What’s happening inside the Stuart House block?

As students returned this September, they have had their French and Spanish lessons in some very unusual locations across the Academy, including Art rooms and Science labs. Why? Well, because the languages classrooms don’t currently have any walls…

Inside the Languages Well area, last week

We have become accustomed to new, modern facilities at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. The Alan Turing Building for Business, Computing and Social Sciences, the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology, refurbished classrooms in English and Maths, and our new reception and administration area have transformed the learning environment. But over to the side of the Academy site, the Stuart House block remained untouched.

This aerial shot from 1970 shows the Stuart House block in the foreground

The building was added when Churchill converted to a comprehensive school in the late 1960s. Since that time, its flat roof has been replaced and the internal structure has slowly been developed – but, compared to the bright and modern facilities elsewhere, the classrooms were looking tired. They were too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. The walls were thin and not particularly soundproof – not helpful when trying to teach languages! – and the electrics needed work. The building itself was sound, but the interior was in dire need of attention.

As a result we put together a bid for funding from the government’s Condition Improvement Fund. The plan was to leave the shell of the building intact, but to hollow it out inside and rebuild brand new, modern classrooms inside the existing structure. We submitted the bid late last year, expecting to hear back in April 2020. But then, coronavirus struck, and the decisions were delayed and then delayed again. But then, finally, at the end of June we got the news – we had got the funding!

The work will progress in phases, so that we are able to manage the project within our existing facilities. We have started with the languages end as phase one. When that is completed, we will move on to the middle of the building, before finally completing the Humanities end next year.

The Languages Department clear-out, summer 2020

Over the summer the Languages team cleared out their department. It was a de-clutter to end all de-clutters! And once everything was clear, the demolition teams could move in.

The classroom walls came down in less than a week, leaving the empty shell behind. We are now ready for the construction teams to move in, and create the new rooms our students and staff deserve. The LPod has also gone, and will not return: in its place will be two new, separate classrooms for the Humanities department. All the rooms will be built to the latest specification, with special attention paid to sound proofing, climate control and energy efficiency.

The work has also coincided with the launch of Lancaster House, and we are therefore dividing the block into two halves. The languages end, currently being developed, will be reinstated as Lancaster House area with tutor rooms and a social area. Meanwhile the Humanities end, in phase three of the project, will be home to Stuart House – again with brand new tutor rooms and a social area.

The transformation of our learning environment continues. And so, whilst the languages teachers and Lancaster House tutors are currently displaced, they know that it’s only temporary. It’s exciting to see French being taught in an Art room – but it will be more exciting still when it returns home to brand new, state-of-the-art facilities in the coming months. Magnifique!

Putting the plan into action

It’s nearly the end of the first full week with students back at Churchill. It has been simply brilliant to see the Academy full of students again! It has been great to finally put all that careful, meticulous planning into action.

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form now has over 1600 students on the registers. They have been amazing. They have been calm, attentive, and they have worked with us as we have all adapted to the new systems and arrangements. The have shown all the kindness, curiosity and determination we would expect of them – and more. The smiles and laughter I have seen and heard are enough to melt the hardest of hearts!

Year 7 under the new canopy on their first day back

Of course, these are challenging times. This week, we had to respond to a positive test for COVID-19 within our Academy community. It’s the last thing that any of us wanted to happen, but the fact is this virus could infect any one of us at any time. And we had prepared for just this eventuality. Over the summer, I had been on an excellent training and briefing session with the South West Health Protection Team. I had distributed this training to all the senior leaders in school. We had a clear process and protocol to follow. So, when the test was confirmed, we put the plan into action.

We received first-rate support from the Health Protection Team, from North Somerset’s Director of Public Health and his team, and from Public Health England. They worked in partnership with us to establish the contacts of the case, and to implement a plan for those contacts to self-isolate. Whilst it was certainly a difficult situation, it was made easier by this partnership.

Our students, and their families, have been simply fantastic. There is a real recognition that these are uncharted waters, and that we are doing our very best to navigate them. Of course, we are still adapting. Any plan, no matter how meticulous, will need review when it meets the reality of 1600 young people. We are continuing that process daily.

One thing that we have all noticed is how tired we are! The rhythms of remote learning, followed by the long summer break, are very different from the physical reality of a five-lesson day in the classroom. We need our students – and our staff! – to look after themselves. Good sleep routines, hydration, nutrition…and clean hands. Always.

Thank you to everyone in the Academy community for the support you have shown during this first full week. We really appreciate it.

Raising the flag

Raising the new flag: Wednesday 2nd September 2020

On Friday March 20th, after the last students had gone home, I lowered the Academy flag. It was one of the most poignant moments in my career. At the time, I wrote:

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.

from Closing for Coronavirus, 29th March 2020

I have been in school often in the five-and-a-half months since that day. Even with Frontline provision in place, and with Exam Support operating from June, the majority of the school remained vacant and empty.

This week, it has come alive again.

First, the staff: positive, excited, and ready. We had planned for so long, so carefully, that we couldn’t wait to get started. Every department was opened up again, classrooms prepared, precautions in place.

Then, the students: our wonderful Year 7s, keen and eager to get started. Our Sixth Formers, Year 12 and 13, bringing all the buzz and energy of their ambition back to the Academy. And today, our Year 11 – prepared by their experience in Exam Support, taking the new arrangements in their stride. Tomorrow – the rest of the school returns.

Walking the corridors of the Academy today to see classrooms filled with young people brought a lump to my throat. I have been so caught up in hand sanitiser dispensers, face covering policies, catering provision and transport organisation that I had not prepared myself adequately for the joy of real human interactions with our students.

“How are you, sir?” asked one Year 13 student today.

I had to take a deep breath before responding.

“I’m fine. So glad to see you all. So glad to be back.”

At break time on Wednesday, I raised our new, five-house Academy flag to the top of the flagpole. As I was leaving school this afternoon, the wind caught it and it flew out, full and strong – as if it was coming to life.