The Power of Poetry

I love poetry. I’ve always thought of it as distilled language: as though ideas have been boiled down and condensed so that only the concentrated essence remains. Because of this, every word in a poem feels somehow as if it’s carrying extra weight, extra resonance, extra value. When reading a poem, my senses are heightened and alerted: it’s a thrilling, exciting feeling.

I first experienced this sensation in an English Literature classroom in the autumn of 1991 (or possibly the spring of 1992) when I first encountered the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I’d always loved books and reading, but when I read Plath it was like I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I remember reading Lady Lazarus and the hairs standing up on my arms and the back of my neck. My teacher lent me his copy of her collection Ariel, and I haven’t looked back since.

My collection of Sylvia Plath books, 29 years after first reading her work

My experience of “waking up” to poetry sounds exactly like the experience of our current Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. On Desert Island Discs earlier this year, he described vividly his first encounter with the work of Ted Hughes:

“It suddenly struck me, in a very electrifying moment, that the world was a really interesting place. It could be packaged up in these little bundles of language, which, at the end of the day, are only black marks against a white page. But if you put them in the right order, you can make extraordinary things happen in somebody else’s head across thousands of miles, across thousands of years, and in complete silence. And the shock of that realisation and the primitive magic of it has never really left me. I still feel that when I’m looking at a poem: that I’m staring at some kind of circuit board of language, which makes a contactless contact with something in my head. I think I knew at that very moment, that poetry was going to be my thing.”

Simon Armitage on Desert Island Discs, broadcast 15th May 2020.

Over the years, I have taught poetry to hundreds and hundreds of students. I haven’t always succeeded in igniting the same passion in every single one of them! But I hope I have helped some to find the power of poetry, and to enjoy it for themselves – away from having to study it for GCSE.

This last week, I have been blown away to see exactly this happen at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. At the end of January 2020, Ms Cody from our English Department gave an assembly to all main school students on the theme of “Literature that changed the world.” At least one student was inspired to pick up the books Ms Cody described, to see what all the fuss was about. That student was Imogen Beaumont, who has gone from winning our House Poetry Competition in 2019 to becoming a Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2020.

Some of my collection of Foyle Young Poets anthologies from over the years

I have followed the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for over 20 years. Since 1998, the Award has been finding, celebrating and supporting the very best young poets from around the world. It is firmly established as the leading competition for young poets aged between 11 and 17 years old. This year, a staggering 15,966 poems were entered. Young writers from a record-breaking 118 countries entered the competition from as far afield as Afghanistan, Ecuador, Mozambique, North Korea and the Seychelles, and every corner of the UK. From these poems, this year’s judges Keith Jarrett and Maura Dooley selected 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets. After Mr Lockett put the entry invitation into our newsletter on 3rd July, Imogen entered. Her poem, The sound of Shakespeare’s women, was chosen as one of the top 15. When you read it, you can see why:

The sound of Shakepeare’s Women

If Juliet was silenced

amongst a patriarchal nightmare and

Lavinia was two limbs down

with no tongue to tell their tale and

Ophelia was driven to madness

with no sense left to speak and

Cordelia was shunned by her father,

her pointless words falling on deaf ears and

Desdemona’s desperate truth

was shouted down by whispered lies,

Then Will’s trying to tell us something.

By Imogen Beaumont

Imogen’s poem is a powerful, skilful piece of writing. She told me she reads a lot of Shakespeare – and you can tell! The poem draws in repeated examples of female characters in Shakepeare’s plays who are variously silenced, ignored, or left voiceless.

Juliet pleads with her father in Romeo and Juliet to listen to her when he plans her marriage to a man she does not love. He ignores her pleas, and she is forced to take desperate measures. Lavinia, in Titus Andronicus, is raped and has her hands cut off and her tongue cut out so she can’t reveal who attacked her. Ophelia is driven mad when Hamlet, who said he loved her, ignores her and hurls abuse at her when she tries to help him. Cordelia tells her father, King Lear, the truth when he asks her to: as a result, she is disinherited and cast out from the family. Othello is tricked into believing his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. She tells him again and again that it isn’t true, but he believes the lies and smothers her with a pillow.

Imi’s poem illustrated by award-winning artist and author Chris Riddell

In each case, the inability of the male characters to hear what the women are trying to tell them leads to tragedy. What Imogen does so skilfully is distil those stories down to their concentrated core, and connect them with one final line to our modern day experience. The #MeToo movement and the linked #BelieveHer hashtag show that, today, women’s voices are still too often ignored, silenced, or discounted. It would seem the lesson that Shakespeare was trying to teach over 400 years ago has still not been learned.

Imogen’s powerful voice has found just the right words, in just the right order, to connect ideas across hundreds of years and deliver that electric shock of meaning that only poetry can deliver. It’s a stunning piece of work. I’m really proud that our English teachers have had some small part in unlocking her talent: we can’t wait to see what she’ll write next, or where the next young poet will spring from. Could it be you?

Open Evening 2020

Open Evening is always one of the high points of the Academy calendar. Our students and our staff love to show off all the opportunities that Churchill has to offer. In normal times, we would have a small army of keen volunteer students showing prospective parents and curious Year 5 and 6 children around. Subject specialists would be on hand to demonstrate and talk about their part of the curriculum; our extra-curricular activities would be out in force; all our specialists would be on hand to answer parents’ questions; children would be collecting stickers from every station on the tour in pursuit of a “future student badge.”

In 2020, this sadly isn’t possible. We have had to adjust to the fact that, in the new pandemic world, we cannot have visitors in. Our priority has to be the safety and health of the staff and students on site, and we are doing all we can to limit the risks. And yet the continued success of the Academy over the coming years depends on our future students, and the smooth transition from primary to secondary we have worked so hard to establish.

For this reason, we have moved our open evening online for 2020. In doing so, we have tried as far as possible to replicate the “on site” experience of a real open evening – but from the comfort and safety of your own home. We have a dedicated page on the Academy website. Here is what you will find there.

Student Tour

Year 8 student guides Ted and Kacey take you on a video tour of the Academy site – with the help of a very cool drone!

Headteacher and student presentations

I look forward to my open evening presentation every year. Not only do I love talking about Churchill, what we do, and why we are here, but I love being joined on stage by our fantastic students.

Every year I am introduced by our senior students, and I leave the last word to our youngest. Every year they write their own speeches, and talk about their experiences in their own words. This year, we have done exactly the same – but on video, rather than in person. I am joined by Ella, President of the Sixth Form Council; Emma, in Year 11; and Erin and Jacob from Year 7. For me, it was especially gratifying to hear from Emma, because back in 2016 she was one of the Year 7 speakers at my first Open Evening as Headteacher. I don’t mind telling you that hearing about her experiences after five years with us brought a tear to my eye!

Question and Answer Sessions

Open Evening is usually the time when parents and children can ask all the questions they want, to reassure themselves about any aspect of secondary school that they might be uncertain about. It is absolutely right that the same opportunity is available this year. Here’s how:

  • Email us your question to openevening@churchill-academy.org: no question too big, no question too small. If you leave us a contact number, we are happy to call you back to discuss things with you: we know it’s usually much better to talk to a human being than to get a written reply! Whatever works for you, we’ll do our best to help.
  • Register for one of our Q&A Webinars: these sessions will feature a short presentation, followed by the opportunity to get your questions answered by me and a panel of our current students. We are running four panels:
    • Tuesday 6th October, 12-12.30pm
    • Wednesday 7th October, 7-7.30pm
    • Monday 12th October, 4-4.30pm
    • Thursday 22nd October, 7-7.30pm
  • You can register for these via the Academy website

Prospectus and Information Booklet

Families tell us that they find the paper documentation we hand out on open evening really useful. They provide the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, and they are a useful reference point to come back to as a reminder of the things that were seen and heard on the night. We have put both documents online for you to download, read on screen, or print out at home:

Treasure Hunt

On our “in person” open evening, we issue a sticker-collecting booklet to any Year 5 or 6 children who come along. The children can collect a sticker from each department they visit, and if they fill their book they can collect a prize from the Sixth Form Centre. It’s one of our favourite parts of the evening!

In order to replicate this, we’ve created a virtual treasure hunt quiz for our prospective future students to fill in. You can find it on the website, or here.

Next year?

We have done our best to provide as full an experience as possible on our virtual open evening. As it happens, on the day scheduled for our open evening this year, it was hammering down with rain – so maybe it was just as well it was virtual! We hope that, by next year, things will be back to normality enough to open up the Academy to visitors again. In the meantime, we hope you like what you see – and we hope that prospective parents and their children choose Churchill.

Into the twenties: happy new year!

2020 fireworks

As the clock ticked over to midnight on New Year’s Eve, we bid goodbye to the 2010s (the teens?) and welcomed in the 2020s. It feels like the future has arrived! Over the past decade I’ve worked in three schools, moved house twice, had a book published, appeared on TV, and – of course – been appointed as Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form.

Mrs McKay reminded me that Monday marked the fourth anniversary of my first day at Churchill in January 2016! Since then our school has seen some big changes:

  • The number of students at Churchill has risen from 1430 to 1581. We have an additional 151 students on our site compared to four years ago
  • The Sixth Form has grown from 256 to 276
  • Level 3 Value Added scores for Sixth Form outcomes have risen from +0.02 in 2016 to +0.17 in 2019
  • The proportion of students gaining a strong pass (grade 5+) in English and Maths GCSE has risen from 52.3% in 2017 to 54.8% in 2019
  • We marked our 60th Anniversary in 2017
  • The Academy has a new vision – to set no limits on what we can achieve – and we have introduced our values of kindness, curiosity and determination.
  • The Athene Donald Building, the Alan Turing Building, new main reception and admin, new staff and sixth form car park, “The Tower,” the Broadwalk, and refurbished classrooms in English and Maths have transformed the site and the learning environment.

Taking stock of all that, I feel very proud of what we have achieved together in four years. We are now developing our planning for the next five years, looking ahead to the next phase of the Academy’s progress and development. The future looks bright!

Happy New Year to everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community.

Christmas at Churchill 2019

The students and staff at Churchill have excelled themselves this Christmas! The traditional Christmas lunch served by staff and accompanied by the staff choir, the Sixth Form fancy dress and revue, the church services and house activities. This year we included the new Headteacher’s Quiz which you can have a go at yourself at the bottom of this blog – just for fun!

Enjoy the photos from our Christmas celebrations, and may I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Click here for the Christmas Quiz!

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!

Gospel Choir Lake

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

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.