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)

You’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do

This week I watched the joyous production of Bugsy Malone put on by our Year 7 and 8 students.

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It was a terrific show – over seventy of our students were involved on stage across two casts. What was more remarkable is that the show only started rehearsing on 17th September, with the first performance on 23rd October! To put on such a professional performance in such a short space of time, whilst also keeping up with school work and all of the learning in lessons, is a truly staggering achievement.

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Tallulah and her dancers

It was a great team effort – the students worked with and for one another, playing the comic scenes brilliantly but also, in the case of Maria Amaral as Fizzy and Gemma Partridge as Blousey Brown, bringing some touching poignancy to the more emotional moments.

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The big “splurge”

Behind the scenes, our Sixth Formers and some older students from the main school made the show look and sound amazing. The set was designed, built, painted and decorated entirely by students from the Sixth Form’s specialist tutor programme – and it was spectacular. The band sounded great, and the technical crew on sound, lighting and stage management were excellent. The way that our older students supported the younger performers is typical of Churchill’s vertical system and our value of kindness.

Last week I wrote about the vital role of the arts at Churchill. I was left thinking that there couldn’t be a better introduction to that spirit than a show like this! Audiences were also treated to a gallery of A-level Art, Photography and Design work in the foyer, whilst refreshments were provided in aid of the Mend the Gap team’s Kenya expedition.

The final song of the show – “You Give a Little Love” – sums up the spirit of the show:

We could have been anything that we wanted to be

Yes that decision was ours

It’s been decided, we’re weaker divided

Let friendship double up our powers

The final chorus echoed out: “you give a little love and it all comes back to you; you know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.” These students have already made such a positive difference at Churchill, and I know they will remember the experience for years to come.

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The cast from night two

Congratulations to all the cast and crew, and special thanks to the dedicated team of staff who made it all happen – especially director and mastermind Miss Bones.

 

 

Sports Awards 2018

Our annual Sports Award dinner is always a great event, but the 2018 incarnation was, by general agreement, the best yet! 320 students attended the event at Cadbury House Hotel, looking very smart indeed, to be greeted by the Mendip Snowsports Yeti and a host of staff and special guests.

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Guests of honour Tom Stabbins and Pat Lam with Director of PE Mr Hayne

The evening began with a speech from Churchill alumnus Tom Stabbins, who spoke movingly and powerfully about his experiences of school and where that has led him. Following a serious illness diagnosed in Year 8, Tom had part of his leg amputated. He spoke about how sport meant that this change – which could have been disabling – actually enabled him to take on more challenges, including becoming a prominent wheelchair basketball player. Tom is now a keen climber, and is trying out for the GB Paraclimbing squad. You can read more about Tom’s story here. His speech was incredibly inspiring, and many students took the opportunity to talk to him during the rest of the evening about how sport has the power to transform lives.

After a delicious meal, it was the turn of our second special guest, Bristol Bears Head Coach Pat Lam. The former Samoan international spoke about his childhood in New Zealand and the lessons he has learned over a lifetime in rugby – and teaching!

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Pat Lam addressing Sports Awards Evening 2018

Pat’s first lesson was about balance: that keeping school work and extra-curricular activities in balance is vital. Too much on one or the other is harmful. It was reassuring to hear this, as this was exactly the message I gave to Year 11 students and their families at the start of this academic year!

Secondly, Pat shared the four “Ps” that he has used to find success in his personal and professional life:

  • Purpose: having a goal and driving towards that goal is the key to everything else. Don’t let others put you off: if you have a goal, go for it!
  • People: meeting people, working with others, and treating them well is the second key to success. Pat spoke about how each of us has the power – and the responsibility – to intervene when others are not being treated well. His message here really chimed with our value of Kindness. 
  • Perseverance: Pat’s message in the third “P” tied in perfectly with our value of Determination – we all encounter difficulties and barriers, but our response to them is crucial. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and grow – this is a phrase straight out of the Academy’s learning values!
  • Performance: the fourth “P” is the end result – putting in the performance when it matters and doing the very best you can in any given situation.

The rugby star then went on to talk to students about the “Power Train” technique – how your thoughts, words, and actions can either undermine or improve your chances of achieving your dreams. If a team thinks like champions, they will talk like champions, and then they will act like champions – and this gives them a better chance of actually becoming champions. The same is true for every individual.

Pat had the entire room in the palm of his hand, even leading us all in a spontaneous dance routine to finish off!

Our guest of honour then joined me to help Team PE hand out this year’s awards. You can find a full list on the Academy website, but it was a special privilege as ever to hand over the Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year Award. This year’s deserving winners were Katie Mackay and Stan Irving.

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Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year 2018

Above all, though, the depth and breadth of sport and PE at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form was breathtaking. Awards were given for rugby, football, netball, hockey, rounders, cricket, golf, swimming, and athletics, whilst students were inducted into the Hall of Fame for gymnastics, equestrianism, and archery. Team PE also introduced new awards for kindness, curiosity and determination this year.

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Sports Awards 2018

Thanks must go to all the staff who attended and helped, especially Team PE; to our special guests; and above all to the fantastic students who make sport at Churchill such a success. Their participation, effort, and contribution makes it all worthwhile.

Bring on #SAE19!

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FAQ: who was in the Yeti costume?!

 

The class of 2018

The last day of Term 5 is always an emotional one! Year 11 reach the end of their time in main school, whilst Year 13 reach the end of their time at Churchill altogether. We celebrated these milestones with our students today.

The day began for Year 11 with an English Literature GCSE exam, during which time we celebrated with Year 13. This year group have been wonderful ambassadors for the Academy, who have really made their mark on Churchill. We will remember them fondly as they head off to the next stage of their adventures, and look forward to hearing all about them!

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Year 13 Class of 2018

Once Year 11 had got the exam out of the way, it was time for them to celebrate. The students had a well deserved break before the final dance practice for the Ball.

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The final ballroom practice…next time it’ll be in all their finery!

After lunch there was the usual festival of shirt signing and photo-taking, with lots of happiness and just a few tears.

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Year 11 Class of 2018

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Hanover House Class of 2018

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Stuart House Class of 2018

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Tudor House Class of 2018

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Windsor House Class of 2018

We saw the day out with the end of Year 11 assembly, looking back over the students’ time with us. My final message to all our students moving on to their next stage is captured in the following quotation from my Headteacher hero, Albus Dumbledore:

 

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We are all born with different abilities, different predispositions, different advantages and disadvantages in life. But these are not limiting factors. We are not bound by our circumstances.  We can choose to make the most of the situations we find ourselves in, choose to take chances and opportunities when we have them, choose to take on the difficult challenge or the easy option. It is these choices that define us all. I hope that Churchill has provided all of our students with the knowledge and skills to make the best choices, so you can be what you truly are and deserve to be.

Singin’ in the Rain – Review

At one point in Saturday’s performance of Singin’ in the Rain, the character Cosmo Brown (Cai Williams/Ricky Parsons) delivered the line: “the show must go on. Come rain, some shine, come sleet, come snow, the show must go on.”  He nearly brought the house down.

Because this was no ordinary performance. Storm Emma and the “Beast from the East” had conspired together to shut down not only Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but much of the United Kingdom. Rehearsals were called off. In the midst of a Red Warning from the Met Office, Thursday evening’s performance was cancelled. Friday was also snowed off. But, with the words of Cosmo Brown ringing in their ears, the intrepid team of Mr Buckley, Mrs Lippe, Mrs Rees and Mr Stuart would not give up. The show – for one performance only – was on.

There had been no time for a technical or a dress rehearsal, and the two casts were combined and meshed together to ensure everyone got their chance on the Playhouse stage. But the cast and crew were so well-rehearsed, so professional, and so single-mindedly determined to put on a show that the audience would never have known it. Props and sets arrived on time, films flickered into life, and the rain fell from the sky right on cue. It was simply stunning.

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The actors adapted brilliantly to their shared stage time. Lucy Taylor and Molly Sprouting shone as Kathy Selden, whilst Melissa Harrold and Cara Crozier-Cole were hilariously grating as the none-too-bright megastar Lina Lamont. Jack Baker and Matt Hogg (R.F. Simpson) sparred with Ricky Parsons and Cai Williams (Cosmo Brown) with impeccable comic timing, supported by a cast as impressive in its depth and breadth as it was in the quality of its performance. But the show revolved around James Duby in the lead as silent-film-turned-musical star Don Lockwood. On stage for almost the whole show, James sang, danced and acted as though he was born to do it, holding the entire audience in the palm of his hand and bringing such energy and verve to the production that you couldn’t help but be carried along with it.

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This was a show packed with song and dance. From the chaotic comic choreography of “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the huge production number “Broadway Melody,” the dancing was exceptional. Singing was of the highest quality, whilst the pit band, conducted by Mr Spencer, would have held their own in any professional theatre. The melodramatic silent movies (and, later, the talking pictures) shot and edited by Will Maitland-Round had the audience in stitches for all the right reasons. And the unseen technical crew, running the props, costumes, set, lighting, sound and special effects for the first time ever, made the production look incredible and flow as smoothly as it could possibly have done.

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You might have expected the show to be tinged with disappointment, as it hadn’t turned out the way that everyone would have wanted it to. But actually, inside the theatre, the cast, crew and audience were united in a joyous celebration, as if the show had got onto the stage through the force of sheer willpower alone. We went home through the melting snow, singing the songs, and privileged to have been part of such a special, memorable performance.

Thank you to everyone involved – students, staff, and families – for making Singin’ in the Rain not only possible, but wonderful.

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Read this review on the Academy website here.

All photography by Neil Phillips – visit his website here.

Confidence

I remember the first lesson I ever taught. The thought of standing up in front of thirty children and expecting them to listen and do as they were told made my heart pound and a cold sweat prickle on my brow. I was full of nerves. But I walked into the classroom and I taught that lesson. It wasn’t brilliant – but I did it. And, having done one, the next one was easier – and better. Now, over twenty years into my career, I think nothing of standing up in in front of 270 students in assembly, or a hall full of parents on our Open Evenings, or even (as I did recently) in front of nearly 400 teachers in the conference centre at Old Trafford, Manchester!

This is how confidence in built. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t: it’s something you develop with practice. The first time you speak up in front of a group of people can be terrifying: what if I make a mistake? What if I get it wrong? What if they think I’m stupid? Those feelings never go away, but the next time they will be lessened, and the next time lessened further, until you think nothing of them at all. That’s when you start to come across as confident.

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At Churchill we aim to empower everyone at the Academy to develop knowledge, skills, character and confidence, as we believe these ingredients give young people (and adults!) the best chance of success later in life. We try to create opportunities for our young people to build confidence through practice. One example of this is our Year 8 public speaking competition. Every Year 8 student has the opportunity to give a speech in front of their class. The winners go through to the Year 8 finals, and the winners of that have a chance to compete in the regional Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Club. Each time, the audience is bigger and less familiar, but the staging up allows the students to build their confidence each time.

The same was true at the fantastic Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition, held on Monday evening at St John’s Church in association with Churchill Music! Eight young musicians performed with such self-assurance, commitment and skill that the audience was gripped and enthralled by every one of them.

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The chair of the adjudication panel, violinist Ruth Rogers,  spoke afterwards about nerves, and about how even she gets nervous every time she performs. Her advice was to focus on another musician, rather than the audience, and to enjoy the performance. Our young musicians definitely benefitted from her advice: if they were nervous, they didn’t show it, and this enabled the audience to put their faith in the performers, to trust them, which allowed them to be carried away by the wonderful music making on display.

Over recent weeks I’ve been interviewing Year 11 students for places in our Sixth Form, and they have all presented themselves really well: good eye contact, a firm handshake, and clear, well articulated answers to my questions. Just like the musicians on Monday night, or the Year 8s the week before, they might have been nervous inside, but they came across as confident, self-assured young people. And it’s the impression you give which matters, not what’s happening inside. That impression of confidence gives people faith in you and your abilities, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in yourself.

So, even if you’re not feeling confident, pretend. Act as if you are. Because the next time, it’ll be easier, and the next time easier still, until, eventually, you’ll find that the confidence you were pretending to have has turned into the real thing. As five times Wimbledon champion and four time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams said:

Believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and some day, you will.

USP TENNIS: WIMBLEDON S TEN GBR [E

 

My portrait

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Artist Katie Jackson with my portrait and me, January 2018

In the summer term of 2017, Mr Downing approached me with the idea for an annual Academy portrait painting event. I thought it was a great idea – a long term project to celebrate the teaching staff at Churchill Academy. The aim is that each year students will be able to vote for a member of staff to have their portrait painted by one of our A level Art students, and we would build a gallery of portraits over time. So, would I mind being the first subject, to kick the competition off? I jumped at the chance! Year 13 student Katie Jackson was selected as the first artist and, after a brief photoshoot during Activities week, Katie went off and developed the painting, and brought it in to present to me just before Christmas.

It’s a strange thing, seeing yourself through the eyes of someone else. It’s not like a photograph, or a mirror – Katie has interpreted me and put that interpretation onto canvas. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome – I absolutely love it! I feel like she’s really “got me” and managed to communicate that through the image she’s made. It is a fantastic painting, an exciting beginning to this project.

I’d like to thank Katie for all the time and effort she put into the picture, which is truly remarkable. Katie is now studying Make Up for Media and Performance at Arts University Bournemouth and clearly has a bright future ahead of her! The portrait will be on display in reception this term before going into the gallery.

Who will be the next member of staff, and the next artist? Watch this space!

Christmas at Churchill 2017

The last week of term before Christmas is a magical time at Churchill. We keep our lessons going right up until the end, but on the final day we all get together to celebrate. The Sixth Form lead the way with their annual fancy dress parade, closely followed by the four Houses with their carol services, tutor events and mini-competitions. Enjoy the photos below, and I wish everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community (and beyond) a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

 

 

Looking forward, looking back

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Janus: the Roman god of transitions, beginnings and endings

This week, at the end of the academic year, I have been conducting my assemblies with students and talking about the Roman god Janus. Janus was always depicted with two faces: one, looking forward into the future; the other, looking back into the past. I have been doing some Janus-like reflection as we reach the end of this year and look forward to the next.

Olympic lessons

I started this year on the Headteacher’s blog with Lessons from the Olympics. Inspired by Rio 2016, I looked back on the inspiration of Ruby Harrold, a Churchill alumnus who represented Team GB in gymnastics. This week it was my pleasure to meet Ruby, who passed on her inspiration to some stars of the future.

Churchill at 60

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We have all been looking back this year on the history of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, both on this blog and on the dedicated page on our website. This week, I had the great privilege of meeting Ivan Devereux, our first ever Head Boy, who joined the brand new secondary school in 1957 from the old V.C. Church of England school which used to stand by the crossroads. He remembered starting in the very first classes, including the names of the teachers listed in the School Log Book! He was given a tour of the Academy by our new Tudor House Captains, and showed us the dictionary he was given as Head Boy with a signed bookplate from the first Headmaster, Reginald Dennis. I was fascinated by the old school badge: like our current one, it reflects the four houses of Windsor, Stuart, Hanover and Tudor, but using symbols instead of colours. House pride has been part of the school for as long as there has been a school here! It was fitting, therefore that this week I have officially welcomed our new House Captains with their embroidered polo shirts at our Celebration of Success events.

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Looking ahead, we have our 60th Anniversary Gala Evening to mark 60 years since the official opening of the school taking place on 23rd September. You can buy your tickets here for what promises to be an incredible night to celebrate the history and the future of Churchill.

The Academy Site

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Looking back over the course of this year it’s hard to believe that the Alan Turing Building was an empty patch of earth in September, and is now a fully operational facility for our students with brand-new computer rooms and classrooms. Looking ahead, work is due to start in August on our fourteen-classroom Science and Technology building, which will transform the opportunities for students in those subjects and lead to the decommissioning of the original 1956 Tudor building.

Over the summer there are lots of other works going on across the Academy to redevelop our learning environment, including the new Student Services facility above the Library and brand new study facilities for our Sixth Formers.

Rest, relax, recharge

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The students and the staff have worked really hard this year, pushing themselves to go that extra mile every single day. At this week’s Celebration of Success events, it has been a privilege to recognise some of those hardworking, dedicated students and present them with their certificates. I wish everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community a restful and relaxing summer break, and look forward to seeing you in September refreshed, recharged and ready for the next challenge!

Activities Week 2017

Activities Week is a great opportunity for students to learn something new, beyond their “normal” curriculum. I am really proud that Churchill continues to run such a diverse, engaging and exciting Activities Week programme, which this year has included (to name a few) animation, archery, art, beauty, bushcraft, cake decorating, candle making, chess, circus skills, cookery, computing, crafts, cycling, dancing, driving, film studies, first aid, football, frisbee, golf, horse riding, illustration, jewellery, journalism, sailing, shooting, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, textiles and a trip to the zoo! We’ve also given students experiences abroad, with trips to France, Belgium and Italy as well as the popular Surf Trip to Cornwall.

Activities week shows that learning isn’t just about what goes on in the classroom, but stretches far beyond. As well as learning to surf, or ride a horse, or make a scented candle, students are learning about collaborating with others who they may not usually get the chance to work with. And, of course, to enjoy themselves in the process!