Director’s Letter | October 2018

Director’s Letter | October 2018

Dear Colleague

It’s amazing how quickly the first month of the new academic year slips past. I’ve managed to visit many of our academies already this term but I am aware there are a few that I still need to get to. I have dates in my diary to complete these by the end of October so hopefully I will have a chance to see first hand the great work going on.

Co-op Academy Portland
I am pleased to inform you that the 13th academy joined our trust on 1 October. Co-op Academy Portland is in Birkenhead at the far end of the Wirral peninsula. It serves an area of social and economic challenge and has welcomed the trust’s involvement in supporting their improvement journey. Phil Crossley (Headteacher) and his staff have shown a keenness to embrace the trust’s values and principles and are looking forward to connecting with academies outside of the Wirral. Russell Gill, the chair of the Trust Board, visited the academy on its first day and we look forward to supporting Phil Crossley and his team in their pursuit for a stronger education for all of its pupils.

Summer test and assessment results for 2018
The July and August period is a little tense for academy staff as they await the results of externally assessed tests for Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13. For those like me, who have responsibility for the entire Trust, the experience and anxiety are magnified. I have great faith in the efforts of all staff to achieve the best outcomes for our pupils and students but with the national testing arrangements being amended and altered on a regular basis it remains an uncertain time. This year’s results show some great results with some academies making giant strides, others maintaining previously good results and just a few with a sense of disappointment. For GCSE and A Level results there is a period of re-marks and challenges and these have resulted in the Progress 8 measure creeping upwards so the results are looking better as each day passes.

I was really pleased with the primary assessment results especially as there was improvement in nearly every academy at Early Years, Phonics Screening, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 results. We await the validated national figures for all of these but with all of the changes we have had to cope with, I feel proud with what has been achieved.

Revised Trust Board
The original Trust Board were appointed for a four year period and their terms of office expired at the end of August. As an aside, when the Trust Board was appointed in 2014 we tried to have different lengths of office to avoid having to renew all in one go; we were denied by the DfE. The old Board undertook an external review of its effectiveness in March and agreed to create an additional sub-committee that will oversee the acquisition and development aspect of the trust’s work. This will include considering the due diligence process for new academies as well as future changes to processes such as the introduction of an integrated IT system. The Board also reviewed its membership.

After serving four years (full term) on the Trust Board, Flo Hadley (former senior inspector with Ofsted), Paul Brennan (former senior officer at Leeds CC and North Yorkshire CC) and Steve Brice (Principal at Co-op Academy Manchester) stood down.

The new Trust Board held their first meeting of the academic year last month and held an important strategy day a few days ago. They considered the draft Strategic Plan that I produced that took into account many of the helpful comments staff made during my Roadshows held at all academies in the late spring and summer. It is planned that a new Strategic Plan will be ready for sharing later this term.

Annual Governor Conference, a little different this year: 24 November
Each year the Trust hold a conference for all of its governors at 1 Angel Square, Manchester. In the past attendees have heard from eminent specialists in areas such as corporate governance, safeguarding and school improvement. Following the external review of the Trust Board it was suggested that we could do more to include staff in the event. We have always provided an invite to staff but very few have accepted. This year we intend to open the conference with a review of the past year led by Russell Gill and me. This will be followed by the current Trust Board taking questions and listening to suggestions from those present. This element of the conference will be recorded and broadcast on Youtube after the event. If any member of staff has a question for the Trust Board I would be grateful if it could be shared with me by 16 November at the latest. Governors will be receiving more details from Claire Scanlan shortly.

New academies joining the trust
In addition to Co-op Academy Portland joining the Trust, we are expecting the following schools/colleges to join before the end of 2018. It is difficult to be precise about the actual joining date other than it has to be on the 1st of a month. Please note that a small number of the schools/colleges have not yet fully cleared the trust’s due diligence hurdles.
Co-op Academy Broadhurst*, Moston
Co-op Academy Parkland*, Bradford
Co-op Academy Walkden, Salford
Connell 6th Form College, Manchester
Co-op Academy Woodslee*, Wirral
Co-op Academy Bebington, Wirral
Co-op Academy Friarswood*, Newcastle-under-Lyme
* Primary phase academy

At times, some staff question why are we growing quickly and why don’t we just concentrate on what we’ve got. I usually respond by saying that I am impatient because there are still too many children not getting a decent education in the north. The efforts of our staff have created better chances for our children and others are keen to learn from us including some who want or need to join. We are not foolhardy in our approach because we know that as well as enabling the new academy to join we have much to do to share our approach and to share the journey we have been on. We have key staff and important leaders who are willing and able to do this without ignoring their key role in their own academy.

The recent Trust Board strategy day reviewed our ambition and our approach. We constantly review our performance to ensure growth is not having a negative effect on our existing academies. We will not hesitate in pausing if we feel this is necessary. Academic results this year and the overall improvements being achieved do not suggest we should pause, however.

Staff induction event
I was delighted to welcome in excess of 60 new staff from all of our academies at 1 Angel Square, Manchester on 1 October. This introduction to the Trust is arranged annually on the first Monday evening in October and it gives a real sense of the power, enthusiasm and commitment of our trust’s greatest strength and resource, namely its staff. I always enjoy getting into ‘Frank’s Tours’ mode as I escort colleagues around the amazing 1 Angel Square building and explain my continuing amazement that it all began in 1844 when 28 men decided to put a pound into a pot to buy ‘honest food at honest prices’.

I have become aware that due to administrative errors at a couple of academies some staff were not formally invited. In addition, there were a number of staff expected who did not arrive. I have asked my PA to arrange another event before the end of the year. My expectation is that colleagues do attend and if they are unable to do so, they contact us to let us know.

Being a co-operative trust
I am sure you all understand that to be a co-operative organisation we need to have a membership. We gain our membership through our sponsor, the Co-op. All staff are therefore encouraged to join as members by paying £1. The arrangements for becoming an employee member, which provides access to great benefits including savings on purchases through any of the Co-op’s various products and the opportunity to vote on important aspects of the business, is relatively straightforward but it requires your active involvement to make it happen. At the moment only 57% of our workforce have completed the form that enables information to be shared by our trust to the Co-op. This is needed to meet our GDPR responsibilities. Your local HR colleague can assist in helping you through the process. I would like to get 90% of our staff as members by the end of this academic year, if we can.

Holidays in term time
When I worked as HMI in Ofsted I placed great importance on pupil/student attendance rates when judging their overall effectiveness. Ofsted, improving attendance is often the first tangible sign of significant improvement in the current and future outcomes of a school. In the past few weeks I have, accompanied committed and enthusiastic staff from Co-op Academy Swinton and Co-op Academy Failsworth on a visit to Co-op Academy Manchester where attendance levels have been incredibly high for a long time; arranged for students with improving attendance at Co-op Academy Leeds to have lunch with me at 1 Angel Square and have been truly impressed by the fantastic attendance levels now being achieved at Co-op Academy Beckfield. I have also been keen to write directly to parents and carers who have taken their children out of school, usually at the start and end of a term for a cheaper holiday.

We need to be mindful how our own actions align with those we expect from our parents and carers and how any breach could play out on social media and impact negatively on the important work our colleagues are doing to secure strong attendance rates. For that reason, I would like to make clear that colleagues will not be granted time off in term time for trips/holidays if this would involve them taking their own children (or grandchildren etc) out of education. If this is unavoidable, by exception, the Headteacher/Principal is expected to notify their Education Director (Director of the Trust for central team members). This is not about telling you how to be a parent, but about adopting a consistent approach and protecting the reputation of the Trust. Those colleagues who work all year round in the central team (like me) and in some of our academies do so because their service is required during school closure periods and they usually have a relatively small annual leave entitlement. Therefore, they may be allowed to take some time off during term time (arrangements for this are dependent on individual academy/Trust operating requirements) subject to approval by their line manager.

Professional Development
One of the key pillars of our success as a Trust has been the approach academies and the central trust have taken to the professional development of staff. When I joined the Trust in September 2013 I brought an extensive list of colleagues I had previously worked with who were willing to support our Trust’s development. As there were very few central staff in the Trust at that time and limited sharing of expertise across our academies, I felt it was the only way to offer a meaningful CPD programme. As our Trust and its academies have gained strength and momentul we have begun to reduce the number of external consultants (keeping the very best) and encouraged more co-operation between academies.

For teaching staff the professional development programme is very well developed and in some academies it focuses well on non-teaching staff as well. I have previously expressed my commitment to all of our non-teacher staff that we will focus more on their needs over the next year. I have asked our HR colleagues to consider what is available for teaching assistants and midday staff. I have asked that the Trust’s facilities manager to work with Co-op colleagues to develop a programme for facilities’ staff. More on this in the next month or so.

An important decision the Trust made earlier this year was to invest more in a video technology system called ‘IRIS’. This system was already in use in some of our academies, but we have paid for all academies to have the latest system and for the appointment of an IRIS Leader in each academy. This role will encourage all staff (teaching and non-teaching) to use the technology to help them identify areas they can improve upon. If they wish, they can share their videos with each other and in time we believe we will establish a self supporting network of professionals eager to share their expertise with others. The system is GDPR compliant and will not be used for performance management purposes. It is genuinely for individuals to use and they can decide who they share their videos with, if any. On a personal level, I have used the system in my previous role as a senior inspector with Ofsted. The first issue I had to overcome was listening to my own voice. I only had to watch a few minutes before I identified things that I never knew I did in meetings. I would encourage you to give it a go.

Some recent CPD highlights for me have been the following.

I was delighted to learn about a Trust led mathematics CPD event held recently at Bridge Community Church in Leeds (close to Co-op Academy Leeds). Forty five primary teachers and eleven secondary teachers attended the event delivered by the White Rose Maths Hub. The first session covered ‘Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract’ and showed how concrete objects help to establish conceptual foundations for a firm understanding of mathematical concepts. Delegates also focused on the transition from the use of pictorial materials and abstract methods, and how and why they support learning. The session also revealed how a few key resources can be used creatively to support learning across the maths curriculum. The maths leads from our academies have been encouraged to set up their own Iris ‘Film Club’ to capture their developments over the year including their work with the Subject Leaders in Education.

This week the Trust staged an event for 57 Early Years practitioners including staff from all of our primary academies as well as those due to join our Trust soon. The theme was ‘Movement Play’ and was led by an acknowledged expert Sharon Tredgett. Our academies are being supported with two days of consultancy to develop this work and the Early Years’ leads will also be encouraged to set up their own Film Clubs using Iris.

With prompting from Hazel Remeika, the Partnership Manager in the Co-op and an important link with the Trust, we held a CEIAG conference call with key secondary colleagues responsible for careers. I was grateful to Katharine Needham at Co-op Academy Leeds who drafted a Trust policy document on CEIAG. We discussed this policy as well as sharing how each academy addresses this area of work. We are meeting again in a few weeks to take this work forward.

Co-operative Co-ordinator (Co-Co)
One of the best decisions I made was to support the appointment of a co-operative co-ordinator in each academy. These appointments are made at an academy level, but funding for the role comes from the central trust. It is co-ordinated by Liz Garrity at Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent. The appointments are made each year and include staff from across the academy and not just teachers. The current list of Co-Co appoints is:

Co-op Academy Manchester: Laura Morley
Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent: Daryl Tomlinson
Co-op Academy Leeds: Naomi Abacassi & Cally Northam
Co-op Academy Brownhills: Leigh Hough
Co-op Academy Oakwood: Angela Shepherd
Co-op Academy Woodlands: Katy Hobson
Co-op Academy Nightingale: Emma Pickthall
Co-op Academy North Manchester: Jamie Metcalf
Co-op Academy Priesthorpe: Jane Pickering
Co-op Academy Failsworth: Jo Farnworth
Co-op Academy Beckfield: Suzy Zito
Co-op Academy Swinton: Gemma Davies

New Education Director for Greater Manchester
I am pleased to announce that the trust has appointed a new Education Director for its Greater Manchester academies. The colleague, who works outside of our region, is likely to commence his duties in February. I will provide his name and a short CV once the pre-employment checks have been completed.

Special visitors to our academies
Recently our academies have been visited by a host of special visitors linked to our sponsor, The Co-op. These included:
Last week Steve Murrells, Co-op CEO visited Co-op Academy Swinton
Last Friday, three Co-op non-Executive members (Stevie Spring CBE, former Chair of Children in Need and Chair Designate of Mind, Gareth Thomas, former retail director for John Lewis and Margaret Casley Hayford, current chair of ActionAid Uk and Chancellor of University of Coventry) visited Swinton and Co-op Academy North Manchester
This week the Co-op Executive Board including all of the non-Executives will hold their monthly meeting at Co-op Academy Manchester
The Trust Board will hold their strategy meeting at Co-op Academy North Manchester this week
Russell Gill, chair of the Trust Board visited Co-op Academy Portland on the day they converted to the Trust
Geoff Clarke, a new Trust Board member visited Co-op Academy Beckfield as part of his induction to his new role.

Looking ahead, we have Pippa Wicks (Deputy CEO) visiting a number of Leeds based academies in late November/early December.

Twitter news
I want to thank all of you who upload stories and news items to twitter. I am a late convert but they never fail to inspire and raise my spirits especially when I’ve been in a host of meetings and haven’t had a chance to get the buzz from an academy visit. Please keep them coming. You can follow my twitter account at and the Trust at

Connell 6th form paid work placement
The Trust is developing a unique BTEC Business Course at Connell 6th Form College where students in Year 13, as part of their course, will receive up to 40 days work placement in the Co-op. If students attend, work hard and complete their planned projects they will receive a grant similar to the living wage for their efforts. This course received a lot of press coverage recently and is part of the plan for Connell 6th Form College hopefully joining our trust in the next few months.

HR, finance and governance
The Trust is in the process of reshaping our back office support for the academies. This involves the creation, over time, of local hub arrangements. The HR element, led by Juliet Caunt, has become embedded and is being appreciated by staff including senior leaders. The finance arrangements have been affected by a few important departures in recent months but new appointments have been made and once these staff are inducted I believe we will back on stronger ground. The governance arrangements are also changing with the Trust relying more on a contracted service rather than its own staff clerking every meeting. This should enable our staff to quality assure the work and be proactive in addressing any issues. I want to acknowledge the great work that has been undertaken by all colleagues in these areas. They have willingly stepped up when needed to ensure the machine keeps working.

Free flu vaccines
Once again, this Autumn the Trust is offering all employees the opportunity to have a free flu vaccine. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, you just need to register with the academy administration team for details of the onsite clinic or how to obtain a voucher for the vaccine to be provided at a local centre.

Rebecca Ingram
I was recently informed by Rebecca Ingram (Headteacher at Co-op Academy Oakwood) that she will be leaving her post at the end of the year. Rebecca was in post when I started my role at the Co-op and played a crucial part in developing her own academy as well as Co-op Academy Nightingale, where she was the Executive Headteacher until June 2017. I am sure the academy community and the Trust will give her a warm send off.

And finally….
At the recent Trust Board meeting I informed them that I intend standing down from my post in June/July 2019. I will be heading towards my 64th birthday by then and hopefully my youngest daughter (who is a primary teacher) will have given birth to our third grandchild. My wife is the child minder for our two eldest grandchildren (my oldest daughter is also a primary school teacher) two days a week and we need my involvement to keep the show on the road before and after school. I don’t want to lose touch completely with the Trust, but it will be up to the Trust Board and the new CEO to decide on all of this. By next summer, we will have integrated many of the new academies into our trust and I will have had the chance to induct the new CEO. I certainly want to make the induction period as brilliant as the one I received way back in 2013. My post will be advertised in the next month or so and the Trust Board are taking it very seriously, as you would expect.

Best wishes

Frank Norris