The date of Easter moves around in the calendar, according to the lunar cycle. This is because it takes place on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the name give to the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox (when the Sun is exactly above the equator, so that day and night on Earth are of equal length) takes place on March 20th each year, but because the lunar cycle is not synchronised to the calendar year, this means that the date of Easter moves around. It can occur anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th!
We now know Easter as the Christian festival to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but it has its roots in earlier pre-Christian festivals to celebrate the awakening of nature from its winter slumber – a natural resurrection of its own. The very name of the festival stems from the name of an English pagan goddess – Eostre – who was celebrated at beginning of spring. The only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century AD. He was so influential on developing Christian theology, that the name of the festival stuck to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and spread throughout the Christian world.
This year, more than any other, the theme of resurrection and rebirth seems wholly appropriate. As we emerge – gradually – from lockdown, it does feel like an awakening. The unusually warm weather has certainly helped, alongside the daffodils and emerging blossom on the trees.
The Academy, too, has come back to life since March 8th. Classrooms, playing fields and social areas are once again full of staff and students, making real human connections rather than the stilted digital substitutes we have had to use through remote learning. It feels like a resurrection and a rebirth – and we give thanks for the progress we have made.
I wish all of you in our Academy community a happy, safe and restful Easter. We will see you back at school on 19th April – we have a lot to look forward to!
Last week’s assembly, coordinated by Mr Davies, explained the people behind the names of this year’s Year 9 learning groups. They are all people with important links to our nearest city, Bristol – and they have all showed the Academy’s values. We hope that these figures from our local history will inspire our current students to similar endeavours of kindness, curiosity, and determination.
Brunel: curiosity and determination
Brunel learning group is named for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the mechanical and civil engineer who designed the Great Western Railway, Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and numerous significant ships, tunnels and bridges. He was a prominent figure during the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain, and he revolutionised public transport and modern engineering. His endless curiosity led to him finding innovative solutions to engineering problems, and his determination ensured that he overcame the challenges in his way.
Stephenson: kindness and determination
Stephenson learning group is named after the civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson. He was born in 1937, in Essex. He joined the RAF as the only black cadet in his regiment. Many years later he became a Youth and Community Development Worker in St Pauls, Bristol. It was during this time that he campaigned for a bus boycott as he didn’t accept that the bus company wouldn’t employ black drivers. He decided he was going to do something about this! He fought for black people to be treated fairly in public places in Bristol. With Muhammed Ali, he also set up ‘Muhammed Ali Sports Development Association’ to promote sports development among ethnic minority young people to help develop self-confidence and social interaction. In 2008 he was given the Freedom of the City of Bristol in recognition of the work he has done to bring the black and white communities together.
Claudia Fragapane is a British artistic gymnast who grew up in Bristol. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she was the first English woman to win four gold medals since 1930. In 2015, Fragapane was part of the women’s gymnastics team that won Great Britain’s first-ever team medal, a bronze, at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. She competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, alongside Churchill Academy alumnus Ruby Harrold. She also finished fourth in Strictly Come Dancing!
Park: curiosity and determination
Nick Park is the famous animator, director and writer behind Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, and Shaun the Sheep. He has been nominated for an Academy Award a total of six times and won four with Creature Comforts (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). He has also received five BAFTA Awards, including the BAFTA for Best Short Animation for A Matter of Loaf and Death.
He has spent most of his career working for Aardman Animations in the Bristol area. His curiosity has led him to develop a unique and appealing world of claymation animation. Meanwhile, his technique of stop-motion animation – shooting films one frame at a time, moving each model just a fraction between each shot – requires a huge amount of determination!
Blackwell: kindness, determination and curiosity
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol in 1821, although she moved with her family moved to America when she was 11 years old. She was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the USA in 1847, which required determination and curiosity. As a medical doctor, she showed great kindness when she treated wounded and injured soldiers in the American Civil War, despite strong opposition from male colleagues.
Later, she opened her own medical practices in New York (1852) and in London (1871) where she taught, trained and inspired other female doctors to follow in her footsteps. She retired from medicine in 1877 to work as a social and moral reformer, co-founding the National Health Society.
She showed determination, battled all her life and her successes had been monumental. In 1881, there were only 25 female doctors registered in England and Wales but by 1911 there were 495 registered. Her ambition and success has inspired many generations of female doctors to pursue medical careers and achieve the ‘impossible dream’.
Kenney learning group is named after Annie Kenney (1879-1953). Annie Kenney was a key figure in the suffragette movement which campaigned for women to have the vote in the early twentieth century. Kenney was one of the few working class women to rise to prominence in the Suffragette campaign. She became a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union and spent some years working as an organiser in Bristol. She hit the headlines after being imprisoned for several days for assault and obstruction, after heckling Sir Edward Grey at rally on the issue of votes for women.
Kenney was imprisoned a total of 13 times. She repeatedly went on hunger strike in prison, and underwent brutal force-feeding from the authorities. She remained determined to confront the authorities and highlight the injustice of the treatment of suffragettes by the male-dominated authorities.
When the First World War broke out, Annie Kenney accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes from the WSPU in ending their activism. Instead, they took on jobs that had previously been done by men, who were now away fighting, in support of the national war effort. Her actions, and those of others in the movement, led to women gaining the vote in 1918.
Dirac: curiosity and determination
Dirac learning group is named after the physicist Paul Dirac, born in Bristol in 1902. Dirac made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation which describes the behaviour of sub-atomic particles called fermions. He also predicted the existence of antimatter. Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger “for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory”. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th Century.
Brohn: kindness and determination
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1979, Clifton-born Penny Brohn knew she needed more than just care and treatment for her body: she recognised that she would need support for her “mind, spirit, emotions, heart and soul.” She co-founded a charity centre with her friend Pat Pilkington called the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, which offered patients complementary therapy to support them alongside medical treatment. She showed determination to overcome a great deal of controversy and scepticism to support those living with cancer. Penny Brohn died in 1999, having lived with cancer for 20 years. Her kindness lives on in the work of the charity she co-founded, which provides care to those living with cancer before, during and after treatment.
More: kindness, curiosity and determination
Last but not least, learning group More is named after Hannah More (1745-1833). Hannah More was born in Bristol, where she taught at a school founded by her father and began writing plays. She became known as a poet and playwright, as well as a writer of moral and religious texts, and moved to Wrington in 1802. She campaigned to extend education to the poor, and to girls, who otherwise had no access to schooling. Vitally, More also campaigned against the slave trade. Hannah More is buried beside her sisters at the Church of All Saints in Wrington: you can see a bust of her in the south porch to this day.
I am writing this post on 18th March 2021. Exactly one year ago, the Secretary of State stood up in front of Parliament and announced that “after schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.” I wrote about the events of that week, and the time immediately around it, in my post Closing for Coronavirus.
I remember well the febrile, fearful atmosphere of the country a year ago, as an unfamiliar threat advanced across the globe. I remember supermarket shelves emptied of toilet roll, pasta and flour; roads suddenly deserted; skies filled with birdsong instead of airliners.
The Academy has remained open to the children of critical workers and other eligible children throughout, including holiday periods at the height of the pandemic. But, in the 39 official school weeks that have passed, we have been delivering education remotely for 23, and fully open for 16. Through that time we have worked hard to keep our Academy community together and connected, adapting to new technology and new ways of working.
One thing this past year has taught me is how adaptable and resilient we are. We have adapted to circumstances that were unimaginable a year ago, when I had never used Zoom. I didn’t know about social distancing. I didn’t know the importance of a spike protein. I had never worn a face covering.
Now, a year on, I know about using systems of controls to manage infections; I know about the importance of ventilation; I know the difference between a lateral flow device and a polyamerase chain reaction test. I can navigate Google Classroom smoothly and I have a mug which I can hold up to the webcam so I don’t have to keep saying “you’re on mute…”
This year has also reinforced the importance and the value of education in our society. Expert scientists have delivered the vaccine in record time; highly trained doctors, nurses and carers have helped those most in need. Musicians, actors, dancers and performers have made new connections online. Journalists have kept us informed, seeking the truth and fighting back waves of misinformation and speculation. Never has learning and education been more important.
And this year has also reminded us that schools are more than just places of learning: they are communities which bring people together. Over the past year we have found ways to keep that community going when we cannot physically be in the same space, but there is no substitute for the real human connections that I see every day in the classrooms, studios, playgrounds, social areas and playing fields of the Academy.
Even in the midst of the global crisis, I can see real progress at Churchill. We have launched our fifth house, Lancaster, and pushed on with redeveloping the Academy site. Our student councils have started up and our student leadership programme is beginning to take root. We have redeveloped our curriculum, responding not just to the technological challenges but to issues of representation, pace and challenge, and links to careers and employment. And we have advanced our sustainability agenda, with increased planting around the site and a focus on the environmental impact of the Academy.
Despite the return of students to schools, the vaccine rollout, and the roadmap out of lockdown, we are not out of this crisis yet. When I sit down on 18th March 2022 to look back again, I wonder what new adaptations and changes we will have made? And I wonder what the world will be like two years on from that House of Commons announcement…
No matter what, I know that the staff and students at Churchill will be going strong. We have been tested this year – not just with lateral flow devices – and we have prevailed. As a society, we will be picking up the pieces from this past year for a long time to come. As an Academy, we are ready to do our bit to build back better out of this crisis, to emerge stronger, and to flourish in the future.
This has been quite the week for schools. We have had the re-opening announcement: all students to return. Seventy pages of guidance, from lateral flow tests to face coverings to ventilation to hygiene to “bubbles” to cleaning and beyond…with the health and wellbeing of our staff and students depending on its implementation.
Then we have had the decisions on how GCSE, AS and A level, vocational and technical qualification grades will be determined in summer 2021. 113 pages of guidance to digest and synthesise carefully, with the future prospects of our examination candidates depending on its implementation.
Is it easy?
Can we do it?
Yes we can.
When our students are faced with something difficult, they can sometimes feel overwhelmed, and want to give up. It’s our job, as teachers, to pick them up and encourage them, to give them confidence, to reassure them that it can be done – and that it’s worth it. As I contemplate my to-do list, I am thinking about our students. I can’t wait to see them. So whatever needs to be done, will be done – because they are worth it.
If the NHS can vaccinate 18 million people in two months, I’m sure we can carry out 1600 lateral flow tests in five days.
If a team of scientists can drop a 1000kg wheeled robot onto the surface of Mars in a perfect touchdown, I’m sure we can design a robust system that ensures our students get the grades they deserve at the end of this challenging year.
Because, when we put our minds to it, we can accomplish anything.
Working in a school at the moment is unlike anything we have ever known. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any team work as hard as the Churchill staff since January: it has been awe-inspiring. Teachers have had to re-plan existing curriculum to deliver remotely, finding technological solutions to replace in-class interactions. Providing feedback has become labour-intensive: what would, in normal times, be a quick conversation with a student or working through a pile of exercise books or tests, now requires teachers to open each document individually, adding comments, marks and areas for improvement. Tutors are also phoning or emailing to check on progress, welfare and wellbeing – and this is on top of Frontline provision for children eligible to be in school.
Teachers and support staff are also on the front line as schools address a rise in domestic abuse and child protection issues, and try to support families medically or financially affected by the pandemic. Our staff have mobilised a lateral flow testing operation and implemented a raft of covid-safe procedures, all while keeping the financial, administrative and resource functions of the Academy operating remotely. And managing the ongoing building projects!
The pandemic has tested all of us, in all walks of life, in all lines of work: I am hugely proud of the way our staff have stepped up to the plate and, to extend my baseball metaphor, smashed it out of the park.
To our staff: thank you. You have done an amazing job.
To our families
We really appreciate how hard this year has been for families of students at the Academy. You have had to balance your own jobs and lives with the added challenge of your children being at home, needing the wi-fi and the laptop and lunch and snacks and motivation and encouragement and exercise and help with which year Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech and what’s the atomic number of carbon?
All this whilst you are trying to parent your young people through an international crisis which is causing all of us anxiety and uncertainty about our health, our economy, our friends, and our wider families. We can’t go on holiday, we can’t go out, and we can’t socialise except through a screen. It has been tough – and it will be tough for a while yet. So, for all you have done to support and help our students through this time, whilst holding it together yourselves – give yourselves a pat on the back, and treat yourselves to glass of something good. You deserve it.
To our families: thank you. You have done an amazing job.
To our students
As I have said before, and will doubtless say again and again, it is our young people who are the beacon of light in this dark period of our history. From the chorus of “thank you”s at the end of each remote lesson, to the fantastic work that they are producing, to the kindness they are showing to others in helping them with technical problems, resources and understanding the work…our students have done themselves proud during this lockdown. They have been there, turning up for the Zooms and Google Meets, engaging in the chat, introducing us to their pets and earning an absolute mountain of house points (over 140,000 at last count). It has been tough being separated from friends and classmates, tough to maintain motivation in the face of uncertainty, but they have stayed strong and kept going throughout it all.
To our students: thank you. You have done an amazing job.
To all of you: enjoy your half term. You have earned it.
This lockdown, through the winter months, is a challenge for all of us. We continue to be impressed by the determination of our students to maintain their educational standards and their spirits through this difficult time – but it’s hard! Here are some ways that families can help. They won’t all work for all families and all children – but I hope you will find something of use.
Show an interest
It may seem obvious, but ask your children what they’ve been learning about. If it’s something you don’t know, ask them to explain it to you. Even if it’s something you do know, ask them to explain it to you! Get them to show you how their Google Classrooms work, how they “hand in” work electronically, and how they can communicate with their teachers. Ask them how they’re finding remote learning – and listen to the answers.
Ask them what they found difficult, and celebrate it: if students find all the work easy, it probably means they can already do it, or they already know it. This can be useful to reinforce prior learning. But when students find it difficult, when they struggle – that’s when real learning happens, because they’re engaging with something new, something they don’t already know or know how to do. This is when they have to dig in and persevere – and that’s when your encouragement is more important than ever.
As we detailed in our remote learning guidance: “We are trying to encourage our students to be proactive and independent in resolving any difficulties with online learning. Please encourage them to contact teachers and tutors directly to solve problems themselves – we do not expect parents and family members to be doing this for students (although we are grateful for your support!).”
This approach is designed to help our students feel ownership of their learning, and to give them agency in solving problems.
Give them a sense of purpose
Motivation is challenging for all of us – in or out of lockdown – but it can be especially difficult in the current circumstances. When struggling with motivation, it can be helpful to identify why working hard during this period of time will pay off in the longer term by keeping them on track for their goals – whether that be a massive haul of conduct points, keeping up with their peers, or as a step on a journey towards Sixth Form or a career.
It also helps to focus on the value of learning for its own sake – as a means to improving themselves, improving their prospects, and helping them to make their contribution to the world around them. Work is more rewarding when it has a purpose.
Show them you’re proud of them
We all like praise – especially from people we respect and admire. A “well done” or “I’m proud of you” from a parent to a child makes a world of difference to motivation and self-esteem – even if they don’t show it on the surface!
We know that praise works best when it’s focused on what people have actually done to achieve something, rather than on their innate abilities of qualities. This is why “I’m really proud of you for the way you’ve focused on that task, even though I know it’s not your favourite subject,” is much more effective than “you’re so clever!” Being specific about exactly what someone has done to deserve praise gives it value, and makes it more likely that we will repeat that activity to get the same results. Look for opportunities to show how proud you are of them, for the small things as well as their work over time.
Tell them to stop
We are setting five hours of remote learning per day for main school students. We do not expect them to be working beyond the five timetabled hours of lessons they have on a school day. Once the hour is up – we expect them to stop. Our mantra is:
Do as much as you can, with your best effort, in the time you have available. Do not spend any longer than the time allocated on your timetable. You will never be in trouble if your teachers can see you have tried your best with remote learning – even if you haven’t finished everything.
If your child is working during breaks or lunchtimes, or after the end of the timetabled school day, to finish off work: they do not have to do this. It’s not good for them. They need to stop – and you have my permission to tell them to.
Encourage exercise and activity
Teenagers spend long enough looking at screens in normal times – and this has been amplified through the remote learning environment we now find ourselves in. The technology we have at our disposal is wonderful, of course – but you can have too much of it! We are “mixing it up” as much as possible with non-screen-based activities and opportunities to be active. Please encourage physical activity – especially in breaks from learning and after the end of the school day. There’s a reason why the NHS recommends physical activity as one of the best ways to boost well-being…
Build good sleep habits
Many people have reported difficulty sleeping during the pandemic. This is perhaps no surprise, given the heightened level of anxiety in society at large. There are things we can to to help build those good sleep habits: exercise during the day will certainly help.
It’s also important to have a regular, consistent bedtime, with a structured bedtime routine. Switching off screens well before bedtime is also shown to help with sleep, as the glow from the displays stops the body producing melatonin, the chemical which sends us to the land of nod. Most sleep experts recommend charging your phone downstairs, rather than having it by your bedside. I took this advice eighteen months ago, when I bought myself an alarm clock so I didn’t have to have my phone by my bed to charge (I’d been using the phone alarm to wake me up). It has made the world of difference.
We are facing a world full of problems at the moment – some of them small, some of them massive. It’s no good pretending that things aren’t difficult when they self-evidently are. But fixating on the problems themselves, and their impact on us and our lives, won’t change anything.
Instead, try to focus on what we can control. We can’t make coronavirus stop, or speed up the vaccine roll-out – these things are beyond our control. But we can make sure we really focus on that Maths explanation that the teacher has recorded for us, to minimise the disruption to our learning. We can’t see have our friends round to our house – but we can call them up, see them on screens, and laugh with them. We can’t pretend that everything is going to be okay – but we can make as much okay as we can.
Our Academy values of kindness, curiosity and determination were carefully chosen to build balanced, well-rounded individuals. Kindness is a strength of the heart; curiosity is a strength of the mind; determination is a strength of the will. They form three sides of a strong triangle which supports our students to make a positive difference to themselves and to the world – and the people – around them.
Look for opportunities to praise your children when you see them demonstrating the Academy’s values – and tell us about them! Tutors, teachers, Heads of Houses – even Headteachers! – love to hear about how our students have been making a difference, especially when we don’t see them every day. They can also be modest, not wanting to blow their own trumpets – so please feel free to blow it on their behalf!
Thank you to all our Academy families for all you are doing to help learning continue through lockdown – we really appreciate it, and I know our students do too.
On duty this week, I saw the first daffodil of the spring flowering next to Mrs Bradley’s office in the Hanover House garden, normally tended so carefully by HRMS. At the moment, the members of HRMS tutor group are mostly learning remotely, staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives. Only a few students are in school, accessing remote learning in Frontline. Following the weekend’s snow, the daffodil was a reminder that spring always follows closely behind the bleak midwinter.
It has become too tempting recently to focus on the bleak and dark, and not on the fresh and green. Throughout this week, I have made myself look out for the positivity, and focus on the signs of recovery – which was why Mrs Wilson walked past me, crouched in the wet grass, getting up close and personal to a daffodil with my iPhone (yes, I know, phone out in school – I’ll give myself the C1!)
Here are the green shoots I noticed this week:
50 students achieved their Headteacher’s Commendations this week, for reaching 125 Conduct Points
Our first two Year 9 students achieved Trustees’ Commendations, reaching 175 Conduct Points
We have a record number of applications for Churchill Sixth Form, including over 60 students from outside our Academy (also a record)
Our students from all years are engaged with their remote learning, producing fantastic results despite the difficult circumstances
All of the over 400 lateral flow tests carried out at the Academy so far have returned negative results
Local communities have donated food, toiletries and essentials to help families in need
Bristol airport, having closed their duty free, donated stock to the Churchill staff to keep us all going
Both my parents had appointments for their first vaccinations this week – two of the nearly eight million doses issued in the UK so far
The Prime Minister has given a timeline for schools re-opening
The rebuilding of the Lancaster House block is progressing well and is due to be ready before we welcome more students back to school
Contractors are on site repairing and replacing the fence around the Academy’s perimeter – and this will also be complete before we fully re-open
The Academy Hall has a brand-new, shining floor
When I walked out to my car to come to work on Monday morning, although the sun hadn’t risen, it was light. And, driving home, darkness had yet to fall.
There is darkness all around us in the world at the moment. Things are challenging for everyone. But, if you look, there is always light – if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Over the course of this week, we have run the first round of our lateral flow tests for coronavirus in school. It has been really successful, and I am pleased to report – at time of writing – that of the 212 tests carried out, all have been negative.
The testing programme for schools was originally announced just before the end of term 2, but the full guidance wasn’t released until New Year’s Eve, which led to a somewhat fraught Christmas break. As you will all know, the first week back wasn’t exactly smooth sailing either, with a national lockdown announced at 8pm on the first Monday! But once we had navigated that particular storm, we were able to get our heads around setting up testing for the students and staff working in school.
The Department for Education originally announced three strands to the testing programme for schools:
Mass testing of students in school – students to take two tests, 3-5 days apart
Weekly testing of staff working in school – this has now been increased to twice weekly
Daily testing of those identified as close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19
Since that initial announcement, the Department for Education has “paused” the third strand, in line with medical advice. Close contacts will now be advised to self-isolate, as has been the case in schools since September.
The first two strands, however, are going ahead as planned. The aim is to minimise the risk of transmission: by testing people in school, any identified asymptomatic cases can be isolated. This will prevent them from unwittingly spreading the virus. It also gives greater reassurance to those of us continuing to work and learn in school.
Consent remains absolutely essential in our administration of the testing programme. We will only carry out tests where we have explicit, written consent. We do not require a test of anyone, and we will always respect the wishes of those that choose not to undertake a test. Also, if students are uncomfortable or upset, we will do what we can to support them – but they do not have to go ahead with the test, and can say “no” at any time without any consequence. As it happens, everyone has been fine with it – but these principles are very important to us at the Academy.
The training and support materials from NHS Test and Trace are excellent. Everything arrived on time, as announced, with clear instructions. There was online training which helped spell out how to get everything set up, and how to run each of the roles in the testing centre. I have always loved the NHS – and this programme has only increased my respect for the work of our health service.
We set our testing centre up in the Academy Hall, with its newly-replaced floor shining and pristine, giving the whole place a lift! Academy staff volunteered to take on the various roles within the system. Everyone has been trained and registered with NHS Test and Trace.
The tests work using a swab of the back of the throat and the nose. This is not a very pleasant experience, but all the students and staff who have participated have shown the Academy value of determination and just got on with it! The testing team have put on a good soundtrack of background music too, which means that people aren’t so self-conscious when swabbing the backs of their throats.
Once the swab has been taken, the testing centre staff prepare a sample using extraction fluid, which is then dropped into a lateral flow test cartridge. It’s called “lateral flow” because the liquid in the sample “flows” sideways along the strip, revealing the result after it reaches the far end.
Each test is timed, as you have to read the result between 20 and 30 minutes after the test has been started for it to be valid. One red line on “C” (for “Control”) means the test has worked. A red line on “T” (for “Test”) means that the test is positive for coronavirus.
A positive test result on a lateral flow test doesn’t necessarily mean you have COVID-19. This must be confirmed by a PCR test, which is processed in a lab. Anyone testing positive must self-isolate until the confirmation is received, just in case.
Equally, a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have the virus. You can still catch it; you can still spread it. Therefore, in school, we have continued to reinforce the importance of hands, face, space – even though everyone has so far tested negative.
It is strange to see my colleagues kitted out in full PPE, and the Academy Hall transformed into something resembling a field hospital. But these are strange times, and we will continue to do all we can to keep our staff and students safe.