Silly Walking on The One Show

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As many of you will have seen, last Friday I appeared on The One Show on BBC1 as part of a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and their legendary sketch, “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” What? How? Why? Let me explain…

How on earth did you end up on The One Show?

The idea came about from a discussion on a parents’ evening. I was on duty as usual, answering questions and helping with any issues, when a parent approached me. I was expecting a discussion of student progress, but no! This particular parent worked for a television production company in Bristol, and she’d had this idea…

The company (the brilliant Off The Fence) were making a segment for The One Show to mark the 50th anniversary of Monty Python. giphy In the original Silly Walks sketch, the comedy comes from John Cleese sounding and looking very serious in terms of dress and facial expression, whilst doing the silliest of silly walks. The idea was simple: take someone in a serious job, who dresses in suit and tie every day – for example, a Headteacher. Put them in a serious situation which normally requires serious behavior – for example, an assembly  – and get them to do a very silly walk. Film it, and film the reactions. What did I think?

Well, there’s no way you can say “no” to that kind of pitch, is there?

Filming at Churchill

There were a few preliminary meetings and phone calls, and the crew came in to scout the location in March – but the date of the filming was set for April 4th. The first idea was to do the whole thing as a hidden camera stunt, but we soon realised this wouldn’t work. If we wanted to film it properly, we would need multiple cameras and we would need to get permissions from everyone anyway. Instead, we told the Sixth Form that their assembly was being filmed for a BBC Factual Programme (which was the truth!). Many of them assumed it would be on a serious topic, and had no idea what to expect.

The assembly itself went pretty well. The theme was “breaking the mould” and I gave examples of how students should try and find their own individuality, originality and creativity rather than just following what everyone else has done. However, the message was somewhat lost when I started silly walking. Many of the sixth formers, I am sure, thought that I had lost it completely. Even when I explained, at the end, that this was all in aid of Monty Python, the vast majority of students gave me blank looks – I’m not sure the Pythons have the same cultural currency they once had…

I managed to keep a straight face throughout it all, although I did discover that silly walking provides quite a good cardio workout – I was quite out of breath!

Six Months Later

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Television Centre in London. The white tent on the right was where the equipment was set up to film my live silly walk!

In early September I was told that the broadcast date for the film was 4th October – six months to the day since the filming. I hadn’t seen any footage, although I was assured that it had turned out well. I put my trust in Off The Fence! Ellé, CJ and Euan were chosen by random ballot to come with me to the studio – as A-level Media students, this was a golden opportunity to see behind the scenes on a professional live TV show.

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Ellé, CJ and Euan with an actual Dalek inside Television Centre. There was a TARDIS too!

The people at the BBC are amazing. There’s a massive team behind The One Show, and they were absolutely lovely – so professional, so efficient, but really considerate to us all. When we arrived we could see right down into the newsroom which is the backdrop to all the BBC news programmes. It felt unreal.

One of the producers broke the news that they’d had the idea for me to do a silly walk behind Michelle Ackerley and Iain Stirling as they were doing the link into the film. Well, I thought, in for a penny…and next thing I knew I was wearing a bowler hat, rehearsing with a cameraman outside the studio window in front of several very confused onlookers!

There was just time for a quick coffee break before we were ushered into the studio itself for a briefing from the floor manager. The studio is quite small, with cameras, lights and screens everywhere. There must have been a crew of about twenty as well as the audience and presenters, but they all moved around each other like a perfectly oiled machine. It was amazing to watch. And then, before I knew it, I was silly walking, live on national television, outside The One Show studio window…

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It was all over in a flash. The guests were all so professional – James Morrison even held the door open for us on the way out! – and the producers let us sit on the famous sofas for a few pictures. As soon as we got outside, all four of us tried to keep track of our mentions and messages…there were a lot!

Reflecting on the experience, I think it tells me that you should take every opportunity you are given. Even if something sounds absolutely ridiculous, you never know where it might lead!

Thank you to Debbie, Amy and Roz at Off the Fence, Anya, Kirsty and the team at the BBC, and Ellé, CJ and Euan for being such good company. You can watch the episode on iPlayer until the end of October. Normal service will be resumed next week!

Open Evening 2019

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In my speech on Open Evening this year, I talked about confidence. I spoke about how we organise the transition from primary to secondary school so that Year 6 children build the confidence to start Year 7 smoothly. I spoke about how, when students leave us at the end of their education at Churchill, we aim to send them out to take their next steps confidently into their futures. And I spoke about how confidence is a vital ingredient for learning, as we confront something we don’t know how to do…yet. When talking about the Academy’s values, I said:

Those values of kindness, curiosity and determination enable our vision here at Churchill: that we set no limits on what we can achieve. Our intention is to unleash that unknown potential that sits within each and every one of our students. We set our systems up here to ensure that there is always a next step, always an extra challenge, always that encouragement to push yourself further, but we also take time to build confidence. Because often the biggest barrier to students’ achievement is not the grown-ups around them telling them they can’t, but that nagging voice inside their own mind which says “I can’t do it.” Or “I’ll never be as good as them.” Or “it’s too difficult.” Our whole ethos and approach here at Churchill is to equip students with the inner voice to talk back to themselves, so “I can’t do it” becomes “I can’t do it…yet.” “I’ll never be as good as them,” becomes “I’m going to learn how they do it so I can do it too.” And “it’s too hard” becomes “this is going to take time and effort, but I’m going to get there.”

This approach underpins our guiding purpose, to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference both whilst they are here at the Academy but, perhaps more importantly, after they leave us. An education at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form provides young people with the knowledge, skills, character and confidence to make that positive contribution, because if we do our job right, the world our children will build will be better than the one we live in now.

Open Evening itself allowed our students to demonstrate that confidence in spades. Luke, Ela, Saffron, Ionah and Charles stood up in front of a hall full of Year 5 and 6 children, and their parents, and told them in their own words what it is like to be a student at Churchill, whether for seven years or just three weeks. Our tour guides showed families around the site, answering questions and making sure everyone got to see the departments they wanted to. Our student helpers in the faculties gave brilliant demonstrations or led engaging activities for our visitors. The Gospel Choir gave a thrilling performance, filling the hall for a second time! It made me so proud to see the ethos and approach that I was describing in my speech demonstrated so clearly by the students themselves: they are a credit to the Academy.

On top of that, our staff were incredible. It’s a long day’s work on Open Evening, but the team effort was wonderful to see. Just like the students, our staff are proud to work at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and their commitment and dedication is second to none.

Next week we have our Open Mornings when we will showcase the Academy on a normal working day. We can’t wait! All the details are on the Academy website.

Activities Week 2019

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. The week gives our students the opportunity to develop their skills and experiences beyond the main curriculum. This year, we have highlighted the skills that students can develop in each activity:

  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Staying Positive
  • Aiming High
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

These are skills which form the foundation of success for all learners. We address them in our lessons and our extra-curricular programme, but Activities Week gives our students the chance to push themselves further in new contexts, and new experiences.

This year there have been five trips abroad – Iceland, Krakow, Belgium, Paris and the Gospel Choir Tour – alongside 61 activities in school and beyond. From Adventure Bristol, Beauty and Nails, and Climbing to Football, Film-making, and FIFA, Surfing, Skiiing and Strawberry Picking…we hope we’ve had something for everyone! At the same time, our Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award expeditions have taken place, and Year 10 have been learning about the world of work through their week-long work experience placements.

The commitment from staff to make this week a success is huge. Many of them put in long hours – for those on the residential trips, 24 hours a day! At the end of a long school year, this is a significant investment. Many students, and their families, have expressed their gratitude to the activity leaders, and I know this is appreciated. As a school, when we see what the students have gained from their experiences, we know it’s worth it.

Enjoy a small selection of photos from Activities Week 2019 below. They aren’t all in yet – more to follow on the website in due course!

 

 

The great outdoors

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Panoramic view from the summit of the sponsored walk 2019

Schools are rooted in their communities. This means that every school is unique. One of Churchill’s unique features is our situation on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty. Our rural location is so beautiful, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!

This past week has seen us do exactly that. Even though the weather has not been what we might have hoped for in summer (in fact, we are heading for one of the wettest Junes on record), Churchill students have been out on the Mendips in huge numbers.

 

Over the weekend, ninety one students successfully completed their expeditions as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. Teams of students spend two days navigating their way through the Somerset countryside, cooking for themselves and camping overnight. They were completely self-sufficient and independent, and were a huge credit to the Academy. I visited the overnight camp – in a farmer’s field – and the owner told me that Churchill students were the best she’s ever had camping there. Duke of Edinburgh is a tough challenge, but when I walked around the camp there was a huge sense of accomplishment mixed in with the exhaustion!

 

On Tuesday we had the annual sponsored walk and trek. Over 500 Year 7 and 8 students completed the sponsored walk – 16 kilometres including a mid-point climb to the trig point near Crook Peak. I had the pleasure of walking the walk this year, accompanying the Year 7 Tudor boys. They were great company, and showed plenty of determination, kindness and curiosity over the day. The views from the top were well worth the effort!

At the same time, Year 9 and 10 students were visiting checkpoints on the sponsored trek. This is a more independent challenge, with a “treasure hunt” across the Mendips to see which small team could navigate their way to the most checkpoints whilst working together collaboratively. This year, the “Legends of Trek” awards went to Year 9 Stuart Boys Team 4, with 60 points, closely followed by Year 9 Tudor Boys Team 4 and Year 10 Windsor Girls Team 1, both with 59 points. The Team Trek special award went to Year 9 Tudor Girls Team 6, but the overall winners were Hanover House with an average score across all their teams of 37.2, narrowly beating Tudor into second place with their average of 36.5.

Both these events were also important fundraising opportunities, supporting both the Friends of Churchill Academy and our nominated charity, Guide Dogs. For us as a school, they also give our students and staff the opportunity to get out into the beautiful Somerset countryside to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness (through teamwork, and looking after the environment), curiosity (by discovering new parts of our local area that students might not have visited before), and determination (by pushing themselves to take on a challenge). It is only possible with the fantastic support of the entire staff team, who all work together to ensure we can undertake the events safely – thank you to all of them, and to all the students who have risen to the challenge and enjoyed our great outdoors this week.

D-Day 75

75 years ago today, on 6th June 1944, Allied forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, Northern France. Overnight, gliders and paratroopers had landed further inland. The landings represented the first phase of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – with the aim of bringing World War Two to an end.

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Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944

The Allied forces of US, British and Canadian troops also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian [present-day Zimbabwe] and Polish naval, air and ground support. Up to 7,000 ships and landing craft were involved, delivering a total of 156,000 men and 10,000 vehicles to the shore. By the end of the day, 4,400 troops died from the combined allied forces. Some 9,000 were wounded or missing. Total German casualties on the day are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000 men. Thousands of French civilians also died.

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Map of the Normandy landings

But, by midnight of 6th June, the Allies had secured their beachheads (codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah) and begun to push further inland. Within eleven months, Nazi Germany was defeated and the war was over. 

D-Day marked the turning point in the Second World War. It was a remarkable military, technical, logistical and physical achievement, made possible by international cooperation, driven by a shared belief in the importance of defeating the oppression and horror of the Nazi regime.

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Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

The anniversary of D-Day is always a special one to me. My grandfather, Jim Hildrew, was in the Royal Navy during the Second World  War. He supported the Allied invasion of France from the English Channel, working on Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean) which was designed to supply fuel from England to the Allied armies in France by laying flexible pipes all the way across the seabed. I am proud to think that he made his contribution to the freedom that we all enjoy – and perhaps take for granted – today.

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Supply landings at Omaha Beach, mid-June 1944

He was one of the lucky ones who came back alive after the war, returning to teaching as the Headmaster of Grasmere School in the Lake District. Many were not so lucky: by the time Paris was liberated in August 1944, 200,000 of the Allied troops who had landed in France were dead, wounded or missing. On the anniversary of this important day in history, we should all take time to remember those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in liberty.

Athene Donald’s speech from the opening ceremony

This week saw the opening ceremony of the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology at Churchill. Our guest of honour was Professor Dame Athene Donald herself.

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The opening ceremony began with our Chamber Choir, who gave a fantastic rendition of Blue Skies, arranged by our very own Mr Spencer. Polly and Freya, the Year 8 students who suggested the building be named in her honour, then introduced Professor Donald, who gave an inspiring speech to the assembled guests. Outgoing President of the Sixth Form Council, Libby Scott, gave the vote of thanks, before the guests were shown round the classes currently in session in our wonderful new facilities.

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With her kind permission, I reproduce Professor Donald’s speech here in full, so that all our staff, students and the wider Academy community can benefit from her inspiring and positive message.

It’s wonderful to be here today. And it’s wonderful to see a school able to provide such fantastic facilities for science and with such a strong commitment to encouraging girls and young women to pursue science to A levels and university.

We’ve just heard the Chamber Choir sing Blue Skies. That is a song that I chose for one of my Desert Island Discs, because it has a particular significance for me. When I was in the USA and my research was going very badly, I found the balance in my life by singing Barbershop with three students in my (engineering) department. It helped me get through some otherwise miserable times and helped me to persist. To the students here I would say remember that life does not always go according to plan, but finding ways – and people – to help you through difficult periods is very important. Music was my escape and support.

Let me say straight away how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen to have this building named after me. It is not the sort of honour that I ever expected, not something that would ever have crossed my mind when I myself was a teenager.

Having first class facilities is undoubtedly something that will make a difference to every student – not to mention staff member – who works in the new building. So many schools have to make do with out of date and often depressing surroundings in which to do their science, and that is hardly likely to inspire the next generation that this is an exciting area to pursue.

Science – which I use as shorthand to include engineering and technology of course – has a crucial role to play in our world. Whether or not a child goes on to study science in later years, if they have a feeling of comfort with the subject means that so many of the big issues – be it climate change and the necessary energy transition we all have to make, or interpreting health risks or what AI may mean for our society – will not feel so scary and unapproachable.

Working at their science lessons in a modern block will provide a congenial atmosphere in which to get to grips with these important subjects.

And what about girls and women in science? Why do I care so passionately about this? Firstly there is the moral argument – why should 50% of the population feel that science is not for them, particularly given its role in empowering citizens in our democracy? But secondly there is the fact that we as a society need the best brains contributing to drive innovation and insight and losing these is a loss to society as a whole. We need to make sure that every young adult in this country whatever their gender, race or background – has access to good science teaching and encouragement to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. That some children are told they can’t do one subject or another either explicitly or simply implicitly in the messages our society and media give, is not good enough. We need their brains and their talent.

The L’Oréal tagline, as I learnt when I won the Laureate for Women in Science for Europe ten years ago, is that ‘The World needs science and science needs women’. One does not need to care about cosmetics – and I am a bad poster child for L’Oréal as I am very allergic to most of them – to recognize the truth and importance of that sentence.

When I was a teenager, attending an all girls school, no one told me it was odd to want to pursue physics. No one put me off and we had good facilities and good teaching. When I went to university I found out that I was in a minority and I have been ever since. I was the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge, something I still feel very proud of. I am, indeed, the first woman to be Master of Churchill College at Cambridge, a college that uniquely admits 70% of its students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. We have an incredibly diverse intake but, because of its emphasis on these subjects, not as many young women as I would like. We are working on that, but I hope the brightest of your own students would aspire to come to a college like ours.

I am truly humbled that you chose to name your new block after me, not after the usual suspects of Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin. I hope in some small way the knowledge that women like me can thrive in the sciences will inspire future generations. I wish the school all the very best as this new space is up and running.

Congratulations and best wishes.

Professor Dame Athene Donald

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Christmas at Churchill 2018

I love Christmas at Churchill! The Academy has many traditions, from the Christmas lunches served by staff and accompanied by the staff choir, to the Sixth Form fancy dress and revue, the church services and house activities. This week’s blog is devoted to a celebration of all things Christmas! Enjoy…

May I wish everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. See you in 2019!

Advent: Acts of Kindness

Like many children up and down the country, my kids look forward to advent as the twenty four days of the year when they’re allowed to have chocolate before breakfast! We’ve hung our calendars and they are getting out of bed that little bit more willingly than usual, tempted by the lure of an edible treat.

It’s true that the consumption of daily confectionery is somewhat removed from the Christian meaning of advent. In the Christian faith, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and advent is a reminder to prepare for this important religious festival.

This year, like last year, Mr Gale in the Maths Faculty has shared his “Kindness Calendar” with the school. The Kindness Calendar is a great way to mark advent by giving, rather than receiving, tied into one of the Academy’s core values. Each school day of the advent period, there’s a kindness task for students and staff to carry out. There are bonus tasks to extend it into the weekend too!

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Our Kindness Calendar

Why not try each of the daily acts of kindness on the days running up to Christmas? After you’ve had your chocolate, of course…

Christmas Concerts 2018

I love the Christmas Concert! I remember seeing my first one in December 2015, just before I started as Headteacher in January. I was blown away then, and if anything the standard just keeps on going up!

This year’s event was no exception. There were over 400 students involved over the two nights, with such an array of music on show – musical theatre, pop, folk, jazz and classical, and even a moment of metal from Churchill’s Young Musician of the Year, Kimi Powell on drums! Young Musician runner-up Bronwen Deane had the audience in the palm of her hand with a performance of her own song, “That’s what they all say” – she has a bright future ahead of her. Last year’s competition winner, Maddie Pole, is now in the final of the Fame by Fearless talent competition – you can vote for her to win here until midnight on Sunday 25th November 2018.

Gospel Choir introduced some fantastic soloists to the Playhouse this year: Ruby Polli, Cara Crozier-Cole, Benedict Pearce, Livvy Green, Olive Barnett and Freya Hinnigan-Chambers sang their hearts out, backed as ever by an incredible sound from the enthusiastic chorus. Many of the same students also sang in Chamber Choir, whilst a beautiful acapella rendition of White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes showed you didn’t need instruments to make a wonderful sound.

Instrumentalists, however, were in plentiful supply! Big Orchestra and Concert Band both gave excellent performances, including a suite from “Enter the Dragon” arranged by our very own Mr Spencer, and a spirited performance by the Jazz Band fronted enthusiastically by Sol Walker-Mckee and Arthur Burston.

The highlight of the show for many was the Junior Choir, as the massed ranks of Year 7 and 8 singers kicked off the festive period with a re-telling of the Christmas story through songs written by students. The soloists this year were fantastic, and the actions and performance level from the choir were brilliant – how they managed to muster the energy after a disco is beyond me!

The Christmas Concert is a real team effort. Weston Playhouse work with us every year, and over thirty Academy staff were involved behind the scenes and front of house. But what impressed me most – as always – was the leadership of our students. Students compered the show, conducted orchestras, led vocal groups, ran the stage management, arranged musical items, and sold programmes. Seeing the potential and promise of these great young people, and their joy in music making, is what makes all the effort and organisation worthwhile.

I’m calling it: Christmas starts here!

Remembrance 2018: #ThankYou100

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Remembrance Day is always special, but this year’s is unusually significant in that it marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. The two minutes’ silence is always a profoundly moving experience, in which we reflect on our connections to those who made sacrifices so that we could live in freedom today.

Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

On November 11th, I always think about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, who served in the Arctic convoys and captained a minesweeper, before working on the Pluto programme to supply fuel to the beaches on D Day. After the war he returned to teaching as Headmaster of Grasmere school, where he worked until retirement. Sacrifice is not always about death. We remember the fallen but also those who were – and still are – prepared to risk their lives to defend our society. We can learn a lot from their individual sacrifice for the collective good.

For this year’s #100years remembrance, I was impressed by this tribute from England’s men’s and women’s football teams to the sacrifices made by footballers during and after the First World War:

Just as we honour those who gave their lives, the sacrifices made by others in other ways are also significant, and just as worthy of remembrance.

Finally, each Remembrance Day, I reach for poetry. There are great works by Sassoon, Owen, McCrae, and countless other war poets, but in recent years I have always come back to Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers. This poem is so resonant and powerful in its description of the uncovering of the remnants of the battle of the Somme in peacetime as farmers plough. Sheers has spoken eloquently of the inspiration for the poem as he visited the site:

Walking over that same ground, now a ploughed field, 85 years later I was struck by how remnants of the battle – strips of barbed wire, shells, fragments of bone, were still rising to the surface. It was as if the earth under my feet that was now being peacefully tilled for food could not help but remember its violent past and the lives that had sunk away into it. Entering the wood, a ‘memory’ of the battle was still evident there too. Although there was a thick undergrowth of trailing ivy and brambles, it undulated through deep shell holes. My knowledge of what had caused those holes in the ground and of what had happened among those trees stood in strange juxtaposition to the summer calmness of the wood itself; the dappled sunlight, the scent of wild garlic, the birdsong filtering down from the higher branches.

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As we remember the Great War it is our duty to reach back into the collective memory of our violent past, to thank those who came before us for their sacrifice, and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future.

Mametz Wood
by Owen Sheers

For years afterwards the farmers found them –
the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades
as they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,
the relic of a finger, the blown
and broken bird’s egg of a skull,

all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white
across this field where they were told to walk, not run,
towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,
reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened
like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,
a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,
their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

in boots that outlasted them,
their socketed heads tilted back at an angle
and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.

(Source)