Celebrations with Year 11 and 13

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!

Year 13 Ball

The Year 13 Ball took place in Bristol on 18th June. It was a wonderful event, with delicious food and a packed dance floor! There is a full gallery of photos on the Academy website.

Year 11 Prom

The Year 11 Prom took place on 24th June at Cadbury House. The students looked great in their outfits and celebrated in style! A full gallery is available on the Academy website, and the download link for photos from inside the venue is also available – all Year 11 families will be emailed the password for this page.

Sponsored Walk and Trek 2022

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:

Senior Trek Results 2022

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!

Thank a Teacher Day 2022

Thursday 26th May is national Thank a Teacher Day for 2022. The day aims to celebrate the schools at the heart of our communities, and the role that they have played through the pandemic and beyond in supporting children and young people with their learning, progress and development.

For Thank a Teacher Day 2021, I wrote about two teachers who I remember with particular fondness from my own school days. This year, I want to turn my attention to the colleagues I work with as a teacher myself. And it’s important that this isn’t just about teachers – even though it is thank a teacher day! The support staff in schools enable us teachers to do our jobs. The office staff, the cleaners, the kitchen staff, the site team, the network and IT support team, pastoral support workers, counsellors, teaching and learning assistants, careers and business engagement, sustainability, finance and human resources – there is a huge team of colleagues working really hard to make sure our Academy functions properly and effectively. So, although it is the teachers who get a national day of thanks, I want to pay a special tribute today to all the support staff who work so hard at Churchill and beyond.

In particular, I want to record my thanks to Sue Griffiths. Almost anyone who comes into contact with Churchill Academy & Sixth Form will have met or spoken to Sue, as she is the smiling face working behind our reception desk. Sue has been at Churchill since the turn of the millennium, and in those 22 years she has seen and heard it all – but she’s far too professional to share her stories! Her smile, warmth and complete unflappability have ensured that countless thousands of people who have visited or called the Academy have come away with a positive first impression – myself included. For that, we owe her our immeasurable gratitude. Sue will be leaving Churchill at the end of this term, and we will miss her terribly.

And so, to all the teachers and to everyone who works in schools – thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for our children and young people. You are all superstars, and it’s a pleasure to work with you.

Rock of Ages

There are many, many privileges in being a Headteacher, but one of the unparalleled joys of the role is seeing your students absolutely smash it out of the park. I’ve seen it on the sports field, I see it in classrooms, I see it in exam results; this week, I saw it as the casts of Rock of Ages melted the faces of enthusiastic audiences from the stage of the Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare.

The musical – which ran in its original version for 2,328 performances on Broadway – is set in the Los Angeles rock scene of the 1980s. Big hair, big egos and rock’n’roll excess are the order of the day, as aspiring rock star Drew (Brett Kelly/Matt Lucas) and wannabe actress Sherrie (Ivana Eamesova/Nina Campbell) try to make it big. Along the way they are variously helped and hindered by the big characters of LA’s Sunset Strip, against a backdrop of a threat to the Strip’s very existence from the wrecking ball of arch efficiency-enthusiast Hilda (Emma Cekaj/Maddie Pole). The whole affair is punctuated by songs from the classic hair-metal bands of the period – Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Journey and more.

These are some big songs, with big tunes and big notes, which need big performances – and the students delivered. In fact, such is the talent on display that the show had two casts, each as fantastic as the other. Each performance also featured two bands – one on-stage, and one in the orchestra pit – and those bands were different each night as well! They were note perfect, nailing every riff and solo in perfect synchronisation with the on-stage action.

The main cast were simply amazing, but what made the show for me was the strength in depth. The dancers, chorus, and hilarious cameo performances had the audience in raptures. The costumes, make-up and hair (there was some REALLY big hair!) were all amazing, and the behind-the-scenes crew ran the production like a well-oiled machine – sound, lighting, props and set were all exemplary.

One of our priorities over the past few years has been developing leadership skills in our students. Well, here it was: students selling programmes, students directing scenes, students running the bands, running the backstage, running the show. Students working with one another across years, across houses, across friendship groups, supporting one another in a massive team effort. It was no surprise that the other cast was packing the back row of the balcony to cheer on those on stage when they were “off” – that is the spirit which this production has created, and it ran through the theatre like electricity.

I did have a word with Mr Buckley, Director of Performing Arts and this production, about the propensity for his shows to coincide with major incidents. You may recall that Singin’ in the Rain was almost derailed by the Beast from the East snowstorm in 2018; Sweeney Todd went on stage in 2020 just before we were all locked down by the pandemic; and this year’s show coincided with Storm Eunice bringing a red weather warning and winds of over 90mph. Mr Buckley reminded me that correlation is not causation, and that the third Academy value is determination, and that I should take Journey’s advice – “don’t stop believing.” Quite right – the show must go on!

And go on it did – a thrilling, professional-standard performance, sizzling with energy and joy and the release of being on stage in a packed theatre again. I could not be prouder of everyone involved.

Christmas Concert 2021

Christmas always comes early at Churchill, as we hold our Christmas Concert in late November! This year we were back at the Playhouse theatre in Weston-super-Mare, where we last performed Sweeney Todd in February 2020. It was great to be back!

Junior Choir in action

The Performing Arts team have been amazing in keeping music, dance and drama going through the pandemic last year, where there were restrictions on choral singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments. Thankfully, this year those restrictions have been lifted and the team have been unleashed! As a result we had performances from Brass, Flute and Clarinet ensembles, along with Concert Band, Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, giving us fantastic pieces from their repertoire including classical, modern and festive music.

There were also four choirs on the bill: the classical Chamber Choir, our Youthful Spirit gospel choir, the Year 7-10 choir and the massed ranks of the Year 7 and 8 Junior Choir which closed the show. There’s no doubt that the Junior Choir was a great way to finish the night, telling the Christmas story through music (and synchronised actions!) There were some incredible soloists fronting the choir, with Lucy Donovan, Anna Pope, Ella Phippen, Ben Marks, Ben Payne and Joe Armfelt wowing the audience!

The concert also showcased our student leaders, with Peter Skeen (Year 12) conducting Big Orchestra, Bori Gunyits and Miyah Barker (Year 13) conducting the Year 7-10 choir, Toby Wilson (Year 10) arranging pieces for Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, and the highly efficient backstage crew led by Mimi Mendl and Mia Wakeling (Year 13). All of the songs performed by Junior Choir were also composed by our students!

The first half concluded with an early showcase for next spring’s production of Rock of Ages. The stage was fizzing with energy and the double cast gave us a taste of what to expect when we return to the Playhouse between 16th and 18th February 2022 for what promises to be a spectacular show.

A huge thank you goes out to all the staff from the Academy and the Playhouse who helped get the concert together, to the wonderful audiences across the two nights, and to the amazing students who owned the stage. It felt good to be back!

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is a vital moment for us to call to mind those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. During the silence we observe, we all experience an identical minute between the bells, but in our private inner worlds each person has an unknown and unique journey as we reflect on what remembrance means to us.

I always preface the silence with my classes with a little about why Remembrance Day is particularly important to me. I tell them about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy, serving in the Arctic convoys and captaining 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.

Soldiers in a trench on the Somme, 1916

Each year I display a poem on the board for the students to read if they wish. Some like – or need – a focus for the minute. Previously I have used Sassoon, Owen, and McCrae, but in recent years I have favoured 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.

The military cemetery at Mametz

As we remember the Great War it is our duty and privilege as teachers to help the next generation reach back into the collective memory of our violent past and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future in their hands.

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)

This blog is a revised version of a post I originally published in 2014.

Open Evening 2021

It was great to welcome so many visitors to the Academy on Wednesday evening for our annual Open Evening. Having designed and run a virtual event last year, we worked hard to open up the Academy safely to visitors so they could make an informed choice of secondary school.

In pre-pandemic times, we would gather visitors in the Academy hall to hear the perspectives of our students, and a presentation from myself. This year, to avoid overcrowding, we put that presentation online and sent it out to everyone who had pre-booked tickets in advance. It was playing in the hall anyway, so anyone could see it if they wanted to! And here it is: Sixth Form student Bethan, House Captain Pritika, and Year 7 students Jude and Frankie give their perspectives on Churchill, alongside my explanation of why I think Churchill is the right choice for secondary education.

Putting this presentation online really helped ensure a smooth flow of visitors through the Academy, with plenty of time for them to visit all the departments and learn as much as they could about Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. Our younger visitors had the opportunity to collect a sticker from every department they visited, and a complete set was rewarded with a “future student” pin badge from the Sixth Form Centre.

Open Evening is always an event that makes me feel so proud of Churchill. I feel like it “opens the lid” on our school for others to see what I see every day! Our staff, brimming with enthusiasm for their subjects and the extra-curricular programme. Our buildings, more and more reflecting the state-of-the-art learning environment we are developing. And, above all, our students. They really are amazing. Tour guides, department helpers, student leaders, and performers of every discipline turned out in huge numbers. They conducted themselves knowledgeably, confidently, articulately and with such enthusiasm about the Academy – it was wonderful to see and hear! Many of them spoke about how glad they were to be back in school after the long lockdowns of recent years, and the video below captures some of what they are looking forward to the most.

Churchill has been oversubscribed every year from 2017 onwards, with waiting lists operating in all year groups at the moment. If you were at our open evening this week, you will understand why. It’s humbling to know that so many families put their trust in us. They trust that we will help make a positive difference to the most important thing in their lives – their children. And that, in turn, their children will make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy, and to the wider world around them. That is why we do what we do. And there’s nothing that makes me prouder.

Sports Day 2021

After last year’s virtual event, this year we were determined to bring Sports Day back “for real” – and the 2021 event delivered! Year group bubbles were the order of the day, with separate sections of the field for each group of competitors. Year 7 and 8 started on the top field for the Tug of War, whilst Years 9 and 10 began the day with track and field events on the bottom field and the 3G. After break, both halves of the school swapped over, before all coming together in year group areas to watch and compete in the the track finale: 100m, 200m, 300m and 4x100m relay.

House spirit was in full display, with the mascots making a big entrance and encouraging their teams throughout the day. Face-paint and glitter was liberally applied – to the extent that some Windsor students began to resemble their smurf mascot! – and the cheering never let up from start to finish. The whole day was soundtracked by Mr Hartley in the DJ booth, including singlaongs to Three Lions and Sweet Caroline in anticipation of the England men’s football team’s appearance in the final of the Euros.

Competitors and spectators were well catered for, with Aspen’s providing all-day barbecue food and the Sixth Form ice-cream stand proving very popular! The Sixth Form provided much support for the day, acting as guides, timekeepers, litter-pickers, umpires and more.

At the business end of the day, the competition was fierce. Peter Skeen (Year 11) and Mr Gale kept the scores and records regularly updated in a magnificently sprawling spreadsheet. In total eight school records and twenty seven house records were broken on the day. You can see all the record breakers on the Academy website here.

The broken records all contributed to the overall competition, which saw Tudor House establish an early lead. Lancaster mustered a late surge with some very impressive sprint performances, whilst Hanover overtook Windsor into second place by one point courtesy of a victory in the final event of the day – the Year 10 boys’ 4x100m relay. Tudor’s lead proved unassailable, and they completed the double by also lifting the Tug of War Trophy.

Our student reporters were out and about throughout the day, and got their newspaper published almost as soon as the winner was announced! You can read The Finishing Line on the Academy website here.

Thanks to all the competitors, spectators and staff who made Sports Day possible. It was just what we needed after the year we’ve had! Enjoy some pictures from the day in the gallery below.

Activities Week 2021

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. It’s an opportunity for us to take learning outside the classroom, to develop vital skills such as teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem solving whilst also building confidence in new environments. This year, more than ever, our students have needed the opportunity to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the feeling of freedom in the summer sunshine (and occasional British summer downpour). Not to mention that having lots of time outdoors greatly reduces the risk of infection with covid and the chance of any more bubbles popping in the final week of term…

It’s normally the time when we are able to get our residential trips away to Europe and beyond. This year that hasn’t been possible, but the staff have done an amazing job of organising superb activities around the Academy site and our beautiful local area. It’s been a big logistical challenge, but we’ve managed it! We’re grateful to Adventure Bristol and Mendip Outdoor for helping us with their expertise, and to the amazing team of staff who have pitched in, helped out and solved problems throughout the week. I must pay particular tribute to Mr Davies, who masterminded the whole thing and then ended up having to call the shots remotely whilst self-isolating at home as a close contact of a coronavirus case. What a trooper!

I have tried to take in as many of the activities as possible this week. On Monday, I spent a fantastic day with Year 7 on their sponsored walk along the Strawberry Line and up to Crooks Peak. I started at the back and tried to power-walk all the way to the front, so I would see the whole of Year 7 walking. I managed it – although I paid for it the next day with very stiff legs! Luckily on Tuesday I was based in school, with Year 7 again on the Adventure Bristol activities and Year 10 on Basecamp with candle-making, nail art, some delicious looking cream teas and plenty more besides…

On Wednesday I ventured out again with Year 10 the water sports day – although half of the day was more like mud sports as the students tackled a tough-mudder-style assault course. Having seen some of our students fling themselves through a mud pit with glorious abandon, I don’t think I’ll ever see them in the same light again!

Finally, on Thursday I was back at school with Year 9 and Year 8 – although sadly I had to spend several hours chained to my desk wading through the latest government guidance on Step 4 of the roadmap and working out how much of what we’d already planned for September we would need to unpick and re-do. Such are the joys of headship! I did manage to get out to most of the activities as well, and even manged to race Mr Sharp over the giant inflatable assault course in the sports hall. I’ll let Year 9 tell you who won.

I’ve had my camera with me throughout the week, and thought readers might enjoy my photo diary.

Activities Week ends with Sports Day tomorrow. There are records to be broken (you can see the current records on our website) and it’s really all to play for. We last had a proper Sports Day in 2019, so we don’t know what our Year 7 and 8 students are capable of in track and field. At the same time, the transfer of some older students to Lancaster House in September has meant that Stuart House’s recent dominance may be under threat. Who will win? Only time will tell!

Come on England!

I’ve watched England all my life. My earliest memory is collecting Panini Stickers for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. These sticker albums were all the rage, with packs flying off the shelves and a busy market of “swapsies” in the primary school playground as we all set about trying to complete our collections. Nobody I knew ever did! Although I don’t remember much about the tournament itself (I was seven!), I do remember being very happy about getting the Kevin Keegan sticker in my England page…

The 1986 World Cup is much clearer in my memory. I remember the injustice of Maradona’s handball goal, sending us crashing out in the quarter finals. I remember Italia ’90 too, when Chris Waddle’s penalty miss sent us out at the semi-final stage.

Summer 1996 gave me the tournament that I will never forget. I was 21 years old, and I had just finished my final exams at university. I was waiting around for my friends to finish theirs, before we all headed off for a holiday in France together to celebrate the end of three years at university. The sun was shining, Britpop was at its height, and we had the Euros on home soil.

Criticism of the team was rife before the tournament, but it soon turned round on a tidal wave of national expectation. Although we thrashed the Netherlands 4-1, the game of the tournament for me was England vs Scotland. There was so much riding on the match, with a lot of criticism in the press counterbalanced by a rising tide of national expectation. Shearer settled nerves early on, and keeper David Seaman pulled off a magnificent penalty save – but it was Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne’s sublime bit of skill just on the edge of the Scottish penalty area which propelled us all to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was our year.

Of course, it wasn’t to be. Gazza’s outstretched foot was just a whisker away from converting a Shearer cross into a golden goal in extra time of the semi final, but it finished goalless. Current England manager Gareth Southgate’s agonising penalty miss sent us crashing out and the dream was over.

Michael Owen provided the moment of the tournament for me in 1998. Aged just 18, his pace terrified opposing defenders. He ripped through Argentina to score a stunner in the last 16 of the World Cup, before we went out, yet again, on penalties.

It’s a familiar pattern. You start the tournament feeling realistic: there are much better teams in the draw. We don’t really stand a chance. But then the players step on to the pitch, and you hear the national anthem. They string a few passes together. The keeper makes a decent save. There’s a moment of brilliance, the ball is in the back of the net, and you’re up off the sofa yelling in excitement. You start to believe…this could be our moment. This could be it. We could actually win this. Until – usually – we don’t.

Now we’re back on home soil again. In the topsy-turvy world that we currently inhabit, the 2020 Euros are being played all across the continent…in 2021. We were lucky enough to go to Wembley to watch a qualifier (5-0 against Bulgaria), so we’re fully invested! We’ve got the wall chart up. We’ve drawn our teams in the sweepstake (I’ve got Spain…), dusted off the St George’s flags and plotted out the various routes to the final. Could this be our year?

Gareth Southgate is the man of the moment. I’ve been impressed by his calm, controlled approach to the task. He doesn’t listen to the thousands of armchair pundits across the land, cursing him for picking Tripper at left back and questioning Sterling’s inclusion in the team given his poor club form this year. He assesses the situation in front of him, and makes the call that he thinks is right. He proved, in the 2018 World Cup, that he knows what he is doing. He can lead a team through a major tournament and the team are with him.

His beautifully written “Dear England” shows that he knows that the national team is about much more than football. He said: “the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that. It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever…I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts. No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.”

On Sunday, against Croatia, in a re-match against the team that knocked us out of the World Cup in 2018, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, at Wembley Stadium with 22,500 actual fans in the stands, his players showed us what’s possible. Kalvin Phillips was a tremendous presence, finding Raheem Sterling to set us on our way with a solid 1-0 victory. And so, hope begins to bloom again…

My 21-year-old self still lives on in my 46-year-old body. He still lives the moment of Gazza’s glorious goal against Scotland in 1996. And here we are, in 2021, facing our old rivals at Wembley in the Euros again. Phil Foden has dyed his hair in a Gazza style. Is it too much to hope that he can capture some of his iconic football magic as well?

Euro 2020 (in 2021) gives us all a chance to share in something special, something that brings us all together. We can hope together, celebrate together, enjoy together. If necessary we can commiserate together. But, after what everyone has been through over the past year and a half, I hope that the next month gives us moments to celebrate. Because, whether we win or lose, it’s coming home. You heard it here first.