The Class of 2023

Today we have said “farewell” to the Year 13 and Year 11 Class of 2023 as they both head off for study leave around their exams.

The journey of these young people through education has been disrupted on an unprecedented scale by the global pandemic. Although those lockdown days are already fading into memory, it’s important to remember that Year 13 did not sit GCSE exams, as they were cancelled due to COVID. Both these year groups undertook a significant proportion of their secondary education remotely. Whilst many of them continue to feel the impact of this disruption, their resilience and determination is to their huge credit.

The Year 13 Class of 2023

It is also a challenging world that these young people are inheriting. The cost of living crisis, war in Ukraine, political and economic instability and uncertainty, and climate change have an impact on all of us – and that’s only scratching the surface. But our mission at Churchill is to empower and enable our young people to make a positive difference, and – looking at the young adults in the class of 2023 – I feel very hopeful and optimistic about the future. If anyone can make that positive difference, it is them.

The Year 11 Class of 2023

I would like to pay tribute to all those who have supported the class of 2023 on their journey. Their families and friends, and the staff at the Academy, have all helped to shape these young people and guide them on their way. But ultimately it is the students themselves that deserve the credit: their hard work, their kindness, curiosity and determination have enabled them to overcome the barriers in their way and achieve all that they have so far – and this will continue to carry them forward into the future. We’re proud of them: they should be proud of themselves.

National Numeracy Day: the Maths of Life

This week (on 17th May) was National Numeracy Day – a day designed to help raise low levels of numeracy among both adults and children in the UK, and to promote the importance of everyday maths skills. The day aims to challenge negative attitudes towards maths and numbers, influence public policy and offer practical ways to help adults and children improve their numeracy.

We share the vision of the National Numeracy Trust. We also want to enable all our students to be confident and competent with using numbers and data, so they can make good decisions in their daily lives. Our strong Maths curriculum is testament to this, as is the fact that Maths is currently the most popular subject in our Sixth Form.

Understanding numbers and data is more important now than ever. The advent of ChatGPT this year, and the announcement that Google will be using AI within its search function, has highlighted the fact that we are entering a new era of partnership between humans and computers. Machine learning and artificial intelligence, driven by algorithms and the analysis of stupendously large datasets, will be an ever-increasing feature of all our lives over the coming years. The children we are teaching now will grow up in that world: we need to teach them to be ready.

Data is a massive part of all our lives, and it moves quickly. I can remember, when I started teaching in 1997, that we got the first computer in our English Department, and we used it to collect the exam results in a spreadsheet. It was an absolute revelation that we were able to show which students had done well in specific questions at the click of a mouse, and work out which bits of the curriculum to revise with them. Such analysis is now taken completely for granted, and it is layered with masses of additional information to enable us to make informed decisions about our work.

And this is not, of course, unique to education: every industry relies on data to help make sensible decisions, whatever the inputs and outputs – from healthcare to finance, engineering to retail, entertainment to research. Understanding that data, spotting and interpreting the patterns within it, and being able to manipulate it to reach informed conclusions, is an essential employability skill for a whole range of occupations.

Dr Hannah Fry shows why spotting patterns in data is essential for car racing, space exploration, government and more

But, at Churchill, we don’t see maths as purely utilitarian. We strongly believe that maths should be enjoyable for its own sake – for its elegance, its complexity and simplicity, for the stories that it can tell about our world, and for its quirky fun. I remember, for example, Mr Gale telling me about Belphegor’s Prime – a bizarre palindromic prime number which is a 1, followed by thirteen zeroes, followed by 666, followed by another thirteen zeroes and a final 1: 1000000000000066600000000000001. This number reads the same forwards as backwards; it is only divisible by itself and one; it contains 31 digits (which is 13 backwards). No wonder, with all these traditionally bad luck numbers layered into it, that the number was named after Belphegor, one of the seven princes of Hell, who is known primarily for tempting mortals with the gift of discovery and invention! What I find even stranger that 1000000000000077700000000000001 is also a prime number…

I have always been grateful to my maths education – even as an English Language and Literature graduate. It taught me to look for patterns, to analyse and try to understand the deeper structure of the thing that I was looking at – whether a poem, a play, a novel or, in my teaching career, a dataset, a budget or a behaviour or attendance record. This is what we aim for in our maths curriculum at Churchill – and, looking at our thriving sixth form uptake, it looks like it’s paying off.

“Storms make oaks take deeper root”

There will be times in all our lives when things get difficult. This is an inevitable part of being human. Over the past few years we have all faced huge challenges: the pandemic; political and economic turmoil; the cost of living; war in Ukraine. We all face challenges ahead: the climate crisis; the role of technology in society; overcoming social inequality.

None of these things are easy. I have often spoken to our students about taking on challenges, about pushing yourself. I have said – countless times! – “when you’re struggling, you’re learning.” It’s important that we, as adults, practise what we preach.

I often rely on the wisdom of others to illustrate these ideas. One of my favourite quotes, usually attributed to Thomas Edison, is: “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” And, after all, he should know – he invented the lightbulb!

Another inspirational figure is President John F. Kennedy. In 1962, announcing the intention to put a man on the moon, Kennedy spoke about taking on a difficult task precisely because it was challenging: “we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He would not live to see the realisation of this vision, but his ambition led to Neil Armstrong setting foot on another world in July 1969.

Over this past month, I have also taken comfort in the words of the great Maya Angelou, who said: “you may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” There is great wisdom here. Whilst much that happens around us – and, in some cases, to us – is beyond our control, we are in charge of the way that we respond. We can let ourselves be ground down by the challenges, or we can rise to them. It’s up to us. And I choose to rise.

Finally, a colleague shared some new words of wisdom with me recently. Well, they are new to me, but the words themselves are old: their author, George Herbert, lived 1593-1633:

Storms make oaks take deeper root

George Herbert, 1593-1633

These are the words that I have looked to throughout the past months. When the storm rages, we will not be uprooted. The turmoil around us will make us more resilient, more determined. And, when the storm clears and the sun shines in a clear blue sky, we will be stronger for having weathered it.

The Coronation

This weekend we have the second bank holiday in a row – this time, for the coronation of the King. I know that people in our Academy community will have a range of views on the monarchy, and on the coronation itself, from fervent monarchists to staunch republicans, and everything in between.

For me, the monarchy represents a tangible connection with the history of our country. It’s a ceremony which has been carried out forty times in Westminster Abbey, and the first time I will have the chance to see it – my parents were only five or six when Queen Elizabeth was crowned! I will be watching out for the connections to the past, as well as the signs of the future, when I watch the ceremony on Saturday.

Westminster Abbey

The English coronation service was drawn up by St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, for the coronation of Edgar, first King of All England, in 973 at Bath Abbey, but Westminster Abbey has been Britain’s coronation church since 1066. King Charles III will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at the Abbey this weekend. The first documented coronation at Westminster was that of William the Conqueror on 25th December 1066. It is likely that Harold Godwinson was also crowned in the Abbey following the death of Edward the Confessor’s, but there is no evidence to confirm that this happened. William probably chose the Abbey for his coronation to reinforce his claim to be a legitimate successor of Edward the Confessor, having defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

Queen Elizabeth I in her coronation robes

The two monarchs who did not have any coronation were Edward V (the boy king), who was presumed murdered in the Tower of London before he could be crowned, and Edward VIII who abdicated 11 months after succeeding his father and before the date set for his coronation. William III and Mary II were the only joint monarchs to be crowned.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, public spectacle sometimes overshadowed religious significance. At George III’s coronation some of the congregation began to eat a meal during the sermon. George IV’s coronation was a great theatrical occasion but he flatly refused to allow his estranged wife Caroline to enter the Abbey. William IV had to be persuaded to have a coronation at all and spent so little money on it that it became known as ‘the penny coronation’. With Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 came a renewed appreciation of the true religious meaning of the ceremony.

Coronation portrait of Queen Victoria from 1838

By the time Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 millions around the world were able to witness her coronation on television.

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizbeth II, 1953

King Charles will travel to the Coronation in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach – a fully modernised coach with heaters, air conditioning and electric windows! But his journey back will be in the Gold State Coach, which has no mod cons, and which Queen Elizabeth famously described as “horrible.” I suppose it’s all relative!

St Edward’s Crown

The crown that will be used is the St Edward’s crown, which was made in 1661 for King Charles II. It is a copy of an earlier crown, thought to have been used since the 11th century – but it is believed that Oliver Cromwell had that one melted down when the monarchy was abolished between 1653 and 1658.

As part of the ceremony, we will see the Crown Jewels in action. This includes the orb, a golden, jewelled ball with a cross on top to symbolise that the monarch’s power comes from God. The orb is accompanied by sceptres – jewelled golden sticks – which symbolise the monarch’s power and rule.

The ritual, ceremony and regalia of the coronation will not be to everyone’s taste – but, for me, they are a connection to our nation’s history, and I will be watching with interest.

Self-expression: finding your voice

I have been really proud this week to see our Academy’s vision – “to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference” – manifesting in our students’ achievements.

We often talk about the education we provide at Churchill helping our students to make a positive difference to themselves, to our Academy community, and to the wider world around them. This week, I have seen this in three wonderful examples of our students building their confidence, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, and finding a way to express themselves – finding their voice – through the opportunities offered at Churchill.

Dance Live!

On Wednesday night, our dancers and their support crew were in Portsmouth for the national finals of Dance Live! Having won the semi-finals, we knew our ensemble would now be up against the very best in the country. Since that triumph, they had listened carefully to the feedback and honed their performance to perfection, synchronising their movement to the huge video display screen behind them. I was following – along with hundreds of others – the Instagram Story updates as they rehearsed and prepared in the prestigious Guildhall auditorium. And then…it all went quiet. Until an email from Mr Buckley confirmed that their incredible performance had won them second place – and top state school in the finals! This amazing achievement was accompanied by a healthy £500 prize for Team Performing Arts.

Video of the semi-final performance

We know, from long experience, that the arts are essential for enabling students to find a way to express themselves. Whether it be through dance, or drama, or music, or painting, or sculpture, or installations, or film, we do all we can to help our students give expression to their ideas. To see that come together, in such a triumphant way as this, is breath-taking. I am so proud of the students, and the staff, who helped put this together.

Poetry Competition

Also this week was the final of the inter-house poetry competition. In this event, our students found their voices through the language and layout of poetic forms, expressing themselves using the rhythms, rhymes and interplay of words. The themes of this year’s competition were social media, and Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and our students found new and unusual angles on both subjects. You can read more on our website, but here is the winning poem:

You Only Get One Life
By Melissa Otero-Zambrzycka

Open the app, shut the door,
Time after time, coming back for more,
Another swipe, another scroll,
Another notification on the phone,
A nagging need to know every hit,
Every detail, every bit,
“What are they saying?”
“What do they think?”

The need to feel that acceptance,
From a group of strangers, you don’t even know,
The feeling when that comment,
Makes you hit an all time low,
The toxicity of the fact,
“They don’t care how you feel,”
Putting your heart out there is a gamble,
Yet you chose to spin that wheel.

And so you isolate, compensate,
For people you’ll never meet again,
When in reality, waiting outside that door,
Is only the truest friends,
But your eyes cannot leave that screen,
It’s a vortex you cannot reverse,
You cannot leave, even if you plead,
And every hateful comment hurts,

But you’re stuck in this matrix,
And “Who cares, you’re all alone,”
But it only takes one move to escape it all,
Go on, turn off your phone.

Get out into the real world,
Write your own story in colourful ink,
You’ve only got one life,
“Who cares what people think?”

I just love what Melissa has done with her poem here. The use of the “who cares what people think” refrain at the beginning and the end, with the twist in meaning from the changed context, helps to reinforce the message of the poem: that it’s all about perception. Your own attitude towards things is what really matters – not what other people think. I think it’s fantastic that our students have these opportunities to hone their craft and get their words out into the world in this way.

The Gabblers Club

On Monday, I returned to the Bristol Hotel for the finals of the Gabblers Club competition for the first time since the COVID pandemic. Gabblers is a long-standing tradition across Bristol schools, where Sixth Form students meet together to practise the art of after-dinner speaking. There were twenty competitors from state and independent schools, with our entrant – Gemma Partridge – dazzling the audience with her witty and thought-provoking speech on the topic of “Soaps.” Gemma – who won the Raymond Hayter Song Prize in the Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition in January, and was part of the crew for Dance Live! – is a shining example of a student who has made the most of the opportunities offered to her, and thrived as a result.

It makes me so proud to see our students achieving such highs across this range of disciplines – with the confidence to express themselves. This is exactly the positive difference our vision statement talks about.

Assembly: Values and Behaviours

As we return for Term 5, I have taken assemblies for each of the five houses. In my assembly, I have talked about values, and how our values inform our behaviours.

To start with, I discussed the fact that our coins are changing. For the first time in my life, we will have coins with the King’s head on the back rather than the Queen’s head. Yet, despite the coronation of a new monarch, the coins still have the same value; although they look different, they are worth the same.

The same is not true of these coins. The “one pound” coin on the left is no longer legal tender – it is worth less than the one pound coin on the right. Why is this? Simply – we have all been told that this is the case, and we all accept it. The one on the left is worthless, despite it saying “one pound” on the front, because we’ve all been told it’s worthless and we all accept this.

The value of something isn’t always obvious by its appearance. I would love the guitar on the left – a brand new Fender Stratocaster. But the old Fender Stratocaster on the right has no strings, the strap is on the wrong side, and it has been damaged in a fire. The surface is badly scorched and the wood underneath is burnt. It is unplayable – but somebody paid $380,000 for it. Its value is not as a musical instrument, but as a part of rock history.

The guitar was famously doused in lighter fluid and set on fire by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey festival in 1967. This is what gives it its value – it is an artefact, not an instrument.

Swipe to see the change in value of a Ferrari

The same is not true of a Ferrari however. A brand new Ferrari, whilst worth less than a burnt Hendrix guitar, is worth a lot more new than it is when wrapped around a lamp post. The damage to this valuable asset has not increased its value – it has diminished it. This is not a part of history or culture – it is a testament to someone who needs to drive more carefully and hope they have a good insurance policy. 

So, the value something has is not intrinsic to itself. Rather, it is a shared idea, or a common belief that something has value. At Churchill, our values of kindness, curiosity and determination govern all our actions and inform our behaviours. We work hard to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy community, and to the wider world, and to set no limits on what we can achieve.

Professor Carol Dweck picks up this idea of setting no limits on what we can achieve in her work on mindsets. She explains through her research how it is the effort that we put in that ensures we achieve, not our ability. As she says: “no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

This idea of effort is something that we think has tremendous value. It is why it is the first of our six “learning values” at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form – the research-informed principles that inform our approach to pedagogy.

The things we value inform the way that we behave. At the start of every long term, in September, January, and now after Easter, I always remind students about our classroom behaviour expectations: the Top 5. This term is no exception. The students are very familiar with these expectations now, but it is no less important that they stick to them if we are to make the most of every moment of lesson time.

We also have a set of five expectations for social time behaviour, and I used this start of term assembly to run through these in detail. In particular, I explained the ways in which we have responded to student feedback with amendments to our uniform policy this year, and changes to the toilets, following student leadership initiatives – and how it is now the students’ responsibility to uphold those standards now that they are established.

As we moved towards the conclusion of the assembly, I talked about bullying. I explained that, if you say anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable about who they are, this is wrong and unacceptable – and may also be illegal if it references a protected characteristic. I explained that saying or doing something “as a joke” or as “banter” normalises unacceptable behaviour by making it seem okay in certain situations – but it is never okay. If we see people doing or saying unkind things again and again over time – even “as a joke” – these behaviours can become normalised. And we are all susceptible to normalisation. 

Normalisation refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal’ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life. There are different behavioral attitudes that humans accept as normal, such as grief for a loved one, avoiding danger, and not participating in cannibalism. Our perception of what is ‘normal’ can transform over time – and this can be a force of good and ill.

The video above gives a great example of how bizarre and unusual behaviour, that someone would never normally display, can be influenced by the behaviour of people around you and very quickly become “normal.” Although this is a light hearted example, this principle can be much more serious.

In Nazi Germany in the 1930s we saw hateful, discriminatory and abhorrent attitudes and beliefs “normalised” by society. Pastor Niemoller’s poem shows what can happen if we sit by and let things that we know to be wrong happen around us. We must stand up for what we know to be right. 

I finished the assembly – as I like to do – with a quotation. This one, from Benjamin Franklin, shows how values and behaviours are interlinked one with the other. Our values inform our behaviours, and our behaviours shape our values.

The Lighthouse Schools Partnership

The end of this term marks an end and a new beginning for Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. March 31st is our last day as a Single Academy Trust (SAT); at one minute past midnight on 1st April 2023 the Academy will officially become part of the Lighthouse Schools Partnership Multi-Academy Trust.

A multi-academy trust is a charity that has responsibility for running a number of academies. They cannot be run for financial profit and any surplus must be reinvested in the trust. By working in partnership with each other, the schools within a trust can share staff, curriculum expertise and effective teaching practices, and work together to deliver the best outcomes for students. All schools within the trust support each other and the trust is accountable for them all.

Churchill has been an academy since August 2011, when it changed from Churchill Community Foundation School and Sixth Form Centre to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. That change saw a wholesale shift in the school’s identity: a new logo, a new name, and a new uniform followed. This next chapter in the school’s history does not involve a change of name or identity: there will be very little visible difference on the surface. We will still be called Churchill Academy & Sixth Form; the Academy’s values and ethos will not change; we will keep the same uniform; we will have the same staff.

Behind the scenes, however, we see a great many advantages for our children, families and staff in joining a multi-academy trust. We will be able to share resources and expertise across the Lighthouse Schools Partnership. The central focus of our collaboration will be on the professional development for our staff so that we continually improve in our teaching and learning for the benefit of all our students. There will also be financial benefits in the economies of scale available to us as part of a larger organisation, as well as the opportunity for our students and staff to collaborate on projects across the trust – such as the Student Leadership Conference we attended at Gordano in February.

There will be changes to governance, as our existing Trust Board changes its status to a Local Governing Body reporting to the Lighthouse Schools Partnership Trustees. The Governors will still be responsible for school specific policies, the budget, and standards within Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, but we will be adopting many policies that are common across the Trust.

We were delighted that our local primary schools, Burrington and Wrington, joined Lighthouse in January of this year, followed by Churchill Primary in February; Blagdon Primary and St Andrew’s in Congresbury are already members. Together, we are forming the Churchill Hub of the Lighthouse Schools Partnership, sharing resources and expertise to manage our schools collaboratively. The Churchill Hub is the fourth hub of the trust, joining the Portishead, Backwell and Chew Valley hubs across North Somerset.

Since the decision to join the Lighthouse Schools Partnership was taken in the summer of 2022, we have been working closely with colleagues from across the 29 other schools in the trust. We have worked together on plans for closing the attainment and progress gap for disadvantaged students, improving assessment, provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities, curriculum development and more. We have worked across secondary schools to evaluate and learn from one another in subject-specific visits, and senior leaders from the four secondaries have also begun to develop our plans to move our collaboration forward over the coming years. The staff we have met from across the trust have been open, welcoming and exciting to work with: we look forward to our shared journey together in the future.

Air source heat pumps: the next steps towards net zero

Air source heat pump and air conditioning unit: the unglamorous side of our journey towards net zero

We seek to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference – this is our purpose as a school. This means that they can make a positive difference to themselves, through the improvements in their learning, behaviour and attitude that they make every day. They can make a positive difference to our Academy, through their presence in our community and the contribution that they make. And they can go on to make a positive difference to the world, as a result of the education they have had at Churchill.

Making a positive difference is also something that we seek to do in the Academy’s environment, and our environmental impact. I have previously written about our net zero target and the steps we have already taken on that journey. More recently, we have completely replaced the heating system in the Performing Arts block (which also houses three art classrooms) to be run entirely off an air source heat pump, which was installed over the winter.

How a heat pump works (diagram from EDF)

An air source heat pump absorbs heat from the air around us and transfers that heat to the inside of the building. Outside air is drawn in over a network of tubes filled with refrigerant gas, which circulates at -28°c to extract heat energy from the air outside. This low temperature refrigerant means that the systems pulls heat from the air, even when the outside temperature is below freezing. The gas passes through a compressor which increases the pressure and temperature, causing it to change from a cold gas to a hot liquid. The compressed hot liquid passes into a heat exchanger, which provides heat to the system. The refrigerant then turns back into a cold gas and starts the cycle all over again.

We are using an air-to-air system, which means that it will also double as a cooling system in hot weather in the summer. This means that the rooms will be kept at a good working temperature all year round – all using low carbon technology.

Net Zero Grant: we’re not finished yet!

I’m also delighted to say that we have been successful in securing a grant from the Department for Net Zero and Energy Security – the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. The grant, totalling £222,430, will allow us to replace gas boilers with air source heat pumps in the Sixth Form and around the Hive and Hall building. It will also pay for other improvements, such as double glazing and external wall insulation.

The work is all scheduled to be completed before September, which will mean that when we return for the new academic year there will be yet another building completely run from renewable energy sources – a further step towards our net zero target.

The project signifies the latest in a long line of energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects that we’ve been working on since 2015. Investments in point of use hot water heating, solar pv, boiler controls and LED lighting have supported a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions across our activity, and we remain committed to our ambition to be net zero carbon by 2030.

Of course, we welcome the grant funding to enable the next stage of our decarbonisation work to continue and look forward to taking another step forward on our sustainability journey. Our students are passionate about a greener future, and we’re striving to lead and deliver on this.

However, we know we have been fortunate with having funding allocated, as many other projects will not have been successful. And, without this grant, we simply couldn’t have afforded to do the work ourselves. As we’ve highlighted in the past, the ambition of school leaders is not always matched by the funding available for capital works or initiatives around decarbonisation. And with the increasing pressure on school budgets from many directions, including rising fuel costs, the question shifts from decarbonising for the good of the planet, to one of simple affordability. Because, the truth is, installing low carbon alternative technology is expensive! If the government is serious about a national move to net zero, it needs to be funded properly for all, and not just those fortunate few who are able to secure the grants.

To Lancaster and back…

It’s been quite a week! Last Friday, myself and three colleagues had made the journey to Birmingham for the ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) Annual Conference. We were looking forward to two days of professional development and discussions with colleagues. I was especially excited, as I had been asked to do a question and answer session on the main stage with Jay Blades, presenter of The Repair Shop and all round hero of mine! All this was cut short mid-morning by a phone call from Ofsted, announcing they would be inspecting our Academy on Monday and Tuesday.

This was a unique circumstance. Normally, Ofsted phone the day before and turn up to inspect the very next morning. This means they normally phone on a Monday to inspect on Tuesday and Wednesday, or on a Tuesday to inspect on Wednesday and Thursday, and occasionally on a Wednesday to inspect on Thursday and Friday. However, due to the NEU industrial action this week, none of those were possible. So, for one week only, they called on a Friday.

Thanks to the wonders of technology (and the incredibly helpful people from ASCL) we were able to plan the inspection between Churchill and Birmingham, with the senior team separated by 100 miles. We then had the unusual experience of a weekend in between the notification and the inspection, before returning on Monday to meet the inspection team and get started.

There are very strict rules in place which mean that that inspection itself can’t be discussed before the report is published – so I won’t be discussing it here until that time. Suffice to say it was a thorough, testing and very rigorous experience, and no stone was left unturned.

After the intensity of those two days, we were then faced with the peculiar half-life of the school mostly closed due to industrial action by teacher members of the NEU. Our Sixth Formers, and Year 11 students who booked places, made the most of the limited provision we were able to offer, but the quiet lull across the Academy site was in stark contrast to the buzz of the previous days.

It was wonderful, therefore, to see all our staff and students back on Friday, with the added thrill of Lancaster House’s To Lancaster and back! indoor rowing challenge. Lancaster House students have begun the task of virtually rowing to Lancaster and back – a total of 868km throughout the UK canal ways – in order to raise money for their House charity, the RSPCA. You can sponsor a student directly on the sponsorship forms they have been given or make a donation online by visiting I used to do a bit of rowing as a university student – but that was a very long time ago, as I found out to my cost when I sat down to add my own kilometre to the total!

Well done to all the students involved – and particularly to Kate, Adam and the Lancaster House Council, for organising this terrific event.

International Women’s Day 2023: Inspirational Sportswomen

Wednesday of this week was International Women’s Day. The last time I celebrated this important day on the Headteacher’s Blog was back in 2017 – so it’s time I did so again, to celebrate some more of my inspirational female role models. This year, I’m focusing on women in sport – and four women who have really inspired me over the past few years.

Victoria Williamson

Victoria Williamson was a Team GB track cyclist, specialising in sprints. She won a bronze medal at the 2013 World Track Championships and was on her way to being a contender for the 2016 Rio Olympics squad. In January 2016 she suffered a horrific crash on the track in a competition in Rotterdam, suffering a broken neck and back, dislocating her pelvis and slipping a disc in her neck. She had to relearn how to walk, rebuilding her strength and condition. Incredibly, in 2019, she returned to the track, competing for Team GB in the Track World Championships. She then switched to winter sport, and is now a member of the Team GB women’s bobsleigh team.

I find Victoria’s story so inspiring: to come back from a devastating crash and life-changing injuries to compete again at world championship level is a tale of such courage, determination and bravery. A true inspiration.

Leah Williamson

I found the whole team of Lionesses an incredible inspiration last year, as they brought football home in style with their victory in the European Championships. Beth Mead, Alessia Russo, Chloe Kelly, Keira Walsh, Millie Bright, Georgia Stanway…and the rest! They were all amazing. But Leah Williamson’s calm, determined captaincy; her leadership of the team on and off the field; and her superb, level-headed approach to the game just blew me away. She’s a truly inspiring role model. And, as far as I’m aware, she’s not related to Victoria Williamson…

Janja Garnbret

I loved watching the new Olympic sport of competitive climbing at the Tokyo Games. I found myself hooked by the disciplines of speed, lead and bouldering – learning all kinds of new terms along the way! In the women’s event, Janja Garnbret absolutely cleaned up.

Her athleticism, determination and skill was simply staggering – she blitzed every discipline. But it was when I watched the documentary The Wall: Climb for Gold on Netflix that I saw the struggle and difficulty behind the scenes of becoming the sports first ever Olympic gold medallist, and this made me admire her all the more. An amazing athlete!

Sky Brown

Sticking with the Olympic theme, I couldn’t complete this post without mentioning the youngest professional skateboarder in the world, who won a bronze medal for Team GB in Toyko at the age of just 13. Her ability to pick herself up when she was down, to keep going with a huge grin on her face, and to celebrate the achievements of her opponents as much as her own, won me over completely.

Who are your female sporting inspirations?