2018-19 in review

Facts and Figures

2018-19 in facts and figures

What a year! As you can see from the facts and figures above, we have much to be proud of in the progress we have made. In this, my final Headteacher’s Blog of the academic year, I’d like to take a look back and take stock of what we’ve achieved.

Term 1

We started the year strongly, with our annual Presentation Evening and ever-popular Sports Awards Evening. Our Open Evening in September led to us being over-subscribed with Year 7 applications for the third year running. The term finished on a musical note, with the Junior Young Musician of the Year and the wonderful junior production of Bugsy Malone!

Term 2

We returned with things getting serious for Year 11 as they prepared for their mock exams. We also enjoyed two nights of fabulous Christmas Concerts as well as the traditional festive celebrations – including the Sixth Form fancy dress spectacular! In the midst of all this, removers were busy moving the entire Science and Food departments from one end of the school to the other…

Term 3

We returned in 2019 to the brand new Science and Technology building, open and ready for business! This was a monumental achievement by a huge team of people. Boosted by a £50,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, our new rooms and brand new equipment have revolutionised our provision in this area. It’s hard to remember now that it’s only been in use for six months!

Term 4

After the February half term I took a spooky last look around the derelict, pre-demolition Tudor Block. This was an unforgettable experience as we bade farewell to the Academy’s original classrooms. We were then thrilled to welcome Professor Dame Athene Donald to formally open the building named in her honour.

Term 5

Exam season kicked in during Term 5, with our students engaged in their final revision before taking on the challenges of GCSEs and A-levels. The Tudor Block came down in a matter of weeks, and before we knew it we were saying farewell to the class of 2019!

Term 6

We’ve finished the year strong, with the opening of the Food rooms by chef Josh Eggleton, the annual Sponsored Walk and Trek, Sports Day and Activities Week. Finally this week, I have given out over 400 awards at our House Celebration of Success events. It’s a real privilege to see the young people at Churchill working so hard, and seeing the progress they have all made over the course of this year as a result of the efforts they have put in.

There is much to look forward to in 2019-20. But first, I’m sure all of us are looking forward to the summer holidays: a well-deserved chance to rest and recharge, get out in the fresh air, catch up on reading for pleasure, and hopefully spend time with family and friends. I urge you all to make the most of the break, so that you are refreshed and ready to do it all again – even better this time! – in September.

Activities Week 2019

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. The week gives our students the opportunity to develop their skills and experiences beyond the main curriculum. This year, we have highlighted the skills that students can develop in each activity:

  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Staying Positive
  • Aiming High
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

These are skills which form the foundation of success for all learners. We address them in our lessons and our extra-curricular programme, but Activities Week gives our students the chance to push themselves further in new contexts, and new experiences.

This year there have been five trips abroad – Iceland, Krakow, Belgium, Paris and the Gospel Choir Tour – alongside 61 activities in school and beyond. From Adventure Bristol, Beauty and Nails, and Climbing to Football, Film-making, and FIFA, Surfing, Skiiing and Strawberry Picking…we hope we’ve had something for everyone! At the same time, our Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award expeditions have taken place, and Year 10 have been learning about the world of work through their week-long work experience placements.

The commitment from staff to make this week a success is huge. Many of them put in long hours – for those on the residential trips, 24 hours a day! At the end of a long school year, this is a significant investment. Many students, and their families, have expressed their gratitude to the activity leaders, and I know this is appreciated. As a school, when we see what the students have gained from their experiences, we know it’s worth it.

Enjoy a small selection of photos from Activities Week 2019 below. They aren’t all in yet – more to follow on the website in due course!

 

 

Art Works of the Week 2019

Each week the Art Department displays a student’s work on the screens in school. We often include them in the newsletter too. I am always so impressed by the creativity and skill our students show in these works. As we approach the end of the academic year, I thought it was worth gathering them together for posterity. Enjoy!

art work 11th january Ronja Carlsonart work 19th November 2018 Jasmine Sweeting_art work 21st january Brooke RawlinsArt work 21st Septembe Francesca Kellaway HarveyArt work Alida Vetrugno 5th November 2018_art work Bori Gunyits 18th March 2019Art work Grace Hill March 2018Art work helena Avci april 22nd 2019art work Issy Pamment 7th January 2019art work of the week 14th September Daisy Wraight.Art work of the week Lorna Houghton February 4th 2019art work Sophie Smith 23rd October 2018Art work. Amy Hurst 1st December 2018Art work. Charlotte Spensley Dec 10th 2018

Assembly: what does a feminist look like?

At Churchill, our vision is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Sometimes those limits can come from with ourselves – the nagging self-doubt that says “I’m not clever enough,” or “I’m not brave enough,” or “I can’t.” We work hard with our students to build their confidence so that they can talk back to those limiting voices.

GM Phrases

However, some of those limits can also come from outside, and some of them are invisible. I am a feminist because I can see that gender stereotypes and traditional roles act as limits that can prevent young people – boys and girls – from achieving their true potential.

For me, feminism means believing that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It means believing that nobody – male or female – should be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged by their gender. I have always been a feminist, but I have been particularly energised by the He For She initiative launched by Emma Watson at the United Nations in 2014. This initiative invites men to commit to gender equality, and provides tools to enable them to do so.

No more advertising stereotypes?

My assembly this week was sparked by the new rule which came into force this month from the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA will no longer permit any advertising in the the UK which includes “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.” That means that offensive stereotypes like these from the 1950s and 1970s will be outlawed altogether:

Although adverts like these are now things of the past, it would be wrong to assume that stereotypes are not passed on to children – often very young children – through the clothes they wear or the toys they play with.

Clothing with messaging like this includes a “drip, drip” effect which says that boys should be tough, heroic, physical, messy, and clever, whilst girls should be sensitive, secondary, pretty, and stupid.

Gendered toys and books are similar. Boys can be “brilliant,” but girls can only be “beautiful.” Girls can do chemistry and build towers of blocks – but only if it’s pink and includes gossip.

These stereotypes trap both boys and girls in limiting gender roles. It can lead to assumptions about which paths are, and are not, open to you in the future, as this video shows:

Girls can’t be heroes?

There is a well-known trope in cinema called “the Smurfette Principle.” This principle is based on the small blue cartoon characters, all of whom were male, except for a single blonde Smurfette. The Smurfette Principle says that, in movies where a group of characters goes on a quest to fix a problem, you are only allowed one female as part of the group – despite the population being 50/50! There are lots of films which follow this sexist principle:

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There has been much progress on this front in more recent times. In my assembly, I talked about the Avengers franchise as an example. In the first Avengers film, Black Widow was the only female hero, a lonely Smurfette. However, in the recent Avengers: Endgame (*spoilers ahead!*), Black Widow was joined by Captain Marvel, Nebula, Okoye, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Shuri, Pepper Potts and Valkyrie  to form an all-female team in the battle against Thanos. Star Wars too has seen progress, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey providing a strong, brave female hero in the franchise. Such representation provides important role models to girls: you can be heroes too.

Boys don’t try?

It’s important to recognise that feminism is about equality for both genders. It’s not just about girls being held back by sexist stereotypes – boys are trapped too. Across England in 2018, 23.7% of girls achieved top grades (7-9) at GCSE, whereas only 17.2% of boys achieved those grades. This 6.5% gap was even larger at GCSE grades 9-4 (the old A*-C): 71.4% of girls achieved this threshold, whereas only 62.3% of boys did the same, a gap of 9.1%. One theory – a persuasive one – suggests that this is the result of traditional, stereotyped gender roles in the classroom. Girls are expected to work hard, complete homework, put their hands up, and behave well. It’s what girls do. For boys to show this behaviour – which we know leads to higher academic achievement – they need to break out of stereotypical “boy” behaviour. This can be hard to do, but if we are going to prevent gender roles from limiting potential, we need to enable both boys and girls to transcend those traditional roles. Boys have to try too.

emma watson

We do not want our girls trapped in a passive, timid cage where they do not have equality and cannot step up to their potential. We do not want our boys trapped in a narrow definition of masculinity where talking about feelings, showing sensitivity or vulnerability are seen as weaknesses. This is a mentally unhealthy situation to be in. Suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20-49; it kills more men than road accidents, more than cancer, more than heart disease. If we don’t start unpicking this, we will be facing a significant problem. Men are imprisoned by their gender stereotypes too.

What does a feminist look like?

So what does a feminist look like? Well, it looks like anyone who is committed to breaking down the barriers that trap boys and girls, men and women, into outdated gender roles that unfairly advantage or disadvantage one over the other. It looks like Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Styles, or President Obama, as well as Emma Watson, Caitlin Moran, or Taylor Swift. As Barack Obama said, in a 2016 speech:

“We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticises our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear.”

At Churchill we are committed to being a school where our boys can be strong and sensitive, and our girls can be sensitive and strong, so that we can truly set no limits on what we can achieve.

The great outdoors

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Panoramic view from the summit of the sponsored walk 2019

Schools are rooted in their communities. This means that every school is unique. One of Churchill’s unique features is our situation on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty. Our rural location is so beautiful, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!

This past week has seen us do exactly that. Even though the weather has not been what we might have hoped for in summer (in fact, we are heading for one of the wettest Junes on record), Churchill students have been out on the Mendips in huge numbers.

 

Over the weekend, ninety one students successfully completed their expeditions as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. Teams of students spend two days navigating their way through the Somerset countryside, cooking for themselves and camping overnight. They were completely self-sufficient and independent, and were a huge credit to the Academy. I visited the overnight camp – in a farmer’s field – and the owner told me that Churchill students were the best she’s ever had camping there. Duke of Edinburgh is a tough challenge, but when I walked around the camp there was a huge sense of accomplishment mixed in with the exhaustion!

 

On Tuesday we had the annual sponsored walk and trek. Over 500 Year 7 and 8 students completed the sponsored walk – 16 kilometres including a mid-point climb to the trig point near Crook Peak. I had the pleasure of walking the walk this year, accompanying the Year 7 Tudor boys. They were great company, and showed plenty of determination, kindness and curiosity over the day. The views from the top were well worth the effort!

At the same time, Year 9 and 10 students were visiting checkpoints on the sponsored trek. This is a more independent challenge, with a “treasure hunt” across the Mendips to see which small team could navigate their way to the most checkpoints whilst working together collaboratively. This year, the “Legends of Trek” awards went to Year 9 Stuart Boys Team 4, with 60 points, closely followed by Year 9 Tudor Boys Team 4 and Year 10 Windsor Girls Team 1, both with 59 points. The Team Trek special award went to Year 9 Tudor Girls Team 6, but the overall winners were Hanover House with an average score across all their teams of 37.2, narrowly beating Tudor into second place with their average of 36.5.

Both these events were also important fundraising opportunities, supporting both the Friends of Churchill Academy and our nominated charity, Guide Dogs. For us as a school, they also give our students and staff the opportunity to get out into the beautiful Somerset countryside to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness (through teamwork, and looking after the environment), curiosity (by discovering new parts of our local area that students might not have visited before), and determination (by pushing themselves to take on a challenge). It is only possible with the fantastic support of the entire staff team, who all work together to ensure we can undertake the events safely – thank you to all of them, and to all the students who have risen to the challenge and enjoyed our great outdoors this week.

Finding your fire

fire

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”

Plutarch

I often use that quotation when I am talking about education. When I was at school in north west London in the early 1990s, my mind was lit up by English Literature, and particularly poetry. My teachers were skilful and knowledgeable enough to feed that fire, which led me to studying English Language and Literature at university. The flame continued to burn brightly as I trained to teach English, and has been the torch that has guided me throughout my career. There is no greater pleasure than passing on that spark to somebody else, and seeing them get as excited as you do about your subject.

For me it was English. For others it’s Mathematics, or hockey, or cooking, or chemistry, or painting, dance, textiles, the saxophone…

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Our Year 7 students in a cookery workshop with Michelin-star-winning chef Josh Eggleton, and Churchill alumnus Nick Woodhouse, who completed an apprenticeship with Josh after leaving Churchill

Where our students have already found their passion, we do our best as a school to nurture it. But one of the most important things adults can do for young people is introduce them to as many new subjects, skills and experiences as possible. Every time we do, we open up possibilities. This could be the thing that really lights their fire.

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Game Stars competition winner Tabitha with Josh Eggleton (and me!) this week at the opening of the food rooms

Another important thing that we must do is help the next generation see that they don’t always have to do things the way that they have always been done. We have to help them see past stereotyping in subjects, jobs, and careers. We try hard to help our students challenge stereotypes and do things differently. We named the Athene Donald Building after the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge to show that women and girls have just as much of a future in scientific careers as men and boys.

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Our students Saffron, Mimi and Mia with the Soroptimists and dignitaries at this week’s Skirting Science event

This week we built on that tradition with our Skirting Science event, welcoming girls from nine different schools to Churchill to get experiences of possible futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, by hearing from women in those fields. Also this week we invited Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton to open the new food rooms to show that a career in the kitchen is not defined by gender but by skill, passion and enthusiasm.

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Students at work with forensic scientists from the University of the West of England (Bristol) at Skirting Science

The vision for our school is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” If we are serious about this, it means that we need to challenge the limits that other people’s expectations place on us. We aim to kindle the flame that sustains the skills, talents, passions and enthusiasms of our young people, whether they pursue them within school or beyond.

D-Day 75

75 years ago today, on 6th June 1944, Allied forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, Northern France. Overnight, gliders and paratroopers had landed further inland. The landings represented the first phase of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – with the aim of bringing World War Two to an end.

Landscape

Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944

The Allied forces of US, British and Canadian troops also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian [present-day Zimbabwe] and Polish naval, air and ground support. Up to 7,000 ships and landing craft were involved, delivering a total of 156,000 men and 10,000 vehicles to the shore. By the end of the day, 4,400 troops died from the combined allied forces. Some 9,000 were wounded or missing. Total German casualties on the day are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000 men. Thousands of French civilians also died.

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Map of the Normandy landings

But, by midnight of 6th June, the Allies had secured their beachheads (codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah) and begun to push further inland. Within eleven months, Nazi Germany was defeated and the war was over. 

D-Day marked the turning point in the Second World War. It was a remarkable military, technical, logistical and physical achievement, made possible by international cooperation, driven by a shared belief in the importance of defeating the oppression and horror of the Nazi regime.

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Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

The anniversary of D-Day is always a special one to me. My grandfather, Jim Hildrew, was in the Royal Navy during the Second World  War. He supported the Allied invasion of France from the English Channel, working on Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean) which was designed to supply fuel from England to the Allied armies in France by laying flexible pipes all the way across the seabed. I am proud to think that he made his contribution to the freedom that we all enjoy – and perhaps take for granted – today.

NormandySupply_edit

Supply landings at Omaha Beach, mid-June 1944

He was one of the lucky ones who came back alive after the war, returning to teaching as the Headmaster of Grasmere School in the Lake District. Many were not so lucky: by the time Paris was liberated in August 1944, 200,000 of the Allied troops who had landed in France were dead, wounded or missing. On the anniversary of this important day in history, we should all take time to remember those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in liberty.

The Class of 2019

Today we’ve said farewell to the Year 13 class of 2019. This wonderful group of students – many of whom have been with us for seven years – have contributed immeasurably to the Academy over their careers with us. They are heading off to bright futures, and we wish them all well!

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Year 13 Class of 2019

Last week, the Year 11 class of 2019 had their last day celebrations before they began their study leave on Monday. The students were fantastic! Many of them took the time to find staff who had helped them over their time at Churchill to offer thanks. These small acts of gratitude made such a difference to the staff, and are a testament to the strength of the relationships which make the Academy such a great place to work and learn.

The day concluded with my Leavers’ Assembly, where we looked back over some of the memories staff had collected over the time Year 11 had spent with us. I promised I would share some on the blog – so enjoy!

My final message to all our students moving on to their next stage is captured in the following quotation from my Headteacher hero, Albus Dumbledore:

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We are all born with different abilities, different predispositions, different advantages and disadvantages in life. But these are not limiting factors. We are not bound by our circumstances.  We can choose to make the most of the situations we find ourselves in, choose to take chances and opportunities when we have them, choose to take on the difficult challenge or the easy option. It is these choices that define us all. I hope that Churchill has provided all of our students with the knowledge and skills to make the best choices, so you can be what you truly are and deserve to be.

Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

Lessons from the Champions League

What a week of football it’s been! Liverpool and Spurs both overturned seemingly overwhelming odds in the second legs of their semi-finals to set up an all-Premier League final.

There’s no doubt about it – Liverpool were immense on Tuesday night. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and book their place in the Champions League final is the stuff of legend. When Trent Alexander-Arnold took the corner for Divock Origi to score the fourth Liverpool goal, he caught a team of legends and international superstars napping and dumped them out of the competition.

liverpool

It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year, Barcelona were through to the quarter-finals and carrying a 4-1 lead into the second leg against Roma. They were defeated 3-0 in that second leg, and it was Roma that went through to the semi-finals (where they were beaten by Liverpool!)

This fact did not escape the Barcelona players in the painful aftermath of their defeat this week. Luis Suarez, ex-Liverpool striker now playing for Barcelona, summed it up in a post-match interview:

“We have to do a lot of self-criticism because this is the second time that the same thing has happened to us. We cannot commit the same mistake two years in a row. There are many things we need to consider and think about.”

What struck me about Barcelona is that they went out of the Champions League because the players weren’t concentrating. Liverpool, on the other hand, were completely switched on, focused on the task in hand, and playing every single second as though their lives depended on it. For Liverpool on Tuesday, the idea of “giving up” wasn’t even a possibility. The incredible support at Anfield certainly gave them the belief and the boost they needed.

moura

Then, the following night, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a second incredible comeback – this time overturning a 3-0 deficit in just 45 minutes of football, away from home against a really strong Ajax side. Just like with Liverpool, the first-choice striker was unable to play, but the team showed in their battling determination that they just refused to be beaten. Lucas Moura was quicker, more focused, more switched on than the Ajax team, and poached the final goal as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away.

These were two magical nights of football, even for a neutral like me. As a Watford supporter, I hope that my team can capture some of Spurs and Liverpool’s “never give up” fighting spirit in the forthcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. And as a Headteacher, I hope that our students can capture some of the same spirit in their endeavours. I hope that our students see that lapses in concentration can cost you, and remember to stay focused all the time. I hope they see that, whilst we all make mistakes, we have to learn from them – and that there’s really no excuse for making the same mistake twice. I hope they see that with hard work, effort and determination, nothing is impossible; and that, with the support of those around you in the community, you’ll never walk alone.