Welcome to the Athene Donald Building

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Happy New Year! 2019 has begun with the first lessons taking place in the Athene Donald Building, our brand new facility for science and food & nutrition. On January 7th, the students of Tudor House made their way to their brand new tutor rooms, and the first classes came down throughout the day. What a difference! The new rooms are spacious, well-designed, and purpose-built for modern teaching and learning. Every room is air conditioned. The building is almost completely airtight, making it very efficient to heat and cool, whilst the entire roof is covered with solar panels, further adding to its environmental credentials. It is fully accessible, with ramps, lifts and adjustable lab and food preparation benches for wheelchair users. The corridors and staircases are wide and airy, with aspects overlooking the fields and out over the tennis courts.

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The project has been years in the planning. Funding was finally awarded by the government’s Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) in April 2017. The concrete slab base was laid in December 2017. Construction continued throughout 2018 – you can view a gallery of progress on the Academy website.

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The building’s name was decided following a student research competition in February 2018, with the winning entry championing Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. We are delighted that Professor Donald has agreed to join us at the Academy for the building’s official opening ceremony, which will take place in March.

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Moving in!

The process of moving in has been another challenge. Science and Food do not travel light! Our staff have been amazing in packing and unpacking all the equipment, resources and materials to ensure we were ready-to-go for the first day back, and the process will continue over the coming weeks to get everything properly set up.

It has been amazing to walk up and down the corridors and see the classrooms full of students, working and learning in these wonderful facilities. I know that they appreciate them – so many of them have been to tell us how brilliant it all is! And there is even better to come…Mrs Pattison put together a superb application to the Wolfson Foundation, and was successful in securing a £50,000 grant for brand new equipment. This means that the rooms will continue to be kitted out over the coming months with state-of-the-art equipment to match the surroundings.

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Goodbye to the Tudor Block

The Athene Donald Building replaces Churchill’s original school building. The Tudor Block was built for the 402 pupils of the new Churchill Secondary Modern School in 1956. It has served us well for over sixty years, but its time is now up; contractors have been in this week to strip out furniture, fixtures and fittings in preparation for demolition over the coming months. By the time the new school year begins in September, our site will look very different!

I’d like to thank all of the staff involved in making this project a reality, especially Deputy Headteacher Mr Branch who has overseen the whole thing with unflappable dedication. The building that we now have is ample reward for all that hard work and effort; our students will reap the benefit for many years to come.

Transforming the learning environment

Over the past fortnight students have been getting used to a new and improved learning environment in the English department. Over the past year our site team have been working tirelessly, room-by-room, to renovate and refurbish all the classrooms in Hanover, where English is based. Over the Easter break, new carpet was laid in all classrooms and the upstairs corridor. It’s made an amazing difference!

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Before…

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…during…

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…and after

What was once an echoing tiled space is now a quiet, padded corridor. Whereas once the slightest shift of a chair was accompanied by an ear-splitting shriek of metal on tile, now students can focus on their learning without distraction. The clutter of old resources has been removed in favour of neat storage, and classroom displays are now focused on key learning points for English classes.

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The classroom design uses the same template as the Alan Turing Building, based on the Smarter Spaces research and work conducted by our students last year. The “teaching wall” is painted in a bright accent colour, to draw attention to the front of the room. The other walls are in a neutral colour, free from distractions, so that focus remains where it should be – on the learning.

Corridors are now clean and uncluttered. Hard-to-maintain displays have been removed in favour of large, robust photography. The time teachers would have spent on preparing, putting up and maintaining displays can now be spent more effectively on lessons and working with students.

We now have two buildings – the Alan Turing Building and Hanover – in this new internal design. The Athene Donald Building will make a third, and over the coming years we will also roll out the design to Windsor, Stuart and beyond. The future is bright!

We have only been able to achieve these great results thanks to the amazing efforts of our site team, who have completed this work with minimal disruption and a great end result. I’d like to thank them personally for all the work they have done – and continue to do – to transform the environment for learning for our students.

Pass me the wrecking ball!

As regular readers of this blog will know, we have been engaged in a three-phase project to replace the original 1956 school building, known as Tudor Block. In April 2016, we were awarded Phase 1: £1.3 million to build the Alan Turing Building for Business Studies, Computing and Social Sciences, which opened in June 2017. In April 2017, we were awarded Phase 2: £3.9 million to build the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology, which is now under construction. On 29th March this year, we received the now familiar email regarding Phase 3…

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for applying to the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2018 to 2019.

We received requests for more than £1.5 billion for over 4,600 projects in this year’s round. Following our assessment of applications, we have announced £514 million for 1,556 projects at 1,299 academies and sixth-form colleges.

You can view the full list of successful projects at…

And, thankfully, our third phase bid was also successful – £750,000 to demolish the Tudor block and “make good” the footprint of the building. We aim to put car parking in its place, which we hope will improve the safety of our students and members of the community on the narrow roads around the Academy by reducing congestion from on-road parking. Planning is already in place, and we will be working hard with the contractors to minimise disruption and produce the best possible outcome from the works, which are due to be completed in the middle of 2019.

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Part of the Tudor Building can be seen in the background of this, the earliest school photo we have found,  courtesy of alumnus Andrew Frappell who joined the school in 1958.

This is a landmark moment for the Academy. The Tudor Block was the first building to be constructed as part of the new secondary school for Churchill in 1956, and it has formed the core of the school’s facilities for many years. However, after 60 years in service it is no longer fit for purpose, and all of the classrooms from T1 onwards will be demolished. The current reception, offices, main hall and gym will remain intact.

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This aerial shot from 1970 shows the original Tudor block in the right of the picture.

The removal of this building will mean a change of shape to the site, and we will be working hard over the coming year to review and redevelop our provision to accommodate this new emphasis. It’s an exciting time, and the culmination of a lot of work from a huge team of people. Particular thanks are due to Deputy Headteacher Mark Branch, who has coordinated and led the third phase of the project with great skill – and will continue to do so as the demolition progresses.

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Satellite picture of our site captured in 2016, prior to commencement of the three-phase project. The Tudor block is the T-shaped building towards the top of the picture.  

Naming the new Science and Technology building

 

 

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Plans for the new building

As regular readers will know, we are mid-way through building a £3.9m Science and Technology facility on our site, to replace the original 1956 building, which is still in current use but no longer fit for purpose. The new building – twelve Science laboratories and two classrooms for food and nutrition – is due for completion in December this year. You can see the progress to date here.

As part of our commitment to promoting gender equality and, in particular, women in STEM, we decided we wanted to name the new building after a prominent female scientist. Our aim is to inspire young women to pursue further study and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. As part of this process, groups of our Year 7 and 8 students were set the task of researching significant women in Science and Engineering, and presenting their research to a panel of staff and governors. The shortlist included Rosalind Franklin, Mary Somerville, Marie Curie, Anne McLaren and Athene Donald.

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Our student researchers

The presentations took place on Monday 19th February. They were excellent: full of detailed research and high-quality presentation skills. After a lengthy discussion, the panel unanimously agreed to name the building…

The Dame Athene Donald Building

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Professor Dame Athene Donald is Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. Aside from the wonderful link between the name of our Academy and her Cambridge college, Professor Donald is a fantastic advocate for Science, and in particular for gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. She is a director of the university’s Women in Science, Engineering and Technology initiative to inspire and support women scientists within the university. She chairs the Athena Forum which deals with issues around career progression for women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine subjects in higher education.

Her research applies physics to biology, exploring the structures of polymers, biopolymers and, most recently, cellular biophysics. One of her most significant projects was researching the molecular structure of food (in particular starch molecules). She is also a viola player and a singer, with a keen interest in music. She has won over 20 awards, including a Faraday Medal from the Institute of Physics, and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the UKRC Women of Outstanding Achievement Awards in 2011.

Professor Donald’s life and work was researched by Year 7 students Polly Jones (7WPH) and Freya Hatherall (7WSB). They said “Athene Donald is a great inspiration to us all, for her career in science and her support for gender equality. In years to come she could influence children at Churchill Academy to pursue a career a science or engineering.” You can see their presentation below.

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The winning pair!

Professor Donald commented “I am deeply honoured that you would like to name your wonderful new building after me and of course am happy to agree. What a lovely idea to set your students such a project of research, so that more female scientists of note become familiar to them. And what a happy coincidence of the name Churchill too! I wish you all the very best with the building project and, of course, that having new labs inspires a new generation to think about careers in STEM (boys and girls).”

Well done to all the students involved, and thanks to Miss Burrows for coordinating the project.

Click here to see the coverage on the Academy’s website.

Assembly: Value

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Take a look at the two coins above. They look so different! One, minted in 1988, is tarnished and dull. It’s marked around the edges with the impacts of thousands of other coins in hundreds of pockets, tills, machines and moneyboxes. The 2010 coin is shiny and bright, and the Queen’s profile looks markedly different. Yet both coins have the same value – they are worth exactly the same. The age, condition, and the year they were made makes no difference to what they are worth.

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These two coins look similar to the pennies. One is old and tarnished, the other shiny and new. But they do not have the same value. Despite the fact that they have the words “one pound” written on the front, the coin on the left is worthless, no longer legal tender, and only the coin on the right is worth £1 now.

Looking at these coins causes me to reflect on how we assign value to things. It seems clear that things are only worth what we agree together they are worth. If we agree, as a society, that one object is worth £1 and another is worthless, then that is the value that these objects have.

In the case of the coins, the condition of the object has no bearing on its value. However, with some other objects this is not the case.

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In the case of the two guitars above, we have an unusual situation. The brand new guitar on the left is worth much less than the one on the right, despite the fact that the one on the right has been on fire, has a melted scratchplate, and had a broken neck which had to be replaced. That’s because the guitar on the right was set on fire and smashed up by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; it’s appalling condition is a testament to its place in the history of rock’n’roll.

This is not normally the case. As shown above, the value of the £120,000 Ferrari is not increased after it has been driven into a lamppost. In fact, more usually, we need to care for and look after the things we value so that they remain in good condition for us to enjoy.

Over the two years of my Headship to date, I have written three times to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to argue that the students of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form deserve a better learning environment. Twice the ESFA have agreed with the arguments we have presented – we are waiting to hear about the third! – and that is why we have the Alan Turing Building, complete with brand new IT facilities, and the new Science and Technology building under construction. That is why we are renovating and refurbishing classroom and improving the computer equipment across the site. These project all have a significant value – not just the financial resource required to put them in place, but the value they add to the learning experience for our students.

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We are lucky to learn and work in a beautiful, rural school site, with excellent and improving facilities. It is essential that we all work together to look after this place, ensuring that it is litter-free and kept in an excellent condition.

 

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Our values at Churchill determine all of our actions, and there have been many great examples of students demonstrating those values since we launched them in September. Maintaining those excellent habits will ensure that we all continue to contribute positively to the community we are building together.

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Laying the foundations

On Tuesday of this week I was invited down to the construction site where work is progressing on our new Science and Technology building. It was an important day as the contractors were using a 39 metre boom to lay down 243 cubic metres of concrete in a single slab to form the base of the building. It was quite an operation: the concrete arrived in a series of mixer wagons (30 in all during the day); it was transferred into an on-site hopper, which pumped the concrete along the boom and out into the site. One operator used a remote control to move the boom around whilst his team directed the flow of concrete into the steel mesh framework. A second pump made sure no air bubbles were trapped, whilst behind them a final contractor used a beam screeder to ensure a completely flat surface. It was amazing to watch! Over the course of twelve hours, the complete base of the building was laid out in one piece. Pipework is left to connect up the plumbing, and there are bolts sticking up from the foundation piles where the steel frame for the walls will be anchored.

As I watched this work taking place, it occurred to me that, eventually, none of this will be visible. The building will rise up, completely covering it; the ground floor materials will be mounted on top of this concrete. And yet, although none of it will be visible, it is this solid foundation which will hold the whole thing together.

As a school, we aim to provide the solid foundations and the framework upon which young people can build their futures. It’s vital to get this right. Gaps or errors in the process would be like air bubbles left in the concrete: they could weaken the whole structure. That’s why we work so hard to ensure that all our students make the most of every day, every lesson that they can.

Eventually, all the work done in school will become invisible, covered by the progress and achievements of the young people themselves as they build their own futures. But it will always be there: a firm, smooth, solid base anchoring them securely and allowing them to rise up. What a privilege it is to be a part of that process.

 

The new Science and Technology Building

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Science and Catering students Hannah, Caitlin, Jasmine and Shannon joined me, along with Laurence Wright and Ashley Mutch from H. Mealing & Sons, on Monday for the official “cutting the ground” ceremony for the new Science and Technology building.

This has been a really exciting week! We found out back in April that we had been awarded £3.9 million as part of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s Condition Improvement Fund to replace the ageing facilities in Tudor with a brand new building. Since then Mr Branch has been working flat out in collaboration with our architects, Quattro, the legal team, building contractors, the planners and the Science and Technology staff to finalise the plans, schedules and designs for the building. Finally, on Monday, work began with the first diggers starting the excavations.

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I got to sit in a JCB!

A bigger project

We already have experience in developing a new build with the Alan Turing Building, but this is almost twice the size. At almost 14,000 square metres, the new build will contain twelve new Science laboratories and two new catering classrooms, along with the necessary prep rooms and offices for staff. A Science block brings with it all kinds of challenges that “normal” buildings don’t have, including fume cupboards and gas taps, but also facilities for the safe storage of nuclear materials and hazardous chemicals. And we are determined that the catering facilities will be state-of-the-art too, with all-new equipment for our students to cook up a storm with!

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Shannon, Caitlin, Hannah and Jasmine wanted a go too!

A look at the plans

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One of the highlights of our visit to the site compound on Monday was a chance to look through the plans. From the landscaping that is going to take place around the building, to the plans for the pathway to get access around the Sports Centre, and particularly to the room plans, it was amazing to see the drawings of how the building will look. The contractors have also marked out the footprint of the building on the ground this week – it’s going to be huge.

What’s next?

Later this year we’re going to be running a competition with our students to choose the name for the new Science and Technology block. Students will research famous female scientists, and present to Senior Leaders and Governors their pitches for why they think our building should be named after their chosen individual. The most persuasive presentation will win! We hope that this will provide inspiration for students using the building over the next sixty years to pursue innovation and excellence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and overcome the inequality which is currently a big issue in that sector.

The third and final phase of our Tudor block project will be the demolition of the existing building, and the redevelopment of the site where the building has stood for over 60 years. We had the first planning meeting about phase three this week, as we prepare our next bid. By the end of 2019, the whole Academy site will look very different indeed!

Looking forward, looking back

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Janus: the Roman god of transitions, beginnings and endings

This week, at the end of the academic year, I have been conducting my assemblies with students and talking about the Roman god Janus. Janus was always depicted with two faces: one, looking forward into the future; the other, looking back into the past. I have been doing some Janus-like reflection as we reach the end of this year and look forward to the next.

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I started this year on the Headteacher’s blog with Lessons from the Olympics. Inspired by Rio 2016, I looked back on the inspiration of Ruby Harrold, a Churchill alumnus who represented Team GB in gymnastics. This week it was my pleasure to meet Ruby, who passed on her inspiration to some stars of the future.

Churchill at 60

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We have all been looking back this year on the history of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, both on this blog and on the dedicated page on our website. This week, I had the great privilege of meeting Ivan Devereux, our first ever Head Boy, who joined the brand new secondary school in 1957 from the old V.C. Church of England school which used to stand by the crossroads. He remembered starting in the very first classes, including the names of the teachers listed in the School Log Book! He was given a tour of the Academy by our new Tudor House Captains, and showed us the dictionary he was given as Head Boy with a signed bookplate from the first Headmaster, Reginald Dennis. I was fascinated by the old school badge: like our current one, it reflects the four houses of Windsor, Stuart, Hanover and Tudor, but using symbols instead of colours. House pride has been part of the school for as long as there has been a school here! It was fitting, therefore that this week I have officially welcomed our new House Captains with their embroidered polo shirts at our Celebration of Success events.

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Looking ahead, we have our 60th Anniversary Gala Evening to mark 60 years since the official opening of the school taking place on 23rd September. You can buy your tickets here for what promises to be an incredible night to celebrate the history and the future of Churchill.

The Academy Site

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Looking back over the course of this year it’s hard to believe that the Alan Turing Building was an empty patch of earth in September, and is now a fully operational facility for our students with brand-new computer rooms and classrooms. Looking ahead, work is due to start in August on our fourteen-classroom Science and Technology building, which will transform the opportunities for students in those subjects and lead to the decommissioning of the original 1956 Tudor building.

Over the summer there are lots of other works going on across the Academy to redevelop our learning environment, including the new Student Services facility above the Library and brand new study facilities for our Sixth Formers.

Rest, relax, recharge

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The students and the staff have worked really hard this year, pushing themselves to go that extra mile every single day. At this week’s Celebration of Success events, it has been a privilege to recognise some of those hardworking, dedicated students and present them with their certificates. I wish everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community a restful and relaxing summer break, and look forward to seeing you in September refreshed, recharged and ready for the next challenge!

The Alan Turing Building

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Alan Turing at age 16 (1928)

It is with great pride that we have named our new Computing, Business Studies and Social Sciences building The Alan Turing Building, in honour of the great war hero and father of modern computer science. Alan Turing died on this day, June 7th, in 1954.

Who was Alan Turing?

Alan Turing was born on 23rd June 1912, and is widely credited as the founder of computer science. He is best known for his work at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, where he and his team of codebreakers successfully cracked the Enigma Code used by Nazi Germany to communicate with its Navy. His work is thought to have shortened the war by two to four years, saving between 14 and 21 million lives in the process.

Alan Turing was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset, and later at King’s College, Cambridge. Whilst at Cambridge, Turing came across an unsolved mathematical problem – the question of Decidability, the Entscheidungsproblem. Turing set out to work out whether there could be a definite method by which it could be decided whether any mathematical assertion was provable. In order to answer this question, he came up with the idea of the Universal Turing Machine – a theoretical machine which would follow the instructions laid out by a “programmer” in order to complete mathematical tasks. In other words, he invented the idea of a computer.

Four-rotor German Enigma cypher machine, 1939-1945.

A German Enigma cipher machine (source)

It was this theory which was turned into practice at Bletchley Park. He created a machine called “Victory” in the Spring of 1940 which was able to crack the German military code-machine, Enigma. By 1943, Turing and his team were cracking a total of 84,000 different Enigma messages every month – two messages every minute. Every time the Germans introduced a new code or cipher, Turing’s machines were able to crack it.

 

Turing’s Bombe computer, rebuilt at Bletchley Park (source)

Following the war, Turing worked on developing his code-breaking machines into universal computers, paving the way for the technology revolution which has transformed all of our lives. But nobody at the time knew of the contribution that Alan Turing had made to the end of the war, as his work was classified top secret until 1974.

Turing had been openly gay since his time at Cambridge. However, homosexuality was a criminal offence at the time, and he was arrested for gross indecency and came to trial in March 1952. He did not deny his actions or defend himself; he said he saw no wrong in being gay, and told the police he believed homosexuality should be legalised. Rather than go to prison, he accepted a form of “chemical castration” – a year-long programme of hormone injections designed to suppress his sexuality. On 8th June 1954 his body was found; he had taken cyanide poison. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, and in 2013 Alan Turing received a royal pardon, removing his criminal record. He is now widely recognised as a war hero and a pioneer in Mathematics and Computing.

Why the Alan Turing Building?

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The Alan Turing Building at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, opened June 2017

Turing represents the best of British innovation, using his expertise in mathematics to solve unsolvable problems, save millions of lives, and change the face of technology. He also represents equality, refusing to hide or be ashamed of who he really was, no matter what other people thought. In both ways, Alan Turing has changed our society for the better. We hope that the students educated in this building, dedicated to Computing – the subject he invented – along with Business Studies and the Social Sciences – will embody the same spirit of innovation and equality, and go on as he did to make the world a better place.

Inside the Alan Turing Building

These photographs, taken during the final fit-out of the Alan Turing Building, show the Smarter Spaces colour scheme designed by our students. This light and airy space, equipped with brand new computers and interactive displays, will be a superb facility for our students today and far into the future and, we hope, a fitting tribute to someone whose story we think everyone should know.

A step into the future

I was on duty on the field when I found out. Mr Neale, our Business Manager, came to find me. “We’ve got the new Science and Technology block,” he said. It took a moment to sink in, but then we were both grinning from ear-to-ear and shaking hands. It was the news that we’d been waiting for.

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It’s a strange experience receiving the news that the Academy has been awarded £3,905,857 in government funding. When I got back to my office, there was an email waiting for me with the subject line “Application Outcome – Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2017-18″. The email went on:

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for applying to the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2017 to 2018.

We received requests for more than £1.3 billion for over 3800 projects to this year’s round. Following our assessment of applications, we have announced £466 million for 1435 projects across 1184 academies and sixth-form colleges.

You can view the full list of successful projects at…

The link takes you to a Department for Education website page. Then you have to download a spreadsheet. Then you need to scroll through the spreadsheet which lists all 1435 successful projects, looking for North Somerset…and there it is. Churchill Academy. “Replacement of Science Labs and Design Technology facilities.” We’ve got the bid.

Only about a third of the bids submitted across the country were successful. We are one of only four bids in North Somerset to be funded this year. For the Academy, it’s the culmination of years of hard work. The first bid to replace our ageing Tudor block was submitted in 2014 – and was unsuccessful. Since then, we’ve been working tirelessly to convince the Education Funding Agency that the building – originally built in the mid-1950s for the very first students to come to the new school in Churchill – was in need of replacement.

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Photographs from our CIF bid showing some of the issues with the Tudor block roof

We’ve had surveys. We’ve had health and safety and environmental audits. We’ve had structural reports. We’ve been up on the roof to photograph the cracks, leaks and gaps. And we’ve put hours and hours into planning for the replacement buildings, working with our architects and our contractors to ensure that every detail was considered and every eventuality planned for.

In the last cycle of funding, we were awarded £1.3 million to build our new Computing and Business Studies block, which is very nearly finished. That project has run like clockwork, with minimal disruption to the Academy, and is due to be handed over to us by the end of April. We will then fit it out with computers and equipment, ready for students in June.

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Computing and Business Studies building – nearly finished!

That building replaces the top floor of the Tudor block, and was called “Phase One.” We submitted “Phase Two” – the replacement of the ground and first floor  – in December 2016. At the top of the submission documents, I wrote a letter to plead our case, which concluded:

“2017 is the school’s Diamond Jubilee year. Our main building has served us well for sixty years, but the students of 2017 deserve better than to receive their education in a building designed and built for the students of 1957. Its replacement is now a necessity.”

All that hard work has paid off. The second phase of the project will go up on the site of “The Cage” behind the Sports Centre, and will include twelve brand-new Science Labs and two modern and fully equipped catering rooms. Work has already begun this week in preparation for the build. Ground will be broken this summer. The first students are due to go into the new facilities at the beginning of 2019. Now all that’s left to do is to bid for the funding to demolish the decommissioned building…

It’s Mr Neale’s last term-time week at the Academy this week, as he is relocating to take up a new role after Easter. He’s been busy tying up loose ends, handing over to those taking over, and in particular seeing our current building project through to completion. I’d like to pay tribute to him here as he leaves us, and thank him for his contribution to Churchill. The facilities that students will enjoy for generations to come are a fitting legacy for him to leave behind – we all wish him well in the future.