Welcome back – September 2022

Term has started really smoothly at Churchill. Our staff training day on Thursday 1st September focused on expectations and priorities for the year ahead – with the same messages emphasised to students through the start of term assemblies in the first full week back. Our new Year 7 and Year 12 students had the school to themselves on Friday 2nd September, to acclimatise to their new surroundings and prepare for their “step up.”

Priorities for the year ahead

As a school we are focused on three priorities for this academic year:

  1. Challenge: to ensure that the highest expectations of behaviour, learning and progress are evident in every experience that students have at Churchill
  2. The role of the tutor: to ensure that tutoring engages students in the values, ethos and purpose of the Academy, developing the inclusion, diversity and sustainability agendas and providing exemplary pastoral and academic support and guidance
  3. Assessment: to ensure that assessment provides valuable and accurate formative and summative information which accurately reflects students’ learning and progress, to inform next steps

There is more detail on these in the Academy Priorities and Development Plan on our website. The three priorities have been identified to ensure that our students continue to make the best possible progress through the curriculum at the Academy, with the right balance of challenge and support around them.

Expectations

In the start of year house assemblies, we introduced the Senior Leadership Team to the students and laid out our expectations. These included the six learning values which underpin our systems at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We believe in the value of:

  • Determined and consistent effort
  • A hunger to learn new things
  • Challenging ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable
  • Viewing setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow
  • Seeking and responding to feedback
  • Encouraging others to succeed

These values – especially the first – inform the effort grades we include on each student’s progress report, so we took the opportunity to run through the criteria teachers use to award “Good” or “Excellent” effort grades. We emphasised the fact that any student, no matter their ability, can meet the criteria for “Good” or “Excellent” effort – and it is effort that will ensure the best possible progress and attainment.

We also took the opportunity to run through the Top 5 Classroom Behaviour expectations that we established last year, to ensure that students know what is expected of them – every lesson, every time.

  1. Strong start: We arrive on time, line up and enter the classroom calmly
  2. Full attention: We are immediately silent and face the speaker when called to attention 
  3. Full effort: We apply ourselves with our full effort to the learning tasks set
  4. Full focus: We focus all our attention on the learning tasks set
  5. Calm finish: At the end of the lesson we wait in silence for the member of staff to dismiss us

We also reminded students of the Code of Conduct and the Academy’s mobile phone policy. It has been fantastic to see students stepping up to these expectations in this first week, starting the term in just the right frame of mind. But a school year is a marathon, not a sprint – and we expect our students to maintain their high standards consistently throughout the year.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Our Academy community joins the whole country in a period of national mourning for the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We are flying our flag at half mast, and we will be paying our respects to the Queen through tutor time and assembly activities. Where students need support, we will provide it.

We will be encouraging all students to respect one another, using the Academy’s value of kindness. Not everyone will feel the same thing. Some people will be feeling this loss deeply. Even if others do not share that feeling, we should all be respectful and sensitive.

The Queen has reigned throughout my life. I have the utmost respect for her as a model of public service; as someone who dedicated their life to the service of the nation. I will remember the shock and sheer joy I felt when she participated in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, accompanying Daniel Craig’s James Bond on a mission to get to the Olympic Stadium in the most epic way imaginable.

She showed that same mischievous spirit at her Platinum Jubilee, enjoying a marmalade sandwich with Paddington Bear.

But my abiding memory of Her Majesty will be her address to the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of a national crisis, when so many of us were uncertain and afraid, Queen Elizabeth found the words we needed. She used all the experience of her long reign, including her wartime broadcast to children during World War II in 1940, to assure us that “better days will return…we will meet again.”

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: thank you, Ma’am.

End of year assembly 2021-22

In this week’s assemblies I started with some facts and figures. I told the students: 

  • That there were 1,663 of them at the Academy
  • That we have 168 staff to teach, care for and support them 
  • 160,100 rewards points issued – an average of 92.81 per student
  • That 542 students have reached the milestone of 125 conduct points required for a Headteacher’s Commendation
  • That 220 have reached the 175 points needed for a Trustees’ Commendation 
  • 512 students ordered a maroon “clubs” hoodie in the first round of ordering, to celebrate their participation in extra-curricular activities this year
  • There were only two points between first and second place in this year’s inter-house academics competition

Of course, the facts and figures only tell part of the story. I went back through the photo archive to jog memories of some of the things our students have got up to this year:

Even these pictures don’t tell the full story. They don’t capture the daily successes and setbacks of lessons and social times, the small things that make a big difference. I spoke at the Celebration of Success events this week about how the mark of a Churchill student is how they respond to both; what they learn from both the achievements and the obstacles to their progress; how they overcome their difficulties, how they build on their accomplishments. These are truly the things that we should celebrate this year.

Priorities

I also spoke to students about the progress we have made on our priorities. I spoke to them about our sustainability initiatives, and how proud we are to have reduced our carbon footprint by just over 70% since 2015. I also congratulated students who had participated in our Seeking Sustainability competition, especially the winning teams from Tudor House with Project Paperless, and Lancaster House’s Chicken Team, who will be implementing their projects over the coming academic year.

We also reviewed our progress on our priority for inclusion and diversity, and I reinforced the importance that every single one of us has to ensure that every student feels welcome and included at school. We have made great strides forward over the course of the year, but we know that this work is never finished – and we are committed to continuing our efforts to educate and empower our students to go on making a positive difference.

The House Cup

The House Cup: who will win?

It was an unusual end-of-year assembly, because I was not able to award the House Cup. The postponement of Sports Day means that, at the time of writing, there are still enough points up for grabs that any house could still triumph in the year-long competition. Tudor are in the lead, but Windsor are only just behind them, with Lancaster, Stuart and Hanover snapping at their heels. Tudor have already won the Academics Cup this year, and Lancaster have won the Head of House Challenge Cup – but the overall competition is still wide open. I am assured that, through the wonders of modern technology, the Sports Day scores will be fed instantaneously into the supercomputer to provide us with an overall total for both competitions on Friday. So, at the end of the events, we will be able to award the Tug of War trophy, the Sports Day cup, and the overall House Cup – all in one go! Check the Academy’s newsletter for the final result…

Summer

Finally, I went through the plans we have in place to ensure all students stay safe in the coming heatwave, before wishing them all a restful and relaxing summer holiday – which is well deserved after this rollercoaster of a year!

Activities Week 2022

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. The week gives our students the opportunity to develop their skills and experiences beyond the main curriculum. We aim to help students develop vital skills, such as:

  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Staying Positive
  • Aiming High
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

These are skills which form the foundation of success for all learners. We address them in our lessons and our extra-curricular programme, but Activities Week gives our students the chance to push themselves further in new contexts, and new experiences.

After two disrupted years, with no Activities Week in 2020 and a scaled-back model in 2021, we have been delighted to get closer to “back to normal” in 2022. There haven’t been as many trips abroad as usual, due to the COVID pandemic being unpredictable at the time of booking. But we have got the Sicily trip away, and introduced some great new UK-based residentials, as well as a huge range of day trips and school-based activities.

At the time of writing, many of the activities are still going on, but here are some of the photo highlights of the week so far!

We will publish a full gallery on the Academy website when all the trips have returned.

It’s a huge responsibility taking students off site and returning them all safely, especially on a residential trip. Our staff do it willingly because they know how much the students benefit from it, and we know that staff benefit too from getting to know the students in a different context and seeing them taking on new challenges. I’d like to thank all the staff involved in putting the activities on for students, and especially the team behind the scenes who work on all the bookings, payments, risk assessments, travel arrangements, liaison and problem-solving that a week like this brings – we literally couldn’t do it without you!

Celebrations with Year 11 and 13

Over the past few weeks, we have been celebrating with our Year 13 and Year 11 classes of 2022. These students have been through an unprecedented period in education. The A-level exams taken by Year 13 were the first experience of external exams for many of them since their Year 6 SATs, as GCSEs were cancelled for them in 2020. Year 11 did sit their GCSEs over a long, extended exam period, following the disruption of education through the COVID-19 pandemic. Both year groups needed and deserved a party!

Year 13 Ball

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

Year 11 Prom

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

Sustaining Sustainability

This week Mrs Franklin (the Academy’s Sustainability and Marketing Manager) joined me to present to a national conference of School Business Leaders. We were asked to present our work on reducing the Academy’s carbon footprint towards our goal of net-zero by 2030, and we also took the opportunity to look more broadly at our sustainability priority.

Many of the things we spoke about in our presentation are captured in the blog post I wrote around the #COP26 summit in Glasgow last November – Going Green: Churchill and #COP26. We emphasised how important it is to us that sustainability is one of the five priorities in the Academy’s five-year strategic plan, and that sustainability is driven by our students – as we owe it to them to protect the planet they will grow up on. In fact, I will be judging the students’ Seeking Sustainability competition entries next week!

Solar PV array on the roof of the Athene Donald Building

Mrs Franklin was able to update the conference delegates on the impact of some of our carbon reduction work:

  • Reviewing our controls and boiler optimisation so that boilers are only on when they are absolutely needed has saved 22,000 kWh of energy
  • The replacement of our lighting with LED units has saved 150,000 kWh on electricity
  • The solar panels (or photovoltaic cells as they’re more properly called) which cover much of our roof space across the site can deliver up to 40% of the Academy’s electricity needs in peak summer weather
  • The introduction of point-of-use hot water heaters mean that our boilers can be completely switched off for long periods of time in warm weather, saving 300,000 kWh in gas

Finally, Mrs Franklin was able to present an updated carbon emissions chart which shows we have reduced our carbon footprint by 70% since 2015 – a further 20% reduction since the 2020 figures.

This presentation wasn’t all celebration however. As a school, we have picked almost all of the “low hanging fruit” in our battle to reduce our carbon footprint. The next stage of our journey to net zero involves the bigger challenge: reducing or removing our dependence on natural gas completely. As we look at heating and cooling solutions across the Academy’s estate, to replace our ageing gas boilers, we really want to find low-carbon solutions. Our Trustees last week commissioned work to explore how best to achieve this.

What we already know is that we will need additional funding to enable this work. We also know that the Department for Education is facing an estimated £11.4 billion bill just to bring the school building estate up to standard across the UK – and that’s before they begin to think about decarbonising that estate. And so, whilst we are grateful for the existence of the DfE’s Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems – we feel that it doesn’t go far enough. If we are serious about net zero, we need to tackle the big ticket items which contribute to our carbon footprint: gas-fired heating systems, and emissions from transport. Whilst we can make progress on these issues ourselves, we’re going to need help if we’re going to solve them for good – and that means investment to back up the sentiments.

We know our students are ambitious for a greener future – and we owe it to them to deliver it.

Sponsored Walk and Trek 2022

The Sponsored Walk and Trek are a long-standing Churchill tradition. Our school is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Mendips, and the walk and trek are our opportunity to get out of our school gates and up into the area of outstanding natural beauty that surrounds us.

The Sponsored Walk

Year 7 and 8 take on a sponsored walk from the Sixth Form centre. Working in house teams, they walk from the Academy to Sandford, through the Thatchers’ Orchards, before joining the Strawberry Line. They use the Strawberry Line path to walk up through Winscombe, including the spooky dark tunnel, before turning off up to King’s Wood and, from there, to the trig point before Crook Peak. From there, students get the reward of spectacular views from Cheddar Reservoir to Glastonbury Tor, Brent Knoll, the Bristol Channel and over to Wales.

After a rest stop at the trig point, students head back down through Slader’s Leigh nature reserve for lunch at Winscombe Rugby Club, before returning to the Academy in time for the coaches at the end of school.

It’s quite a walk, with a steep ascent in the middle, but it’s well worth it!

The Senior Trek

Students in Years 9 and 10 take on the challenge of the Senior Trek. The Trek is designed to promote independence as students, in house teams, navigate themselves between checkpoints on the Mendips, based around the peak at Black Down. Sixth Form students occupy the checkpoints, and students are awarded points for the number of checkpoints they are able to get to.

The key to success in the Trek is keeping your whole team together all the time. If you arrive at a checkpoint and your team isn’t together – you are disqualified! This is in place to promote teamwork and also to ensure that students are safe when navigating across the course. Teams arriving together win points for their houses – and this year’s results are below:

Senior Trek Results 2022

The Academy Values

The trek and the walk are designed to promote the Academy’s values:

  • Kindness: students support one another in their house teams to keep going and stick together on the trek and the walk. They are also required to be kind to the environment as they treat the area of outstanding natural beauty with respect, leaving no litter and being considerate of other members of the public enjoying the landscape.
  • Curiosity: students are encouraged to be curious about their local area. From spotting landmarks and landforms, to recognising the plants, birds and animals around them this is an opportunity to experience biology and geography in real life. They also learn a lot about one another – and themselves – when they take on the challenge!
  • Determination: the trek and the walk are big challenges – you need to be determined to keep going! Everyone who completes the challenge gets that big sense of achievement that you only feel when you’ve really had to dig deep to get it done – and that’s exactly what we’re looking for at Churchill!

It’s a huge undertaking for the staff to lead and organise these events, to get over 1000 students out onto the hills and back to school safely. I’d like to thank all the staff involved, especially those who take a lead role in the organisation. But, when you see the students back at school, tired but proud of what they’ve achieved, it’s definitely worth it!

What makes a home? Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month

Every June since 2008, people from across the UK have celebrated Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM). With celebration, education and efforts to raise awareness of the histories and experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, GRTHM helps to tackle prejudice, challenge myths and to amplify the voices of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.

At Churchill we are proud to have students from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and heritage as part of our Academy. We work hard to ensure that our school is inclusive to students of all backgrounds, and this means understanding the context and history of their communities. I found the video “Roads From The Past” informative and useful in helping me to understand more about the history of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

I also found this timeline poster fascinating, tracing the history of the communities from 998AD to the present day. I was struck but the long history of persecution and discrimination faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, including in the holocaust of the Second World War and right up to the present day.

Under our Academy value of “curiosity,” we expect our students to be hungry to learn and to seek to fill in gaps in their knowledge. We can all do more to help ensure that everybody – no matter their background, identity or culture – is welcome at Churchill, but making sure we understand each other better. I found the materials around Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller history month really interesting, as they helped me close gaps in my understanding of this often misunderstood culture. I hope that you find the same.

To find out more visit the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2022 website here.

Thank a Teacher Day 2022

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

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

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

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

Vertical Tutoring

We temporarily abandoned our vertical tutor groups on Wednesday 4th November 2020. The decision to move to horizontal (year group) tutoring was made in the midst of the “bubble” system where close contacts of positive coronavirus cases were sent home for precautionary self-isolation, to minimise the risk of transmission and the disruption caused by close contact self-isolation. At the time, in my letter to families, I said “ We place a great deal of value on our vertical tutoring system, and students will return to vertical tutor groups once the public health situation allows.” We are now well beyond those restrictions and we are looking forward to returning to the vertical tutoring system which is the foundation of our house-based pastoral care system. 

Vertical tutoring means that a small number of students from each year group belong to the same tutor group. There are many advantages to this system:

  • Tutor to student ratio: vertical tutor groups only have an average of five students from each year group. This means that tutors can spend more time with individuals, offering pastoral support and guidance. It also makes it easier for tutors to monitor academic progress, because when a progress report is published the tutor only has five students to work with, rather than up to thirty students in a year group system. 
  • Role modelling and student leadership: vertical tutoring breaks down the barriers between year groups, so that students from different year groups can work together. This enables students in the older year groups to act as role models, peer mentors and sources of advice and guidance to younger students. It also means that students in younger year groups can more clearly understand the future of the educational journey, by seeing first hand the decisions, challenges and expectations of students in older years. This can raise aspiration and leads to a “future-focused” approach.
  • Dynamic composition: in a vertical system, each tutor group’s Year 11 cohort will move on to their next steps and be replaced in September by a new intake of Year 7 students. This means that the tutor group’s composition is dynamic over the years, ensuring that the groups remain “fresh” and there are always new students to work with. 
  • Skills and character: working with students from different year groups every day requires our students to develop and practise important skills of teamwork, speaking and listening, problem solving, creativity, and leadership beyond the context of students the same age as them, which they do in five lessons every day. This is an important aspect of challenge which helps students to develop positively. 
  • Behaviour: research – and our own experience – has shown that properly implemented vertical tutoring systems improve students’ prosocial behaviour across the school. Vertical tutoring can also “depolarise” behaviour, bringing out the best in all students. It reduces the amount of in-year rivalry and “cliques”: students are more likely to be friendly and kind towards each other and make friends with different year students. Older students often behave in a more grown up way as if they naturally feel a duty to model good behaviour.
  • Belonging and house identity: the house is the “home” for students at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and the vertical tutor group acts as the “family” for students. We expect students from across each house to work together as part of the house team to develop the identity and ethos of the house, in support of the Academy’s aims and values. This is greatly enhanced by vertical tutoring. This will be supported by the formation of House Councils in next year’s student leadership programme, replacing the year group councils which have been in place through the pandemic. 

A letter will be coming home shortly providing details of the tutor group change, and students will have assemblies next week explaining how and why we are going back to normal. Then, on the first day back in term 6, we will be back in our vertical tutor groups. There will be an extended tutor time so that the members of the new tutor group can get to know one another, and expectations and approaches can be re-established. In this initial period, groups will be smaller, including students only from Years 7-10, as Year 11 will be on study leave. The groups will be ready to welcome the Year 6 students (who will be joining the tutor group as Year 7s in September) when they arrive for their induction day on 28th June.

Many generations of Churchill students have benefitted from this system over the years, and many other schools – both locally and further afield – have now adopted it. Any change is always accompanied by some uncertainty, and it is natural that students have become comfortable in their year group tutor groups. These were always temporary – although the twists and turns of the pandemic have forced us to hang on to them for longer than we anticipated we would have to! We know from long experience that vertical tutoring works best for getting students to work together positively, and we look forward to getting back to what we know works best for our students to help them make that positive difference to themselves and one another.