How the Co-op tackled a school with terrible truancy

Rikama Education 17th October 2018

How does a school go from having one of the worst truancy records in the country to having one of the best attendance records?

“No nonsense and no excuses.”

That’s the message that you keep hearing from staff at Co-op Academy Manchester.

There is also a very direct approach from the school’s attendance team.

Even if a parent rings to say their child is poorly, there could still be a knock on the door to check out the story.

Jenny Robey, the school’s attendance manager, says she might be halfway up the stairs of a house where a child is supposedly off sick when the parent will admit that “she’s really in Tenerife”.

Not there… not learning

The school, in Blackley, Manchester, used to send out a minibus to bring back all those caught dodging school.

The principal, Steve Brice, says a radical improvement on attendance was a key part of turning around the school.

Image captionThere are 13 schools run by the Co-op group, mostly based in the north of England

“If children are not in the building, they’re not learning,” he says. Any other improvements in lessons would be wasted if pupils were not there to benefit.

Mr Brice says it has been important to send an unambiguous message that truancy is not tolerated – and to make clear that the school would not shy away from tough action, including fines and prosecutions for parents.

He says schools in disadvantaged areas are not helping anyone if they lower standards.

“It might seem tough not to accept excuses,” says the principal.

“There might be more barriers – but that’s even more of a reason to work really hard.

“It would be a complete disservice to children and their families to say ‘they can’t do it because..’.”

New identity

It’s an approach that has seen the school going from near the bottom in school attendance among England’s secondary schools to a record that puts them near the top.

A decade ago, the school (in its previous identity) had about one in five pupils who were persistently absent. Now it’s in the top 1% for attendance.

Image captionThe school in Manchester has a professional-standard theatre

But the first thing a visitor might notice arriving at the school is the Co-op logo on the wall and on the badge on school blazers.

The logo is immediately familiar from the high street shops – but the Co-op also runs 13 schools, with a particular focus on improving schools in less affluent parts of the north of England.

When the Co-op took over the Manchester school in 2010 it gave it a new name, new buildings and a new leadership – and with that a new culture.

There was a much stricter behaviour code, rules on uniform were enforced and there was a push for a greater sense of calm.

There was also a £24m rebuild, followed by a further £18m extension, including a professional-standard theatre that can be used by the community as well as the school.

It’s attracted more pupils – with numbers at the school more than doubling since the relaunch.

Social reformers

The Co-op also introduced its own ethos.

It’s almost as if the Co-op movement’s history of social reform, drawn from its 19th Century founders, has been used as a form of faith or belief.

The school’s houses – called “families” – are named after people from the movement’s past and there are visible messages about fairness, respect and community.

Image captionThe Co-op says its schools use the idea of co-operation as a shared ethos

But these radical, progressive roots are expressed in very traditional ways.

The vice principal, Mel McMorrow, talks about good manners and making sure pupils wear the right kind of shoes and tuck in their shirts.

She had worked in the school’s previous incarnation and said: “I wouldn’t say it was out of control, but there was very little respect.”

The culture shift, she says, meant that pupils now wanted to be in school.

There has been a big push on improving the teaching – and a policy of not using supply teachers, and instead having their own pool of staff to provide cover.

‘Straight talking’

Mr Brice talks about the need for “robustness” in setting standards.

While the Co-op might be associated with progressive politics, he says the school also draws upon values of “straight talking” and “self-responsibility and self-help”.

Image captionThe school has had new buildings and pupil numbers have more than doubled

Pupils at the school might have parents who had a negative experience in their own education – and he says there is a need to tackle such “inter-generational” lack of engagement with school.

Ms Robey says that attendance problems can be the starting point for other underlying family difficulties.

Parents might say the child is “stressed” or “anxious”, but it might turn out to be the parent who has the problem and might need help.

Frank Norris, the chief executive of the Co-op’s academy trust, says the group wants to expand further in schools in the north of England.

He says the aim is not only to raise educational achievement, but to use schools to support regeneration in the wider community.

For example in the Co-op Academy Manchester, there is a mini-business centre on the school campus where local entrepreneurs and start-ups can work.

Mr Norris says the schools are linked by the co-operative ethos, but in a way that connects with young people.

Rather than talking about “solidarity”, he says the schools might talk about succeeding together.

“It’s about respecting people – and those values are still relevant today.”

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World Mental Health Day: PM appoints suicide prevention minister

Rikama Education 10th October 2018

A minister for suicide prevention has been appointed in England by the prime minister as the government hosts the first ever global mental health summit.

Theresa May said the appointment of Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price to the new role will help tackle the stigma surrounding suicide.

While suicide rates are falling, 4,500 people take their own lives every year.

The appointment comes as ministers and officials from more than 50 countries assemble in London for the summit.

Wednesday’s meeting – hosted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – coincides with World Mental Health Day.

The government has also promised more support in schools, bringing in new mental health support teams and offering help in measuring students’ health, including their mental wellbeing.

Ms May said: “We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence and prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives.”

Alongside the announcement, the prime minister pledged £1.8m to the Samaritans so the charity can continue providing its free helpline for the next four years.

Where to go if you need help

If you, or someone you know, is struggling, there are a number of charities here to help.

  • The Samaritans are open 24 hours a day. Call 116 123 or email
  • The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) offers support to men. Call 0800 58 58 58 between 17:00 and 00:00 everyday or visit their webchat page here
  • Papyrus helps people under 35. Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm – or text 07786 209697
  • Childline is available for children and young people under 19. Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your bill
  • The Silver Line helps older people. Call 0800 4 70 80 90

Hannah Lewis – who campaigns for improvements to mental health services having suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and suicidal thoughts as a teenager – said that it can be a year before someone who is referred for help actually begins treatment.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Mental health is known to deteriorate when you are left without help, and you can only imagine how things got worse with me.”

Image captionHannah Lewis said her mental health issues dated back to when she was a child

Ms Lewis welcomed the government’s announcement – especially the proposals to bring more awareness of mental health into schools – but she added: “More joined-up working at schools and early intervention is great, but we need to make sure then there are sufficient services to be signposted to.”

Mrs Doyle-Price, who has been an MP since 2010, will now become the minister for mental health, inequalities and suicide prevention.

As health is devolved separately to the UK’s four nations, her role will include making sure each local area in England has effective plans to stop unnecessary deaths and to look into how technology could help identify those at risk.

Image captionJackie Doyle-Price has been the MP for Thurrock since 2010

She said she understood the “tragic, devastating and long-lasting” effect of suicide on families, having met some of those bereaved.

“It’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do,” she added.

Manchester University’s Prof Louis Appleby, one of the country’s leading experts on suicide, said having a minister for suicide prevention would “open doors” and make it easier to have conversations about the role such things as benefits and online gambling have in suicidal people’s lives.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the appointment would also help with getting support for mental illness on a par with services for physical health.

“There is a long road to travel to get there. This is not something you solve overnight,” he said.


The Only Way Is Essex star Tommy Mallet wants to encourage other men to open up about their feelings.

Mallet, who has spoken about his mental health struggles during the current ITVBe series, has started a campaign #icrybecause on social media.

His co-stars have also got involved, revealing what makes them cry.

Read more about their campaign here.

But others criticised the government’s record on mental health.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said there had not been enough improvements to services since Mrs May pledged to tackle the issue two years ago.

“While we applaud the intention [of the announcement], it is striking that the UK should be hosting such a summit when we hear daily about people left untreated due to a lack of nurses and doctors,” she said.

“The prime minister must examine our own mental health system before addressing other countries.”

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University of Manchester Students’ Union bans clapping

Rikama Education 3rd October 2018

A student union has ditched clapping, whooping and cheering in favour of “jazz hands”.

Reps at the University of Manchester voted to replace noisy appreciation with the British Sign Language (BSL) equivalent – a wave of both hands.

Union officer Sara Khan said traditional clapping can cause issues for students with autism, sensory issues or deafness.

But the move was criticised by some who accused students of being “pampered”.

Under the new measures, BSL clapping will be used at student events such as debates, panels and talks.

Student groups and societies will also be encouraged to move away from audible clapping.

‘Respectful environment’

Ms Khan, the union’s liberation and access officer, who proposed the motion at a recent meeting said clapping can “discourage” some from attending democratic events.

So-called “jazz hands”, she said, encouraged an “environment of respect”.

“I think a lot of the time, even in Parliamentary debates, I’ve seen that clapping, whooping, talking over each other, loud noises, encourages an atmosphere that is not as respectful as it could be,” she said.

Media captionThe students’ union say clapping affects people with certain health issues

Ms Khan said the union was looking for more ways to make its events more inclusive.

News of the measure was met with criticism in some quarters, with broadcasters Piers Morgan and Jeremy Vine among those weighing in.

Morgan said it was a sign of Britain “losing its mind”, while Vine posted a picture of soldiers in the trenches during WW1, suggesting they had managed to “ignore the difficulties caused by sudden noises 100 years ago”.

The National Union of Students, which introduced BSL clapping at its events in 2015, said individual unions acknowledge the needs of all their students and respond to their needs.

“We should all aspire to improve our public spaces so that all members of society feel comfortable and able to contribute fully.”

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Ways to help students build a love for reading

Rikama Education 28th September 2018


If we want our students to love reading, we must ensure it is not seen as a chore, In other words, keep it light and fun. Books should make you laugh and smile, transport you to faraway lands, and transform you into mystery solving wizards, making you feel all the feelings along the way. If we treat books like they’re magical, kids will grow up believing that too.


Here are our top tips to get your pupils on the path to becoming a book lover…


Play an audiobook to the class.

Yes, audiobooks count as reading—and they can help children do it better. Hearing someone reading a book confidently is a great way to experience fluency, which is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with good expression. Borrow them at your local library, or try a free listening app such as


Create a reading nook.

A quiet, cosy, nook, full-of-books can transport a child to wherever they want to be and bring out their creative side, more so than sitting at their desks. Making it an area where they want to hang out makes reading time even more appealing.


Read the book, then watch the movie.

Pick a classic that’s been turned into a movie – Charlotte’s Web

by E. B. White, Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both by Roald Dahl, Gangsta Granny by David Walliams – are all great choices. Read a few chapters at a time. When you’re finished, host a movie afternoon to watch the film version. It’s a great way to motivate reluctant readers.


Read aloud, even when they don’t need it.

Children learn to read best and learn to love it most when they hear countless stories over many years in a meaningful context. Listening also gives tired readers a break.


Ask questions.

This enhances comprehension and enjoyment. Reading is no fun if they don’t get what’s going on in the story. It’s not about quizzing, it’s about checking in. Ask which characters they like best, what they think will happen next, what they would do in that situation. If you over-focus on letters and sounds at the expense of the story, children aren’t as likely to become good readers.


Magazines are as good as books.

Magazines help teach kids that current information is valuable, they give us the opportunity to become interested in things we didn’t know we cared about. Finding a new subject is exciting, and having information in small easy to digest chunks encourages the child to read more.


Finally, we must encourage kids to share. Sharing is fundamental to the reading experience, to which any adult reader can attest. What’s the first thing you want to do when you finish a great book? Talk with someone about it! Seize onto that instinct, and show kids that what they think and that what their classmates think has real value. You can do that by taking time for students to share their questions and their opinions, too. For many children, seeing you write their question or opinion down on the board is an a-ha moment – “what I say in this classroom matters”.

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6 Ways to Improve Classroom Attentiveness

Rikama Education 21st September 2018

primary teaching jobs uk

As teachers, we know all too well that if kids aren’t absorbed by what’s going on around them, they’ll find something else that interests them. Getting all your pupils focused, eager, and on the task at the beginning of class is challenging enough, but once you have them locked in you need to keep them in that attentive zone out – that’s the hard bit!


The scourge of any lesson is dead time (any duration that you are not holding the classes attention 100%). Dead time interferes with pupils learning, and even worse, it’s contagious. It draws in those who are on task into wondering, “Why should I pay attention if others aren’t?” So, what are the key points that need to be factored into a lesson plan to kill the dead time and keep the level of attentiveness required?


Here are our top six:


  1. Make a strong start

You can start strong every day by establishing a clear routine and managing pupils expectations. If they know what is expected of them (enter the classroom quietly, take to their seats, and be ready to work), you can hold them to this routine, which will establish order in the class.

Having a clear plan for the day also gets the student’s attention.


  1. Get Moving

Use movement to get the class focused. Ask all kids to stand behind their chair and join in with a simple choreographed physical movement, use music too if you like. Most kids find it invigorating and it’s easy to monitor full participation, it may become one of your favourite ways to get kids focused and kill dead time.


  1. Make Yourself Heard

Quite often, something as simple as just changing the level and tone of your voice, lowering it or raising it, will signal to the pupils it’s time to pay attention. If you prefer, you could even use a prop, such as a bell, whistle or buzzer. This suits younger children and clearly marks beginnings, endings, and other transitions within the class.


  1. Run a Tight Ship

Preventing dead time is especially important when giving instructions. There are a lot of great ways to ask for your pupil’s attention, but many succeed or fail based on how demanding you are of the final outcome. When you begin speaking, it is critical to obtain total silence, complete attention, and eyeballs on you!


  1. Use Signaling

There are kids in every class that will raise their hand for every question, and there are always those that feel intimidated or worry that their answer is wrong – there will even me kids who didn’t understand the questions at all. To take the embarrassment out of the whole situation, you can use a signalling system, perhaps something along the lines of giving pupils little signs that say “I know” or “I need help”, the children keep these signs on their desks with the appropriate side up, which is an easy way for you to glance around the classroom and see who needs help.


  1. Use Minimal-Supervision Tasks

Tasks that require minimal supervision add purposeful activity during moments that might normally become dead time. They come in handy when handling an unforeseen interruption, or providing work to those who have finished earlier than others.

Here’s how: While you attend to the matter in hand, ask pupils to pass out worksheets or pair up and quiz each other on times tables.


By creating this arsenal of routines, you’ll be well armed to fight dead and in terms of classroom management and overall learning — is more than worth the effort. Having these activities to draw on, you’ll rarely be at a loss to get the kids back on track. The added bonus is that pupils get to know these strategies and look forward to them.

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