The power of music to change lives

Last summer, the government published “A National Plan for music education.” Whilst schools are crushed under the weight of non-statutory guidance from the Department for Education, telling schools they should be doing this, or they should be doing that, this was one plan that I could fully support. The ministerial foreword says:

Excellent music education opens opportunities, but it is not simply a means to an end: it is also an end in itself. It gives children and young people an opportunity to express themselves, to explore their creativity, to work hard at something, persevere and shine. These experiences and achievements stay with them and shape their lives.

From The Power of Music to Change Lives: a national plan for music education, June 2022

I found myself in the unusual position of being inspired by a piece of government guidance!

I grew up playing instruments, having lessons on the piano and guitar throughout my school days. I was in bands and ensembles from primary school, through university and beyond. When I completed my newly qualified teacher year, I bought myself a saxophone as a “congratulations” present to myself, alongside a challenge to learn to play it well enough to be in the band for my school’s production of Bugsy Malone in the next academic year.

Since then I have played in pit bands for school productions of Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell, Return to the Forbidden Planet (three times!) and more. I’ve directed – and even written! – musicals. I’ve played in big bands, covers bands, rock bands and jazz groups. There’s nothing quite like playing with others, sharing never-to-be-repeated moments in live performance, where the interactions and interplay between the musicians and the audiences create that unique moment in time for all involved.

This is why I am pleased to see the Department for Education prioritising music education. There is a recognition of the contribution that music makes to the economy, and the careers that can be pursued within the music industry; this is, after all, a government document. But it is also clear that a good quality music education is a right for all our young people.

We are fortunate at Churchill to be building on a firm foundation, with an established strength in the musical life of the school, supported by the North Somerset music service and, more locally, the amazing support of Churchill Music. Our partnership with Churchill Music continues to thrive, not least in the Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition which took place on Monday.

This competition, along with the wealth of musical activities across the school, shows that music is at the very heart of our education at Churchill – and will continue to be there, whether or not the government issues non-statutory guidance to tell us that it should be.

Making informed choices

This term our attention has been focused on the Year 9 options process. The options evening this week was a good opportunity to meet with students and their families to discuss the choices that they are making as they seek to personalise their curriculum for years 10 and 11. As I said to the assembled parents, carers and students in the hall alongside Mrs Dawes on Wednesday evening, the aim of the whole process is to provide as much information as possible, so that students can make good decisions about their next steps.

The same philosophy governs our whole “choices” programme – whether it be advice and guidance to Year 11 students making decisions about post-16 education; or sixth formers exploring their options for higher education through universities, apprenticeships, employment or gap years; or the wider careers inspiration, advice and guidance programme that covers all our students; the aim is to ensure that our students are well-informed about their choices, so they can make the right decisions for them.

An example of this was our “Careers to Curriculum Day” for Year 9 students on the day after options evening this week. Year 9 students followed an adapted timetable to learn more about how the subjects they follow on their curriculum apply to the real world of work. From the applications of maths to climate science, the use of economics and law, the life of an actor, product design, illustration, journalism, financial trading, medical ethics and food sciences, our students got to think about how their classroom work could serve them in a future career.

This was supported by our annual Careers Convention on Thursday evening. We welcomed representatives from businesses both local, national and international to the Academy. We had employers including Airbus, GKN Aerospace, Rolls Royce and Taylor Wimpey; Civil Service Careers and HMRC; the Army, Royal Navy and Border Force; the NHS and St Monica Trust; Virgin Atlantic and Easyjet; the Met Office, Thatchers, Wessex Water, the National Grid Electricity Distribution, Burges Salmon, Motorbodies Weston and more. They were joined by further and higher education providers including colleges, apprenticeship providers, and universities with the aim of raising student aspirations, broadening their horizons, and encouraging them to think about what may be possible in their future.

Throughout their time at Churchill, students also have access to the Unifrog system. Unifrog helps young people find and apply for the best opportunities for them after school. It gives students a wealth of information and tools to use to help them navigate the array of options open to them. From interest and personality profiling, to information about a wide variety of careers and education pathways, Unifrog also gives students a space to record their wider activities to build a profile of their skills and competencies. This can help to guide them as they consider their next steps, by enabling them to reflect on what they are good at and what they enjoy – not just in their lessons, but beyond.

All this is just scratching the surface of our careers inspiration, advice and guidance programme, led by Mr Morgan and coordinated by Mrs McGonigal. We do our very best to make sure that our students’ choices about their next steps – whatever and whenever they may be – are informed, thoughtful and the best possible choice for them.

Christmas at Churchill 2022

There are many fantastic Christmas traditions at Churchill – and this year we have added a couple of new ones into the mix! Firstly, hats off to our Hanover House Captains, who organised a whole-school non-uniform day on Monday with donations to food banks instead of money for charity. The Academy community responded with characteristic generosity, bringing in over 800kg of donations which were delivered on the same day to the Weston Foodbank Warehouse. Well done team!

Students remained focused and attentive in lessons, as we ran up towards the last day celebrations. The Sixth Form outdid themselves with their traditional fancy dress parade and revue.

The main school enjoyed celebrations and competitions within their houses, as well as making the trip to local churches for our Christmas assemblies.

The annual Headteacher’s Quiz also went down a storm – congratulations to winning tutor group SRS and the winning house: Stuart. If you fancy a go yourself, you can find the quiz here.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Concerts 2022

Despite the fact that my TV has been full of Christmas ads since what feels like mid-October, it’s the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form Christmas Concerts that always mark the start of the festive season for me. The tinsel-wrapped instruments, a few festive tunes and (of course!) the nativity story told in song by the massed Junior Choir all help bring the Christmas cheer. It’s the first time I allow my Christmas jumper an outing (I have a new Taylor Swift themed number for 2022!), and our Academy tree is always decked in reception once the concerts have taken place.

One of my favourite things about this year’s Christmas Concerts was the growing role of student leadership in the performing arts. The show was compered brilliantly by Year 13 students Lois and Will, and the acts included orchestras led and conducted by students, playing music arranged by students. We had a sneak preview of next week’s Year 7-9 production of Grease – the musical, which is completely led by our Sixth Form performing arts students – direction, choreography, musical direction, and organisation. I was privileged to be backstage this year, to see the backstage crew running an exceptionally tight ship under the direction of Year 13 student, Megan. And, of course, the 200+ strong Junior Choir were singing songs written by our youngest students, choreographed expertly (and enthusiastically!) by Sixth Form leaders Oliver and Mair.

Our comperes beyond compare backstage at the Christmas Concert

It wasn’t too long ago that singing in schools was limited by public health guidance, which severely disrupted our ability to run choirs and ensembles. We are delighted to see the music performance pathways opened up again, with the new Soul Band wowing the crowd and the Year 7-9 choir making a beautiful sound. Instrumental music continues to be a strength, with two orchestras, Concert Band, flute group, our Brass Monkeys brass group, a saxophone quartet, Jazz Band and the Sixth Form Band all giving great performances, alongside solos from the three finalists from the Junior Young Musician of the Year earlier this term: Lucas, Emilia and the overall winner, Olivia.

We were pleased to pack out the Playhouse for two nights – even though FIFA had scheduled the England vs Wales World Cup tie to clash with the first night – and we hope that audiences were left as uplifted and festive as our staff and students were. I’m still singing the incredibly catchy Junior Choir songs…and I’m sure I’m not the only one!

Student Leadership Conference 2022

Last Friday, we held our first Student Leadership Conference at the Food Works SW centre on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare. Following pandemic disruption, it was great to finally realise the vision of this event, which was a great success!

Lancaster House Council outside Food Works SW on our Student Leadership Conference, Friday 11th November 2022

In total, almost ninety student leaders were able to join us in the plush conference meeting rooms of the Food Works SW. On the agenda was a morning of training, to help our student leaders understand more about their role and to build their skills and confidence in delivering on their leadership ambitions. This included sessions on understanding the concept of leadership, and thinking about the best ways to bring about change, as well as training on communication skills and team building.

The afternoon session involved the House Councils working with the Heads of House to develop their plans for the year ahead. These sessions were about taking the theory from the morning and putting it into practice. What did they want to achieve? And how would they go about achieving it?

It was a full day of challenging thinking and participation, but our student leaders rose to the occasion and showed their commitment to their roles. I feel confident that, with their leadership, the Academy will continue to go from strength to strength.

The School Sixth Form

I attended an 11-18 school, where the Sixth Form was a natural extension of the main school. At the end of Year 11, it was a smooth transition for me to straight on to the Sixth Form: I knew the teachers, I knew the school, and my friends were all staying on. It made sense!

When I moved into Year 12, however, I was struck by how different the experience felt. The relationship with the teachers shifted significantly: there was still a clear professional respect, but somehow it felt more personalised and connected. The only teacher from my school days that I am still in touch with (thirty years later!) is my A-level English teacher.

I also found a new niche in the Sixth Form as a student leader, working with groups of younger students both in English but also in Drama, where I ended up in charge of the technical theatre team to design and operate lighting for school productions. Whilst I had already been interested in teaching, this experience of working with younger children to help them achieve and deliver a project together really firmed up my career plans.

This is why, in my teaching career, I have always taught in 11-18 schools which have a Sixth Form attached to them. There is something about the presence of the Year 12 and 13 students in the school community that creates a tangible sense of destination and aspiration for our younger students: the Sixth Formers are positive role models. And, for the Sixth Formers themselves, there is that sense of the familiar but also the distinctly different that provides a natural extension of their 11-16 education, on the same site and with the same staff, but seen through a new lens.

There is also the added incentive of A-level teaching, which I have always found fulfilling. The depth, breadth and challenge of the additional subject knowledge required to teach at advance level brings additional subject expertise to the faculty. I have always found that this strengthens the teaching in the main school, as teachers know and teach the next steps beyond GCSE, enabling further stretch and challenge.

We are really proud of our Sixth Form at Churchill. As with the main school, we put achievement at the heart of our provision – but we recognise that an education is about more than just the exam results. That is why the wider offer which being part of a school can provide – leadership and enrichment opportunities, involvement with the community, and the extended curriculum – is so important to us, and such a strong feature of our Sixth Form. The video below really captures how our Sixth Form students feel about this:

2023 Sixth Form Video

We are a Level 3 Sixth Form, offering A-level or equivalent qualifications. The minimum entry requirement to get into Churchill Sixth Form is at least three GCSEs at grade 5 and above and at least two GCSEs at grade 4 and above. Many of the courses also have subject-specific entry criteria. We strongly believe that the vast majority of our main school students can reach the threshold to access this provision, but we also recognise that there are other destinations locally which provide strong alternatives. We provide detailed careers and application advice for students interested in progressing to colleges or other providers for vocational, technical and other post-16 offers: our primary interest is ensuring that students get to the right destination for them. However, if students meet the entry criteria and want to study A-levels or the other Level 3 qualifications we offer, we believe that there is no better place to do it than at our Sixth Form.

This week, our current Year 11 students have had a taster experience on our “Be A Sixth Former For A Day” programme, ahead of our Sixth Form Open Evening next week. We would urge all Year 11 students – whether they currently attend Churchill Academy & Sixth Form or not – to come and find our what our Sixth Form has to offer. We look forward to seeing you!

Celebrating student success: end of term 1

This week I have had the pleasure of attending two great events to celebrate our students’ achievements – the Future Chef Competition, and our annual Sports Awards Evening.

Future Chef 2022

In this competition, our Future Chefs had to plan and cook a main course dish for two people in under one hour, with a maximum budget of five pounds. The students, from Years 9 and 10, worked miracles with the brief, and produced plates of delicious food for the judging panel. Hot foot from our Senior Leadership Team meeting, myself and Deputy Head Mrs James, along with Assistant Heads Mrs Gill and Mr Davies, were joined by Director of PE Mr Hayne to assess the presentation and taste of the dishes, whilst Food specialist Mrs Coman judged the workmanship that went on behind the scenes.

The overall winner was Annabel Isgrove, whose guacamole was a triumph (I’d still like the recipe please, Annabel!), but every dish was delicious and really well presented. One of the real pleasures of Headship!

Sports Awards Evening

It was great to have Sports Awards Evening back in the calendar again! This fabulous, glamorous event is a great way to end term 1, celebrating the sporting successes of our students from the past year. The students scrubbed up well to join Team PE and a host of staff to eat well and enjoy the evening. Guests of honour Tom Stabbins (competitive climber and ex-Churchill student) and Bristol City striker Nakhi Wells helped hand out the awards, with the coveted Sportspeople of the Year trophies being awarded to Zoe Coombes and Benedict Skudder. A full report, with all the photos, is on the Academy website now.

What a great way to end term 1!

Black History Month

October is Black History Month. The month is marked to honour the contributions made to society by people of Black heritage and their communities. It is a time to educate and enrich the world with the importance of Black history.

At Churchill, we mark Black History Month with resources for our tutors to use with tutor groups, to help our students understand the importance of Black history. For example:


We also encourage our students to be critical and independent thinkers. The American actor, Morgan Freeman, has criticised Black History Month as “ridiculous.” “I don’t want a black history month,” he said, “black history is American history.“ So, whilst we do mark Black History Month, we also ensure that our curriculum is rich, broad and diverse all year round – and not just in History.

From our studies in history, geography and RE, to the selection of texts in English, the examples of scientists in Science, artists in Art and beyond, we think carefully about our choices to challenge our students to look at a range of diverse experiences and perspectives. Our learning groups in Years 7-9, are named after significant figures from the fields of different faculties, from a range of diverse backgrounds. These include Mary Seacole, who was named as the greatest black Briton in a 2004 BBC poll, and civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson. In tutor time this week, students have been looking at the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Chinua Achebe, Marcus Rashford and Diane Abbott to their respective fields and contexts.

We remain completely committed to being an inclusive school which celebrates diversity. At Churchill, we want to ensure that everybody feels like they belong – no matter their background, heritage or identity. It’s therefore important to bring people together around events like Black History Month to get people to come together to continue to make change for the better – even if it is just one part of our overall strategy.

We encourage all our students to adopt an anti-racist approach, and to ensure that they are allies to their fellow students, who may be different to themselves. Educating ourselves about discrimination and prejudice, and speaking out against injustice, is an essential part of that approach.

Open Evening and Open Mornings

Over the past two weeks, we have opened up our school to children in Year 5 and 6 – and their families – as they weigh up their options for secondary education. The transition from primary to secondary school is a big change, so it’s really important that families can make informed decisions. Whilst we are naturally keen to show off Churchill at its best, we also want families to understand what it’s really like to come to our school.

And that’s where our students come in!

We hold two types of open events. The Open Evening is our showcase, where we put on activities and open up the whole site for visitors to tour, speak to staff, ask questions, and understand our values, our vision and our purpose. The Open Evening is complemented by Open Mornings, where visitors look round the school whilst it is “in action” on a normal school day, so they can get a sense of what it’s like when over 1600 students are in class – or when they move from one lesson to another.

What both events have in common is that they are led by our students. From Year 7 to Year 13, students act as tour guides on both Open Evening and Open Mornings, guiding groups of children and their families around the Academy to show them all we have to offer, whilst answering questions on the way. Our students also work with our faculties on Open Evening, demonstrating Science experiments, rehearsing in Performing Arts, or running activities in English, Humanities, PE, Art and beyond!

We believe that families will get a more honest and realistic impression from our students of what it is actually like to attend Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We know that they are proud to come to Churchill – and we know that they love to tell people about it! But we also know that they will tell it like it is, from a student’s perspective, which is far more valuable to a family than hearing a grown-up’s sales pitch. We trust our students; they are our greatest asset.

Of course, there will be some questions that our students can’t answer, and we always have staff available to cover those. And the children and their families will want to hear from me about what we stand for, our ethos and philosophy of education, and the practical arrangements for transition. We do this with a video presentation, which plays in the hall on Open Evening, is posted on the website, and emailed out to everyone who books a place on either event. But, even in the video, we want the voices of students to come through. This is why my presentation is preceded by students from the Sixth Form and Year 11 (this year, Stan and House Captain Lauren), and concludes with our newest students, our Year 7s (this year, Evelyn and Nat).

I am always really proud to be Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. But when I see literally hundreds of students staying until 8pm to show off how wonderful our school is, to persuade younger children to come and join us – well, I allow myself to feel even prouder than ever.

Presentation Evening 2022

Churchill’s Annual Presentation Evening took place on Wednesday 14th September 2022 – three years since our last in-person event. The evening celebrated the successes of the Academy community over the previous year, with awards focused on the exam results from Years 11 and 13 complemented by prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, compassion, resilience, and attitudes to learning. 

I was joined on stage by the Chair of Trustees, Mrs Anne Oakley, who introduced the evening. Our guest of honour was William Bjergfelt, cyclist with Team GB and competitor in the Tour of Britain. As a (very amateur!) cyclist myself, I have always enjoyed cycling at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Tour de France and Tour of Britain – those athletes are idols to me, so meeting William was a real honour. He gave a great speech about his own experiences in competitive sport, and how his own career has been defined by our Academy value of determination. As an elite mountain bike rider and aspiring road racer, William was involved in a head-on collision with a car in 2015 which left him with a bleed on the brain and his right leg shattered into 25 pieces. His leg was reconstructed with three titanium plates but he was told at the time he would never ride a bike again, let alone race one. William spoke to the audience of prize winners and their families about how his mental attitude was every bit as important as his physical recovery, as he defied the odds to return to elite cycling. He qualified as a para-cyclist for Team GB and returned to racing alongside able-bodied athletes in the Tour of Britain in 2021.

William’s inspiring message capped off a wonderful evening of awards – the full roll of honour can be seen on the Prize Winners page of our website. The Headteachers’ award for achievement at GCSE went to Maddie Pole, and the Captain G. J. Picton-Davies Cup for Best Overall Performance at A-level, was handed to Sarah Browne, who, with 3 A* and 1 A and will be going on to study Chemistry at New College, Oxford.

We were also delighted to award the Barry Wratten Prize for Resilience, for the second time, to Jamie Campbell. Jamie received the award for the first time in 2019, when he received it from the wheelchair he needed to move around the Academy at the time. Now in the Sixth Form, and following many years of surgery and hard work, Jamie walked up the steps unaided to collect the award from the stage. His example of determination was warmly applauded by everyone present.