Last Friday, we held our first Student Leadership Conference at the Food Works SW centre on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare. Following pandemic disruption, it was great to finally realise the vision of this event, which was a great success!
In total, almost ninety student leaders were able to join us in the plush conference meeting rooms of the Food Works SW. On the agenda was a morning of training, to help our student leaders understand more about their role and to build their skills and confidence in delivering on their leadership ambitions. This included sessions on understanding the concept of leadership, and thinking about the best ways to bring about change, as well as training on communication skills and team building.
The afternoon session involved the House Councils working with the Heads of House to develop their plans for the year ahead. These sessions were about taking the theory from the morning and putting it into practice. What did they want to achieve? And how would they go about achieving it?
It was a full day of challenging thinking and participation, but our student leaders rose to the occasion and showed their commitment to their roles. I feel confident that, with their leadership, the Academy will continue to go from strength to strength.
I attended an 11-18 school, where the Sixth Form was a natural extension of the main school. At the end of Year 11, it was a smooth transition for me to straight on to the Sixth Form: I knew the teachers, I knew the school, and my friends were all staying on. It made sense!
When I moved into Year 12, however, I was struck by how different the experience felt. The relationship with the teachers shifted significantly: there was still a clear professional respect, but somehow it felt more personalised and connected. The only teacher from my school days that I am still in touch with (thirty years later!) is my A-level English teacher.
I also found a new niche in the Sixth Form as a student leader, working with groups of younger students both in English but also in Drama, where I ended up in charge of the technical theatre team to design and operate lighting for school productions. Whilst I had already been interested in teaching, this experience of working with younger children to help them achieve and deliver a project together really firmed up my career plans.
This is why, in my teaching career, I have always taught in 11-18 schools which have a Sixth Form attached to them. There is something about the presence of the Year 12 and 13 students in the school community that creates a tangible sense of destination and aspiration for our younger students: the Sixth Formers are positive role models. And, for the Sixth Formers themselves, there is that sense of the familiar but also the distinctly different that provides a natural extension of their 11-16 education, on the same site and with the same staff, but seen through a new lens.
There is also the added incentive of A-level teaching, which I have always found fulfilling. The depth, breadth and challenge of the additional subject knowledge required to teach at advance level brings additional subject expertise to the faculty. I have always found that this strengthens the teaching in the main school, as teachers know and teach the next steps beyond GCSE, enabling further stretch and challenge.
We are really proud of our Sixth Form at Churchill. As with the main school, we put achievement at the heart of our provision – but we recognise that an education is about more than just the exam results. That is why the wider offer which being part of a school can provide – leadership and enrichment opportunities, involvement with the community, and the extended curriculum – is so important to us, and such a strong feature of our Sixth Form. The video below really captures how our Sixth Form students feel about this:
We are a Level 3 Sixth Form, offering A-level or equivalent qualifications. The minimum entry requirement to get into Churchill Sixth Form is at least three GCSEs at grade 5 and above and at least two GCSEs at grade 4 and above. Many of the courses also have subject-specific entry criteria. We strongly believe that the vast majority of our main school students can reach the threshold to access this provision, but we also recognise that there are other destinations locally which provide strong alternatives. We provide detailed careers and application advice for students interested in progressing to colleges or other providers for vocational, technical and other post-16 offers: our primary interest is ensuring that students get to the right destination for them. However, if students meet the entry criteria and want to study A-levels or the other Level 3 qualifications we offer, we believe that there is no better place to do it than at our Sixth Form.
This week, our current Year 11 students have had a taster experience on our “Be A Sixth Former For A Day” programme, ahead of our Sixth Form Open Evening next week. We would urge all Year 11 students – whether they currently attend Churchill Academy & Sixth Form or not – to come and find our what our Sixth Form has to offer. We look forward to seeing you!
This week I have had the pleasure of attending two great events to celebrate our students’ achievements – the Future Chef Competition, and our annual Sports Awards Evening.
Future Chef 2022
In this competition, our Future Chefs had to plan and cook a main course dish for two people in under one hour, with a maximum budget of five pounds. The students, from Years 9 and 10, worked miracles with the brief, and produced plates of delicious food for the judging panel. Hot foot from our Senior Leadership Team meeting, myself and Deputy Head Mrs James, along with Assistant Heads Mrs Gill and Mr Davies, were joined by Director of PE Mr Hayne to assess the presentation and taste of the dishes, whilst Food specialist Mrs Coman judged the workmanship that went on behind the scenes.
The overall winner was Annabel Isgrove, whose guacamole was a triumph (I’d still like the recipe please, Annabel!), but every dish was delicious and really well presented. One of the real pleasures of Headship!
Sports Awards Evening
It was great to have Sports Awards Evening back in the calendar again! This fabulous, glamorous event is a great way to end term 1, celebrating the sporting successes of our students from the past year. The students scrubbed up well to join Team PE and a host of staff to eat well and enjoy the evening. Guests of honour Tom Stabbins (competitive climber and ex-Churchill student) and Bristol City striker Nakhi Wells helped hand out the awards, with the coveted Sportspeople of the Year trophies being awarded to Zoe Coombes and Benedict Skudder. A full report, with all the photos, is on the Academy website now.
October is Black History Month. The month is marked to honour the contributions made to society by people of Black heritage and their communities. It is a time to educate and enrich the world with the importance of Black history.
At Churchill, we mark Black History Month with resources for our tutors to use with tutor groups, to help our students understand the importance of Black history. For example:
We also encourage our students to be critical and independent thinkers. The American actor, Morgan Freeman, has criticised Black History Month as “ridiculous.” “I don’t want a black history month,” he said, “black history is American history.“ So, whilst we do mark Black History Month, we also ensure that our curriculum is rich, broad and diverse all year round – and not just in History.
From our studies in history, geography and RE, to the selection of texts in English, the examples of scientists in Science, artists in Art and beyond, we think carefully about our choices to challenge our students to look at a range of diverse experiences and perspectives. Our learning groups in Years 7-9, are named after significant figures from the fields of different faculties, from a range of diverse backgrounds. These include Mary Seacole, who was named as the greatest black Briton in a 2004 BBC poll, and civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson. In tutor time this week, students have been looking at the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Chinua Achebe, Marcus Rashford and Diane Abbott to their respective fields and contexts.
We remain completely committed to being an inclusive school which celebrates diversity. At Churchill, we want to ensure that everybody feels like they belong – no matter their background, heritage or identity. It’s therefore important to bring people together around events like Black History Month to get people to come together to continue to make change for the better – even if it is just one part of our overall strategy.
We encourage all our students to adopt an anti-racist approach, and to ensure that they are allies to their fellow students, who may be different to themselves. Educating ourselves about discrimination and prejudice, and speaking out against injustice, is an essential part of that approach.
Over the past two weeks, we have opened up our school to children in Year 5 and 6 – and their families – as they weigh up their options for secondary education. The transition from primary to secondary school is a big change, so it’s really important that families can make informed decisions. Whilst we are naturally keen to show off Churchill at its best, we also want families to understand what it’s really like to come to our school.
And that’s where our students come in!
We hold two types of open events. The Open Evening is our showcase, where we put on activities and open up the whole site for visitors to tour, speak to staff, ask questions, and understand our values, our vision and our purpose. The Open Evening is complemented by Open Mornings, where visitors look round the school whilst it is “in action” on a normal school day, so they can get a sense of what it’s like when over 1600 students are in class – or when they move from one lesson to another.
What both events have in common is that they are led by our students. From Year 7 to Year 13, students act as tour guides on both Open Evening and Open Mornings, guiding groups of children and their families around the Academy to show them all we have to offer, whilst answering questions on the way. Our students also work with our faculties on Open Evening, demonstrating Science experiments, rehearsing in Performing Arts, or running activities in English, Humanities, PE, Art and beyond!
We believe that families will get a more honest and realistic impression from our students of what it is actually like to attend Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We know that they are proud to come to Churchill – and we know that they love to tell people about it! But we also know that they will tell it like it is, from a student’s perspective, which is far more valuable to a family than hearing a grown-up’s sales pitch. We trust our students; they are our greatest asset.
Of course, there will be some questions that our students can’t answer, and we always have staff available to cover those. And the children and their families will want to hear from me about what we stand for, our ethos and philosophy of education, and the practical arrangements for transition. We do this with a video presentation, which plays in the hall on Open Evening, is posted on the website, and emailed out to everyone who books a place on either event. But, even in the video, we want the voices of students to come through. This is why my presentation is preceded by students from the Sixth Form and Year 11 (this year, Stan and House Captain Lauren), and concludes with our newest students, our Year 7s (this year, Evelyn and Nat).
I am always really proud to be Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. But when I see literally hundreds of students staying until 8pm to show off how wonderful our school is, to persuade younger children to come and join us – well, I allow myself to feel even prouder than ever.
Churchill’s Annual Presentation Evening took place on Wednesday 14th September 2022 – three years since our last in-person event. The evening celebrated the successes of the Academy community over the previous year, with awards focused on the exam results from Years 11 and 13 complemented by prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, compassion, resilience, and attitudes to learning.
I was joined on stage by the Chair of Trustees, Mrs Anne Oakley, who introduced the evening. Our guest of honour was William Bjergfelt, cyclist with Team GB and competitor in the Tour of Britain. As a (very amateur!) cyclist myself, I have always enjoyed cycling at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Tour de France and Tour of Britain – those athletes are idols to me, so meeting William was a real honour. He gave a great speech about his own experiences in competitive sport, and how his own career has been defined by our Academy value of determination. As an elite mountain bike rider and aspiring road racer, William was involved in a head-on collision with a car in 2015 which left him with a bleed on the brain and his right leg shattered into 25 pieces. His leg was reconstructed with three titanium plates but he was told at the time he would never ride a bike again, let alone race one. William spoke to the audience of prize winners and their families about how his mental attitude was every bit as important as his physical recovery, as he defied the odds to return to elite cycling. He qualified as a para-cyclist for Team GB and returned to racing alongside able-bodied athletes in the Tour of Britain in 2021.
William’s inspiring message capped off a wonderful evening of awards – the full roll of honour can be seen on the Prize Winners page of our website. The Headteachers’ award for achievement at GCSE went to Maddie Pole, and the Captain G. J. Picton-Davies Cup for Best Overall Performance at A-level, was handed to Sarah Browne, who, with 3 A* and 1 A and will be going on to study Chemistry at New College, Oxford.
We were also delighted to award the Barry Wratten Prize for Resilience, for the second time, to Jamie Campbell. Jamie received the award for the first time in 2019, when he received it from the wheelchair he needed to move around the Academy at the time. Now in the Sixth Form, and following many years of surgery and hard work, Jamie walked up the steps unaided to collect the award from the stage. His example of determination was warmly applauded by everyone present.
Our Academy community joins the whole country in a period of national mourning for the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We are flying our flag at half mast, and we will be paying our respects to the Queen through tutor time and assembly activities. Where students need support, we will provide it.
We will be encouraging all students to respect one another, using the Academy’s value of kindness. Not everyone will feel the same thing. Some people will be feeling this loss deeply. Even if others do not share that feeling, we should all be respectful and sensitive.
The Queen has reigned throughout my life. I have the utmost respect for her as a model of public service; as someone who dedicated their life to the service of the nation. I will remember the shock and sheer joy I felt when she participated in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, accompanying Daniel Craig’s James Bond on a mission to get to the Olympic Stadium in the most epic way imaginable.
She showed that same mischievous spirit at her Platinum Jubilee, enjoying a marmalade sandwich with Paddington Bear.
But my abiding memory of Her Majesty will be her address to the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of a national crisis, when so many of us were uncertain and afraid, Queen Elizabeth found the words we needed. She used all the experience of her long reign, including her wartime broadcast to children during World War II in 1940, to assure us that “better days will return…we will meet again.”
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. We aim to help students develop vital skills, such as:
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.
After two disrupted years, with no Activities Week in 2020 and a scaled-back model in 2021, we have been delighted to get closer to “back to normal” in 2022. There haven’t been as many trips abroad as usual, due to the COVID pandemic being unpredictable at the time of booking. But we have got the Sicily trip away, and introduced some great new UK-based residentials, as well as a huge range of day trips and school-based activities.
At the time of writing, many of the activities are still going on, but here are some of the photo highlights of the week so far!
It’s a huge responsibility taking students off site and returning them all safely, especially on a residential trip. Our staff do it willingly because they know how much the students benefit from it, and we know that staff benefit too from getting to know the students in a different context and seeing them taking on new challenges. I’d like to thank all the staff involved in putting the activities on for students, and especially the team behind the scenes who work on all the bookings, payments, risk assessments, travel arrangements, liaison and problem-solving that a week like this brings – we literally couldn’t do it without you!
Over the past few weeks, we have been celebrating with our Year 13 and Year 11 classes of 2022. These students have been through an unprecedented period in education. The A-level exams taken by Year 13 were the first experience of external exams for many of them since their Year 6 SATs, as GCSEs were cancelled for them in 2020. Year 11 did sit their GCSEs over a long, extended exam period, following the disruption of education through the COVID-19 pandemic. Both year groups needed and deserved a party!
The Sponsored Walk and Trek are a long-standing Churchill tradition. Our school is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Mendips, and the walk and trek are our opportunity to get out of our school gates and up into the area of outstanding natural beauty that surrounds us.
The Sponsored Walk
Year 7 and 8 take on a sponsored walk from the Sixth Form centre. Working in house teams, they walk from the Academy to Sandford, through the Thatchers’ Orchards, before joining the Strawberry Line. They use the Strawberry Line path to walk up through Winscombe, including the spooky dark tunnel, before turning off up to King’s Wood and, from there, to the trig point before Crook Peak. From there, students get the reward of spectacular views from Cheddar Reservoir to Glastonbury Tor, Brent Knoll, the Bristol Channel and over to Wales.
After a rest stop at the trig point, students head back down through Slader’s Leigh nature reserve for lunch at Winscombe Rugby Club, before returning to the Academy in time for the coaches at the end of school.
It’s quite a walk, with a steep ascent in the middle, but it’s well worth it!
The Senior Trek
Students in Years 9 and 10 take on the challenge of the Senior Trek. The Trek is designed to promote independence as students, in house teams, navigate themselves between checkpoints on the Mendips, based around the peak at Black Down. Sixth Form students occupy the checkpoints, and students are awarded points for the number of checkpoints they are able to get to.
The key to success in the Trek is keeping your whole team together all the time. If you arrive at a checkpoint and your team isn’t together – you are disqualified! This is in place to promote teamwork and also to ensure that students are safe when navigating across the course. Teams arriving together win points for their houses – and this year’s results are below:
The Academy Values
The trek and the walk are designed to promote the Academy’s values:
Kindness: students support one another in their house teams to keep going and stick together on the trek and the walk. They are also required to be kind to the environment as they treat the area of outstanding natural beauty with respect, leaving no litter and being considerate of other members of the public enjoying the landscape.
Curiosity: students are encouraged to be curious about their local area. From spotting landmarks and landforms, to recognising the plants, birds and animals around them this is an opportunity to experience biology and geography in real life. They also learn a lot about one another – and themselves – when they take on the challenge!
Determination: the trek and the walk are big challenges – you need to be determined to keep going! Everyone who completes the challenge gets that big sense of achievement that you only feel when you’ve really had to dig deep to get it done – and that’s exactly what we’re looking for at Churchill!
It’s a huge undertaking for the staff to lead and organise these events, to get over 1000 students out onto the hills and back to school safely. I’d like to thank all the staff involved, especially those who take a lead role in the organisation. But, when you see the students back at school, tired but proud of what they’ve achieved, it’s definitely worth it!