Stephen Hawking


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”

reflection 1

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.


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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Naming the new Science and Technology building



Donald Building Croppped

Plans for the new building

As regular readers will know, we are mid-way through building a £3.9m Science and Technology facility on our site, to replace the original 1956 building, which is still in current use but no longer fit for purpose. The new building – twelve Science laboratories and two classrooms for food and nutrition – is due for completion in December this year. You can see the progress to date here.

As part of our commitment to promoting gender equality and, in particular, women in STEM, we decided we wanted to name the new building after a prominent female scientist. Our aim is to inspire young women to pursue further study and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. As part of this process, groups of our Year 7 and 8 students were set the task of researching significant women in Science and Engineering, and presenting their research to a panel of staff and governors. The shortlist included Rosalind Franklin, Mary Somerville, Marie Curie, Anne McLaren and Athene Donald.

Science Presenters

Our student researchers

The presentations took place on Monday 19th February. They were excellent: full of detailed research and high-quality presentation skills. After a lengthy discussion, the panel unanimously agreed to name the building…

The Dame Athene Donald Building


Professor Dame Athene Donald is Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. Aside from the wonderful link between the name of our Academy and her Cambridge college, Professor Donald is a fantastic advocate for Science, and in particular for gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. She is a director of the university’s Women in Science, Engineering and Technology initiative to inspire and support women scientists within the university. She chairs the Athena Forum which deals with issues around career progression for women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine subjects in higher education.

Her research applies physics to biology, exploring the structures of polymers, biopolymers and, most recently, cellular biophysics. One of her most significant projects was researching the molecular structure of food (in particular starch molecules). She is also a viola player and a singer, with a keen interest in music. She has won over 20 awards, including a Faraday Medal from the Institute of Physics, and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the UKRC Women of Outstanding Achievement Awards in 2011.

Professor Donald’s life and work was researched by Year 7 students Polly Jones (7WPH) and Freya Hatherall (7WSB). They said “Athene Donald is a great inspiration to us all, for her career in science and her support for gender equality. In years to come she could influence children at Churchill Academy to pursue a career a science or engineering.” You can see their presentation below.

polly and freya

The winning pair!

Professor Donald commented “I am deeply honoured that you would like to name your wonderful new building after me and of course am happy to agree. What a lovely idea to set your students such a project of research, so that more female scientists of note become familiar to them. And what a happy coincidence of the name Churchill too! I wish you all the very best with the building project and, of course, that having new labs inspires a new generation to think about careers in STEM (boys and girls).”

Well done to all the students involved, and thanks to Miss Burrows for coordinating the project.

Click here to see the coverage on the Academy’s website.

Millicent Fawcett: a hero of Gender Equality

This week has been the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the bill which finally gave women the vote on 6th February 1918. Even then, only women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification were able to vote, which enfranchised only 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK. It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million.


Millicent Fawcett

One of the heroes of the suffrage movement was Dame Millicent Fawcett. Fawcett was born in 1847, and developed an interest in women’s rights at a young age. Her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was the first female doctor in Britain. In 1866, at the age of 19, Millicent became the secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. She dedicated her life to campaigning for equal rights for women. Fawcett was a suffragist, not a suffragette. She distanced herself from the militant and sometimes violent activities of the suffragettes, preferring instead to work within the law.


Suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Fawcett spoke at her first public pro-suffrage meeting in 1869, and took over as the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1890. She held this position until 1919, a year after the Representation of the People Act finally achieved the aims she had been campaigning for over the past 53 years.

When the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 was to be signed into law, the 81-year-old campaigner, now a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, wanted to witness the historic moment. She made her way to the House of Lords in plenty of time for the ceremony, which was due to start at 6.30pm on 3rd July. Unfortunately, the House of Lords had completed their other business more quickly than anticipated, and brought the signing ceremony forward to six o’clock. After 62 years of campaigning, Dame Millicent arrived less than a minute too late to see the law conferring equal voting rights to women given royal assent.


Fawcett died the following August, in 1929, aged 82. She was born into an era where women were seen and not heard, where they had few rights, and where they were widely believed to be “the weaker sex.” Over her lifetime, the rights of women were transformed; by the time of her death women had the same voting rights as men. Little wonder, then, that Fawcett won the vote for “most influential woman” of the last 100 years run this week by BBC Radio 4, or that she has been chosen as the subject a commemorative statue to be erected in Parliament Square.

fawcett statue

Artist Gillian Wearing with a model of the Fawcett statue

It is fitting that Fawcett continues to break new ground for women, even today: hers is the first statue of a woman to be erected in Parliament Square. The plinth will feature the names of 59 women and men who fought for women’s suffrage; it will be unveiled in April. In the statue, Fawcett holds a placard with a line from a speech she gave after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby: “courage calls to courage everywhere.”

Fawcett’s work remains incomplete, however: there are still significant gender inequalities at work in our society today. That is why Churchill Academy & Sixth Form has signed up to the Gender Equality Charter, with the aim of challenging and correcting gender imbalances wherever we find them. Click here to find out more.


Millicent Fawcett in 1870

If you want to learn more about the campaign for women’s right to vote and its impact on women’s rights and equality to the present day, you can join me in signing up for a free five-week online course (MOOC) called Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to Today run by Royal Holloway and the UK Parliament.


I remember the first lesson I ever taught. The thought of standing up in front of thirty children and expecting them to listen and do as they were told made my heart pound and a cold sweat prickle on my brow. I was full of nerves. But I walked into the classroom and I taught that lesson. It wasn’t brilliant – but I did it. And, having done one, the next one was easier – and better. Now, over twenty years into my career, I think nothing of standing up in in front of 270 students in assembly, or a hall full of parents on our Open Evenings, or even (as I did recently) in front of nearly 400 teachers in the conference centre at Old Trafford, Manchester!

This is how confidence in built. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t: it’s something you develop with practice. The first time you speak up in front of a group of people can be terrifying: what if I make a mistake? What if I get it wrong? What if they think I’m stupid? Those feelings never go away, but the next time they will be lessened, and the next time lessened further, until you think nothing of them at all. That’s when you start to come across as confident.


At Churchill we aim to empower everyone at the Academy to develop knowledge, skills, character and confidence, as we believe these ingredients give young people (and adults!) the best chance of success later in life. We try to create opportunities for our young people to build confidence through practice. One example of this is our Year 8 public speaking competition. Every Year 8 student has the opportunity to give a speech in front of their class. The winners go through to the Year 8 finals, and the winners of that have a chance to compete in the regional Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Club. Each time, the audience is bigger and less familiar, but the staging up allows the students to build their confidence each time.

The same was true at the fantastic Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition, held on Monday evening at St John’s Church in association with Churchill Music! Eight young musicians performed with such self-assurance, commitment and skill that the audience was gripped and enthralled by every one of them.


The chair of the adjudication panel, violinist Ruth Rogers,  spoke afterwards about nerves, and about how even she gets nervous every time she performs. Her advice was to focus on another musician, rather than the audience, and to enjoy the performance. Our young musicians definitely benefitted from her advice: if they were nervous, they didn’t show it, and this enabled the audience to put their faith in the performers, to trust them, which allowed them to be carried away by the wonderful music making on display.

Over recent weeks I’ve been interviewing Year 11 students for places in our Sixth Form, and they have all presented themselves really well: good eye contact, a firm handshake, and clear, well articulated answers to my questions. Just like the musicians on Monday night, or the Year 8s the week before, they might have been nervous inside, but they came across as confident, self-assured young people. And it’s the impression you give which matters, not what’s happening inside. That impression of confidence gives people faith in you and your abilities, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in yourself.

So, even if you’re not feeling confident, pretend. Act as if you are. Because the next time, it’ll be easier, and the next time easier still, until, eventually, you’ll find that the confidence you were pretending to have has turned into the real thing. As five times Wimbledon champion and four time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams said:

Believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and some day, you will.




Creativity – the ability to make something new – is one of the most important skills or qualities we can nurture in our school. It was one of the key words for us when we were thinking about our vision and values last year. We say “we maintain a supportive and inclusive culture that values and celebrates personal enrichment and creativity alongside academic achievement,” and when I walk around the Academy I can see this in evidence everywhere I go.

My office is full of students’ artwork. When I glance up from my emails, or conclude a meeting, or when I walk in from a cold, wet lunch duty, I’m often brought up short by the quality of what they have produced. And it isn’t just the technical skill of the art work that causes this effect: it’s the ideas, the thinking, and the imagination.


You can see it at the entrance to the school too, in the projects that the students have designed which are on display in they foyer. And, yes, in the portrait of me produced by Katie Jackson!

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Walking further into the school, though, this spirit of making, imagining and creating runs through every corridor and classroom. Students are choreographing, planning, deciding, photographing, filming, writing, painting, sewing, sculpting, organising, designing, discovering, inventing, producing, building, performing and making all the time. From the upcycled chairs in the Sixth Form, through the delicious dishes in catering, to the solution to a problem in Mathematics, examples of creativity are everywhere.

Back in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson gave a famous TED talk entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” He talked about the risk that the current education system runs, the risk of squashing the creativity out of children through their experience of the curriculum. He quotes the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso:


At Churchill, we work really hard to ensure that a student’s experience of school nurtures their creativity. We recognise that the process of learning is creative in itself, as it encourages learners to make new connections and engage, through the process of learning, in the art of creating themselves.

Twelve ways families can support revision

As we approach the exam period families will be wondering what the best methods are to help their children revise. Below are some tips which, based on research, are some of the best ways to help students to revise effectively.

Our mantra for revision is to recap and practise.

  1. Get them to self-test, a lot.

Research shows that testing in order to recall content is the best way of getting us to think hard. Thinking about and getting the answer is much better than re-reading notes. The more we recall information the better it sticks in our long term memory. This should be in the form of quizzing themselves where possible.

  1. Past Papers

Encourage them to redo any past exam questions without their notes. Simply trying to recall answers to mind is an effective revision technique. Afterwards,  use the mark scheme and help them to identify successes and areas for further work. Past papers and mark schemes can be found on any exam boards’ websites. Our exam board specifications for 2018 can be found on our website for Year 11 and Year 13.

  1. Talk to them

Get your child to tell you what they have learnt or are revising, then quiz them at random times: at breakfast, at the dinner table, or even in the car. Ask them questions that relate to their studies and get them to think hard about the answer. Their books should be a good source of quizzing information for you.

Get them to explain their answer. Adding reason to an answer helps them to remember. And only accept the right answer – no half marks.

  1. Read around the subject

Even if the content is not in the exam, understanding the subject area better helps to build links which may be valuable for those higher grade questions. Recommended documentaries, websites, exam board resources and places of interest to visit can also be beneficial.

  1. Space it out

Distribute their practice of different subjects or different areas of a subject. Research shows that spacing out practice aids memory. Cramming will help for a short period and may be useful the night before an exam but this is not the most effective for long-term memory. A revision time table can help with this.

  1. Learn keywords and definitions by heart

Learning the correct definitions in some subjects will help gain a few extra marks, so long as they use them correctly. Produce memory cards with the key word and the definition on to test them regularly.

  1. Use memory tricks

Mnemonics, such as “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to remember the colours of the rainbow, can be a good trick to remember sequences and lists of information. Get them to invent their own. Making them funny or rude can be a great hook for memory! They can be a good way of helping to store larger chunks of information. Write them on posters and stick them up around their room or the house.

  1. Go easy on the highlighters

Rereading and highlighting key points is not the best way to revise. If they are unsure on a subject this may help to learn a topic, but always get them to check with a teacher that they’ve understood properly what they’ve read.

  1. Sleeping, eating and hydration

Exercise can be beneficial for the mind and body and students should not ignore this. Exercise and revision can lead to tiredness and learning is hard work, so the brain and body need plenty of fuel.

  1. Build in breaks

Splitting up a study day in to small study and rest periods can be beneficial. Remove any distractions such as computers and other media sources, especially mobile phones. These can be a reward for studying hard. It is useful to have a positive learning environment – a dedicated space that is clear and equipped for revising so there is no procrastinating.

  1. Start now

The mock exams are a good indicator of where they are but with a balanced programme of study they can gain those few extra grades between now and the summer.

  1. Subject specific is best

The nature of revision varies from subject to subject. The subject content is the most important thing for them to learn. Their job is to remember what we taught them in class. The whole purpose of revision should be to help with that.

Good luck! 

revision tips

Assembly: Value


Take a look at the two coins above. They look so different! One, minted in 1988, is tarnished and dull. It’s marked around the edges with the impacts of thousands of other coins in hundreds of pockets, tills, machines and moneyboxes. The 2010 coin is shiny and bright, and the Queen’s profile looks markedly different. Yet both coins have the same value – they are worth exactly the same. The age, condition, and the year they were made makes no difference to what they are worth.


These two coins look similar to the pennies. One is old and tarnished, the other shiny and new. But they do not have the same value. Despite the fact that they have the words “one pound” written on the front, the coin on the left is worthless, no longer legal tender, and only the coin on the right is worth £1 now.

Looking at these coins causes me to reflect on how we assign value to things. It seems clear that things are only worth what we agree together they are worth. If we agree, as a society, that one object is worth £1 and another is worthless, then that is the value that these objects have.

In the case of the coins, the condition of the object has no bearing on its value. However, with some other objects this is not the case.


In the case of the two guitars above, we have an unusual situation. The brand new guitar on the left is worth much less than the one on the right, despite the fact that the one on the right has been on fire, has a melted scratchplate, and had a broken neck which had to be replaced. That’s because the guitar on the right was set on fire and smashed up by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; it’s appalling condition is a testament to its place in the history of rock’n’roll.

This is not normally the case. As shown above, the value of the £120,000 Ferrari is not increased after it has been driven into a lamppost. In fact, more usually, we need to care for and look after the things we value so that they remain in good condition for us to enjoy.

Over the two years of my Headship to date, I have written three times to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to argue that the students of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form deserve a better learning environment. Twice the ESFA have agreed with the arguments we have presented – we are waiting to hear about the third! – and that is why we have the Alan Turing Building, complete with brand new IT facilities, and the new Science and Technology building under construction. That is why we are renovating and refurbishing classroom and improving the computer equipment across the site. These project all have a significant value – not just the financial resource required to put them in place, but the value they add to the learning experience for our students.


We are lucky to learn and work in a beautiful, rural school site, with excellent and improving facilities. It is essential that we all work together to look after this place, ensuring that it is litter-free and kept in an excellent condition.


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Our values at Churchill determine all of our actions, and there have been many great examples of students demonstrating those values since we launched them in September. Maintaining those excellent habits will ensure that we all continue to contribute positively to the community we are building together.


My portrait


Artist Katie Jackson with my portrait and me, January 2018

In the summer term of 2017, Mr Downing approached me with the idea for an annual Academy portrait painting event. I thought it was a great idea – a long term project to celebrate the teaching staff at Churchill Academy. The aim is that each year students will be able to vote for a member of staff to have their portrait painted by one of our A level Art students, and we would build a gallery of portraits over time. So, would I mind being the first subject, to kick the competition off? I jumped at the chance! Year 13 student Katie Jackson was selected as the first artist and, after a brief photoshoot during Activities week, Katie went off and developed the painting, and brought it in to present to me just before Christmas.

It’s a strange thing, seeing yourself through the eyes of someone else. It’s not like a photograph, or a mirror – Katie has interpreted me and put that interpretation onto canvas. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome – I absolutely love it! I feel like she’s really “got me” and managed to communicate that through the image she’s made. It is a fantastic painting, an exciting beginning to this project.

I’d like to thank Katie for all the time and effort she put into the picture, which is truly remarkable. Katie is now studying Make Up for Media and Performance at Arts University Bournemouth and clearly has a bright future ahead of her! The portrait will be on display in reception this term before going into the gallery.

Who will be the next member of staff, and the next artist? Watch this space!