Open Evening and Open Mornings

Over the past two weeks, we have opened up our school to children in Year 5 and 6 – and their families – as they weigh up their options for secondary education. The transition from primary to secondary school is a big change, so it’s really important that families can make informed decisions. Whilst we are naturally keen to show off Churchill at its best, we also want families to understand what it’s really like to come to our school.

And that’s where our students come in!

We hold two types of open events. The Open Evening is our showcase, where we put on activities and open up the whole site for visitors to tour, speak to staff, ask questions, and understand our values, our vision and our purpose. The Open Evening is complemented by Open Mornings, where visitors look round the school whilst it is “in action” on a normal school day, so they can get a sense of what it’s like when over 1600 students are in class – or when they move from one lesson to another.

What both events have in common is that they are led by our students. From Year 7 to Year 13, students act as tour guides on both Open Evening and Open Mornings, guiding groups of children and their families around the Academy to show them all we have to offer, whilst answering questions on the way. Our students also work with our faculties on Open Evening, demonstrating Science experiments, rehearsing in Performing Arts, or running activities in English, Humanities, PE, Art and beyond!

We believe that families will get a more honest and realistic impression from our students of what it is actually like to attend Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We know that they are proud to come to Churchill – and we know that they love to tell people about it! But we also know that they will tell it like it is, from a student’s perspective, which is far more valuable to a family than hearing a grown-up’s sales pitch. We trust our students; they are our greatest asset.

Of course, there will be some questions that our students can’t answer, and we always have staff available to cover those. And the children and their families will want to hear from me about what we stand for, our ethos and philosophy of education, and the practical arrangements for transition. We do this with a video presentation, which plays in the hall on Open Evening, is posted on the website, and emailed out to everyone who books a place on either event. But, even in the video, we want the voices of students to come through. This is why my presentation is preceded by students from the Sixth Form and Year 11 (this year, Stan and House Captain Lauren), and concludes with our newest students, our Year 7s (this year, Evelyn and Nat).

I am always really proud to be Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. But when I see literally hundreds of students staying until 8pm to show off how wonderful our school is, to persuade younger children to come and join us – well, I allow myself to feel even prouder than ever.

What happens on an inset day? September 2022

The day after our Open Evening, staff were back in school for an inset day. Inset is a contraction of “in service training,” and all state schools have five inset days as part of their calendar to provide professional development to their staff. At Churchill, we like to make the very most of ours!

This year, our programme of professional development is focused on our Academy Development Plan, which has three priorities:

  • Challenge
  • The role of the tutor
  • Assessment

Our inset day drew in elements of all three priorities.

Challenge: every teacher a teacher of SEND

The morning was spent reflecting on our provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities. Our aim was to work hard to plan high quality, inclusive teaching to meet the needs of individuals and help them to overcome barriers to learning to support every student to be the very best they can be. We were supported in this work by Natalie Packer, a nationally renowned expert in the field.

Natalie took us through the five recommendations of the Education Endowment Fund’s Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools report. These recommendations, supported by robust evidence, provide the “best bets” for successful inclusive provision for all students.

Natalie also outlined the latest information regarding special educational needs and disabilities, including the Education Inspection Framework from Ofsted and recommendations about a high-quality, inclusive curriculum. Staff – and especially leaders – were then invited to reflect on our current practice, celebrate the many strengths, and identify areas of focus where we can develop through this year.

Lighthouse Schools Partnership

Following our SEND focused sessions, staff had a presentation from the Lighthouse Schools Partnership. The LSP is the multi-academy trust that we have committed to join, and the process of due diligence ahead of this is already well underway. School leaders have been working alongside colleagues from the partnership for many months, but this was the first opportunity for all staff to hear directly from the chief executive, chief operating officer and a deputy headteacher from a current Lighthouse Schools Partnership school. Our guests from the trust laid out their vision, their priorities, and how Churchill Academy & Sixth Form would both benefit from being part of the partnership, and strengthen it. There was then an opportunity to ask questions, and for further discussions. Work is continuing behind the scenes to ensure our transition into the trust goes as smoothly as possible.

The role of the tutor

The afternoon session began our exploration of the role of the tutor, which is our second key priority this year. Mrs James began the session by outlining the role of tutors with our Year 10 students as they start their GCSE courses. Over the coming weeks, tutors will be overseeing the target setting process with their Year 10s, ensuring that our students are fully engaged in being aspirational about their aims and objectives over the coming two years – and discussing the strategies they will need to employ to make those aspirations a reality.

We then turned our attention to six steps to being a brilliant form tutor, before the five houses (and the sixth form) got together to reflect on the skills and qualities that a brilliant form tutor needed. The house and sixth form teams also thought about the programme of activities running through our morning tutor sessions, beginning to plan to ensure we make the most of our vertical tutor groups and all the possibilities they have for growth and development.

This inset day was the starting point for this work, and we will return to it in January to develop it further.

There wasn’t time for us to watch it on the day itself, but the “role of the tutor” session was inspired by the Rita Pierson, whose famous TED talk “every kid needs a champion” provides the impetus for all of us who work in education to remember why we do it, and who we’re doing it for.

Although there were no students on site today, the thinking, reflecting and planning was really hard work. We’re confident that our students will feel the benefit over the coming weeks, months, and years as we continue to tweak, develop and improve our Academy.

Presentation Evening 2022

Churchill’s Annual Presentation Evening took place on Wednesday 14th September 2022 – three years since our last in-person event. The evening celebrated the successes of the Academy community over the previous year, with awards focused on the exam results from Years 11 and 13 complemented by prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, compassion, resilience, and attitudes to learning. 

I was joined on stage by the Chair of Trustees, Mrs Anne Oakley, who introduced the evening. Our guest of honour was William Bjergfelt, cyclist with Team GB and competitor in the Tour of Britain. As a (very amateur!) cyclist myself, I have always enjoyed cycling at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Tour de France and Tour of Britain – those athletes are idols to me, so meeting William was a real honour. He gave a great speech about his own experiences in competitive sport, and how his own career has been defined by our Academy value of determination. As an elite mountain bike rider and aspiring road racer, William was involved in a head-on collision with a car in 2015 which left him with a bleed on the brain and his right leg shattered into 25 pieces. His leg was reconstructed with three titanium plates but he was told at the time he would never ride a bike again, let alone race one. William spoke to the audience of prize winners and their families about how his mental attitude was every bit as important as his physical recovery, as he defied the odds to return to elite cycling. He qualified as a para-cyclist for Team GB and returned to racing alongside able-bodied athletes in the Tour of Britain in 2021.

William’s inspiring message capped off a wonderful evening of awards – the full roll of honour can be seen on the Prize Winners page of our website. The Headteachers’ award for achievement at GCSE went to Maddie Pole, and the Captain G. J. Picton-Davies Cup for Best Overall Performance at A-level, was handed to Sarah Browne, who, with 3 A* and 1 A and will be going on to study Chemistry at New College, Oxford.

We were also delighted to award the Barry Wratten Prize for Resilience, for the second time, to Jamie Campbell. Jamie received the award for the first time in 2019, when he received it from the wheelchair he needed to move around the Academy at the time. Now in the Sixth Form, and following many years of surgery and hard work, Jamie walked up the steps unaided to collect the award from the stage. His example of determination was warmly applauded by everyone present.

Welcome back – September 2022

Term has started really smoothly at Churchill. Our staff training day on Thursday 1st September focused on expectations and priorities for the year ahead – with the same messages emphasised to students through the start of term assemblies in the first full week back. Our new Year 7 and Year 12 students had the school to themselves on Friday 2nd September, to acclimatise to their new surroundings and prepare for their “step up.”

Priorities for the year ahead

As a school we are focused on three priorities for this academic year:

  1. Challenge: to ensure that the highest expectations of behaviour, learning and progress are evident in every experience that students have at Churchill
  2. The role of the tutor: to ensure that tutoring engages students in the values, ethos and purpose of the Academy, developing the inclusion, diversity and sustainability agendas and providing exemplary pastoral and academic support and guidance
  3. Assessment: to ensure that assessment provides valuable and accurate formative and summative information which accurately reflects students’ learning and progress, to inform next steps

There is more detail on these in the Academy Priorities and Development Plan on our website. The three priorities have been identified to ensure that our students continue to make the best possible progress through the curriculum at the Academy, with the right balance of challenge and support around them.

Expectations

In the start of year house assemblies, we introduced the Senior Leadership Team to the students and laid out our expectations. These included the six learning values which underpin our systems at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We believe in the value of:

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

These values – especially the first – inform the effort grades we include on each student’s progress report, so we took the opportunity to run through the criteria teachers use to award “Good” or “Excellent” effort grades. We emphasised the fact that any student, no matter their ability, can meet the criteria for “Good” or “Excellent” effort – and it is effort that will ensure the best possible progress and attainment.

We also took the opportunity to run through the Top 5 Classroom Behaviour expectations that we established last year, to ensure that students know what is expected of them – every lesson, every time.

  1. Strong start: We arrive on time, line up and enter the classroom calmly
  2. Full attention: We are immediately silent and face the speaker when called to attention 
  3. Full effort: We apply ourselves with our full effort to the learning tasks set
  4. Full focus: We focus all our attention on the learning tasks set
  5. Calm finish: At the end of the lesson we wait in silence for the member of staff to dismiss us

We also reminded students of the Code of Conduct and the Academy’s mobile phone policy. It has been fantastic to see students stepping up to these expectations in this first week, starting the term in just the right frame of mind. But a school year is a marathon, not a sprint – and we expect our students to maintain their high standards consistently throughout the year.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Our Academy community joins the whole country in a period of national mourning for the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We are flying our flag at half mast, and we will be paying our respects to the Queen through tutor time and assembly activities. Where students need support, we will provide it.

We will be encouraging all students to respect one another, using the Academy’s value of kindness. Not everyone will feel the same thing. Some people will be feeling this loss deeply. Even if others do not share that feeling, we should all be respectful and sensitive.

The Queen has reigned throughout my life. I have the utmost respect for her as a model of public service; as someone who dedicated their life to the service of the nation. I will remember the shock and sheer joy I felt when she participated in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, accompanying Daniel Craig’s James Bond on a mission to get to the Olympic Stadium in the most epic way imaginable.

She showed that same mischievous spirit at her Platinum Jubilee, enjoying a marmalade sandwich with Paddington Bear.

But my abiding memory of Her Majesty will be her address to the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of a national crisis, when so many of us were uncertain and afraid, Queen Elizabeth found the words we needed. She used all the experience of her long reign, including her wartime broadcast to children during World War II in 1940, to assure us that “better days will return…we will meet again.”

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: thank you, Ma’am.

End of year assembly 2021-22

In this week’s assemblies I started with some facts and figures. I told the students: 

  • That there were 1,663 of them at the Academy
  • That we have 168 staff to teach, care for and support them 
  • 160,100 rewards points issued – an average of 92.81 per student
  • That 542 students have reached the milestone of 125 conduct points required for a Headteacher’s Commendation
  • That 220 have reached the 175 points needed for a Trustees’ Commendation 
  • 512 students ordered a maroon “clubs” hoodie in the first round of ordering, to celebrate their participation in extra-curricular activities this year
  • There were only two points between first and second place in this year’s inter-house academics competition

Of course, the facts and figures only tell part of the story. I went back through the photo archive to jog memories of some of the things our students have got up to this year:

Even these pictures don’t tell the full story. They don’t capture the daily successes and setbacks of lessons and social times, the small things that make a big difference. I spoke at the Celebration of Success events this week about how the mark of a Churchill student is how they respond to both; what they learn from both the achievements and the obstacles to their progress; how they overcome their difficulties, how they build on their accomplishments. These are truly the things that we should celebrate this year.

Priorities

I also spoke to students about the progress we have made on our priorities. I spoke to them about our sustainability initiatives, and how proud we are to have reduced our carbon footprint by just over 70% since 2015. I also congratulated students who had participated in our Seeking Sustainability competition, especially the winning teams from Tudor House with Project Paperless, and Lancaster House’s Chicken Team, who will be implementing their projects over the coming academic year.

We also reviewed our progress on our priority for inclusion and diversity, and I reinforced the importance that every single one of us has to ensure that every student feels welcome and included at school. We have made great strides forward over the course of the year, but we know that this work is never finished – and we are committed to continuing our efforts to educate and empower our students to go on making a positive difference.

The House Cup

The House Cup: who will win?

It was an unusual end-of-year assembly, because I was not able to award the House Cup. The postponement of Sports Day means that, at the time of writing, there are still enough points up for grabs that any house could still triumph in the year-long competition. Tudor are in the lead, but Windsor are only just behind them, with Lancaster, Stuart and Hanover snapping at their heels. Tudor have already won the Academics Cup this year, and Lancaster have won the Head of House Challenge Cup – but the overall competition is still wide open. I am assured that, through the wonders of modern technology, the Sports Day scores will be fed instantaneously into the supercomputer to provide us with an overall total for both competitions on Friday. So, at the end of the events, we will be able to award the Tug of War trophy, the Sports Day cup, and the overall House Cup – all in one go! Check the Academy’s newsletter for the final result…

Summer

Finally, I went through the plans we have in place to ensure all students stay safe in the coming heatwave, before wishing them all a restful and relaxing summer holiday – which is well deserved after this rollercoaster of a year!

Activities Week 2022

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. We aim to help students develop vital skills, such as:

  • 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.

After two disrupted years, with no Activities Week in 2020 and a scaled-back model in 2021, we have been delighted to get closer to “back to normal” in 2022. There haven’t been as many trips abroad as usual, due to the COVID pandemic being unpredictable at the time of booking. But we have got the Sicily trip away, and introduced some great new UK-based residentials, as well as a huge range of day trips and school-based activities.

At the time of writing, many of the activities are still going on, but here are some of the photo highlights of the week so far!

We will publish a full gallery on the Academy website when all the trips have returned.

It’s a huge responsibility taking students off site and returning them all safely, especially on a residential trip. Our staff do it willingly because they know how much the students benefit from it, and we know that staff benefit too from getting to know the students in a different context and seeing them taking on new challenges. I’d like to thank all the staff involved in putting the activities on for students, and especially the team behind the scenes who work on all the bookings, payments, risk assessments, travel arrangements, liaison and problem-solving that a week like this brings – we literally couldn’t do it without you!

Celebrations with Year 11 and 13

Over the past few weeks, we have been celebrating with our Year 13 and Year 11 classes of 2022. These students have been through an unprecedented period in education. The A-level exams taken by Year 13 were the first experience of external exams for many of them since their Year 6 SATs, as GCSEs were cancelled for them in 2020. Year 11 did sit their GCSEs over a long, extended exam period, following the disruption of education through the COVID-19 pandemic. Both year groups needed and deserved a party!

Year 13 Ball

The Year 13 Ball took place in Bristol on 18th June. It was a wonderful event, with delicious food and a packed dance floor! There is a full gallery of photos on the Academy website.

Year 11 Prom

The Year 11 Prom took place on 24th June at Cadbury House. The students looked great in their outfits and celebrated in style! A full gallery is available on the Academy website, and the download link for photos from inside the venue is also available – all Year 11 families will be emailed the password for this page.

Sustaining Sustainability

This week Mrs Franklin (the Academy’s Sustainability and Marketing Manager) joined me to present to a national conference of School Business Leaders. We were asked to present our work on reducing the Academy’s carbon footprint towards our goal of net-zero by 2030, and we also took the opportunity to look more broadly at our sustainability priority.

Many of the things we spoke about in our presentation are captured in the blog post I wrote around the #COP26 summit in Glasgow last November – Going Green: Churchill and #COP26. We emphasised how important it is to us that sustainability is one of the five priorities in the Academy’s five-year strategic plan, and that sustainability is driven by our students – as we owe it to them to protect the planet they will grow up on. In fact, I will be judging the students’ Seeking Sustainability competition entries next week!

Solar PV array on the roof of the Athene Donald Building

Mrs Franklin was able to update the conference delegates on the impact of some of our carbon reduction work:

  • Reviewing our controls and boiler optimisation so that boilers are only on when they are absolutely needed has saved 22,000 kWh of energy
  • The replacement of our lighting with LED units has saved 150,000 kWh on electricity
  • The solar panels (or photovoltaic cells as they’re more properly called) which cover much of our roof space across the site can deliver up to 40% of the Academy’s electricity needs in peak summer weather
  • The introduction of point-of-use hot water heaters mean that our boilers can be completely switched off for long periods of time in warm weather, saving 300,000 kWh in gas

Finally, Mrs Franklin was able to present an updated carbon emissions chart which shows we have reduced our carbon footprint by 70% since 2015 – a further 20% reduction since the 2020 figures.

This presentation wasn’t all celebration however. As a school, we have picked almost all of the “low hanging fruit” in our battle to reduce our carbon footprint. The next stage of our journey to net zero involves the bigger challenge: reducing or removing our dependence on natural gas completely. As we look at heating and cooling solutions across the Academy’s estate, to replace our ageing gas boilers, we really want to find low-carbon solutions. Our Trustees last week commissioned work to explore how best to achieve this.

What we already know is that we will need additional funding to enable this work. We also know that the Department for Education is facing an estimated £11.4 billion bill just to bring the school building estate up to standard across the UK – and that’s before they begin to think about decarbonising that estate. And so, whilst we are grateful for the existence of the DfE’s Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems – we feel that it doesn’t go far enough. If we are serious about net zero, we need to tackle the big ticket items which contribute to our carbon footprint: gas-fired heating systems, and emissions from transport. Whilst we can make progress on these issues ourselves, we’re going to need help if we’re going to solve them for good – and that means investment to back up the sentiments.

We know our students are ambitious for a greener future – and we owe it to them to deliver it.

Sponsored Walk and Trek 2022

The Sponsored Walk and Trek are a long-standing Churchill tradition. Our school is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Mendips, and the walk and trek are our opportunity to get out of our school gates and up into the area of outstanding natural beauty that surrounds us.

The Sponsored Walk

Year 7 and 8 take on a sponsored walk from the Sixth Form centre. Working in house teams, they walk from the Academy to Sandford, through the Thatchers’ Orchards, before joining the Strawberry Line. They use the Strawberry Line path to walk up through Winscombe, including the spooky dark tunnel, before turning off up to King’s Wood and, from there, to the trig point before Crook Peak. From there, students get the reward of spectacular views from Cheddar Reservoir to Glastonbury Tor, Brent Knoll, the Bristol Channel and over to Wales.

After a rest stop at the trig point, students head back down through Slader’s Leigh nature reserve for lunch at Winscombe Rugby Club, before returning to the Academy in time for the coaches at the end of school.

It’s quite a walk, with a steep ascent in the middle, but it’s well worth it!

The Senior Trek

Students in Years 9 and 10 take on the challenge of the Senior Trek. The Trek is designed to promote independence as students, in house teams, navigate themselves between checkpoints on the Mendips, based around the peak at Black Down. Sixth Form students occupy the checkpoints, and students are awarded points for the number of checkpoints they are able to get to.

The key to success in the Trek is keeping your whole team together all the time. If you arrive at a checkpoint and your team isn’t together – you are disqualified! This is in place to promote teamwork and also to ensure that students are safe when navigating across the course. Teams arriving together win points for their houses – and this year’s results are below:

Senior Trek Results 2022

The Academy Values

The trek and the walk are designed to promote the Academy’s values:

  • Kindness: students support one another in their house teams to keep going and stick together on the trek and the walk. They are also required to be kind to the environment as they treat the area of outstanding natural beauty with respect, leaving no litter and being considerate of other members of the public enjoying the landscape.
  • Curiosity: students are encouraged to be curious about their local area. From spotting landmarks and landforms, to recognising the plants, birds and animals around them this is an opportunity to experience biology and geography in real life. They also learn a lot about one another – and themselves – when they take on the challenge!
  • Determination: the trek and the walk are big challenges – you need to be determined to keep going! Everyone who completes the challenge gets that big sense of achievement that you only feel when you’ve really had to dig deep to get it done – and that’s exactly what we’re looking for at Churchill!

It’s a huge undertaking for the staff to lead and organise these events, to get over 1000 students out onto the hills and back to school safely. I’d like to thank all the staff involved, especially those who take a lead role in the organisation. But, when you see the students back at school, tired but proud of what they’ve achieved, it’s definitely worth it!