Strategic Priorities for Churchill

When I took up post as Headteacher, the Governors gave me 100 days to look at, listen to and learn about the Academy in order to plan the next steps. As part of that process I met students, staff, Governors, families, and representatives from the local community. I summarised all this in my post What Have I Learned? at the end of March.

Since then I have been working hard with my colleagues to plan for the future of the Academy. We already have an outstanding Ofsted report, a track record of success, skilful and dedicated staff, and hardworking and motivated students. What next?

The answer was to get down to the basics of what we need to do to ensure that the Churchill formula is sustainable, and that being a truly great school runs deep into every aspect of our practice. So, first of all, what is it all for?

The Aims of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

The aims of the Academy are laid out by the Governors, and they are linked to our four core values. They are:

  • Care: To provide outstanding care to safeguard all members of the Academy and secure their well-being
  • Inspire: To provide outstanding teaching and opportunities for development for all members of the Academy
  • Challenge: To set ambitious goals for achievement, progress and behaviour for all members of the Academy
  • Achieve: To secure outstanding academic results and celebrate the wider achievements of all members of the Academy

Everything we do at the Academy is dedicated to achieving those aims. Underneath them, I wanted to put some detail into the priorities we now have as we move beyond our Outstanding status to become a truly great school.

The Priorities of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

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The Strategic Priorities for the Academy

Each of these four priorities will govern our planning over the coming years. Achieving these priorities will unlock the potential of students at the Academy to achieve the very best outcomes from their learning. You can find the details of the plan in our Strategic Priorities document, and I have summarised the key points below.

Care: to promote the welfare of students and staff

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Care

This priority is fundamental to the success of learning at Churchill. Students are only prepared to take risks with their learning and push themselves forward if they feel safe, secure and cared for. Staff who are similarly cared for, nurtured and given the opportunities to grow will continue to give of their best, day in, day out.

Within the priority of Care, we aim to provide access to personalised pathways through the curriculum, and access to appropriate support, whilst promoting welfare. This means building on the strong foundation of the House system to provide first-rate pastoral care, and combining that with access to tailored academic support. It also means ensuring that the Academy continues to feel like a family, with a sense of belonging and enjoyment which comes from celebrating success in all its forms. Above all, it means remembering that every member of the Academy, student or staff, is an individual, and that we must, in the words of Daniel Pink, “treat people as people” in everything we do.

Read more about Care in our Strategic Priorities document.

Inspire: to develop the very best practice in teaching, learning and leadership

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Inspire

Teaching and learning is our core business. We already have exceptional practice across the Academy, so my priority is to ensure that exceptional becomes the norm. This involves learning from others, sharing our own best practice, and developing a culture of innovation in teaching and learning. Above all, though, it means empowering students to lead their own learning. Our teachers will always teach well, but only the students themselves can learn. Ensuring that they understand how to learn effectively, that they have a hunger for learning, and that they take responsibility for their own progress and development, is vital.

Read more about Inspire in our Strategic Priorities document.

Challenge: to develop a growth mindset across the Academy, so that learners embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to success

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Challenge

“Learners” in this priority refers equally to students and staff, and the growth mindset approach means that we all share a belief that intelligence and ability are not fixed, but can grow and develop with effort, practice and determination. I have outlined growth mindset ideas on this blog before, in How to grow your brainYou can learn anything, and The power of praise (amongst others!). What it means in practice is that learners focus on the process of learning, over and above the final product. They see each lesson, each task, each event, as an opportunity to learn, and continue to seek challenges to help them grow. You can hear and see some of the research behind growth mindset, and the implications for schools, in the video below:

Committing to this approach will ensure that attending Churchill Academy will embed positive learning behaviours for life. It won’t be easy – but that’s why we hold “Challenge” as one of our core values!

Read more about Challenge in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieve: to set consistently high expectations so that all learners achieve exceptional personal and academic outcomes.

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Achieve

This priority came out of the discussion: what is school for? Is it just about exam results? Or is it about more than that? I felt very strongly from my discussions with staff, students, families and governors that Churchill’s strength lies in the balance it strikes between academic outcomes – exam results – and the broader personal outcomes that ensure our students become good citizens with character, resilience and a set of skills valued by employers.

Academically, our aim is simple: year on year we want students at Churchill to do better here than they would have done in any other school. We want them to make more progress and achieve more than similar students do elsewhere. When families choose to send their children to Churchill I want them to know they are getting the best possible chance of success.

More broadly, it is about balancing that academic success with opportunities in the performing arts, sports, outdoor education, student leadership, community activities, volunteering and participation  which will broaden and deepen students’ skills, understanding of citizenship, and sense of belonging. Within all these activities, curricular and extra-curricular, we expect consistently excellent attitudes and behaviour for learning, to embed those approaches in everything we do.

Read more about Achieve in our Strategic Priorities document.

Sustainability: the Academy will ensure sustainability in achieving these priorities.

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Sustainability – investing in the future

These are challenging times for all public services. Demands on our limited resources continue to increase. Our final priority is based on prudent and effective deployment of those resources so they have the maximum impact on learning, reducing waste, and ensuring that whatever we do is sustainable over the longer term. It means valuing the work/life balance of our staff and ensuring that they have the time, energy, expertise and resources they need to do the best job they possibly can. It means exploring collaborations with other schools to share resources where we can. It means redeveloping our site, buildings and grounds so that they are environmentally friendly, efficient, and fit for 21st century learning. And it means building an approach which is not a flash-in-the-pan but which can be sustained over the years to come.

Read more about Sustainability in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieving our priorities

These priorities are the aspirations of our Academy over the years to come. We are already planning what we are going to do to change, develop and improve our work to move ourselves towards achieving them. It’s an exciting time! We can’t wait to get started…

What happens on an Inset Day?

Inset stands for “in-service training”, and all schools have had five inset days each year since they were introduced in 1988. Schools close to students on inset days, but staff attend. Sometimes they can seem a bit mysterious to families and to students, so I thought in my blog this week I’d try to explain what actually happens on these days when the students are away!

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Inset days are designed to provide compulsory training time for teaching staff so that we can continue to improve our practice, keep up to date with changes in education, and ensure that we have appropriate training to deal with the challenges of our job. Here at Churchill, we often involve our support staff in training too, so that all staff have the knowledge and skills they need to do their job to the best of their ability. We supplement our inset days with on-the-job training and provide a range of opportunities throughout the year for all staff to learn, develop and improve, but the inset days give us a real opportunity to get everyone together and spend an extended period of time working on priority issues for the Academy.

Let’s take this coming Monday (27th June) for example. There are five different strands of training happening on the day.

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Whole staff briefing: Strategic Planning

As a new Headteacher I’ve been busy working on the long-term plan for Churchill following the outstanding Ofsted achieved last summer. I’ll be sharing the plan on this blog towards the end of term, but I’ll start the day by briefing staff about our priorities and how we can all work together to achieve them first thing in the morning.

Safeguarding Training

All staff have to be trained to keep children safe in education – it’s the most fundamentally important part of our job. Because it’s so important, we “refresh” this training at least every two years to ensure that all our staff have the latest guidelines and procedures clearly in mind, and know exactly what to do if there are any concerns about children’s safety. This “refresher” training will be taking place for staff who are due to have this additional training.

Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) Training

Prevent Strategy

Prevent is the Government’s strategy to counteract the threat of extremism in our society. As a school we have a duty to uphold and enact the Prevent strategy and ensure that all staff are aware of what to look out for and what to do to ensure that we respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it, and to prevent people from being drawn into extremism and terrorism. All staff are required to undertake training in these aspects of the Prevent strategy and we will be providing opportunities on our inset day for this to happen at Churchill.

Pastoral development

Staff will meet in their House teams on this inset day to review and plan the work that needs to be done over the rest of this term, and in preparation for September. This includes planning the Celebration of Success events, ensuring that everything is in place to provide a smooth transition for our new Year 7 students and their families, to look at mentoring for students within the Houses, and to take time to work on particular priorities within each House. At the same time, the Sixth Form pastoral team will be meeting to plan the specialist tutor programme for next year, and ensure that the best opportunities are in place for our new Sixth Form cohort starting in September.

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) Training

We are extending our provision of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in Year 12 next year, so we are using our inset day to work in partnership with Backwell School to make sure that all staff involved in delivering the EPQ are properly trained by the exam board. We’re really looking forward to the opportunities that EPQ will give our Sixth Formers and we want to make sure we get it right!

Transition Drama Day

At the same time as all this training, our performing arts students and staff will be working hard with our new Year 7 intake on the famous “drama day” ahead of the transition day on Tuesday. There will be lots of fun, learning and confidence building going on! Watch the website for a full report…

Phew!

As you can see, it’s going to be a busy day! It’s a great opportunity to make sure that all our staff have the best and most up-to-date training to care for and deliver the best possible education to the students at the Academy. And, for our staff at least, it’s definitely not a day off!

Practice makes perfect

I love a good trick shot, and these trick shots captured by five-year-old Riley Dashwoood are very cool. The over-the-shoulder-DVD-into-the-tray is particularly impressive! What I love about the video description, however, is that it outlines how the shots were achieved. “Trick shot kid = persistence,” it says, followed by the attempts: 

How to get a trick shot (source)

When edited together into a cute 30 second montage, the trick shots look amazing! But below the line, we see that it took a long long time to get that montage together. Throwing a toothbrush over your shoulder 136 times? No wonder she looks happy when it finally goes in! 

Needless to say, Riley has spawned many imitators. This week I enjoyed this viral video as it popped up on my Twitter feed. Niall Brady was attempting to do a trick shot where he throws a spoon over his shoulder into a mug on the kitchen side. He made one attempt every day. It took him nearly a year:

There was certainly a big grin on my face as Niall enjoyed his moment of triumph, but I couldn’t help wondering – how many attempts would it take him to do it again? And how much practice would it take until he could do it consistently, time after time, almost without fail?

The fact is, if we want to get really good at something it’s not useful just to do it over and over again. Simple repetition does not necessarily help us to become experts. Take a tennis serve, a golf swing, or musical scales: if you’re using bad technique, practising them over and over again will only embed the bad habits and make them harder to break. What matters is the focus of that practice – the focus on developing the technique, on improving it, on making it better and better each time; the focus on what is called “high leverage practice” which makes an impact on performance. 

There are some great examples of this in sport. Take David Beckham, practising free kicks again and again on the training ground so he can deliver when it counts on the pitch: 

Although, watching that back, it’s amazing how many free kicks England got in that game – and how many he missed! 

Alternatively, take this incredible catch in the NFL in America from another Beckham – Odell Beckham Jr: 

The commentator says “you have to be kidding me! That is impossible. That is impossible.” And it does seem superhuman – until you realise that Odell Beckham Jr., like his English namesake, spends hours on the training pitch perfecting exactly that kind of catch, so he can do it seemingly with ease when it counts on the pitch. 

What we see here it that it isn’t about a one-off fluke, but careful deliberate practice which enables talent to shine when the moment arises. If you asked Niall Brady to throw a spoon over his shoulder into a cup on demand, he’d probably fail. Throw an American football at Odell Beckham Jr., however, and he’d probably catch it, even with one hand tied behind his back. 

The same principle is applied to the inspiring GiveIt100 site, which invites people to share a short video every day as they practice a new skill for 100 days. There are some great examples on the site, including this one of a guitarist: 

My final “practice makes perfect” video shows Jonny Wilkinson practising “stress kicks” in the south of France. “It’s very important,” Jonny says, “to make it more difficult…in training than it ever could be in a game.” That way, he’s ready in stressful situations, in the heat of the moment, to deliver crucial kicks – because he’s trained for it. 

We can apply the same principle to all of our learning. If we’re going to get really good at things, it’s not enough just to turn up to school every day and sit in the classroom, going through the motions, coasting along. That’s the equivalent of throwing a spoon over your shoulder every day for a year. You might get lucky once or twice, but you haven’t really mastered anything. But if you apply yourself every day, focus your practice, push and challenge yourself to do better…when the whistle blows for the big game, you’ll be ready. 

Happy practising!
In case you were wondering: