What’s happening inside the Stuart House block?

As students returned this September, they have had their French and Spanish lessons in some very unusual locations across the Academy, including Art rooms and Science labs. Why? Well, because the languages classrooms don’t currently have any walls…

Inside the Languages Well area, last week

We have become accustomed to new, modern facilities at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. The Alan Turing Building for Business, Computing and Social Sciences, the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology, refurbished classrooms in English and Maths, and our new reception and administration area have transformed the learning environment. But over to the side of the Academy site, the Stuart House block remained untouched.

This aerial shot from 1970 shows the Stuart House block in the foreground

The building was added when Churchill converted to a comprehensive school in the late 1960s. Since that time, its flat roof has been replaced and the internal structure has slowly been developed – but, compared to the bright and modern facilities elsewhere, the classrooms were looking tired. They were too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. The walls were thin and not particularly soundproof – not helpful when trying to teach languages! – and the electrics needed work. The building itself was sound, but the interior was in dire need of attention.

As a result we put together a bid for funding from the government’s Condition Improvement Fund. The plan was to leave the shell of the building intact, but to hollow it out inside and rebuild brand new, modern classrooms inside the existing structure. We submitted the bid late last year, expecting to hear back in April 2020. But then, coronavirus struck, and the decisions were delayed and then delayed again. But then, finally, at the end of June we got the news – we had got the funding!

The work will progress in phases, so that we are able to manage the project within our existing facilities. We have started with the languages end as phase one. When that is completed, we will move on to the middle of the building, before finally completing the Humanities end next year.

The Languages Department clear-out, summer 2020

Over the summer the Languages team cleared out their department. It was a de-clutter to end all de-clutters! And once everything was clear, the demolition teams could move in.

The classroom walls came down in less than a week, leaving the empty shell behind. We are now ready for the construction teams to move in, and create the new rooms our students and staff deserve. The LPod has also gone, and will not return: in its place will be two new, separate classrooms for the Humanities department. All the rooms will be built to the latest specification, with special attention paid to sound proofing, climate control and energy efficiency.

The work has also coincided with the launch of Lancaster House, and we are therefore dividing the block into two halves. The languages end, currently being developed, will be reinstated as Lancaster House area with tutor rooms and a social area. Meanwhile the Humanities end, in phase three of the project, will be home to Stuart House – again with brand new tutor rooms and a social area.

The transformation of our learning environment continues. And so, whilst the languages teachers and Lancaster House tutors are currently displaced, they know that it’s only temporary. It’s exciting to see French being taught in an Art room – but it will be more exciting still when it returns home to brand new, state-of-the-art facilities in the coming months. Magnifique!

Building for the future

The future of technology

Throughout the Academy’s closure – apart from a few weeks’ pause during the total lockdown – our building contractors have been carrying on with the building of the extension to the Athene Donald Building.

The extension to the Athene Donald Building nearing completion

The extension, when complete, will house two brand new Technology workshops. It’s been great to be back in school for Exam Support the past few weeks, seeing the new equipment being delivered: pillar drills, saws, and machines which I don’t even know the names of!

The rooms are really fantastic: airy and spacious, with the latest kit and great innovations like power supplies which retract into the ceiling so there’s no messy cabling to get in the way of the workshop. Our students (and staff!) are so lucky – they’re going to love it in these rooms!

Goodbye to the past

Because the Academy is closed, we have been able to demolish the old Technology classrooms ahead of schedule. These rooms were the last remnants of the original 1956 design buildings, after the demolition of Tudor in spring 2019. Unlike that three-storey block, this small single-storey building was flattened in a matter of days.

The footprint of the old Technology block – completely flattened in less than a week

What’s next?

The coronavirus pandemic has delayed many things, and the 2020 round of the government’s condition improvement funding has been no different. But, just as the existing projects were being concluded, on 29th June 2020, the outcomes were announced – and Churchill Academy & Sixth Form has been successful again! This time, we have been awarded funding for two separate but concurrent projects. Firstly, over £250,000 to completely secure the Academy’s perimeter, with modern access gates and fencing to keep our students, staff and site safe. And secondly – and this is the best bit – over £1.5 million to completely rebuild the interior of what is now the Stuart House block.

This will transform the tired, dilapidated classrooms that house our Humanities and Languages faculties and Stuart and Lancaster House. The bid also includes brand new toilet facilities, social spaces, offices and meeting rooms…basically tearing down every internal wall in the building and starting again from scratch. It’s an incredible opportunity!

The coronavirus delay means that our original plan to complete the first phase of the works before September is not achievable, so there will be some disruption as the works progress in phases through the block. However, if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that Churchill staff and students can overcome any kind of disruption and thrive!

Taking stock

Looking back over the past four years, we have successfully secured funding for:

The total additional investment in our site now stands at over £8.5 million between 2016 and 2020 – an incredible achievement, which will benefit generations of students to come.

The Tower

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The completed Tower cladding (summer 2019)

We were faced with a problem after the demolition of the Tudor block earlier this year. The Tower – part of the original school buildings from 1956 – remained behind. What should we do with the new “end” of the building?

We knew that the exposed brickwork would be covered with cladding, since the walls had originally been internal walls and needed protecting from the elements. We wanted to come up with a simple but eye-catching design to decorate the expanse of white: something which would capture the spirit of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but which would last; something which clearly showed the Academy’s identity. I knew that the four Houses of Churchill were a key part of this identity…so how could we get the design to reflect this?

The first idea for the Tower was sketched – literally – on the back of an envelope. After that, I superimposed the four stripes, one for each house, onto the architects’ draft plans for cladding the exterior wall using Photoshop.

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First version of the Tower design (with scribbles!) rendered in Photoshop

In this initial design, the stripes started in the same place but then separated out. Once they were flipped over, the design made perfect sense: the four separate houses of the Academy, all heading upwards towards a common shared objective. Like our students, they aren’t all the same, but they are all aspiring, growing, climbing. The stripes show our diversity and what we all share. The expanse of white shows what is yet unwritten – and suggests what is possible.

We are delighted with the final design, which was produced and installed by Naked Signs – carefully, painstakingly, by hand – with the help of a huge cherry-picker hydraulic lift. It certainly formed a talking point for the staff and students at the start of term, with some calling them “the superhero stripes” and others instantly recognising the house colours in the pattern. We hope that our Academy community, and visitors, are equally impressed!

Welcome Back!

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

Inset Days

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

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

The Academy Site

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

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

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

Focus on behaviour

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

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

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

What’s happening to the Academy site?

Tudor is down

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Where Tudor/Science used to be

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

The Tech Block is going

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

Reception is moving

SSite changes for September 2019

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

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

Green Team redevelopment

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The new broadwalk pathway in development

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

Change is afoot!

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

Athene Donald’s speech from the opening ceremony

This week saw the opening ceremony of the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology at Churchill. Our guest of honour was Professor Dame Athene Donald herself.

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The opening ceremony began with our Chamber Choir, who gave a fantastic rendition of Blue Skies, arranged by our very own Mr Spencer. Polly and Freya, the Year 8 students who suggested the building be named in her honour, then introduced Professor Donald, who gave an inspiring speech to the assembled guests. Outgoing President of the Sixth Form Council, Libby Scott, gave the vote of thanks, before the guests were shown round the classes currently in session in our wonderful new facilities.

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With her kind permission, I reproduce Professor Donald’s speech here in full, so that all our staff, students and the wider Academy community can benefit from her inspiring and positive message.

It’s wonderful to be here today. And it’s wonderful to see a school able to provide such fantastic facilities for science and with such a strong commitment to encouraging girls and young women to pursue science to A levels and university.

We’ve just heard the Chamber Choir sing Blue Skies. That is a song that I chose for one of my Desert Island Discs, because it has a particular significance for me. When I was in the USA and my research was going very badly, I found the balance in my life by singing Barbershop with three students in my (engineering) department. It helped me get through some otherwise miserable times and helped me to persist. To the students here I would say remember that life does not always go according to plan, but finding ways – and people – to help you through difficult periods is very important. Music was my escape and support.

Let me say straight away how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen to have this building named after me. It is not the sort of honour that I ever expected, not something that would ever have crossed my mind when I myself was a teenager.

Having first class facilities is undoubtedly something that will make a difference to every student – not to mention staff member – who works in the new building. So many schools have to make do with out of date and often depressing surroundings in which to do their science, and that is hardly likely to inspire the next generation that this is an exciting area to pursue.

Science – which I use as shorthand to include engineering and technology of course – has a crucial role to play in our world. Whether or not a child goes on to study science in later years, if they have a feeling of comfort with the subject means that so many of the big issues – be it climate change and the necessary energy transition we all have to make, or interpreting health risks or what AI may mean for our society – will not feel so scary and unapproachable.

Working at their science lessons in a modern block will provide a congenial atmosphere in which to get to grips with these important subjects.

And what about girls and women in science? Why do I care so passionately about this? Firstly there is the moral argument – why should 50% of the population feel that science is not for them, particularly given its role in empowering citizens in our democracy? But secondly there is the fact that we as a society need the best brains contributing to drive innovation and insight and losing these is a loss to society as a whole. We need to make sure that every young adult in this country whatever their gender, race or background – has access to good science teaching and encouragement to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. That some children are told they can’t do one subject or another either explicitly or simply implicitly in the messages our society and media give, is not good enough. We need their brains and their talent.

The L’Oréal tagline, as I learnt when I won the Laureate for Women in Science for Europe ten years ago, is that ‘The World needs science and science needs women’. One does not need to care about cosmetics – and I am a bad poster child for L’Oréal as I am very allergic to most of them – to recognize the truth and importance of that sentence.

When I was a teenager, attending an all girls school, no one told me it was odd to want to pursue physics. No one put me off and we had good facilities and good teaching. When I went to university I found out that I was in a minority and I have been ever since. I was the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge, something I still feel very proud of. I am, indeed, the first woman to be Master of Churchill College at Cambridge, a college that uniquely admits 70% of its students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. We have an incredibly diverse intake but, because of its emphasis on these subjects, not as many young women as I would like. We are working on that, but I hope the brightest of your own students would aspire to come to a college like ours.

I am truly humbled that you chose to name your new block after me, not after the usual suspects of Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin. I hope in some small way the knowledge that women like me can thrive in the sciences will inspire future generations. I wish the school all the very best as this new space is up and running.

Congratulations and best wishes.

Professor Dame Athene Donald

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A last look at Tudor

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Inside Tudor Towers for the final time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the top floor of the Tudor Block

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

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Inside the old Chemistry block

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

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Pipework and rubble inside Chemistry

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

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.