Manchester Communication Academy

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Manchester Communication Academy is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


John Rowlands, principal
Preparing for the future by
developing digital literacy skills
Manchester Communication Academy (MCA) opened in
2010 in an area of significant disadvantage in north
Manchester. Over two thirds of the academy’s students
live in one per cent of the most disadvantaged areas in England
and many of them experience personal disadvantage. Sixty per
cent of the students are from ethnic minorities and between
them speak over 40 languages. The academy, under principal
John Rowlands, is rich in cultural diversity and community
cohesion and committed to ensuring every child enjoys and
succeeds in their education, irrespective of economic or social
In 2015, we received poor results and a “requires improvement” Ofsted grade
soon followed. I was tasked with improving outcomes after being appointed vice
principal for student performance and in 2016 performance had raised to average
(Progress 8 -0.08) and by the summer of 2017 we achieved a Progress 8 score of
+0.35 – above national averages and placing us in the top 20 per cent nationally.
My appointment as principal followed and this ensured a consistent approach in
our pursuit of improvement.
To give our students the best, we must be our best
It has been about getting the small things right to improve all aspects of the
academy. When all staff and students are mobilised in pursuit of these, measurable
improvements follow. We mitigate the impact of disadvantage through strategies
supported by additional pupil premium funding. We ensure that child poverty,
»Principal: John Rowlands
»Founded in 2010
»Based in Collyhurst and
Harpurhey, north Manchester
»Type of school: Comprehensive
academy for students aged 11-
»No. of students: 1,100
»School motto: “With you,
foryou, about you”
»Disadvantaged students:
68 per cent
»TES (Times Educational
Supplement) Community
Impact Award winners, 2017
Manchester Communication
Highlighting best practice
which is at its highest level in our area,
is not a barrier to high-quality learning
experiences. Examples of our inclusion
strategy are the distribution of free
school uniforms to all year 7 students;
free ingredients and equipment for
weekly cookery lessons; and free
enrichment activities such as theatre
trips, musical instrument tuition,
residential weekends and sporting
events. This supports an equitable
education offer.
Senior leaders and the staff from
our student support team greet the
students as they arrive each morning,
checking that they are ready and
able to learn. Any issues are resolved
– if students need shoes, uniform or
equipment, we provide these without
fuss. Above all, there can be no
excuses – we must have the highest
expectations for all our students and
ensure our three underlying rules are
1. Put learning above everything else
2. Respect the academy and everyone
in it
3. Follow the instructions of MCA staff
Student health and wellbeing is a key
priority and Ofsted (2016) commented
that this was “exemplary”.
We have a five-year approach that
supports personal development and
growth, guiding students to make
informed choices about their futures
and themselves.
I don’t permit the use of terms such
as “low ability” or “high ability”.
We evaluate students’ prior learning
in terms of their attainment but do
not allow this to determine their
pathway for the next five years. All
students have potential and it is our
responsibility to unlock this. Some
year 6 students may have low prior
attainment as they are new to the
country yet speak three languages
– we must cultivate this potential
We evaluate students using frequent
low stakes assessment. If performance
slips, we identify this and implement
steps for improvement. Previously
this meant “intervention” – an all-
too-common phrase which meant
“more of”. This was not an effective
strategy, especially if it did not focus
on key learning gaps. We changed
our approach by introducing a process
called “Climb, Move, Accelerate” – a
tiered approach to close specific gaps
for students within the classroom,
in extracurricular taught sessions or
with a timetable review and personal
curriculum overhaul.
Keeping our teachers where
they can make an impact
There is no replacement for quality-
first teaching and learning. We have
a culture where teachers talk about
teaching and we enable this by
ensuring all departments receive a
minimum of two hours’ collaborative
planning time each week. This is not
tacked on at day’s end. A consistent
approach has been developed in
support of improvement, reinforced
by subject specialist senior leaders.
communication skills
through outdoor learning
There is no
for quality-first
teaching and
learning. We
have a culture
where teachers
talk about
This ensures consistent academy-wide
improvement and provides staff time
in support of their own action research
– a key component of professional
Every staff member has their own
three-year development pathway
and the talent identification strategy
enables us to accelerate staff progress
without taking the best teachers
away from the shop floor. Staff
training focuses on the aspects of
pedagogy that make the greatest
difference to practice and we deliver
this in conjunction with subject-
specific training and provide staff
the support to lead a disciplined
inquiry. We evaluate the impact of
staff training through the impact on
students as the end users, via observed
practice, book samples and student
data analysis. Only by engaging with
external partners and other schools
can we ensure that we are providing
excellent development opportunities
in support of improvements in
teaching and learning. Partners
such as the EEF research schools,
the Chartered College of Teaching,
Teacher Development Trust, OLEVI
and the Institute for Teaching ensure
that we are part of the vanguard
of pedagogical research and
Curriculum today for jobs
The curriculum must support
opportunities for students to develop
a wide range of skills that prepare
them for the jobs of tomorrow that
currently don’t exist. We have a clear
focus on computing and technology
with BT as our sponsor. We have
excellent staffing that supports
students in coding, programming
and training in cybersecurity as well
as exposing students to Cad Cam
technology and 3D printing from year
7. This supported attainment in 2017
when 40 per cent of participating
students achieved an A or A* in
computer science. Additionally, all
students study a Venture programme
aimed at supporting their personal
development and career aspirations.
In Key Stage 3, equal time is given
to all faculties promoting student
curiosity and inspiring them to pursue
their interests in Key Stage 4. All
students must choose three options,
one from technology or computing,
a second from creative arts and a
third from health and wellbeing,
which increases their post-16 options
and develops key skills across future
labour markets. Where possible,
students can complete these courses
in year 10, supporting their wellbeing
in what will be a tough year 11 and
proving to themselves they can and
will achieve. This strategy has been
successful and in 2017, our Progress
8 score for pot 3 “open” subjects
was almost +1 with disadvantaged
students achieving+0.8.
We have high aspirations for our
students and want to see them
well-prepared for their futures both
personally and academically; we
recognise that we will always be on a
journey of self-improvement as new
challenges emerge – however, we
strive to be our personal best every day
so our students can be theirs.
must support
for students
to develop a
wide range
of skills that
prepare them
for the jobs
of tomorrow
All students are expected
to prepare and cook
nutritional meals


This article was sponsored by Manchester Communication Academy. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.