Celebrating success

This Wednesday was our annual Presentation Evening. This fantastic event is the partner to our end-of-year Celebration of Success evenings, with the focus on those students who have excelled in their GCSE and A-level exam results over the summer. However, we recognise that school is about more than just the examination results that young people achieve, so it is also vital that we award prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, for compassion, for resilience, and above all for excellent and improved attitudes to learning over the course of the last year.

This year’s guest of honour was the wonderful Stefanie Martini. Stefanie was a student at Churchill from 2002 to 2009, leaving us to pursue an Art Foundation course, before applying to RADA to pursue acting. From there, Stefanie landed a role as Mary Thorne in Julian Fellowes’ Doctor Thorne for ITV, as well as the mysterious Lady Ev in the NBC fantasy series Emerald City, set in the world of the Wizard of Oz. She is perhaps best known for playing the role of a young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 1973, showing us the origins as a probationary police officer of the iconic Detective Inspector Tennison that Dame Helen Mirren brought to ITV in the 1990s. Her latest film, Hurricane, tells the story of Squadron 303, a group of Polish airmen who fought with the RAF in the Battle of Britain, fighting both prejudice on the ground as well as the Luftwaffe in the air. It is in cinemas now!

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Prize winners with Stefanie Martini, 12th September 2018

Stefanie spoke about her time at Churchill, and how it shaped the character that she has become. She explained how, when she fell behind with school work, she was supported and pushed to get back on track, and how failing to get the part she wanted in the school musical made her a better actress. There was a thread of steely determination running through her speech: despite being rejected seven times in one year from drama schools, she kept going – and in the next year, she was accepted to four different drama schools at once. Her message of self-belief, strength of character and the importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to move forward was hugely inspiring to the young people (and the adults!) at the event.

It’s great to have alumni back at Churchill to speak to this year’s prize-winners. Not only does it show our current and only-just-left students what is possible with a Churchill education, but it is also a great opportunity to celebrate the success of students who – although they have left – always remain part of our school community.

Of course, a prize-giving ceremony can only have one prize winner in each category. Even though we gave out 139 prizes at this year’s Presentation Evening, there are hundreds, even thousands, of achievements, triumphs and successes that we don’t have a prize for, that don’t get their picture in the paper or their name in the newsletter. What I hope, however, is that we do recognise and celebrate those successes, however small, whenever and wherever we find them – because nobody ever tires of being told “well done.”

Balls

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Year 11 letting their hair down

I hope you will forgive the title of this week’s blog. If you’ve found it in your heart to forgive that, then I hope you’ll also forgive this next sentence.

I’ve been to two fantastic balls in the past fortnight.

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Sun's out – we're ready! #bollywoodball

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Of course, I am talking about the Year 11 Ball here at the Academy, and the Year 13 Ball in Bristol the following week. These great events have got me thinking about the spirit of celebration and what I’ve learnt about Churchill over the past fortnight.

Firstly, I’ve heard some people bemoaning the “Americanisation” of our culture as proms have taken hold across the land. I’m not one of them: I love them! And, it has to be said, Churchill’s are something special. In particular, I love the fact that the Year 11 Ball is held here at the Academy, transformed this year into an Aladdin’s Cave of Bollywood-inspired delights. I love the fact that the whole community turns out to watch the arrivals, cheering and applauding as each new spectacular mode of transport rolls around the coach loop. And I love the fact that our Year 11 demonstrate all the creativity and originality that are the hallmarks of this school in their choices of vehicle, from sports cars to scooters, tractors to trailers, motorbikes, golf buggies, wheelbarrows, camper vans and Land Rovers… And I love the fact that the students waltz, tango, and salsa together under the expert direction of our dance teachers before unleashing their own moves on the dancefloor!

What I loved more than that last week, though, was the joy on their faces and the mood of the celebration. There was genuine happiness that the exams they’d worked so hard towards were finally over, and the summer was opening up invitingly ahead of them. But there was also real warmth and affection for the school and its teachers who had helped them along the way. There were hugs and thank yous, and I think in each of them a sense that, even though many of them would be returning to us in the Sixth Form, their time as a full year group was over and that, from September, a new chapter was beginning.

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Table prepared for the Sixth Form Ball

What, then, of the celebrations for the students two years older? Well, the glamour was still very much in evidence and, if anything, turned up a notch in our Year 13 Ball…and I can certainly vouch for the enthusiasm and energy with which they celebrated! These students too are stepping into a new chapter, beyond the Academy for good. I wished them well as they prepared for that next vital step. It also struck me how many teachers came to celebrate with them, showing the real affection and respect between the staff and students at the Academy. Or the fact that the teachers were in need of a good night out too!

So should schools – places of learning and education – really be expending time and energy in organising parties? Absolutely. They celebrate the warmth of the relationships between students and staff, they bring people together to mark these mileposts on our journey together, and they give us all the chance to relax and let our hair down after all that hard work. And the students deserve it!