Progress

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Academy’s first Exhibition of Progress. This event, organised by Director of English Mr Grimmett, was designed to celebrate students who had made exceptional progress in their learning this year. This doesn’t necessarily mean the students who were getting the highest marks, but rather those that had made a huge leap forward in their learning over the course of this year.

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Learning Ambassadors 2018

Students were nominated by their teachers, and Mr Grimmett took them off timetable for a morning to work with them. His aim, with the students, was to reflect on the progress made and to try and work out what it was that had made the difference. Why had these students made exceptional progress in these lessons?

The question seems simple, but the answers are quite complex. The students themselves weren’t clear to start with – for many of them it had “just happened.” To help them to reflect, students put work from the start of the year side-by-side next to a more recent piece, looking at the improvements they had made. They then followed the leads they found – how had that improvement been achieved?

From the group of students, the following were rated as having the most impact on the progress they had made:

  1. Effort in classwork
  2. Personal determination to get better
  3. Positive relationship with teacher
  4. Effort in homework
  5. Personal understanding of the work and how to improve
  6. Enjoying the subject

Many students said that enjoying the subject led to them making more progress, but of course making progress makes the subject more enjoyable and leads to greater levels of satisfaction – like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to know which comes first! What is certain is that progress builds confidence which leads to enjoyment which helps progress…it’s a virtuous cycle.

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Students created display posters to compare the “before” and “after” pieces of work, and explain the reasons for that progress. These posters formed the exhibition itself, and it was great to walk round and talk to the students stationed by their posters as they explained how they had done it.

Mr Grimmett pulled three key findings from his work with these students:

  1. Break out of your comfort zone: pushing yourself to do something difficult, or different, is the best way of making progress. Often this was prompted by something – feedback from a teacher, a good or bad result in an assessment, or a personal realisation and decision to change.
  2. Be self-disciplined: avoiding distractions, staying focused, concentrating so that the job gets done well – these are keys that unlock progress. It’s hard – but it’s worth it.
  3. Reflect and think about learning: the power of metacognition, or “thinking about thinking,” was a common thread with many students. Knowing how to improve, responding positively to feedback, and developing a bank of strategies and approaches which work, allowed these students to apply themselves more purposefully to their learning.

What’s great about this is that these findings provide a road map and a template for any student who wants to thrive and make exceptional progress. If these students did it – you can too.

Thanks so much to Mr Grimmett and all the students involved for such fantastic work and for putting on a truly inspiring exhibition.

Living a life with epilepsy, by Jemma Bisdee

This is a student contribution to the Headteacher’s Blog by Jemma Bisdee, 11WCJC, with the theme of determination. If you are a student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and you want to contribute to the Headteacher’s Blog, visit the Contributions page.

When people hear the word “Epilepsy” they immediately think of seizures, medication but it is truly more than that. A life with epilepsy is not an easy life. But it is a life I wouldn’t change for anything. All my life I wondered what it was like to be “Normal”. I thought I could never lead the life I wanted with epilepsy. But I now realise how wrong I was to think that.

I used to struggle academically because I never had the support I needed. I felt like nobody would ever truly accept me for who I was because of my lifelong condition. I was at rock bottom, and I felt like there was no where to go. Then I finally realised that life is a gift and I shouldn’t let a condition get me down. I define who I am, not my epilepsy. I moved to Churchill Academy in 2016 in hope of support for who I truly was and for my condition. I can honestly say Churchill Academy has given me have a whole new lease of life. They taught me how to live a life to remember and at school you learn multiple lessons. Maths, English, Science and many more. But the best lesson Churchill Academy has ever taught me is how to love myself. Because of that I am forever grateful.

Living with epilepsy has taught me that in life you get thrown challenges. They can either make or break you. I’m happy to say that my experience with epilepsy has taught me that we are all warriors fighting our own battles. But as long as you stay true to who you are, you will come out the winner. My last seizure was six years ago but although physically epilepsy has not always challenged me, mentally it is a constant battle. But I can say I’m epileptic and proud, and whether its epilepsy or any other condition, it does not define who you are. Only you can do that. We are human beings, we are all beautiful in our own way. I hope that everyone can see that a condition does not change that. If you want something in life fight for it, because life is precious and it is a gift like no other.

To everyone who has supported me throughout my journey I can never thank you enough. My friends, my family and the staff at Churchill Academy. I am grateful for the life I have been given, and no matter what my condition holds in the future. Epilepsy is a way of life, but it’s a life I wouldn’t trade for the world. The world is your oyster, so go and grab it.

For more information about Epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Society or Epilepsy Action.

What’s your goal?

What are our motivations when we take on tasks in school? As part of the research I did when writing my book, I found some really interesting discussions about this issue. When we approach a task, the end goal we have in mind can have a big impact on how useful or effective that task is, both in terms of learning and also in terms of our well being.

There are two types of goals when taking on a task in school:

  1. Performance goal: if a student is motivated by a performance goal, then their primary concern is how well they do in the task – how successful they are, where they placed in relation to other students, what their score or grade was. They take on tasks to do well. If they are worried they might not do well, then students motivated by a performance goal might seek a way to avoid the task, fearing that it might expose them as “a failure.”
  2. Learning goal: if a student is motivated by a learning goal, then their primary concern is how the task helps to improve or develop them, through gains in knowledge or skills. They take on tasks to improve themselves, to learn something new, and to develop. If you are motivated by a learning goal, then failure to fully complete a challenging task is an opportunity to learn from mistakes, not a judgment on you as a person.

Students motivated by performance goals focus on avoiding failure. This can result in using tactics to get out of doing tasks that might be difficult, or even engaging in what the researchers call “self-handicapping” so that they can blame someone or something else for why they didn’t do well:  

For example, a student might postpone completing a [piece of homework] until the last minute or stay up late partying the night before an important test. Although the student can now blame failure on a factor unrelated to her intelligence, she has sacrificed the chance to learn and excel.

from Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning 

The research shows that students motivated by learning goals make better progress, are more resilient, are more likely to persist with difficult tasks, and seek out challenges – all features we want to encourage in our young people at Churchill.

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Learning goals at Churchill

At Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, the only time when students have a performance goal is in their final GCSE, A-level, BTEC or other public exams or assessments.

At every other time, tasks are designed and set up with a learning goal in mind.

School tests and internal exams

End of unit or end of year exams and tests are designed to help students in their learning. Revising for and completing the tests themselves are opportunities for retrieval practice, a learning strategy that has been shown to improve memory and long term learning. After students have completed their tests or exams, teachers will spend time with their classes going through their answers and their scripts, helping students learn from where they got things right, mistakes they made, and gaps in their learning revealed by the test. Of course, we want students to do well, and it is important that they try hard to do the best that they possibly can – but that is not the goal. The goal is to learn.

Performances and matches

Performances in drama, dance, music and sports matches are also learning experiences. Of course they are rehearsed or practised carefully, so that the performance is the best it can possibly be, but each performance is a learning experience. Each time a dancer steps onto a stage in front of an audience, it makes them a better dancer. Each football match played against “real” opposition builds the team’s and individuals’ skills and experience, making them better. Winning the match, or putting on a great show, is fantastic – but our aim is to learn.

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Challenges in school

Taking on a challenging or difficult task in school – in a lesson, as part of our extra-curricular activities, personally, or even socially – is an opportunity to learn and grow. It doesn’t matter if we don’t get it all right, or even if we get it wrong – because that’s not the point of taking it on. If we learn from the experience, it’s worth it.

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Transforming the learning environment

Over the past fortnight students have been getting used to a new and improved learning environment in the English department. Over the past year our site team have been working tirelessly, room-by-room, to renovate and refurbish all the classrooms in Hanover, where English is based. Over the Easter break, new carpet was laid in all classrooms and the upstairs corridor. It’s made an amazing difference!

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Before…

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…during…

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…and after

What was once an echoing tiled space is now a quiet, padded corridor. Whereas once the slightest shift of a chair was accompanied by an ear-splitting shriek of metal on tile, now students can focus on their learning without distraction. The clutter of old resources has been removed in favour of neat storage, and classroom displays are now focused on key learning points for English classes.

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The classroom design uses the same template as the Alan Turing Building, based on the Smarter Spaces research and work conducted by our students last year. The “teaching wall” is painted in a bright accent colour, to draw attention to the front of the room. The other walls are in a neutral colour, free from distractions, so that focus remains where it should be – on the learning.

Corridors are now clean and uncluttered. Hard-to-maintain displays have been removed in favour of large, robust photography. The time teachers would have spent on preparing, putting up and maintaining displays can now be spent more effectively on lessons and working with students.

We now have two buildings – the Alan Turing Building and Hanover – in this new internal design. The Athene Donald Building will make a third, and over the coming years we will also roll out the design to Windsor, Stuart and beyond. The future is bright!

We have only been able to achieve these great results thanks to the amazing efforts of our site team, who have completed this work with minimal disruption and a great end result. I’d like to thank them personally for all the work they have done – and continue to do – to transform the environment for learning for our students.

How do the new GCSE grades work: 2018 update

Last April I wrote “How do the new GCSE grades work” to explain about the introduction of 9-1 grades for GCSE Maths and English. This year, 9-1 grades will be used in awarding a much wider range of GCSEs, with only a few remaining on the A*-G system. This blog provides an update on the new grading system for the class of 2018.

To help people understand the grading system, Ofqual (the exams regulator) have published this video:

The new 9-1 grades equate to the old A*-G grades as follows:

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In combined Science GCSE (Double Science), candidates will get two number grades in a variety of combinations as shown below:

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GCSE Double Award Science grades from 2018

In other words, double Science students will get results like 7-7, 7-6, 6-6, 6-5 and so on.

How are the grades awarded?

GCSE grades are awarded after all the exam marking has taken place.

Exams and coursework are marked according to the mark schemes issued by the examination boards. These only have numerical marks on – exams and coursework aren’t graded by markers. When all the marks for everyone who has taken the subject in the country are in, then the grade boundaries are decided according to a formula, so that roughly similar proportions of students nationally get each grade in each subject each year.

In other words, your grade at GCSE in the new system doesn’t just depend on how well you have done – it depends on how well you have done relative to all the other candidates in the country taking the same GCSE as you. If you are the top 20% of candidates in the grade 7 and above group, you will be awarded a grade 9. If you are outside that, you won’t. This will not be the same each year, and will change with each new group of students taking the exams every year.

This is significant because it means that if, nationally, lots of children do very well in the exam, the grade boundaries will move up. If it is a hard exam, and students nationally do not do as well, the boundaries will move down. This makes it difficult for teachers to predict grades accurately; we have to make our best professional judgment on the information available to us.

What does this mean for students?

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The changes mean that it is impossible for teachers to say “if you do this you will definitely get a grade 5 or above,” because getting a grade 5 depends on how well everyone else in the country does relative to how well you have done. We can’t possibly know how well everyone else in the country has done or is going to do, so all we can do is teach you to get better and better at your own Maths, English, Science, History, Geography and all your other subjects, until you sit the GCSE exam. You have to keep working and pushing yourself to achieve more because what was good enough for a grade 7 last year won’t necessarily be good enough for a grade 7 this year. Don’t settle! You need to keep improving so that you go into the exam at the end of Year 11 fully prepared and confident that you are the best at each subject that you can possibly be – and then you will get the grade that you deserve.

Remember there are posts on this blog to help you to revise effectively, and you can  download our guide to helping your child revise here.

Good luck!

Pass me the wrecking ball!

As regular readers of this blog will know, we have been engaged in a three-phase project to replace the original 1956 school building, known as Tudor Block. In April 2016, we were awarded Phase 1: £1.3 million to build the Alan Turing Building for Business Studies, Computing and Social Sciences, which opened in June 2017. In April 2017, we were awarded Phase 2: £3.9 million to build the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology, which is now under construction. On 29th March this year, we received the now familiar email regarding Phase 3…

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for applying to the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2018 to 2019.

We received requests for more than £1.5 billion for over 4,600 projects in this year’s round. Following our assessment of applications, we have announced £514 million for 1,556 projects at 1,299 academies and sixth-form colleges.

You can view the full list of successful projects at…

And, thankfully, our third phase bid was also successful – £750,000 to demolish the Tudor block and “make good” the footprint of the building. We aim to put car parking in its place, which we hope will improve the safety of our students and members of the community on the narrow roads around the Academy by reducing congestion from on-road parking. Planning is already in place, and we will be working hard with the contractors to minimise disruption and produce the best possible outcome from the works, which are due to be completed in the middle of 2019.

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Part of the Tudor Building can be seen in the background of this, the earliest school photo we have found,  courtesy of alumnus Andrew Frappell who joined the school in 1958.

This is a landmark moment for the Academy. The Tudor Block was the first building to be constructed as part of the new secondary school for Churchill in 1956, and it has formed the core of the school’s facilities for many years. However, after 60 years in service it is no longer fit for purpose, and all of the classrooms from T1 onwards will be demolished. The current reception, offices, main hall and gym will remain intact.

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This aerial shot from 1970 shows the original Tudor block in the right of the picture.

The removal of this building will mean a change of shape to the site, and we will be working hard over the coming year to review and redevelop our provision to accommodate this new emphasis. It’s an exciting time, and the culmination of a lot of work from a huge team of people. Particular thanks are due to Deputy Headteacher Mark Branch, who has coordinated and led the third phase of the project with great skill – and will continue to do so as the demolition progresses.

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Satellite picture of our site captured in 2016, prior to commencement of the three-phase project. The Tudor block is the T-shaped building towards the top of the picture.  

My book: Becoming a growth mindset school

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The front cover

One of my core beliefs as a teacher and as a school leader is that the manner in which we approach learning – our attitude – is the most significant factor in our success. I have written about this subjectrepeatedly on this blog and it is the cornerstone of our approach to learning at Churchill.

At Churchill we believe in the value of:

  • Determined and consistent effort
  • A hunger to learn new things
  • Challenging ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable
  • Viewing setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow
  • Seeking and responding to feedback
  • Encouraging others to succeed

In late 2016, I was approached by educational publishers Routledge to write a book about this approach to teaching and learning. What does the educational research say? How do you go about implementing an attitude-based approach to teaching and learning? And what have I learned from the process?

At first, I was a little daunted, but this is a subject that I love. I am passionate about the ways in which learning can transform young people’s lives, and about how small shifts in attitude and approach can yield big improvements in progress and achievement. I felt like I had something to say, and I hoped that what wrote I could make a difference to other teachers and school leaders and, through them, their students. So I agreed!

Nearly eighteen months and over 75,000 words later, the book is finally here. It’s called Becoming a growth mindset school  and it explores the theories which underpin a growth mindset ethos and lays out how to embed them into the culture of a school. It offers step-by-step guidance for school leaders to help build an approach to teaching and learning that will encourage children to embrace challenge, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to mastery. It isn’t about quick fixes or miracle cures, but an evidence-based transformation of the way we think and talk about teaching, leading, and learning. It is a celebration of all we are trying to achieve here at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form through the skill and dedication of our expert staff, the support of our community of families, and the wonderful kindness, curiosity and determination of our fantastic students.

And we’re only just getting started!

Read an adapted extract from the book here.

Becoming a growth mindset school is available from Amazon, Routledge and Waterstones.

Stephen Hawking

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Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. He is perhaps best known for his book A Brief History of Time, which I first read when I was in the Sixth Form. His work probed the beginning and end of the universe, pushing science and human understanding to the very limits of what it is possible to imagine.

What I remember most about Stephen Hawking, however, was listening to him speak. In 2016 he gave two lectures – the Reith Lectures – on BBC Radio 4.  The lectures were fascinating, exploring the nature of black holes. You can listen to them here. But what really captured me was an answer he gave to an audience question at the end of the second lecture. He was asked: “if you had to offer one piece of advice for future generations of scientists…what would it be?” The answer he gave encapsulates Churchill’s values perfectly:

My advice to young scientists is to be curious, and try to make sense of what you see. We live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand. Despite recent triumphs, there are many new and deep mysteries that remain for you to solve. And keep a sense of wonder about our vast and complex universe and what makes it exist. But you also must remember that science and technology are changing our world dramatically, so it’s important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions. In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future. So communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself.

And finally, Hawking’s message was one of determination:

“Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Read more about Stephen Hawking (BBC website)

Singin’ in the Rain – Review

At one point in Saturday’s performance of Singin’ in the Rain, the character Cosmo Brown (Cai Williams/Ricky Parsons) delivered the line: “the show must go on. Come rain, some shine, come sleet, come snow, the show must go on.”  He nearly brought the house down.

Because this was no ordinary performance. Storm Emma and the “Beast from the East” had conspired together to shut down not only Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but much of the United Kingdom. Rehearsals were called off. In the midst of a Red Warning from the Met Office, Thursday evening’s performance was cancelled. Friday was also snowed off. But, with the words of Cosmo Brown ringing in their ears, the intrepid team of Mr Buckley, Mrs Lippe, Mrs Rees and Mr Stuart would not give up. The show – for one performance only – was on.

There had been no time for a technical or a dress rehearsal, and the two casts were combined and meshed together to ensure everyone got their chance on the Playhouse stage. But the cast and crew were so well-rehearsed, so professional, and so single-mindedly determined to put on a show that the audience would never have known it. Props and sets arrived on time, films flickered into life, and the rain fell from the sky right on cue. It was simply stunning.

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The actors adapted brilliantly to their shared stage time. Lucy Taylor and Molly Sprouting shone as Kathy Selden, whilst Melissa Harrold and Cara Crozier-Cole were hilariously grating as the none-too-bright megastar Lina Lamont. Jack Baker and Matt Hogg (R.F. Simpson) sparred with Ricky Parsons and Cai Williams (Cosmo Brown) with impeccable comic timing, supported by a cast as impressive in its depth and breadth as it was in the quality of its performance. But the show revolved around James Duby in the lead as silent-film-turned-musical star Don Lockwood. On stage for almost the whole show, James sang, danced and acted as though he was born to do it, holding the entire audience in the palm of his hand and bringing such energy and verve to the production that you couldn’t help but be carried along with it.

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This was a show packed with song and dance. From the chaotic comic choreography of “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the huge production number “Broadway Melody,” the dancing was exceptional. Singing was of the highest quality, whilst the pit band, conducted by Mr Spencer, would have held their own in any professional theatre. The melodramatic silent movies (and, later, the talking pictures) shot and edited by Will Maitland-Round had the audience in stitches for all the right reasons. And the unseen technical crew, running the props, costumes, set, lighting, sound and special effects for the first time ever, made the production look incredible and flow as smoothly as it could possibly have done.

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You might have expected the show to be tinged with disappointment, as it hadn’t turned out the way that everyone would have wanted it to. But actually, inside the theatre, the cast, crew and audience were united in a joyous celebration, as if the show had got onto the stage through the force of sheer willpower alone. We went home through the melting snow, singing the songs, and privileged to have been part of such a special, memorable performance.

Thank you to everyone involved – students, staff, and families – for making Singin’ in the Rain not only possible, but wonderful.

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Read this review on the Academy website here.

All photography by Neil Phillips – visit his website here.

Closing for a snow day

Deciding on whether the Academy should be open or closed in the event of adverse weather is one of those decisions which rests solely with me, the Headteacher. This week I have had to make that decision, and I thought it might be helpful to blog about how and why it was made.

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Snow falling at Churchill

Closing the school is highly disruptive. It gets in the way of lessons and learning, but also all of the events, meetings, interviews, activities and discussions that have been planned, often well in advance. We have nearly 1500 students, so the decision to close has an impact on hundreds and hundreds of families across our communities. It is not a decision I can take lightly. Whatever I decide will please some and frustrate others.

This week’s cold weather and snowfall was no surprise. The “beast from the east” was well-advertised. I received twice-daily updates from the delegated services team, providing risk analysis based on the changing weather forecast from the Met Office. North Somerset Council re-published their advice about what to do in case of closure. Senior staff at the Academy ran through the procedures and processes in case we had to close- although we hoped we wouldn’t have to.

The question I ask myself in this situation is: “is it safe to open the school?”

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Year 13 Photography students took the opportunity to get some snow shots on Thursday morning

Most of our students travel to school on buses, many from rural communities. Our staff – nearly 150 adults – travel in from across the region. Would it be safe for students and staff to travel? If staff are unable to get into school, will I have enough adults to ensure that students are properly supervised and have access to the high-quality teaching to which they are accustomed and entitled? Will the site be safe?

By Wednesday it became clear that the snow was coming. The Met Office shifted their Amber warning to early afternoon on Thursday. The Chief Forecaster’s assessment read:

Widespread snow is expected to develop through Thursday afternoon and evening, accompanied by strong easterly winds, leading to drifting of lying snow in places. Around 10-20 cm is likely to fall quite widely, with the potential for up to 50 cm over parts of Dartmoor and Exmoor. As less cold air follows from the south, there is a chance of snow turning to freezing rain in places, with widespread icy stretches forming making driving conditions dangerous. The warning has been updated to reflect the growing confidence of a severe spell of weather.

I consulted during the day with my senior team, primary Headteachers in the Churchill cluster, and local secondary Headteachers. By early evening, it was clear that the worst of the weather was forecast for the afternoon of the next day – Thursday. Our usual closing time – 3:20pm – was right in the middle of the heaviest forecast snowfall and high winds were predicted to make the air temperature of -4°C feel like -12°C. The morning looked okay, however – cold, with strong winds, but snow not forecast to start falling until later on.

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Photo credit: A-level photography students

Rather than put off a decision until the morning, I thought that families and students deserved as much notice as possible so that they could make arrangements. I sent emails to key senior staff, spoke on the phone to one of our site team, organised contact with the bus companies and consulted the Chair of Governors. I then notified all staff via email of the plan for the next day. At 8pm on Wednesday we notified families that we would be open in the morning, but closing early at 1:10pm. I decided that this was the best compromise: we could still get four lessons worth of learning done, but students and staff should be able to get home safely.

Why not close for the whole day? Because there was a chance to get some meaningful learning done, and closure has to be a last resort. Why not stay open for the whole day? Because, in my judgment, the risks of staying open at that point outweighed the benefits.

In the end, school closure is a judgment call. This week, I had to make that call – and I did so, as with all my decisions, in the best interests of the students and the staff of the Academy. Whilst I’m sure not everyone will agree with me, I hope you at least understand my reasoning.

Stay safe, stay warm and – if you can – enjoy the snow.

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