Music at Churchill

Over the past week I have had the pleasure of two wonderful musical experiences at Churchill. On Thursday night, I watched the culmination of the annual composition project. Our students worked alongside musicians from Worle School to write for a professional string quartet, under mentorship from composer-in-residence Sadie Harrison. Thursday’s recital saw their work performed by the Asana String Quartet, and it was a wonderful showcase of their creativity and skill. The pieces were by turns witty, melodramatic, spiky, smooth, and inventive. I was amazed!

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Last week I was at our Christmas Concerts at St Paul’s Church in Weston-super-Mare. This was a new venue for us, but we had a wonderful time there being entertained by all manner of music and musicians. See the Academy website for my full review!

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The Junior Choir rehearsing at St Paul’s ahead of the Christmas Concert

We are so fortunate to have a thriving music and performing arts department at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. In schools up and down the country, this part of the curriculum has been cut back and reduced. We are not one of those schools! At Churchill we have four music teachers and a team of instrumental teachers keeping music well and truly alive in the school! In the Christmas Concert Programme, the music team wrote about a year in the life of the Music Department throughout 2019. This shows you how much the musical life of the Academy has to offer!

A look back at the Music Department in 2019

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The 12th annual Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Monday 28th January at St John’s Church, Churchill. This fabulous event is held in partnership with Churchill Music. The audience was treated to a varied programme by eight of the Academy’s most promising musicians, with pieces from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century from composers including Handel, Chopin. Telemann, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Kapustin. The distinguished judging panel, chaired by Susanna Stranders from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, had the difficult task of selecting the winners. More important, however, was the specific feedback the panel provided to the performers, to help them improve and develop their stage presence, engagement with the audience, and musicality.

After much deliberation – during which the audience were treated to a performance by the Academy’s Chamber Choir – the Young Musician of the Year prize was awarded to pianist Jordan Walters. Jordan, who joined Churchill in Year 12 from Priory School, played two contrasting pieces by Chopin, holding the audience spellbound with his musicality and technical prowess.

The Ursual Dornton Vocal Prize – a new award, sponsored by the Trinity Singers in memory of the much missed Churchill Music trustee – was awarded to George Derry, who also won the audience prize which was voted for on the evening. His spirited rendition of “My Name is John Wellington Wells” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer brought the house down!

The Raymond Hayter Song Prize was won by Naomi Blowers, whilst the Churchill Music Junior Trophy was awarded to Ella Hutchinson for her performance on the cello.  The other competitors – Molly Sprouting (voice), John Skeen (piano), Maisie Slingsby (flute), Molly Johnson (voice), and George Skeen (violin) – also received awards for their participation in the finals.

Following the performance, all the winning students were invited to play at the Young Artists Showcase at St Georges, Bristol.

In February, Youthful Spirit Gospel Choir gave a performance in the school hall for the charity CentrePoint. The choir also gave a performance in late March for the Friends of Axbridge Church and also supported the RNLI by giving a joint concert with Joyful Spirit Gospel Choir. Weston Hospice Care has been supported by both Chamber Choir and Youthful Spirit – Chamber Choir sang at a Charity garden party in June to help raise funds for Weston Hospice; Youthful Spirit were invited to sing at the Anniversary Service for Weston Hospice Care’s 30th year at Christ Church.

In March, members of the Music Department were fortunate to attend an open rehearsal with Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason before their recent concert for Churchill Music! Sheku played cello at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and his sister Isata is an accomplished pianist.

The visit of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) LEAP Ensemble in March was a real highlight of the Music Department’s year.  The LEAP Ensemble are all advanced students from the RBC and they wowed hundreds of people with their playing over the two days.  They worked with Year 12 and 13 A Level Music students on their compositions, impressed with their Monday evening concert at All Saints’ Church, Wrington and then entertained 300 primary school students. In January 2020, our Music Technology A level students are looking forward to visiting Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

In April, Churchill Academy GCSE students were involved in composition workshops with New Music South West; this is a venture that allows our young students to have their compositions performed by professional musicians. In addition, the workshop allows composition tutors to work with our students to experiment with different techniques and arrangement styles.

Congratulations to Chloe Phipps, Year 10, Peter Skeen, Year 9, Molly Johnson, Year12, Holly Stoneman, Year 11, Matthew Lucas, Year 8, Molly Axtell, Year 9 and Martha Withers, Year 9  who all performed and won their classes during May’s Weston Festival of Music & Drama. In addition, Chloe played in three classes on her clarinet and she won each one, with Honours, and then won the overall Senior Wind Player prize and was presented with a cup. Peter was awarded an Honours mark for his performance on the cello. Both of them played in the winner’s concert in Weston Methodist Church.

The Music Department held a 3 day Summer Music Festival in the sunshine in late June. Bands and duos from year 7 – 10 took to the stage to an appreciative audience who also enjoyed ice-creams!

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July saw the Gospel Choir head off on their annual tour to Austria. As always this was hugely successful and saw audiences in excess of 1000.

Many congratulations to Junior Young Musician of the Year (2018) Kimi Powell who has been awarded a Robert Lewin Scholarship from the AYM Young Musicians’ charity. He has also been awarded a place on the South West Music school’s Performance Development Programme. Kimi is an accomplished drummer and percussionist, preparing for his Grade 8 this year. We’re sure he has a bright (and loud!) musical future ahead of him.

In August, we were very proud teachers of our Year 13 Music Class who achieved 100% B Grades at A Level.

In September, we welcomed the newest member of staff to the Music Department – Miss Dalwood. Miss Dalwood is a multi-instrumentalist who has really made an impact on the department!

September also saw the start of the rehearsing for the Christmas Concert alongside the whole school musical production of Sweeney Todd, which saw around 100 students audition to be part of a cast of 50.

In November, Chamber Choir gave a very successful concert of their full repertoire at All Saints Church Weston Super Mare alongside the Trinity Singers.  This choir welcomes students, teachers and parents and really focusses on demanding sacred and secular vocal music.

All of our GCSE and A Level Music students were treated to a visit by the Lyra Trio comprising 3 Royal Academy students who gave stunning performances and then answered questions about “life as a conservatoire student”.

Our Year 10 GCSE students are currently working with the Asan String Quartet and professional composer Sadie Harrison alongside Yr 9, 10 & 11 Worle students on an annual composition project. We are very lucky to have Churchill Music! supporting the Music Department at Churchill financially for these projects and enabling our students to experience life as a musician outside a departmental setting.

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Churchill’s annual Junior Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Thursday 24th October. Congratulations to Rhiannon Allen-House, winner of the Music Maestro Junior Young Musician Competition was awarded the Colin Undery Trophy for 2019. Rhiannon alongside Oscar Vince and Aislinn Shipton are performing as part of the Christmas Concert.

This Christmas Concert is really our highlight of the year and we welcome full inclusion. The Year 7 and 8 choir Junior Choir is a great way for our younger students to enjoy the community of the Academy in a fun, sociable way. It is definitely a Churchill tradition.

Thanks to the Music Department 2019:

  • Alison Cooper-White – Leader of Learning
  • Paul Harrison
  • Jeff Spencer
  • Jessica Dalwood

Green Churchill

Schools are in the business of making the future. Our job as educators is to give young people the best possible knowledge, skills, confidence and character to go out and make the world better. And one of the biggest problems that needs to be solved if that better future is going to be a reality is the problem of climate change.

It isn’t like this problem has crept up on us. I remember using Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth to teach students about climate change (and documentary film-making) back in 2006 – before many of our current students were even born. Yet, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are causing climate change, the crisis has deepened since then. As a species, we are not doing enough to fix it.

Here at Churchill, we are determined to do what we can to put that right. We have made a start – but we also have a long way to go.

A Greener Site

This week the Churchill Green Team, working with volunteers from Extinction Rebellion, have been hard at work across the Academy planting 105 saplings donated by the Woodland Trust. Over the summer the new broadwalk path down the centre of the Academy site was planted up to develop a sustainable habitat. The Sixth Form have worked hard on developing green spaces around the Sixth Form centre. This vital work is just one part of what we have been doing to help make – and keep – Churchill Academy & Sixth Form “green.”

Solar Panels

As part of the site redevelopment, all of our new buildings (and many of the existing ones) have their roofs covered in solar panels. These panels have vastly increased our reliance on renewable energy. The energy generated from our own solar panels has accounted for between 22-35% of our electricity consumption over the last three months. We were also delighted to see that for several (small) periods over the summer, when the sun was at its most powerful and the energy usage was at its lowest, the site was running entirely self-sufficiently for energy.

Energy Efficiency

Internal works two years ago replaced all the Academy’s traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient LED lighting. These lights uses a fraction of the energy, last longer, and are better to see by. A win-win-win! The Sixth Form have also twice run a “no-power-hour” to see if they can switch off everything possible to get to zero power in the Sixth Form Centre!

Green Team Initiatives

The Green Team have also been busy. This student-led team pioneered reusable “green” coffee cups for Sixth Formers and staff to use at the Sixth Form coffee bar. They have also designed green spaces, including the newly-planted broadwalk down the middle of the school. There are plans to open up vegetable and herb gardens so each house can grown their own produce for use in Food Science and Nutrition, and to install a greenhouse!

Recycling and recyclables

All of our waste is currently processed for recycling, but we plan to make sorting waste more high-profile for our staff and students. We have moved to recycled materials for our take-away cutlery and packaging, and we are committed to reducing the amount of plastic in our catering and our school as a whole. Our caterers, Aspens, also use locally sourced ingredients to reduce food miles and our carbon footprint. The new benches we have ordered and installed at the front of the school and in the Sixth Form area are made from recycled plastic bottles, rather than wood.

Political pressure

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Climate activist Greta Thunberg has been an inspiration to many people around the world for her determined, straight-talking challenge to those in power to take immediate action on the climate crisis. My position on the “school strikes” movement is that education is vital to solving the climate crisis. Those who deny climate change have not been educated well enough to recognise the facts that science can demonstrate. Only through education can we therefore solve the climate crisis. Therefore, rather than going on strike, I have urged Churchill students to use their education, knowledge and skills to help save the planet for future generations.

As a result of just such a conversation, Ellie, Saffron, Ruby and Eve from Year 11 met with John Penrose MP when he came into school recently, to discuss the climate crisis and what could be done about it. Their passionate and eloquent speech certainly impressed our current Member of Parliament, although he was quick to point out the complexity of the global climate problem. There are no easy answers – but we have to do something, and each of us can play our part. The quality of our students’ arguments and ideas gave me hope that we can – and will – save the planet. And they made me think about what we can do at Churchill.

A carbon-neutral school?

One question I have been asking myself recently is “what would it take to become a carbon-neutral school?” Schools are energy-hungry places: we have lots of buildings, lots of people, lots of technology which all use power. We use a lot of paper every day – it’s our stock in trade. Many of our children travel to school on diesel-engined buses. We have a significant carbon footprint. How could we reduce and offset that footprint to minimise our impact? I don’t know all the answers yet. But over the course of this year, as we think about the future of our school intertwined with the future of our children, our society and our planet, I am determined to find some.

If you have any suggestions, or connections or ideas which may help us, please let us know in the comments below!

Students’ Voices

In our prospectus videos this year, we have deliberately focused on students’ voices.

Our main school video features seven of our students talking about their own experiences…before I pop up at the end!

In our Sixth Form prospectus video, eight of our Sixth Form students speak about the choices they have made and what they feel about Churchill Sixth Form. The music was composed and produced by the Sixth Form; they are responsible for the content.

These videos were reinforced on our Open Evenings. At both the Year 7 Open Evening in September, and the Sixth Form Open Evening this week, our students spoke to the visitors who were interested in finding out more about Churchill. They were our tour guides, our subject experts, our demonstrators and presenters. The Gospel Choir sang. And all of this is deliberate, because I know our students are proud of Churchill, that they are going to advocate for their school, and that they are our finest ambassadors. We hope our videos capture that; I know that visitors to the school who meet our students always comment on it.

Two new clubs have started this year, and student voice is at the forefront of both of them. This week Ruby and Kim from the Amnesty International Club prepared and shared a resource for tutors to help explain what Amnesty is all about, and to highlight a particular case of injustice that had moved them. Meanwhile, the Medusa Feminism Club has prepared a brand new display to highlight the importance of gender equality in school and society as a whole.

Throughout this week, students have been voting to nominate the Academy’s chosen charity for the year. All the charity suggestions were made by students, who researched and prepared cases for charities which meant something to them, including the MS Society, Phab Kids, Young Carers, Young Minds, Cancer Research UK and Mind.

I have personally been working closely with student representatives this year to help with our self-evaluation. This is the process where we assess what we are doing well, and what we could do better – the voice of students in this is essential, and working closely with a panel of students gives a really clear and honest “student’s eye” view of life at Churchill.

Every day, students’ voices make Churchill the school that it is. And, as I listened to the first rehearsal of the Junior Choir this week ahead of the Christmas Concerts, I was certain that there is no finer advertisement for what we do than the voices of the students themselves.

Kicking the mobile phone habit

I used to charge my phone on my bedside table. First thing in the morning I would reach for my phone, check Twitter, check Instagram, check my emails, read the news headlines, check the weather, see whether anything new had popped into Twitter whilst I’d been doing the other things….

Last thing at night, the same thing was happening. I’d go to bed, but it would sometimes be over an hour before I finally put my phone down to go to sleep. Instead I’d be scrolling, scrolling, through screen after screen of rubbish. Why?

I knew it was a bad habit. I’d read the reports that said you should avoid looking at screens two hours or more before going to bed, because the bright light suppresses the release of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. And, sure enough, I wasn’t sleeping well. But when I woke up in the night, I’d reach for my phone, kidding myself that it was just to check the time…but as my phone unlocked, I’d see a notification symbol and fall into the trap of “just checking” to see what had happened. And, before I knew it, I’d be back to scrolling in the dark, my face lit up by the eerie glow of the screen. I knew it was unhealthy, but my willpower wasn’t up to resisting the temptation.

I used to read books voraciously. I hadn’t read a proper book at bedtime for ages. I was tired all the time. Something had to change.

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My saviour – a no-frills alarm clock

At the end of the summer holidays, I bought myself a back-to-school present: a no-frills alarm clock. I’d been using my phone alarm for years: “I have to have my phone by the bed, because it wakes me up in the morning!” I’d been kidding myself. It was just an excuse. It had to stop.

Buying the alarm clock was a deliberate attempt to break my bad habits. The one I chose has the following features:

  • Orange display: orange and red lighting has the least impact on suppressing melatonin, so is the best choice for night light
  • Fade-able display: to reduce the brightness in the dark, which again encourages the release of melatonin
  • Battery backup: so I know I’ll get woken up even if there’s a powercut
  • No frills: so it won’t be a distraction

It cost about £15 on Amazon. I plugged it in next to my bed, and unplugged my phone charger, taking it downstairs. From August 31st, I was in a new habit. Before bed, I’d plug my phone in to charge downstairs, and then go up to read. No more pointless last-thing-at-night or first-thing scrolling; no more having my evenings disturbed by emails which can definitely wait until morning; more reading of actual books at bedtime; less screen-time; more sleep.

The change has been miraculous. I still use my phone – I rely on it for so many things! But I have completely kicked the habit of night-time and morning scrolling. I’ve slept better. The school hasn’t collapsed because I haven’t been checking my emails at two in the morning. I haven’t missed out on anything. And I have read so many books!

Our phones are useful tools, and make life easier in so many ways. But the temptation of the notification can be all-consuming, and they can be addictive. How many of us are kidding ourselves that we need our phones with us all the time? Do we really?

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At Churchill we have a simple rule: “my mobile phone will not be seen or heard in the Academy at any time.” One of the reasons for this rule is to encourage good habits in our students. They don’t need to have their phones glued to their hands at all times. They don’t need to reach for it “just to check the time” – the trap of the tempting notification awaits. They can focus on their learning without the distraction of the device. They can and should be interacting with their peers IRL, not through their screens. And although the impact of mobile phones and social media on mental health is controversial, ensuring that there is time away from the newsfeed, the photostream and the snapstreak encourages a healthy balance.

As adults, we need to model the good behaviours we expect in young people, and turn away from the screens and towards the people around us. We just need to take a positive step to break our bad habits, before it’s too late. 

Post script: since September I’ve read these books:

  • Cross Fire by Malorie Blackman
  • The Testaments by Margaret Attwood
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman
  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
  • The Travelling Bag by Susan Hill

They’ve all been brilliant!