Celebrating success

This Wednesday was our annual Presentation Evening. This fantastic event is the partner to our end-of-year Celebration of Success evenings, with the focus on those students who have excelled in their GCSE and A-level exam results over the summer. However, we recognise that school is about more than just the examination results that young people achieve, so it is also vital that we award prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, for compassion, for resilience, and above all for excellent and improved attitudes to learning over the course of the last year.

This year’s guest of honour was the wonderful Stefanie Martini. Stefanie was a student at Churchill from 2002 to 2009, leaving us to pursue an Art Foundation course, before applying to RADA to pursue acting. From there, Stefanie landed a role as Mary Thorne in Julian Fellowes’ Doctor Thorne for ITV, as well as the mysterious Lady Ev in the NBC fantasy series Emerald City, set in the world of the Wizard of Oz. She is perhaps best known for playing the role of a young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 1973, showing us the origins as a probationary police officer of the iconic Detective Inspector Tennison that Dame Helen Mirren brought to ITV in the 1990s. Her latest film, Hurricane, tells the story of Squadron 303, a group of Polish airmen who fought with the RAF in the Battle of Britain, fighting both prejudice on the ground as well as the Luftwaffe in the air. It is in cinemas now!

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Prize winners with Stefanie Martini, 12th September 2018

Stefanie spoke about her time at Churchill, and how it shaped the character that she has become. She explained how, when she fell behind with school work, she was supported and pushed to get back on track, and how failing to get the part she wanted in the school musical made her a better actress. There was a thread of steely determination running through her speech: despite being rejected seven times in one year from drama schools, she kept going – and in the next year, she was accepted to four different drama schools at once. Her message of self-belief, strength of character and the importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to move forward was hugely inspiring to the young people (and the adults!) at the event.

It’s great to have alumni back at Churchill to speak to this year’s prize-winners. Not only does it show our current and only-just-left students what is possible with a Churchill education, but it is also a great opportunity to celebrate the success of students who – although they have left – always remain part of our school community.

Of course, a prize-giving ceremony can only have one prize winner in each category. Even though we gave out 139 prizes at this year’s Presentation Evening, there are hundreds, even thousands, of achievements, triumphs and successes that we don’t have a prize for, that don’t get their picture in the paper or their name in the newsletter. What I hope, however, is that we do recognise and celebrate those successes, however small, whenever and wherever we find them – because nobody ever tires of being told “well done.”

Why are we here?

It’s great to be back for a new year at Churchill! In my start-of-term assembly for each of the Houses, I outlined some practical priorities: some of the key changes to the Academy site which will be taking place this year, and reminders about our expectations of behaviour and conduct.

At the start of the year, however, my most important priority was to take a longer and wider view, and to remind all students why were are here, and what we are trying to achieve together at Churchill.

Our purpose: to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference

 

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Churchill students working with young people at Rigoma Primary and Secondary School in Kenya, summer 2018 (source)

Our purpose at Churchill is “to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference.” This can be at a personal level: we can all make a positive difference to ourselves, through the work we do to improve our knowledge, skills and character every day. We can also make a positive difference to others, through helping them when they are finding things difficult and making their experience of school better.

On a wider scale, we can all make a positive difference to the Academy community. This can be in simple, practical ways like keeping the site neat and tidy, but also in less obvious ways by contributing to our positive atmosphere: behaving kindly and respectfully; being ready and eager to learn; and supporting and encouraging one another in our efforts to improve.

Looking up still further, we know that all our young people can make a positive difference in the wider world, both during their time as students here but also after they have left us. Our hope is that, because of the education they have had here, Churchill students will go on to make the world a better place. This is a lofty ambition – but it is what motivates and guides us in the work we do every day.

Our vision: to set no limits on what we can achieve

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Sports Day 2018

Our vision at Churchill is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Limits can be external, with other people telling you that “you’ll never be able to do X,” or “you’re only capable of Y.” We strive to avoid this kind of talk at Churchill, recognising that it is impossible to know someone’s true potential, and that effort and application make it far more likely that we will achieve our goals.

The limits we set ourselves can be far more challenging. We all have a voice inside ourselves that says “it’s too hard,” or “I’ll never be able to do it,” or “I can’t.” At Churchill we try hard to find an inner voice to talk back in, so that we can find a way to overcome those barriers we can set ourselves.

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Our values: kindness, curiosity, determination

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Our three values are based on the character strengths that underpin our vision and our purpose. Developing kindness, curiosity and determination will help us all to reach our goals. Each value reflects a different aspect of our character: kindness is a strength of the heart; curiosity is a strength of the mind; determination is a strength of the will.

Kindness

At Churchill, we are kind to one another. This means that we are considerate and generous every day, caring for one another and doing everything we can to make sure everybody else has a good day at school. Kindness reinforces our shared sense of community; it builds trust and respect; and it ensures that we take our social responsibilities seriously.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

Curiosity

At Churchill, we are constantly curious and hungry for new learning. We value enquiring minds and a spirit of exploration. The desire to know or learn something new motivates us to try our hardest in everything we do.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” (Plutarch)

Determination

At Churchill, we are persistent and relentless in the pursuit of our goals – both academic and personal. This determination to keep going when learning is difficult, and to come back and try again when we struggle, helps us to succeed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison)

It is the interplay between our values, our vision and our purpose that enable us to achieve success. I’m looking forward, this year, to taking further strides towards our shared goals. As Henry Ford said, “if everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.”

Feeling proud

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The “proud baby” meme: one of my favourites!

Pride is a tricky concept. In Christianity, Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, thought by many to be the original and most serious of all. It is characterised as the excessive admiration of the personal image or self; in other words, thinking that you’re better than everybody else, or better than you actually are. Pride underpins the tragic flaw of hubris in many dramatic heroes. Pride comes before a fall, the saying goes; it is something to be avoided, something to be ashamed of.

More recently, though, the term has shifted in its meaning. Pride is no longer something to be ashamed of; instead, it has gathered positive connotations. The Pride festivals which celebrate the LGBTQ+ community are fantastic demonstrations of societies which are inclusive and accepting of diversity. Feeling proud of what you’ve achieved is no longer something to be ashamed of – provided we stay grounded and humble, we should be proud of ourselves. It seems that the idea of “Pride” more generally has been reclaimed from its negative associations to be more positive – a feeling of rightful satisfaction at a job well done.

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Gareth Southgate

Like many of you, I felt really proud of the England team at Russia 2018. The last time an England men’s football team reached the semi-final of a World Cup, I was at secondary school myself, in Year 10. I hope our current Year 10s don’t have to wait as long as I have for this to happen again! It’s been a long time since a national men’s football side has been so successful (although the women’s team finished third in the 2015 World Cup!), and Gareth Southgate’s words after the extra-time defeat to Croatia really resonated with me:

“I’m remarkably proud of a group of players who have really advanced, and no one could have given any more. The way they’ve represented their country has been exemplary. I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done.”

I think it was the combination of rightful pride with genuine humility that got me. Southgate’s words resonated because he articulated the way that I feel about the students at Churchill. I’m so proud of the progress they’ve made this year, the progress that we’ve made at the Academy. I’m proud of those students that have put their all into their studies, their school work, and the wider activities that make up school life. I’m proud of the way they represent the Academy, acting as ambassadors for Churchill in their time here and when they are out on trips, visits and activities. I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done.

In my assembly I shared some of the proud moments from the year. I cannot possibly capture all of them, but just a few of them are pictured below.

Churchill is a school full of children with boundless promise and potential. They have a expert, dedicated and caring staff team around them, backed by a supportive community of family and friends. The young people in those pictures – and the hundreds beyond them! – are grasping  the opportunities in front of them with both hands, and growing in knowledge, skills, character and confidence every day. What the pictures capture for me is a happy school. Looking back at the year gone by, I think I have every right to feel unashamedly proud of what we’ve done this year – and, at the same time, excited to think that next year will be even better.

I wish you all a restful summer holiday. See you in September!

Activities Week 2018

We’ve reached the end of another great activities week! It’s been a privilege to visit activities and take in the huge range on offer to our students, from the creative to the technical, practical, theoretical and physical, here at the Academy, out in the local community, or further afield. Our Year 10 students have been completing their week-long work experience placements, whilst residential trips this year have included the surf trip to Cornwall, a stay in London, the History trip to Belgium, the Gospel Choir Tour to Austria, the Spanish trip to Barcelona, and the Geography trip to the Azores. The Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition went to Dartmoor, and the Gold expedition left today for Snowdonia!

The aim of Activities Week is to provide students with experiences beyond the classroom which enrich and extend their education. We know that the taught curriculum – the lessons the students have day in day out through the year – is the core of our work, but we also know that this broader offer is a vital part of our mission as a school. The activities build skills such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity, leadership, confidence and positivity. Past students often tell us that the memories made on Activities Week are those that stay with them the longest, and we’re proud to provide these opportunities for students.

Below are just a few pictures from Activities Week 2018. We don’t have all the pictures back from the foreign trips yet – they will be added to the gallery on the Academy website when we get them!

Of course, the week wouldn’t happen without the dedication and commitment of all the staff, and the students who also commit themselves fully to their experience. Special mention must go to Miss Thorne in the finance office, and to Mrs Cadman who coordinates the whole week. Thank you!

Summer Term: Succession

I love the summer term – it’s a time when the Academy community really comes together to celebrate what we have here at Churchill. We’ve seen that over recent weeks with our Sports Day, the Year 11 and Year 13 Balls, and the Music Festival which ran on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. At the same time, we look forward to the future as we begin the process of thinking about succession into the new academic year.

New Leaders

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Academy House Captains 2018

It’s been my privilege over the last week to begin to work with the new House Captains for 2018-19. These students were selected by Heads of House from the mound of strong applications received. The House Captains have a vital role within their house, supporting the Heads of House in ensuring things run smoothly and that students are well looked after. Together, the House Captains also form the Student Leadership Team at the Academy, and will meet regularly with me in dialogue about the progress the Academy is making, things that are going well and things that we can improve. This year’s House Captains have made an excellent start, ensuring that Sports Day was the huge success it was, and running our transition events for the new Year 7 with kindness, care and calm. I look forward to the year ahead with these students.

New Year 7

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This week we have had two days with the new Year 7 who start in September 2018. The Transition Day on Tuesday saw our new intake work really hard to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness, curiosity and determination. They impressed the staff, and the other students, with their approach to their learning and their life at Churchill. I have a very good feeling about this year group, and I am sure they will be an asset to the Academy as they join us in September.

New Sixth Formers

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Our Sixth Formers enjoying the summer sunshine

On Thursday we had our induction day for our new Sixth Form students. Many of  our own Year 11 were joined by a strong group of students who have applied to join us from other schools. Students spend the day with us on an orientation programme, having initial lessons in each of their chosen subjects and learning about the expectations, people and processes of the Sixth Form. Again, the students impressed us with their “ready to learn” attitude and Mr Morgan and his team are really looking forward to welcoming them into the Sixth Form.

New Staff

It’s also been fantastic over recent weeks to welcome new staff to the Academy – some who have already started and more who will be joining us in September. We have new teachers in English, Maths, PE, Science, Geography, and History starting next year. Although we are in the midst of a well-publicised shortage of teachers nationally, I’ve been really impressed by the calibre of teaching staff applicants to join our team. I am proud to confirm Churchill is fully staffed with expert subject specialists in every department for September, and I look forward to the future with great excitement about what we can accomplish together.

Process over product

 

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Last week I saw a post on the Art Department Instagram which has inspired this week’s blog.

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Process over product. You art students work mighty hard towards your final pieces, and let me tell you… it doesn't go unnoticed. We call that the process, the hard work (and sometimes downright frustrating part) before we start the final piece. You do most of your learning during the first stages of a project. I sometimes love the development shown in a sketchbook more than the final piece! Shhhh. Amazing pieces of art don't just happen folks. It takes planning, research, and hard work to create a final piece to be proud of. Keep trying, keep working hard. 🤗 . . . Here, yr 7 start making their masks, whilst referring to their sketchbooks. #churchillacademy #Processoverproduct #hardworkpays #masks #ks3art #kidart #creativekids #churchillartacademy #africanart #yr7art

A post shared by churchillARTacademy (@churchillartacademy) on

You art students work mighty hard towards your final pieces, and let me tell you…it doesn’t go unnoticed. We call that the process, the hard work (and sometimes downright frustrating part) before we start the final piece. You do most of your learning during the first stages of a project. I sometimes love the development shown in a sketchbook more than the final piece! Shhhh. Amazing pieces of art don’t just happen folks. It takes planning, research, and hard work to create a final piece to be proud of. Keep trying, keep working hard.

This post captures a key element of our approach to learning at Churchill. At school, every experience is an opportunity to learn. We encourage our students to approach every task with the attitude: “how can I learn from this?” or “how can this task help me to get better?”

With this approach in mind, teachers emphasise what each task is designed to teach, develop or provide the opportunity to practise, whilst students will focus on what the key learning points in each task are. Although students should rightly feel proud of the finished product – whether it be a project, a homework, a performance, an essay, a test, an experiment or a piece of art or design – the learning happens during the process of making it. It is only through rehearsal that a performance can be polished.

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Even when a piece of work is finished, the learning isn’t. There will always be feedback on how to improve, reflection on what we have done well and what we can do better next time. This feedback is the essential ingredient which helps all learners move forward.

Receiving feedback can be hard. If the work has been the result of substantial effort, receiving critique on its flaws can be difficult. “I tried really hard, and it’s still not right,” our inner voice might say.

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The key to overcoming this is to remember that every experience in school is a learning experience. When you approach every task with the attitude: “how can I learn from this?” or “how can this help me to improve?” it means that you are expecting feedback – you need it. The task is not over when you have completed the work; it is only over when you have received the feedback and acted on it in order to improve, and taken the next step forward in your learning. Then you are ready for the next task, to build on the progress you have made.

If we are going to make the progress we are capable of, we all need to shift our mindset away from “it’s finished when I put my pen down.” The final product is important, but the learning happens during the process. That’s why, at Churchill, we always emphasise the importance of the process over the product.

 

Curiosity: is there life on Mars?

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Organic molecules found on the surface of Mars (source)

Earlier this month, NASA announced that the Curiosity Rover on the Martian surface had found ancient organic molecules by drilling down into 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks.

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life.

I’m completely in awe of the Mars exploration project. It blows my mind to think that there is a machine, made by humans, rolling around on the surface of another planet and sending back pictures and information. Not only that, but the machine is drilling into Martian rocks, cooking the extracts at 500°C and analysing the vapour.

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A composite selfie taken by the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars (source)

The machine bears the name of one of Churchill’s values: Curiosity. It is this desire to find things out that has driven us on to this incredible achievement. The project combines Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Geology, Design, Technology, Engineering, Computing, and Mathematics just in terms of the exploration programme. The interest in these subjects started for each of the people involved when they were at school. They have built their careers on applying what they have learned to this amazing project, demonstrating creativity and ingenuity at every turn. When I look at the “selfies” taken by the rover on the surface of Mars, or I see the hole in the Martian surface left by its drill, I am staggered at what we can achieve.

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Artist’s impression of the Mars 2020 Rover on the surface (source)

There are two more missions to Mars planned in the near future: NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars programme. What other secrets will they discover about the mysterious Red Planet? These missions are laying the ground work for a manned mission. Perhaps the generation of students currently at school will be the generation that first walks on the surface of another planet in our solar system. I hope they do – and it will be curiosity that takes them there.

 

Child Soldiers, by Ailís Phillips (7WKH)

This is a student contribution to the Headteacher’s Blog by Ailís Phillips, 7WKH, with the theme of kindness. If you are a student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and you want to contribute to the Headteacher’s Blog, visit the Contributions page.

You probably think that war is terrible, but that it is something done by adults in far away countries and has nothing to do with children, like us.

Well I thought so too until I read a news article about child soldiers. You might think this was a one-off; just a particularly awful story. I investigated a little bit further and discovered it wasn’t as rare as I first thought.

Myths and statistics

The name ‘child soldiers’ is not exactly accurate as, though many do fight, some are used as messengers, porters, cooks, spies or for sexual purposes. There are many other myths surrounding ‘child soldiers’ such.

  • Myth: child soldiers are only used in Africa.
  • Reality: the UN estimated in 2016 that there were 20 conflict zones around the world that involved children
  • Myth: that all child soldiers are boys
  • Reality: 30-40% of child soldiers are girls
  • Myth: that children are all are forced to be child soldiers
  • Reality: although many are (especially by ISIS), some are lured by promises of education and/or money.

Not only is being a child soldier a terrible experience when it happens, but it will affect the children for the rest of their lives. Many will not be accepted back into their communities,  particularly in cases where a girl has had a baby with a soldier.

 

What can you do?

Although there isn’t much we can do to help directly, we can raise money and fund-raise or donate money to charities campaigning to end the problem of using children as soldiers, and to support ex-child soldiers. Two great charities working in this area are Child Soldiers International  and Warchild – as both help those affected.

I reached out to these charities by raising awareness of the problem, and now I invite you to do the same, to help other children who have never had the chance at life you had. Help them live the life that is being taken away from them and support others that do.

How believing in others helps them to believe in themselves

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“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t…you’re right.”

Those words, spoken by Henry Ford, the American business magnate and founder of the Ford motor company, perfectly capture the importance of self-belief in achieving success. His statement underpins a lot of what I know to be true from my long experience in education. What interests me, as a teacher, a leader and also as a parent, is how to help children and young people who think that they can’t, believe that they can.

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One really interesting study into this area was carried out in 2014 by David Yeager, Geoffrey Cohen and colleagues. They studied a group of high school students in America, who all completed the same essay task. Teachers provided written feedback on the essays in the margins and at the end, with suggestions for improvement. The researchers intercepted the essays and added a post-it note to each one. Half of the essays had a post-it note which read: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” The other half had identical post-it notes with the message: “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your work.” Neither the students nor their teachers knew that there were different messages on the post-it notes, as the essays were handed back in wallet folders.

The first post-it contains an important message about high expectations, positive regard, and the belief in improvement. The second is a carefully-worded neutral message designed to act as a “placebo” or “control” in the experiment – in other words, it should have no impact on the motivation of the students.

All students in this study were given the opportunity to revise their essays and hand in an improved version the following week. About 40% of students who had received the “placebo” feedback did so, but double that number – 80% – of the students who had received the positive regard feedback chose to revise their work.

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What this study – and others like it – demonstrate, is that showing others that we believe in them makes them more likely to believe in themselves. Twice as many students took time to improve their work and make more progress when they were told that someone believed in their potential. I believe in the potential of every single student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form to achieve great things. Telling the students that, and showing them that belief in our actions, is the most powerful thing that we grown-ups can do.

The class of 2018

The last day of Term 5 is always an emotional one! Year 11 reach the end of their time in main school, whilst Year 13 reach the end of their time at Churchill altogether. We celebrated these milestones with our students today.

The day began for Year 11 with an English Literature GCSE exam, during which time we celebrated with Year 13. This year group have been wonderful ambassadors for the Academy, who have really made their mark on Churchill. We will remember them fondly as they head off to the next stage of their adventures, and look forward to hearing all about them!

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Year 13 Class of 2018

Once Year 11 had got the exam out of the way, it was time for them to celebrate. The students had a well deserved break before the final dance practice for the Ball.

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The final ballroom practice…next time it’ll be in all their finery!

After lunch there was the usual festival of shirt signing and photo-taking, with lots of happiness and just a few tears.

Year Group OK Permissions

Year 11 Class of 2018

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Hanover House Class of 2018

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Stuart House Class of 2018

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Tudor House Class of 2018

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Windsor House Class of 2018

We saw the day out with the end of Year 11 assembly, looking back over the students’ time with us. 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.