Exams: the final furlong

Term 5 is a pressurised term – this year especially. It’s just five weeks from Easter to the May half term, with formal GCSE and A-level exams starting on May 16th. The exams suddenly go from seeming a long way off, to being…well, next week!

The final furlong of exam preparation is about finishing touches. Courses have been finished, despite the pandemic disruption. Students have the knowledge and skills they need now to tackle the exams ahead of them. This final few days is all about honing exam technique to a sharp point: what exactly do the examiners want to see in an answer to this particular type of question? How can you manipulate what you know to squeeze as many marks as possible out of each part of the paper? How should you manage your time to ensure you leave enough to cover everything fully?

Despite two years without exams, teachers are well versed in the mystic art of exam technique. Exam preparation classes across the Academy are full of last-minute reminders about what to include, where, and how. In a exam situation, this is almost as important as the knowledge itself!

You can put yourself at an advantage by preparing well. Revision is essential, of course – you can find revision tips in the Revision category on this blog. But just as important is a good night’s sleep, and a healthy meal before an exam. An all-night revision session honestly won’t help as much as you wish it would – the brain works best when well rested and fuelled. Get to bed, sleep well, and have a good breakfast.

Once you’re in the exam itself, there are some general tips that I always swear by:

  • Be sure to answer all the questions – turn every page. Including the back page…yes, every year someone comes out ashen-faced when they realise there were eight questions, not seven.
  • Jot down your key ideas – don’t be afraid to do some rough work, or write down some key notes as soon as the invigilator says “you may begin.” Getting key ideas down will ensure that you remember them!
  • Write something for every question – if you’re not sure, make your best educated guess at the question. If you’ve written something, you’re in with a shout of some marks. If you write nothing – you’re definitely going to score zero.
  • Keep an eye on the time – you know how many questions are on the paper. You know how long you’ve got. Make sure you leave enough time to answer them all.
  • Check – use every minute of the exam. Check for silly mistakes. Check that you’ve written what you think you’ve written. Check for accuracy of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Give yourself time to add in that extra bit that you forgot the first time through. It could make all the difference.

Exams bring stress and pressure with them – that’s an inevitable part of the process. Managing that pressure is an essential part of succeeding. Being well-prepared is the best way to ensure that the pressure works in your favour, rather than against you.

I hope these last minute tips have been helpful. Above all, I wish all our exam candidates the very best of luck. You deserve it.

Working with ASCL Council

Since 2019 I have been one of four school leaders representing the south west region on ASCL Council. This has been – and continues to be – a privilege and an honour. In this week’s blog I hope to give you an insight into what it means to work as part of ASCL, especially through the upheaval of the pandemic.

What is ASCL?

ASCL is the Association of School and College Leaders. It is a trade union and a professional association, representing more than 21,500 leaders of primary, secondary and post-16 education from across the UK. ASCL members are responsible for the education of more than four million children and young people and children.

As an organisation, ASCL speaks on behalf of its members, but acts on behalf of children and young people. This has been most clearly seen in the role of ASCL’s General Secretary, Geoff Barton, who is often seen and heard on the news putting the view of schools when an education story hits the headlines.

ASCL’s General Secretary, Geoff Barton

As well as being a trade union which provides advice and support, ASCL works on behalf of it members to shape national education policy- and this is where ASCL Council comes in.

What is ASCL Council?

Council is the policy making body of ASCL. It is made up of elected members, representing all the regions of the UK and all sectors of education, from early years and primary through to further education. The Council meets three times during the academic year to debate ‘hot’ topics, and agree the position that ASCL should take on behalf of it members. These positions are then used to lobby government to try and promote policies that are in the interests of schools and colleges, and point out practical difficulties in policy proposals coming out of government.

The main committees are:

  • Conditions and Employment which includes pay, conditions, recruitment, retention, workload, employer engagement, pensions
  • Funding 
  • Inclusion and Equalities which covers inclusion, equalities, closing the gap for pupils and staff, and performance of groups
  • Leadership and Governance which includes leader and teacher development, governance, inspections, and accountability
  • Curriculum and Assessment which covers curriculum, teaching and learning, assessment, and qualifications – this is the committee that I am a part of.

The work of the elected members of Council is supported by policy specialists. These are people who work specifically for ASCL, to take the views and positions of Council to government ministers and officials, Ofsted, Ofqual, exam boards and anyone else involved in education decision making, to try and influence those decisions for the good of the system.

I stood for election for Council in 2019. My aim was to make sure that the perspective of rural school was represented in policy discussions, which are often made in big cities and don’t always take account of schools in the countryside! I also wanted to play my part in representing my colleagues in the south west at a national level.

What have we done?

Since I have been part of Council, we have discussed such matters as:

  • The role of multi-academy trusts in the future education system
  • What role – if any – artificial intelligence could or should play in assessment and exams
  • The replacements for exams during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021
  • The Department for Education’s guidance on reading
  • The curriculum under the new Ofsted framework
  • How students could and should apply for university places
  • The role of BTECs and T-levels in the post-16 curriculum
  • The balance between central government control and school autonomy through the pandemic and beyond
  • How to ensure that education gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to achieve as well as their non-disadvantaged peers
  • The funding and provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities
  • The fairness of exam grading, where each year a third of students do not achieve a “pass” grade in English and Maths due to the way the system works

And so much more!

I have also been privileged this year to join the ASCL Executive Committee as the organisation’s Assistant Honorary Treasurer. This has given me a seat around the ASCL “top table” and provided me with an even greater insight into the engagement between the education sector and the politicians and officials responsible for the system.

Central to the work of the past few years has been the development and publication of ASCL’s Blueprint for a fairer education system. This key document sets out how we, as school and college leaders, would like to see the education system develop over the coming years

What have I got out of it?

I have had the opportunity to meet the previous Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, and his successor, Nadhim Zahawi, to discuss policy positions and provide feedback from the “front line” of education. I have also met with Baroness Barran MBE, the Minister for the School System, and Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Often these are “Chatham House Rules” meetings so the discussions can be free and open. What has struck me about all these meetings is how willing the politicians are to listen. Although they don’t always agree with the position we are putting forward, I do see the impact of hearing things from people actually doing the job, day in, day out. So, whilst not all government education policies are received with rapturous applause by the profession or the general public, some of them are considerably better than they would have been due to ASCL’s intervention!

It has been fascinating to be involved in these high-level discussions about policy at a national system level. Thinking about the implications for all schools, not just my own, has made me think about how the education system works as a whole – and how that filters down to the staff, students and families of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. Being part of this conversation also means that I am well-informed about policy decisions coming down the track, as well as the thinking, aims and intentions behind those decisions.

Council has also enabled me to make connections with school leaders across the country, including in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, to understand how different schools are responding to the pressures and challenges of leading and managing schools today. I have learned a great deal from their approaches – and shared some of Churchill’s excellent practice with them in return. It is a genuine collaboration, and it means that we are able to support one another towards greater success in the future.

Welcome to the new Stuart House block

The Green Room in Stuart House, March 2022

This week we have reopened the Stuart House block after a complete internal rebuild of the facility. The Stuart House tutors, and the Humanities teachers and their classes, have been spread across the school since September – but now they have a shiny new home!

The interior of Stuart, August 2021

Works began last summer, with the removal of all internal walls and disconnection of services, to give our contractors the “blank slate” to work from. It was quite something to see everything ripped out of the building and the cavernous space left behind! From there, the building contractors began putting the new walls, ceilings and floors back in.

Over the past few years, we have learned a lot about “what works” in classroom design, and this is a further opportunity to put that into practice. Sound-deadening panels in the wall construction, and acoustic “pillows” above the classroom roof tiles, mean that students can concentrate on their learning without being disturbed by sound from next door. Climate control units in each room will mean that they will be warm in winter, cool in summer, and the air will be filtered and exchanged constantly.

We have also improved classroom size and layout so students are able to be seated with a good view of the coloured “teaching wall” which is a standard feature of our classroom design. Where possible, we have also equipped all rooms with new classroom chairs, designed to aid good posture and focus, as well as desks. And, of course, motion-activated LED lighting is standard to keep energy usage down, in line with our sustainability priority.

The new Green Room social space has been designed with chunky “noughts and crosses” style seating, and indoor picnic benches for students to use at break and lunchtime. The Green Room is a dedicated Year 8 social space, and they can’t wait to get in and make use of it!

The project is the latest phase of our ongoing redevelopment of the learning environment, which has included:

And we’re not done yet. We have another bid in to replace the temporary buildings which currently house S18, S19 and S20 – we should hear back about that next month.

The “behind the scenes” effort to make this happen has been immense. All of these projects have been funded with help from the government’s Condition Improvement Fund, and the astute use of Academy resources. The Academy Trust Board has supported the Academy’s vision to transform the learning environment for the the staff and students of Churchill, and that transformation over recent years has been significant, with the investment of over £10 million in the Academy site since 2016. From the writing and preparation of bids, through managing the projects and working with contractors to ensure the works were completed safely, on time and to a high standard, countless hours of staff time have gone in to the project. The results are definitely worth it!

Thinking about Ukraine

Before we returned to school on Monday after the half term break, we planned and wrote the following statement:

Academy Statement on the war in Ukraine

We are all horrified by the suffering of innocent people in Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine was ordered by Vladimir Putin, and is his responsibility – it is not the responsibility of the Russian people. The situation is incredibly serious; it is a time for compassion and togetherness in support of peace and our shared humanity. We expect all our students to listen, learn and do their best to understand what is happening in Ukraine, and to be sensitive to members of our Academy community who may be affected by events there. Above all things: be kind.

This statement was in our student Daily Notices on Monday morning and has remained in place throughout this week. We also provided all staff with video and text “explainers” so they could answer students’ questions about the conflict. Our intention is to support all students in our Academy community to understand the conflict and draw sensible, mature conclusions based on factual information. Staff at Churchill worked hard with our students to emphasise our shared humanity and the will for peace.

Our Academy includes students from all over the world. Some of our students have family members in Ukraine, trying to find safety; others have family members in neighbouring countries such as Hungary, Romania, or Poland, which are welcoming refugees. Several have families in Russia. All of our students need the support, understanding and kindness of the Academy community at this time, and beyond, as we all look on in horror at the suffering of innocent people in the face of violence and destruction.

We will continue to provide that support, and to work with our students to try to understand what is happening in Ukraine, and why, in the hope that the world that they live in as adults will be a world of peace.

Newsround links:

Talking about mental health

This week, 7th to 13th February, is Children’s Mental Health Week. The theme this year is “growing together,” as we are all encouraged to think about how we have grown and how we can help others to grow.

When I was at school, mental health was not discussed at all. As I have grown, it has moved out from the shadows and we now live in a society which is much more open and accepting to discussions about mental health and mental wellbeing. My own learning and understanding has also grown over this time, especially as the subject is so important for all educators to understand. Mental health, after all, has a direct impact on learning.

Natasha Devon (source)

One of the “lightbulb moments” for me in understanding mental health and wellbeing was when I listened to Natasha Devon, a well-known mental health campaigner, talking about the subject on the Are You Convinced? podcast. On the podcast, she invited listeners to think about mental health in three steps, by drawing the equivalent to our physical health.

Keeping healthy

In the first step, she talked about proactive or preventative steps that we take to keep ourselves physically healthy. This might include eating healthily, getting plenty of rest, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and taking taking regular exercise. What similar steps might we take to ensure that we keep ourselves mentally healthy?

Reflecting on this, I was able to think of a few things that would help me. For example, I might limit my intake of social media or cut out things that I know are likely to cause me stress. I might ensure I am talking to my friends and family, sharing any worries or concerns – and making sure that I am a listening ear for them too. Getting plenty of rest, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and taking regular exercise are just as good for mental health as they are for physical health. And I monitor my physical health regularly, so I know when I need to exercise more, or get more sleep – the same is true of keeping myself mentally healthy.

Everyday health issues

Natasha Devon went on to say that we all experience everyday issues with our physical health. We all get cuts and scrapes, colds and headaches, bangs and bruises in our everyday life. We are able to manage them ourselves, and we wouldn’t seek a doctor’s advice unless it was chronic, serious or stopped us from doing our everyday activities for more than a couple of days. But we might seek advice from the NHS website, or a pharmacist. We might put a plaster on, or take a paracetamol, until we had recovered.

Devon says that the same is true of our mental health. Worries, fears, everyday stresses and anxieties, feeling sad or unhappy – these happen to all of us. It isn’t pleasant, and it might knock us back, and we might sometimes need a little help to be able to cope. The mental health “plaster” or “paracetamol” might be talking it through with friends or family, perhaps speaking to your tutor, teacher or a trusted adult, or turning to online resources or apps for help. There are a range of these available:

Serious Health Issues

Finally, Natasha Devon argued, some of us experience serious physical health issues. These are relatively rare, but serious. With our physical health, she talked about chronic conditions, serious illnesses, infections, broken bones – the sorts of things that have a significant impact on our daily lives for a long period of time, that we may be hospitalised for, and that we need professional help to deal with. In some cases, these problems can be “fixed” and we will get better and back to normal. In other cases, they can be treated, but we will need to learn to live with them as part of our lives, and cope with the impact that they have on our daily activities.

The same is true of mental health. Some of us, at some point, will suffer with mental health issues that are chronic and completely debilitating. In these situations we may be hospitalised, or we may be unable to carry on our daily activities. In these cases, we cannot recover without professional help. We would not try and fix a broken leg ourselves: the same is true when we are “broken” mentally.

The role of the school

I found Natasha Devon’s characterisation of mental health, as equivalent to physical health, really helpful. We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. It can fluctuate on a daily basis; on some days we feel better than others. Aches and pains and ups and downs are part of normal life. We don’t ignore them; we respond and take actions to help ourselves feel better. If things get really serious, we seek professional help from a doctor.

Just like with physical health, the school has a key role in keeping our students healthy. We educate our students about their physical health through our curriculum – the importance of a good diet and exercise, how to look after ourselves – and we do the same with mental health. When students experience a bump or a scrape or a bruise – mental or physical – we can help to a certain extent, and signpost information to assist, but usually if it’s serious we will suggest referring to a doctor. Our school is not a hospital; our expertise is education, not medicine. We wouldn’t try to set a broken limb in a science lab: the chances of us getting it wrong and making it worse are quite high. So we rely on experts in the health services to take over.

What we can do is listen to the experts. We have plans in place to support students with serious, chronic or significant physical and mental health needs, so those students are able to access education alongside their peers. We can help them when things are difficult, and we can work together to find ways to overcome challenges.

And, above all, we can make it clear to our students that they need to look after their mental health just as much as they look after their physical health. They need to talk to their families, their friends, Academy staff and, if necessary, professional experts to make sure they are able to keep learning successfully.

I’m pleased we’re talking openly about mental health nowadays. I think it’s better for everyone.

Happy New Year: I’m feeling ’22

The London fireworks to mark the start of 2022 were truly spectacular, but broadcast without the usual crowds lining the banks of the Thames. It felt to me like a very appropriate way to kick off this year: a determined attempt to put on the very best show possible, despite the challenging circumstances.

We have seen this throughout the pandemic, as the discussion of lateral flow tests, hospitalisation and death rates, and the relative transmissibility of variants has become morbidly routine. Over the first weekend of the holidays, I was queuing in a makeshift marquee at Bath Racecourse to receive my booster jab from a military medic in camouflage fatigues, drafted in as part of the battle against Omicron. A small artificial tree in the corner was an attempt at festive cheer, but I admit it felt like something out of science fiction. I was more encouraged by the incredible organisation mustered at such short notice, and the wonderful volunteers giving up their time to protect the nation. I was also delighted to finally get an “I’ve had my Covid Vaccination” sticker, having not been offered one at my first or second dose!

As the new year began, I was braced for the expected announcements about schools for the term ahead. A year ago, we were being told that schools would be open before a U-turn on the evening of 4th January closed them all. The vaccination programme means that this year, we are able to keep schools open. We are grateful for this: we know how to do remote learning really well, but there is no substitute for being in a classroom, with your teachers and your peers. Of course it isn’t convenient to turn our gym into a testing centre or to stagger the start of term; it isn’t comfortable to wear a face covering all lesson; it’s a pain to have to swab your nostrils twice a week and then report the result to the NHS and to the Academy Google Form; nobody likes having an injection. But these are the things that mean we’re in classrooms, together, this January, rather than locked down in our homes.

I’m not a big one for new year’s resolutions, but as the clock ticked over to midnight on December 31st, I gave thanks for all the efforts everyone has made to get us here. We certainly have tough times ahead, but we’re in better shape, now, than we were a year ago. Despite the challenges, we can still put on a good show. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling ’22.

2021: the year in review

January

2021 started in what can only be described as chaos. As I wrote in my first post of the year, Looking up whilst locking down:

“We returned to school on Monday 4th January with the Secretary of State having “absolutely” given a cast-iron guarantee that exams were going ahead, and the Prime Minister encouraging all parents to send their children in. At 8pm, we were told all schools would close until half term and exams were not going ahead. The spiralling confusion of often contradictory last minute announcements, with missing, confusing or late-arriving guidance, has meant that this past month has been the most challenging of my entire teaching career – and I’ve been doing this for 23 years.”

In that first post, I took comfort in the Academy community – my colleagues, our wonderful students and their supportive families. We all pulled together through the chaotic, scary winter months with determination and hope.

Later in January, we administered our first lateral flow tests. They are so much part of life now that it’s strange to think of them as unusual – although I do look back with fondness on our testing stations which I insisted were named after Taylor Swift albums…

Nine Testing Stations, nine Taylor Swift albums…it was meant to be (although I wish I’d put them in the right order)

February and March

As the lockdown continued, this blog offered guidance on how to help your child in lockdown, and offered thanks to staff, students and families. Towards the end of the month we were able to start planning for the return to school, which was scheduled for March 8th. Thanks to incredible efforts behind the scenes, we were ready to welcome our students back – 1600 lateral flow tests later! Students returned to the newly opened Lancaster House area, and separate year group bubbles.

I ended the month with a run down of the names behind the Year 9 Learning Groups for 2020-21: Brunel, Stephenson, Fragapane, Park, Blackwell, Kenney, Dirac, Brohn and More – all famous Bristolians.

April and May

Something like normal service was resumed as the spring turned into summer. There were posts on Easter, and a focus on the Academy’s core value of kindness in my “welcome back” assembly after the holiday. I had a fantastic response to my post in May about Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school in Louisiana, at the age of six.

Before we knew it, we were saying farewell to the Year 13 and Year 11 classes of 2021 in the “last day” celebrations. These groups of students had come through unprecedented uncertainty and still finished with a smile!

June

Source

In the summer I was gripped by football fever as England ploughed through the delayed Euro 2020 competition all the way to the final! Although it didn’t end in glory (this time) I felt so proud of the team and what they represented about our country – as well as the promise they showed for the future.

July

As the academic year drew to a close, I used the Headteacher’s Blog to set out our Academy Priorities for 2021-22. These have formed the backbone of our developments since September. And, despite the COVID restrictions, we were able to have an amazing Activities Week, culminating in a fantastic Sports Day.

It was the best way to end the school year, after all the challenges which had been thrown at us!

September and October

Before we knew it, we were back – another round of COVID testing was quickly and efficiently conducted, and we were back in lessons and relishing the challenge. It was particularly great to catch up with some of our new Year 7 students early in the term – my hour with Charlotte, Issy, Maddie and James, as they gave me lots to think about, and lots to be proud of.

COVID hadn’t gone away, of course, and we were soon back in masks and wrestling with rising case numbers in students and staff. At least this year we have been able to give some clarity to our examination years about what is happening in advance – a task I attempted in my post “what’s happening with exams in 2022?”

November and December

November saw the #COP26 summit in Glasgow, which was the perfect opportunity to lay out our sustainability strategy: the progress we had made so far, and the steps we still need to take if we are to realise our ambition of being a zero carbon school by 2030. In short: we’re doing well, but there is still a lot to do!

Our Christmas Concert was a fabulous return to the Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare, with the joy of music-making finally unleashed from its pandemic shackles. The telling of the Christmas story in student-composed songs by the Junior Choir is always a prompt for the first mince pies of the season for me!

And now Christmas itself is just around the corner. The country is under stricter restrictions again with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly – in some ways it feels like history repeating itself. But what this year has shown us is that – even in the midst of crisis – when staff, students and families work together, schools can accomplish amazing things. Bring on 2022!

Perseverance

This week the Cambridge Dictionary announced their word of the year for 2021: Perseverance.

Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time.” It seems to capture the spirit of our time: our determination to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, our commitment to battle against climate change, and to heal the divisions in our society. None of these issues have easy or quick solutions, but we know that the reward will be worth the effort.

The Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars, pictured with the Ingenuity helicopter (source)

The Cambridge Dictionary was alerted to the currency of “perseverance” in 2021 because people looked it up over 243,000 times. 30,487 of these searches were between February 18 and February 24, after NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars on February 18. The rover, like Curiosity before it, captures the distinctly human spirit of achieving the apparently impossible: landing a car-sized robot on a planet 380 million kilometres away, and driving it around on the surface. As if that wasn’t enough, Perseverance deployed a tiny helicopter on the surface, which flies around in the Martian atmosphere. It’s called – appropriately enough – Ingenuity.

Ingenuity takes flight on another world (source)

We can’t help but be inspired by the achievements of the NASA team behind Perseverance and Ingenuity. Although our personal challenges may be more modest than flying a helicopter on the surface of Mars, they are no less worthy or worthwhile. Becoming the best people we can be is not a short or simple task. It takes commitment, effort and time. It requires a “never give up” spirit. This is something we pride ourselves on at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. It’s why our vision is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Because – if we persevere – we can accomplish incredible things.

Going Green: Churchill and #COP26

The COP26 summit is an opportunity to change the world. Leaders are meeting in Glasgow to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They will attempt to agree significant actions to reduce carbon emissions, control global warming, and save our planet for future generations. Whether they succeed or not, is out of our hands. But, at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, we are committed to doing what we can to reduce our impact on the environment, and to improving the prospects of a greener future for our students and those that follow in their footsteps.

Our commitment

We’ve taken the Let’s Go Zero pledge, declaring our aim to become zero carbon by 2030. We know that schools can be the trailblazers for their community, responding to young people’s calls for action.  In fact, they can inspire whole communities to tackle the climate crisis. In the coming pivotal ‘climate decade,’ we will be part of Let’s Go Zero’s national network of schools and sustainability organisations, sharing information about how to reach zero carbon, and working with local councils and government to make it happen.  

Our ambition

In our aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, we will:

  • Recycle more waste material than we send to landfill
  • Achieve the decarbonisation of our heating system on site, reducing reliance on gas 
  • Re-invest financial savings from sustainability initiatives back into programmes that will deliver towards our carbon emission target

We will show Kindness to the environment, demonstrate Curiosity when looking at how to do things differently, and practice Determination to make a positive difference.

Here are some of the things we’ve already done:

The built environment

Over the past five years we have transformed the built environment of our Academy. In 2019 we finally demolished the original school building, the 1956 block which was latterly home to Tudor House, Science, IT and Business. The energy-inefficient, single-glazed, concrete building has been replaced by modern, well-insulated facilities including the Alan Turing Building and the Athene Donald Building. Both of these were built with sustainability in mind, not just in their construction methods but as sources of energy generation. The roofs of both blocks are completely covered in solar panels, as you can see in the shot of the Athene Donald Building below:

It’s not just the new builds, either. We have solar panels across the roofs of Performing Arts and Music as well, as you can see in the latest Google Maps satellite images of our site:

We are currently halfway through the complete internal rebuild of the Stuart and Lancaster House building, home to languages and humanities. This includes ripping out and completely replacing all the heating, lighting and electrical systems to run as efficiently as possible, as well as ensuring the building is properly insulated and ventilated.

Hot water

A point-of-use water heater

This is the unglamorous part of decarbonisation! Previously, hot water for the site was provided by tanks, heated by boilers in big boiler room facilities for each separate block. This process was energy-inefficient and wasteful, as it heated large amounts of water whether it was needed or not. Over the past year we have been phasing out these hot water tanks and replacing them with point-of-use water heaters, which only heat water as it is needed. These heaters reduce wasted energy, and also free up spaces which previously housed tanks and boilers for storage. We will continue this work in the future.

Lighting

All of our new builds and refurbished facilities have been equipped with LED lighting, and over the past years we have been phasing out any remaining fluorescent tubes to replace them with energy-efficient units. They actually provide better quality light too! Many of our corridor lights are now linked to motion sensors as well, so they are not on unnecessarily, and the external lighting has been upgraded as well. Let there be light!

Recycling

We have always tried to recycle as much waste as possible, and this term we have increased the number of recycling bins on site to encourage pre-sorting of waste as it is thrown away.

The real battle, of course, is reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place! There is much we can still do in this area, and students and staff are already moving forward with plans to use technology instead of paper, to reduce packaging waste, and to continue our battle against litter.

The green environment

We are lucky in our rural site, surrounded by trees, fields, orchards, and the Mendip Hills. We do all we can to preserve and enhance our green and pleasant site wherever possible. This includes a massive programme of tree planting across the site, including across our car parks and around the perimeter. We are also keen to encourage biodiversity, working with local partners to ensure the wildlife that shares our environment can continue to flourish.

Student Leadership

The student-led Green Team has been operating in the Sixth Form for the past five years. Previously they have introduced reusable and recyclable coffee cups for the Common Room, used the “no power hour” to highlight energy usage, and redeveloped the pond area next to the Sixth Form Centre. This year, the Green Team has great plans – and they’re going whole school, to bring main school students on board too. Look out for further updates later this year!

Energy and CO2 impact so far

Our CO2 monitoring graph, with future projections

The efforts above have already had a significant impact on our CO2 emissions, which have been cut by half in the past five years. We know there is more to do if we are to achieve our ambition to be an environmentally sustainable institution – in particular, reducing our reliance on gas, and continuing to improve the efficiency of our site. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far – but we’re just getting started.

Review of Term 1

We’ve reached the end of term 1 of the 2021-22 academic year. Whilst he summer holidays seem like an age ago, the term has gone by in a flash!

We began the term at the end of August with on-site testing for students beginning the academic year. The amazing team of staff completed 2664 lateral flow tests over seven days, including 649 tests in one day. This process allowed us to get the term underway as safely as possible.

Our new Year 7 and Year 12 students were the first to start back, getting to grips with their new surroundings, new expectations and new curriculum with great energy and enthusiasm. Before long, they were joined by the returning students in other years, keen to be back and ready to learn. The Academy now has the largest number of students on roll in over a decade, with 1668 students currently attending!

Some of our students have achieved amazing things this term!

I began the year with my “welcome back” assemblies, outlining our expectations and highlighting the Academy’s priorities for the year ahead. Since that point we have seen excellent progress across all our priorities. I have been particularly impressed this year by our student leaders, including the inclusion and diversity group who prepared a thought-provoking assembly for students over recent weeks. Staff have also had some really powerful training in this area, as well as teachers working in small professional development groups to explore ideas around metacognition and self-regulated learning, which we are all putting into practice in our classrooms. This work accompanies the launch of our new curriculum, and I have seen some really fantastic innovative and interesting lessons being taught across the Academy throughout this term. Our fifth priority this year is sustainability – and I have a blog post planned to coincide with the COP26 summit in November to tell you what we have been up to, and what we have planned, as we work towards a greener future.

I spent an enjoyable hour with a panel of our youngest students towards the end of September, finding out about their experiences of starting at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form in 2021. This was soon followed by the return of our Open Evening – the first in-person event since the pandemic began. We were inundated with interest and it was so lovely to show off our school to so many curious families!

We are also continuing the redevelopment of our learning environment, with work ongoing in Stuart House to create climate-controlled, sound-insulated, 21st century classrooms for the teaching of History, Geography and RE. Stuart House tutors and Humanities teachers and classes have been really flexible this term as their home base has been completely gutted, but there are positive signs already as the walls are put back in place. We are still on track to reopen these facilities in March 2022!

One of the real pleasures this term has been the return of our extra-curricular programme. Chess Club was one of the first to get started, and it was soon joined by many more. Our Duke of Edinburgh expeditions have been out and returned safely, and students have finally been able to go back to the theatre! After the end of the school day, the Academy echoes with the sounds of music, dance and drama from Performing Arts, including this year’s production of Rock of Ages which is already sounding terrific. And, of course, extra-curricular PE is back, with training and fixtures most days. You can see our full extra-curricular programme on the Academy website.

Sadly COVID has continued to cause disruption. This term has seen many students and staff self-isolating with infections, and as a result face coverings were re-introduced for main school students indoors. We are grateful to everyone for doing their bit to help, including staff covering for absent colleagues, families offering support and words of encouragement, and students for adapting to the protective measures without a fuss. Although it has been difficult, we have not been as badly hit as some other schools where lessons have been suspended for entire year groups, and some have been forced to close altogether. Nonetheless, we all need the half term to recover, before we see what November and December have in store for us!

Term 2 is certainly packed. As the nights draw in, we have concerts and celebrations to look forward to. Year 11 will be taking their mock exams, which this year are especially significant in light of the latest announcements around exams in 2022. Before we know it, I will be breaking out the festive knitwear and looking forward to Christmas!

I’d like to thank all the staff, students and families in our Academy community for making this term such a pleasure. A school full of children is a joyous place to be – and Churchill students are simply the best. Enjoy your half term everyone – I will see you in November.