeking your thoughts on what is, and what is not, included. I will share with you the new strategic plan once the Trust Board has considered it in the new academic year. It is important, however, that all academy improvement plans connect firmly with the Trust strategic plan and this is why the current draft has been shared with Head Teachers/Principals and chairs of governors over the last few weeks.
One aspect of the Peston book that struck a chord was the need to try and be as honest as we can when interpreting data and reporting on emerging issues. The Trust has always tried to be open and honest when communicating with its staff, parents/carers, children and other stakeholders but Peston reignited my desire to commit further to the ‘no fake news’.
Co-op Academy Woodlands: Ofsted
Towards the end of June, Woodlands had the Ofsted call. The judgements remain confidential but I am pleased to say they closely matched our expectations. I will share the report as soon as it is published. I am very proud of the achievements of pupils, staff and governors. Achieving strong support from the inspectorate is an important indicator of success because it looks more broadly than just test and assessment outcomes.
New name for Manchester Creative and Media Academy: Co-op Academy North Manchester
Following the deployment of an external agency who spoke directly with current and future parents/carers, staff and students the Trust Board has accepted the proposal made by the local governing body that the academy will now be called Co-op Academy North Manchester. I am delighted we have been able to secure a name that aligns much more closely with that of all other academies.
Ways of Being Co-op
Many of you are aware that the Co-op has developed a set of behaviours that are expected in order to demonstrate the co-operative values. The four statements are:
- Succeed together
- Be yourself always
- Show you care
- Do what matters most
It is encouraging that these behaviours are now being used by staff with the students and pupils. May I offer a word of caution in the way these behaviours are being interpreted. The Trust has agreed with the the Co-op that these can be used in our academies but it is important that individual staff do not doctor them to mean something slightly different. We have developed some guidance for them so I would be grateful if these were adhered to rather than some of the rather individual approaches that have been observed.
Be yourself, always
We bring our best self, so that we each contribute and respect others for doing the same. Of course, being yourself isn’t about excusing poor behaviours that contradict our other Ways of Being Co-op.
We’re confident about who we are and know that it’s okay to be ourselves.
We inspire everyone to do their best because we value what they do and we lead by example.
We’re open to change and challenge. Having lots of different points of view means we can come up with better ideas.
We’re pioneering – we always look for new ways of doing things so that we get even better.
We’re authentic, so we do things the same when working alone or with the whole world watching.
Do what matters most
What matters most is ensuring that our pupils/students achieve the best possible outcomes.
We all focus on doing the right things for our pupils/students, colleagues, parents, communities and the Co-op.
We’re straightforward. We say what we will do simply and honestly, and we do it.
We challenge when things aren’t right – we don’t look the other way.
We earn trust from each other because we always do the right thing.
We use our resources carefully, so that we can get the most from them and build a strong future together.
Show you care
We care about our Trust, our pupils/students, their parents, our colleagues, our Co-op and communities, now and for the future.
We’re down to earth and we show this in all the things that we do.
We all take ownership – if we know we can make something better, we do it.
We always make sure we do things fairly and responsibly.
We listen to people because we care about them.
We help our communities, because that’s what makes us different.
Co-operating is what makes us different; we’re better and stronger when we work together.
We know that our team has to come first, because when we work together we will become a stronger Trust.
We involve people, because we value their ideas.
We all contribute to making the Co-op Academies an enjoyable place to work.
We respect each other for being ourselves and we know the value we each bring to our Trust.
We support each other. We know that it’s okay to learn from our mistakes and great to share success together.
Education Policy Institute Report
Recently, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report called School Performance in Academy Chains and Local Authorities – 2017 which looked at the performance of academy chains and local authorities at primary and secondary level. To accurately assess school quality in these school groups, the research measured how each group fares with pupil improvement and, for the first time, takes into account characteristics such as pupil prior attainment and levels of disadvantage, as well as the historic performance of a school. This allows for a clear measure of performance, undistorted by schools’ differing pupil intakes.
The report compared the performance of more than 200 multi academy trusts and all local authorities and showed that the Trust, is 26th in a league table of 218 (last year we were 35th). The four longest serving secondary academies were included in the results and it is a shame that trusts didn’t have sufficient primary academies to be included. I am convinced that if they were the Trust would have been even higher in the tables.
You can read the report at
Sutton Trust ‘Chain Effects’ 2017
Each year the Sutton Trust reviews the performance of all major academy chains and our Trust generally performs well especially in terms of the progress that ‘disadvantaged’ children make. The next annual report will be published shortly so I will share this as soon as it becomes available.
New Trust appointments and opportunities
Martin Sweeney – Following a couple of advertisements the Trust is pleased to announce that Martin Sweeney has been appointed as the Trust’s Acquisition and Development Manager. Martin is well known to many senior managers as he has been supporting a number of initiatives including the Shakespeare extension for Co-op Academy Leeds. Martin will be leading on the conversion arrangements for the host of new schools wishing to join the Trust. His post runs until July 2019.
Shaheen Rasool – As many of you know Shaheen has been undertaking some important support work in existing and future primary academies over the past year. I am pleased to inform you that her role has now been made permanent.
New Education/Hub Director for Greater Manchester – Due to the number of potential academies joining on The Wirral, Mark Williams has been appointed as Education Director for that area and will continue to support the Stoke-on-Trent area.. This now leaves a vacancy for the Greater Manchester area. A national advert is due next week. All details will be posted on to the Trust website.
Saying goodbye with genuine thanks
Tony Stephens, a colleague well known to many of you has decided to stand down from his permanent Trust duties at the end of the summer term. He will still be undertaking some trust duties so he won’t be disappearing all together. Tony has been a strong supporter of the Trust as well as a strong challenger ensuring we do all we can to achieve the very best for our students.
John Clarke, a former senior Co-op employee who left the business a year or two ago but agreed to continue as chair of governors at Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent has stood down from his role. John has started a new role at ACAS in Nottingham and the extensive driving between his home and their office has meant he cannot devote as much time as he would like to the academy. John played a big part in further improving the governing body and very much led from the front. The new chair of governors is Dave Robertson, a senior IT executive from the Co-op who lives close to the academy.
Bridget Groarke, the former Head of Legal at the Co-op who also left the business a few years ago has decided to stand down from chair of governors at Co-op Academy Manchester. Bridget is now the General Counsel and Company Secretary of The Vita Group and has been a key figure in supporting the £18.6m extension to the academy that is near completion. Bridget will be replaced in an interim role by Geoff Clark, the current Vice Chair of Governors and a former Co-op legal employee.
Co-op Academy Manchester
After nearly three years from start to finish I am delighted to be able to announce that the multi-million pounds extension at Co-op Academy Manchester is nearly finished. A grand gala opening event is due to take place on Friday 13 July. A special note of thanks to Allen Moth, Steve Cooper and Steve Brice for their commitment to this project and ensuring we get value for money from each pound spent.
As a matter of routine, governors complete a skills audit and a governing body effectiveness review. Governors are currently undertaking this work and their outcomes will be key drivers in identifying any skill gaps that need to be addressed. Claire Scanlan and Hazel Remeika work closely together to ensure the governing bodies are strong, effective and forward looking.
At the moment the Trust Board is refreshing its composition following an external review of its effectiveness. With so much growth in the pipeline it is clear the Trust Board needs to consider carefully its skills and expertise so that it can play its part in driving improvement in the future. A number of senior colleagues from within the Trust have applied to join the Trust Board and these are being considered by Russell Gill and the other members of the Trust. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Flo Hadley, an ex-colleague from Ofsted days and Paul Brennan, former Deputy Education Director at Leeds CC for their support and encouragement over the past few years. The Trust Board meeting on 13 July will be their last.
I thought it might be helpful to explain how governors are appointed to our academies. The Trust Board, executed through the Central Governance Team, on behalf of the Trust Director is responsible for the appointment of sponsor (Co-op) governors and the chair of governors (usually an existing Co-op employee). The Governing Body, executed through the Chair of Governors, supported by the Central Governance Team is responsible for the appointment of all other governors (e.g. parent, staff, co-opted, partner and community governors). Recruitment to Non-sponsor governor vacancies in your governing body will be initiated by the Central Governance Team through the Chair of Governors.
Over the past year the Trust has gradually moved away from buying in local authority HR support to having our own team of HR experts to call upon. The only academy still drawing on local authority support is Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent but this will come to end when the contract expires. Whilst still early days, the benefits of having dedicated in-house resource are already being seen in coordinating a more joined-up approach across the Trust and providing resource to push forward pieces of work such as policy development, upskilling line managers, and researching new ways of doing things.
A workshop bringing colleagues from all academies together to develop a shared understanding of good practice for Single Central Records across the Trust took place in May and was well attended and well received. In early July, key members of staff from across the Trust are attending an IOSH Managing Safely course. The Trust is currently creating a training event for facilities, caretaking and estates personnel drawing on the expertise in the Co-op.
Reducing Workload Report
You will recall that the Trust produced a reducing workload report in late 2016 and has reviewed its implementation last year. We included some specific questions about this work in this year’s Foretel survey and I was intending to bring the working group back together to push on again when one of the senior leaders in the Trust suggested that we should try to identify the specific actions each academy has undertaken. All academies have provided this information and reviewed the impact of the actions. It is clear that many staff are not fully aware of the significant action and effort each academy has offered to the issue of workload. I have therefore asked all senior academy leaders to share the summary workload document and provide an opportunity for colleagues to chat through the issues that emerge. Once this task has been completed I will consider reconstituting a revised working group to consider the Trust’s next steps. I should add that Caroline Foster (Co-op Academy Leeds) and I shared a platform in London recently where we shared our practice with others as part of a DfE programme. It is clear that we are well ahead of the curve on this issue.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to fund, from the central Trust budget, the appointment of a co-operative co-ordinator (Co-Co) in each academy. These colleagues act as an important link between the Co-op and the academies in the Trust. The Co-Cos came together recently to take stock, induct new Co-Cos and plan what is in store for the year ahead. I will be asking all academies to identify their Co-Co before the end of the term and a secondment opportunity to lead the Co-Co work across the Trust will be advertised shortly.
The Co-Cos have committed to supporting The Gambian Schools Trust which is collecting old textbooks that are then packed into used banana boxes for shipping out and for use by children in schools built and supported by the charity. Your Co-Co will be able to provide more details on this great programme.
IRIS Co-ordinator/Teaching and Learning Lead
A number of academies have the digital technology Iris Connect. For some this was part of their establishment as a new academy but for others the Trust is helping to fund the roll out of the technology. The Trust has big plans for IRIS going forward so in order to support the development and use of the technology the Trust is supporting the appointment of an IRIS coordinator/teaching and learning leaders in all academies. All IRIS leaders for 2018/19 have now be identified by our academy leaders. Lynda Johnson, Education Director for West Yorkshire, is currently working with Katie Bradley from Iris Connect to plan and develop the network events for 2018/19. These dates have already been agreed and shared with academy Iris leaders.
New academies joining
In the new academic year we expect to see Co-op Academy Broadhurst (currently Broadhurst Primary School, Moston in Manchester), Co-op Academy Parkland (currently Parkland Primary School, Bradford), Co-op Academy Portland (currently Portland Primary School, Birkenhead) and Co-op Academy Bebington (currently Bebington High Sports College) on the Wirral join. There are more coming down the line but I will give an indication of their joining dates in the next Director’s letter.
New brand roll-out
By the end of the academic year all existing academies should have their new exterior signs and refreshed websites. All of this has been achieved using funds given to the Trust by the Co-op. Congratulations to Joe Dundas for managing this challenging area of work. Please note that the Trust has agreed to conform to all Co-op brand principles so no amending or doctoring of the brand can take place without our permission.
Much has been written about the new regulations regarding the handling, storing and sharing of data. To be honest much that I read is not true but it was heartening to listen to the Trade Unions at our termly meeting feel reassured and genuinely grateful for the professional and dogged way that the Trust tackled the challenges of the new regulations. Much thanks needs to go to Claire Scanlan and the academy GDPR ambassadors who have worked tirelessly to ensure we have processes and practices that help us comply with the regulations. We all have a part to play in all of this so please keep your guard up and if you feel there are improvements that can be made please let your ambassador know.
Co-op membership – double discount
The next double discount dates are on the:
6th & 7th July
3rd & 4th August
31st August & 1st September
For those of you who have applied for the Co-op colleague membership, you’ll get two days of double discount on the following:
20% off Co-op branded products in our food stores
10% off selected electrical products at coop.co.uk/electrical
10% off selected bed purchases at coop.co.uk/beds
Introducing double discount on Co-op branded products supports the Co-op Membership offer and as a colleague member, it’s even better for you, as you’ll also get 5% back on own brand purchases and 1% for your local cause.
Don’t forget you can also receive discount on various Co-op Insurance policies if you are a Co-op colleague member. If you haven’t already applied for the Co-op colleague membership please speak to your local HR/Admin team for more details and the offers available.
Thank you for your fantastic support for the children and families/carers in our academies. I know it can be a very tough and challenging job but I am regularly impressed by the positive impact you are having and the genuine enthusiasm you show. I am pondering whether a short Director’s letter might be necessary before the end of term.