Welcome Back!

The 2019-20 academic year has got off to a flying start this week. Monday and Tuesday were staff training days, focusing on our four Academy priorities, before we welcomed our Year 7-12 students back on Wednesday and our Year 13 on Thursday.

Inset Days

During our first training day on Monday, staff received training on both behaviour and teaching and learning, as well as important briefings on safeguarding and inclusion. There was also time put aside for staff to work in their faculty and house teams to prepare for the year ahead.

On the second training day, all staff spent the morning working with an expert trainer exploring mental health issues, so that we can continue our efforts to support the mental health of our students. This is a complex area, but vitally important for us as a school which values the personal accomplishments of our young people – their character, wellbeing, and attitude to learning – in equal measure to their academic progress.

The Academy Site

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A huge amount of work has gone on across the Academy Site over the summer. This includes:

  • Completion of the new reception and administration hub at the heart of the school. This facility brings together all of the administration functions – finance, human resources, office, reprographics, reception, medical – into one location, increasing our efficiency and effectiveness by creating a “one stop shop” for students, staff and visitors.
  • Completion of the new staff and sixth form car park on the footprint of the old Tudor building, which will help reduce the number of cars pared on the narrow country roads around the Academy and allow safer drop-off and pick-up in the Sports Centre car park. This work has been accompanied by a striking new “Tower” design (more of which in a future blog!)
  • Completion of a new social area for students on the site of the old reception and office area
  • Redecoration of the Windsor / Maths classrooms, complete with new furniture and carpeting. This makes a big difference to the teaching and learning, reducing echo and preventing chair-scraping noises, as well as dampening sound to create a quieter, more focused classroom environment.
  • Planting along the central broadwalk, designed by the Academy’s Green Team, creating a beautiful space which will thrive as the new plants grow and spread.

I want to pay a public tribute to our amazing Site Team, IT Network Team, contractors and administration staff who have achieved an astonishing amount in a very short space of time. The Academy looked wonderful when the students arrived on Wednesday!

Focus on behaviour

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In my first assemblies with the four Houses on Wednesday, I spoke to students about our expectations of their behaviour. In consultation with students, we have revised our code of conduct so that our expectations of behaviour align with the Academy’s values of kindness, curiosity and determination. I’d like thanks to Mrs Griffiths, who led this project alongside the student representatives. The final document, pictured above, captures our high expectations of student behaviour in positive, inclusive language which links smoothly with our vision and values. I know that our students will respond well to this revision, which they helped to shape, so that we can continue to ensure that our students’ behaviour supports their learning.

I also introduced students to the revival of the Inter House Competition, which we will run this year towards the award of the House Cup – but I will save that for a future blog!

My overwhelming feeling over this first week has been one of immense pride. It is an honour to be the Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, working with such dedicated and expert colleagues in the teaching and support staff, and so many wonderful students. I am excited about the year ahead – there’s no limit to what we can achieve. 

2018-19 in review

Facts and Figures

2018-19 in facts and figures

What a year! As you can see from the facts and figures above, we have much to be proud of in the progress we have made. In this, my final Headteacher’s Blog of the academic year, I’d like to take a look back and take stock of what we’ve achieved.

Term 1

We started the year strongly, with our annual Presentation Evening and ever-popular Sports Awards Evening. Our Open Evening in September led to us being over-subscribed with Year 7 applications for the third year running. The term finished on a musical note, with the Junior Young Musician of the Year and the wonderful junior production of Bugsy Malone!

Term 2

We returned with things getting serious for Year 11 as they prepared for their mock exams. We also enjoyed two nights of fabulous Christmas Concerts as well as the traditional festive celebrations – including the Sixth Form fancy dress spectacular! In the midst of all this, removers were busy moving the entire Science and Food departments from one end of the school to the other…

Term 3

We returned in 2019 to the brand new Science and Technology building, open and ready for business! This was a monumental achievement by a huge team of people. Boosted by a £50,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, our new rooms and brand new equipment have revolutionised our provision in this area. It’s hard to remember now that it’s only been in use for six months!

Term 4

After the February half term I took a spooky last look around the derelict, pre-demolition Tudor Block. This was an unforgettable experience as we bade farewell to the Academy’s original classrooms. We were then thrilled to welcome Professor Dame Athene Donald to formally open the building named in her honour.

Term 5

Exam season kicked in during Term 5, with our students engaged in their final revision before taking on the challenges of GCSEs and A-levels. The Tudor Block came down in a matter of weeks, and before we knew it we were saying farewell to the class of 2019!

Term 6

We’ve finished the year strong, with the opening of the Food rooms by chef Josh Eggleton, the annual Sponsored Walk and Trek, Sports Day and Activities Week. Finally this week, I have given out over 400 awards at our House Celebration of Success events. It’s a real privilege to see the young people at Churchill working so hard, and seeing the progress they have all made over the course of this year as a result of the efforts they have put in.

There is much to look forward to in 2019-20. But first, I’m sure all of us are looking forward to the summer holidays: a well-deserved chance to rest and recharge, get out in the fresh air, catch up on reading for pleasure, and hopefully spend time with family and friends. I urge you all to make the most of the break, so that you are refreshed and ready to do it all again – even better this time! – in September.

Finding your fire

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“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”

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I often use that quotation when I am talking about education. When I was at school in north west London in the early 1990s, my mind was lit up by English Literature, and particularly poetry. My teachers were skilful and knowledgeable enough to feed that fire, which led me to studying English Language and Literature at university. The flame continued to burn brightly as I trained to teach English, and has been the torch that has guided me throughout my career. There is no greater pleasure than passing on that spark to somebody else, and seeing them get as excited as you do about your subject.

For me it was English. For others it’s Mathematics, or hockey, or cooking, or chemistry, or painting, dance, textiles, the saxophone…

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Our Year 7 students in a cookery workshop with Michelin-star-winning chef Josh Eggleton, and Churchill alumnus Nick Woodhouse, who completed an apprenticeship with Josh after leaving Churchill

Where our students have already found their passion, we do our best as a school to nurture it. But one of the most important things adults can do for young people is introduce them to as many new subjects, skills and experiences as possible. Every time we do, we open up possibilities. This could be the thing that really lights their fire.

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Game Stars competition winner Tabitha with Josh Eggleton (and me!) this week at the opening of the food rooms

Another important thing that we must do is help the next generation see that they don’t always have to do things the way that they have always been done. We have to help them see past stereotyping in subjects, jobs, and careers. We try hard to help our students challenge stereotypes and do things differently. We named the Athene Donald Building after the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge to show that women and girls have just as much of a future in scientific careers as men and boys.

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Our students Saffron, Mimi and Mia with the Soroptimists and dignitaries at this week’s Skirting Science event

This week we built on that tradition with our Skirting Science event, welcoming girls from nine different schools to Churchill to get experiences of possible futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, by hearing from women in those fields. Also this week we invited Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton to open the new food rooms to show that a career in the kitchen is not defined by gender but by skill, passion and enthusiasm.

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Students at work with forensic scientists from the University of the West of England (Bristol) at Skirting Science

The vision for our school is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” If we are serious about this, it means that we need to challenge the limits that other people’s expectations place on us. We aim to kindle the flame that sustains the skills, talents, passions and enthusiasms of our young people, whether they pursue them within school or beyond.

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.

The Class of 2019

Today we’ve said farewell to the Year 13 class of 2019. This wonderful group of students – many of whom have been with us for seven years – have contributed immeasurably to the Academy over their careers with us. They are heading off to bright futures, and we wish them all well!

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Year 13 Class of 2019

Last week, the Year 11 class of 2019 had their last day celebrations before they began their study leave on Monday. The students were fantastic! Many of them took the time to find staff who had helped them over their time at Churchill to offer thanks. These small acts of gratitude made such a difference to the staff, and are a testament to the strength of the relationships which make the Academy such a great place to work and learn.

The day concluded with my Leavers’ Assembly, where we looked back over some of the memories staff had collected over the time Year 11 had spent with us. I promised I would share some on the blog – so enjoy!

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.

Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

What’s happening to the Academy site?

Tudor is down

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Where Tudor/Science used to be

We’ve returned from Easter to open skies where the old Tudor/Science block used to be. The light is pouring in where the old building used to overshadow the playgrounds and the Sixth Form. This space – when it is cleared – will become a new car park for staff and Sixth Form. It’s now possible to visualise how the Academy’s site will take shape over the coming year.

The Tech Block is going

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Just before Easter, we received the news that we had been granted funding to demolish the final original building, this single-storey Technology block. It will be replaced by a two-storey extension to the Athene Donald Building. The architects had planned the Donald Building with the extension in mind, so the process should be smooth and completed in a year!

Reception is moving

SSite changes for September 2019

Reception, administration, finance, HR, and First Aid will all move down to Hanover from September 2019. Access to reception will be from the main sports centre car park, which will be the only car park available for public access. My office will also be relocated down to this new hub, just next to the main reception.

The current reception area will become a new social space for students, just next door to the Academy Hall. I have been working with the House Captains of Hanover, Stuart, Tudor and Windsor to help design this space, which we plan to open in September for students of all houses to use.

Green Team redevelopment

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The new broadwalk pathway in development

The Academy’s student-led Green Team has been working with local landscape architects and suppliers to ensure that our new site is a beautiful and environmentally sustainable place to learn and work. Over Easter, volunteers began clearing spaces alongside the new central broadwalk path for planting, which will take place over the summer terms. There are also plans for a Sixth Form garden and a vegetable garden behind the Donald building to supply Food and Nutrition lessons. This is alongside the Green Team’s wider work to promote sustainability and reduce the Academy’s carbon footprint, including the solar panels project and the introduction of a car-share incentive scheme.

Change is afoot!

With so much change happening, it can be difficult to keep track! The Academy is very fortunate to have a dedicated team, led by Deputy Headteacher Mr Branch, overseeing this work. We are also grateful for our partnership with building contractors Mealings, who are completing the works, alongside our fantastic site team of Mr White, Mr Butler and Mr Winstanley. By this time next year, the site will be very different indeed – and a much-improved space for our students to enjoy for many years to come.

Eating and drinking to improve brain power

Top revision tips from Miss Tucker

1. The right kind of fat

1vqaw_ph_400x400Firstly, brains need fats! But no ordinary fats, it needs superstar fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. These essential fatty acids are linked to preventing a decline in mental skills and memory loss, and must come from what we eat and drink. Eating nuts, seeds, oily fish or drinking fish oil supplements (like cod liver oil) are all seen to be crucial to the creation and maintenance of brain cells. Those who consume more of these fats in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.

Salmon is an excellent source of these essential fats. Fresh, canned or frozen salmon is fabulous in fish cake patties. Good vegetarian alternatives includes pumpkin seeds and walnuts, or frozen soya beans are a good cheap source too and are great in a stir fry.

While Omegas are good fats for brains, eating other high fat foods containing artificial trans or partially hydrogenated fats do not just compromise brain health; they can impair memory, and lower brain volume. Thankfully most of these bad fats have been removed from supermarket and the big fast food brands but they are still common place in cheaper backstreet independent takeaways and imported American supermarket sweets and snacks (like the Reese, Hershey’s, and Flipz).  Give the body junk food, and the brain is certainly going to suffer.

2. Antioxidants

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There’s a huge amount of chemical processing in the brain which can make it highly susceptible to something called ‘oxidative’ damage but there are things called ‘antioxidants’ that are thought to protect against the harmful effects. Fortunately there is a wide variety of good antioxidants to be found in fruits and vegetables that enables brains to work well for longer periods of time. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide the body with different types of antioxidants, with purple and blue particularly linked to a reduction in mental decline and other benefits. Blueberries for example have an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E, and studies have shown improved memory with a diet including blueberries and strawberries (plus the seeds from berries are also another great source of Omega-3). In general, when it comes to berries the more intense the colour, the more nutrition in the berry. So, why not try adding some fresh berries to yogurt or a bowl of oats in the morning?

3. Micronutrients

health-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds-by-greenblenderThe brain needs a steady supply of other micronutrients, and without powerful vitamins B6 and B12 our brains are susceptible to brain disease and mental decline. Also, small amounts of the minerals iron, copper, zinc and sodium are fundamental to brain health and cognitive development. All dairy foods are packed with protein and the B vitamins needed for the growth of brain tissue and neurotransmitters; milk and yogurt are a great source. Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron, and also contains zinc, which helps with memory. For vegetarians, beans are a good choice of iron (plus they contain yet more omega-3 fatty acids). For zinc, the mineral vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, pumpkin seeds are richer than many other seeds.

4. Carbohydrates

c618b53a-6262-11e8-a998-12ee0acfa260To enable the brain to efficiently perform it needs lots of the right type of fuel, most of which comes from carbohydrates, but specific carbohydrates effect how the brain responds. What we call ‘high glycemic’ food like white breads cause a rapid release of glucose into the blood followed by a big dip as blood sugar shoots down – and with it, your attention span.  On the other hand, oats, wholemeal bread, and ‘brown’ rice and pasta have far slower glucose release enabling a steadier level of attentiveness. Low-fat popcorn, switching bread to wholemeal and oats make for cheap, easy options. Oats also are good sources of vitamin E and B, as well as potassium and zinc – which make our bodies and brains function at full capacity. You could also try dry oats in a fruit smoothie to thicken it.

5. Choline

Choline, neither vitamin nor mineral, is another micronutrient that is essential in tiny amounts for brain development and memory function, and concentration. You’ll find it in beans, broccoli, lean beef, yogurt and eggs (especially the yolk). Eggs are great brain food also being vitamin B rich, but stick with poached or boiled; or why not have scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast?

6. Hydration

benefits-of-drinking-waterFor sustained brain power opting for a varied balanced diet of nutrient rich foods in three separate meals a day is critical. So is drinking the equivalent of between 6-8 glasses of water a day (between 1.9 and 2.25 litres) to avoid suffering dehydration, tiredness, and lack of concentration and short-term memory. Our brains are 73% water! Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can leave you irritable, sleepless, and anxious, and they have diuretic properties that can leads to further dehydration. Instead try un-caffeinated relaxing herbal chamomile tea, which has been  shown to improve cognitive function.

7. Sleep and exercise

Don’t forget that as well as a healthy diet, aiming for eight hours sleep and exercising helps to keep brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.

Good luck!

The importance of active lives

This week saw the publication of Sport England’s annual Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, revealing the attitudes of school-aged children up and down the country towards sports, exercise and physical activity.

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The five key findings are:

  1. Physically literate children are more likely to be active. The more of the five elements of physical literacy – enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge – children have, the more active they are likely to be.
  2. Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. While all of the reported attitudes make a difference, enjoying sport and physical activity makes the biggest difference to activity levels.
  3. Physically literate children are happier, more resilient, and more trusting of others.The more elements of physical literacy are present, the higher the levels of happiness, resilience and social trust.
  4. Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding.
  5. There are important inequalities that must be tackled. Girls and those children and young people form less affluent families are less likely to be active.
Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

The report itself finds clear links between leading an active lifestyle and mental wellbeing, happiness and resilience. Interestingly, the studies found that having a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity was the strongest driver of happiness and resilience levels – more so than activity levels.

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These findings underline much of what we are trying to achieve with our Physical Education curriculum at Churchill. Especially in Core PE during Years 9, 10 and 11, our aim is to ensure that all our students have a secure grounding in physical literacy, but above all to ensure that they develop a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity – and they they enjoy it! It is so important to us that we equip our young people, when they leave us, to lead an active and healthy lifestyle independently, not because they know they ought to, but because they want to.

Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

This year, thanks to the hard work of Mr Hayne and the PE team, supported by Assistant Headteacher Mrs Gill, we are proud to be working alongside Sport England to develop approaches to training teachers in PE which develop physical literacy to improve enjoyment of PE and Sport, and to ensure as many children and young people as possibe adopt an active lifestyle. Mr Hayne and his team are working across eight schools in North Somerset to develop these approaches, to introduce some new sports, and to work with experts from local gyms and fitness centres to train staff in new approaches. We’re already seeing some of the benefits, and we’re looking forward to more over the course of this year-long project.

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We can all do more to ensure that we lead active and healthy lifestyles. Walking the dog, going for a run, a bike ride, taking the stairs instead of the lift…every little helps. Find something you enjoy, get up and go – the benefits are clear!

Click here to read more from Sport England about their Active Lives Children and Young People survey.

A last look at Tudor

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Inside Tudor Towers for the final time

This week I took a final look around the Tudor Block. Over the weekend, the roof was removed by the demolition team, who are completing the final strip of the building before they begin to take it down. The site is now quite dangerous, so I was accompanied by the construction site manager and the demolition supervisor, along with Miss Bessant from the Art Department to take some photographs. After our visit, the only people allowed on site will be the professional contractors. We were the last Churchill staff to set foot inside.

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With the roof gone, rain falls through the building and pools on the ground floor

This was the final opportunity to get inside the rooms which have housed Churchill staff and students for over sixty years. Although the rooms have been completely gutted, there are still some signs of the lessons that once took place here.

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“Tie back long hair…wear an apron” – hygiene regulations which no longer apply in the Red Zone in this food room, now open to the elements

It was quite a spooky experience, walking through empty rooms, surrounded by rubble and debris, with demolition equipment and construction materials for company.

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The mural between the old ASC and Food is a relic of the building’s past

I hadn’t been to the top floor of Tudor for well over a year, since the rooms were sealed off after the Business and Computing team moved into the Alan Turing Building. The rooms up there felt completely lifeless, open to the sky above.

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On the top floor of the Tudor Block

We finished our tour in the Chemistry block. All the internal walls have been knocked out, so it’s now just one big empty space with only the pipework and supporting pillars to break it up.

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Inside the old Chemistry block

This single-storey building will be the first to be completely demolished. There will be no spectacular dynamiting, or swinging of giant wrecking balls. Instead, the buildings will be taken down piece by piece, brick by brick, until there is nothing left.

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Pipework and rubble inside Chemistry

I think I was expecting to feel sadness, or sorrow, or a sense of the memories that the buildings had held. But I didn’t feel any of that. Tudor felt empty, lifeless, and deflated. As I walked round I realised that the spirit of Churchill, the laughter and the learning, comes from the people, not the bricks and mortar. All the joy, friendship and excitement is now happening on the opposite side of the school, in new buildings, with new memories being made. I shut the door on the Tudor Block for the final time, closing one chapter of the school’s history, safe in the knowledge that the next chapter has already begun.