Closing for coronavirus

 

coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis moved so quickly, there was barely time to take stock. We were, of course, aware of the virus spreading across the world. We were aware that this would reach us, at some point. But we carried on. School felt quiet, an oasis of calm normality away from the screaming news headlines and the parade of opinions on social media.

We prepared, of course. At Churchill we had a comprehensive Critical Incident Plan in case of disaster. We always talked about it as the plan we would use if a jumbo jet crashed on the school field. As it happened, the disaster was not a massive bolt from above, but a microscopic, invisible invader, creeping unseen between us. But the plan worked just the same.

On Monday 9th March, senior staff developed the first closure plans. The computer network team drew up a set of procedures to enable remote learning to take place at an unprecedented scale. We implemented enhanced cleaning processes while we were still open. The administration teams began to plan to make sure that all the usual functions of the school could continue from afar: phone forwarding, video conferencing, “grab bags” of key paperwork. By Thursday 12th March, all staff were briefed about what would happen if we were to close. And on Thursday 12th March, it was still an “if.”

By Sunday night, it was clear that things were moving very quickly indeed. On Monday, I met with all staff and gave an assembly to every student in school, a year group at a time. There was a risk, of course, gathering them all together in the hall like this. My judgment was that having them in an assembly did not bring them into any closer contact than in their classrooms, or at break or lunchtime, and that they needed to hear the same clear and consistent message.

On Tuesday, 327 students were absent. I declared a critical incident and implemented the carefully prepared plan. Year 12 lessons were suspended from Wednesday, as we began to run short of staff to keep the school fully open. We put in place plans to open our Student Services provision to care for the children of key workers, and to distribute Free School Meals in the event of closure.

IMG_2850

My scribbled notes from the Secretary of State’s ministerial statement on Wednesday 18th March

When the Secretary of State made his statement to Parliament on the evening of Wednesday 18th March, I knew that he was going to announce school closures. But it was clear that this was no temporary measure: “until further notice” was an indication that this was going to be a lengthy closure. The cancellation of all exams was confirmation that this was serious. I stood in my kitchen, watching BBC Parliament on my iPad, and I wept. I cried for all the students who had worked so hard for exams which would not take place; I cried for the staff who care so much about the children, and the school; and I cried for the community that would be so difficult to maintain remotely.

Difficult, but not impossible.

And so I pulled myself together, and I got on with it. Year 11 and Year 13 were my first priority: these students had had the rug pulled from under them and were suddenly, quite unexpectedly, facing their last days at school. We had to give them the “last day” that they deserved. We had to get Student Services up and running. We had to organise free school meals. We had to prepare remote learning for the rest of the school and get everything locked down…in two days.

IMG_7274IMG_7194

Looking back now, after a week of closure and five days of lockdown, that last week of school seems almost like a dream. Year 13 and Year 11 got their last days. We got Student Services up and running, we organised free school meals and remote learning and check-in phone calls and a hundred and one other things. Throughout it all, the students and staff were amazing. They supported one another with selflessness and positivity, even the most trying of times. Their kindness and determination shone through.

After Year 11 had gone on Friday, I gathered the things that I would need. I walked the school for one last time: every block, deserted, empty, silent. It brought home to me that the school isn’t the buildings, the classrooms, the whiteboards and the playing fields. It’s the people. The students and their teachers, the support staff, cleaners, site team and technicians. They are the school.

So now I am Headteacher of a different sort of Academy: one with teachers and students spread across the region, isolated in their homes. But in that isolation we are all connected by a sense of belonging that has been strengthened, not damaged, by the challenges of the coronavirus closure.

squarecrop

Lowering the Academy flag on Friday 20th March 2020

I have been overwhelmed by the support of our Academy community – parents, families, friends, staff, students, governors and beyond – during this crisis. I want to thank each and every one of you for all you have done, and continue to do, to support the vision and values of the Academy. There is a long way to go, and much for us still to do. But I know that we can get there, together – and I look forward to the day when I raise the Academy flag again.

A fifth house for Churchill

IMG_1520

The original logo of Churchill County Secondary School, as presented to the first Head Boy in 1957

Churchill has had four houses since its foundation in 1956. The very first school badge features the symbols of Windsor, Hanover, Stuart and Tudor on four quarters of a shield. The house structure works well splitting the Academy into smaller units, to make a big school feel smaller. Vertical tutoring is one of the unique features of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, with students from Years 7-11 in the same tutor groups. This provides continuity of pastoral care and guidance, and encourages peer support across year groups.

When the school was first started, however, it only had 402 students on roll: around 100 students per house. Our school overall now has nearly 1600 students, with over 1300 in Years 7-11. Over the past four years, more than 150 additional students have joined our popular Academy. This means that the size of the houses has grown, with over 330 students currently in each one. We recognise that our students need and deserve a lower staff-to-student ratio, so that they can get the time and attention they all deserve. We are therefore introducing a fifth house to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form from September 2020.

Introducing Lancaster House

CASF_Logo_Main

Our new Academy logo, to be rolled out in September 2020

The introduction of a fifth house will reduce the size of each house to a maximum of 270 students. At the same time, we will be adding four additional tutor groups to the house system. This will reduce the size of all main school tutor groups to 23 or fewer, and ensure that all students benefit from their tutor’s care and guidance whilst looking after our staff and making their jobs more manageable.

CASF_Stamp_MainKeeping with the tradition of naming our houses after the houses of the British royal family, the new house will be called Lancaster House, after the royal house of Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. The new house will have the colour purple, which will be incorporated into our new pentagonal logo from September. 

There is a lot of work for us to do between now and September, when Lancaster House will officially begin. We will be re-organising students and staff across the Academy into the new five-house structure. You can read my letter about the practical arrangements on the Academy website.

Although there will inevitably be some disruption as the changeover takes place, we are confident that the benefits will be well worth it. Every student will benefit from a lower student-to-tutor and student-to-Head-of-House ratio. We are also going to ensure that students in our Sixth Form retain their house identity, so that they can provide additional support to the main school houses and retain that sense of belonging to something bigger that the house structure provides.

This is an exciting time for all of us at Churchill, as we add to our existing structure to make sure that all our students have the best possible experience at school. We look forward to welcoming our Lancaster House students in September 2020!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd 27th Feb  2020,What a show! Audiences last week were treated to spectacular performances of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s not every school that could manage a production this complex, this musically and theatrically challenging, this dark…but Churchill’s students didn’t just manage it, they pulled it off in style. Sondheim’s complex score was performed note-perfectly by the pit orchestra. On stage, the singers delivered the overlapping, rapid-fire songs with such confidence and gusto that the audience were carried along with the story, the characters and the experience of grimy, backstreet Victorian London, brought to life by the wonderful sets, costumes and production design.

Sweeney Todd 27th Feb  2020,

But, my goodness it was dark! Sweeney Todd is exiled for a crime he didn’t commit so an evil judge could get his hands on Todd’s daughter. The judge has Todd’s daughter committed to a lunatic asylum rather than allow her to see another man. Todd, returning, sets up a barber shop with the sole intention of using it as a trap to murder his enemies. Pie-shop-owner Mrs Lovett, allowing Todd to think his wife has died, uses the bodies of Todd’s victims as the filling for her gruesome produce, selling them to enthusiastic and unsuspecting customers. It sounds horrendous, but the show trod that delicate line between horror and humour perfectly, so that the audience were entertained throughout, even as the body-count mounted.

Sweeney Todd 27th Feb  2020,

The performances were professional-standard, from the lead actors to each member of the chorus. The show was double-cast, meaning that each audience got to see different combinations of actors in the lead roles. When I saw it, on the Friday night, Brett Kelly was a brilliant Sweeney. On stage for almost the entire duration of the show, his performance maintained intensity and drive from the first moment to the last. He was matched by Kornelia Harasimiuk’s Mrs Lovett, whose knockabout comedy was a horrific mask for her selfish plotting. The young lovers, Johanna (Evie Tallon) and Anthony (Bobby Rawlins) were both compelling. I must make special mention of Will Truckle’s gloriously over-the-top Pirelli, whose Italian accent was trumped by his excellent Irish; and Jessica Bailey as The Beggar Woman was a compelling presence on stage, causing gasps of realisation from the audience as her true identity was revealed.

Sweeney Todd 27th Feb  2020,

The supporting cast were also note-perfect. The villainous Judge Turpin (Bede Burston) and his sidekick The Beadle (Charlie Tyler) were so evil, they made the audience sympathise with the murderer-and-cannibal duo of Todd and Lovett! But the image that will stay with me is that of the young Tobias, a role shared between eight young actors across the performances. In a world of twisted morality and selfishness, Tobias’s final scene was chilling indeed.

Sweeney Todd 27th Feb  2020,What came across to me was the tremendous team effort that goes to make a production. Sound, lighting, costume, props, stage management, choreography, musicians, staff, students, parents, families…everyone contributed to the success of the show. I know how hard everyone has worked, and the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. Well – it was worth it. Hearty congratulations to everyone involved – it was a spectacular show.