Closing for coronavirus

 

coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis moved so quickly, there was barely time to take stock. We were, of course, aware of the virus spreading across the world. We were aware that this would reach us, at some point. But we carried on. School felt quiet, an oasis of calm normality away from the screaming news headlines and the parade of opinions on social media.

We prepared, of course. At Churchill we had a comprehensive Critical Incident Plan in case of disaster. We always talked about it as the plan we would use if a jumbo jet crashed on the school field. As it happened, the disaster was not a massive bolt from above, but a microscopic, invisible invader, creeping unseen between us. But the plan worked just the same.

On Monday 9th March, senior staff developed the first closure plans. The computer network team drew up a set of procedures to enable remote learning to take place at an unprecedented scale. We implemented enhanced cleaning processes while we were still open. The administration teams began to plan to make sure that all the usual functions of the school could continue from afar: phone forwarding, video conferencing, “grab bags” of key paperwork. By Thursday 12th March, all staff were briefed about what would happen if we were to close. And on Thursday 12th March, it was still an “if.”

By Sunday night, it was clear that things were moving very quickly indeed. On Monday, I met with all staff and gave an assembly to every student in school, a year group at a time. There was a risk, of course, gathering them all together in the hall like this. My judgment was that having them in an assembly did not bring them into any closer contact than in their classrooms, or at break or lunchtime, and that they needed to hear the same clear and consistent message.

On Tuesday, 327 students were absent. I declared a critical incident and implemented the carefully prepared plan. Year 12 lessons were suspended from Wednesday, as we began to run short of staff to keep the school fully open. We put in place plans to open our Student Services provision to care for the children of key workers, and to distribute Free School Meals in the event of closure.

IMG_2850

My scribbled notes from the Secretary of State’s ministerial statement on Wednesday 18th March

When the Secretary of State made his statement to Parliament on the evening of Wednesday 18th March, I knew that he was going to announce school closures. But it was clear that this was no temporary measure: “until further notice” was an indication that this was going to be a lengthy closure. The cancellation of all exams was confirmation that this was serious. I stood in my kitchen, watching BBC Parliament on my iPad, and I wept. I cried for all the students who had worked so hard for exams which would not take place; I cried for the staff who care so much about the children, and the school; and I cried for the community that would be so difficult to maintain remotely.

Difficult, but not impossible.

And so I pulled myself together, and I got on with it. Year 11 and Year 13 were my first priority: these students had had the rug pulled from under them and were suddenly, quite unexpectedly, facing their last days at school. We had to give them the “last day” that they deserved. We had to get Student Services up and running. We had to organise free school meals. We had to prepare remote learning for the rest of the school and get everything locked down…in two days.

IMG_7274IMG_7194

Looking back now, after a week of closure and five days of lockdown, that last week of school seems almost like a dream. Year 13 and Year 11 got their last days. We got Student Services up and running, we organised free school meals and remote learning and check-in phone calls and a hundred and one other things. Throughout it all, the students and staff were amazing. They supported one another with selflessness and positivity, even the most trying of times. Their kindness and determination shone through.

After Year 11 had gone on Friday, I gathered the things that I would need. I walked the school for one last time: every block, deserted, empty, silent. It brought home to me that the school isn’t the buildings, the classrooms, the whiteboards and the playing fields. It’s the people. The students and their teachers, the support staff, cleaners, site team and technicians. They are the school.

So now I am Headteacher of a different sort of Academy: one with teachers and students spread across the region, isolated in their homes. But in that isolation we are all connected by a sense of belonging that has been strengthened, not damaged, by the challenges of the coronavirus closure.

squarecrop

Lowering the Academy flag on Friday 20th March 2020

I have been overwhelmed by the support of our Academy community – parents, families, friends, staff, students, governors and beyond – during this crisis. I want to thank each and every one of you for all you have done, and continue to do, to support the vision and values of the Academy. There is a long way to go, and much for us still to do. But I know that we can get there, together – and I look forward to the day when I raise the Academy flag again.

Holocaust Memorial Day

The Holocaust (The Shoah in Hebrew) was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. The Nazi Party persecuted Jews throughout their time in power, victimising them and whipping up hatred based on their anti-semitic beliefs. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazis forced Jews to live in confined areas called “ghettos,” in squalid and unsanitary conditions.

stroop_report_-_warsaw_ghetto_uprising_06b

Jews being held at gunpoint by Nazi SS troops in a Warsaw ghetto in 1943

Jews were subject to further persecution, removal of rights, forced labour and violence as the Nazis swept across Europe and Russia. In 1941, emboldened by their progress, the Nazis began a programme of systematic murder of Europe’s Jews. Death squads called Einsatzgruppen swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, killing Jews by firing squad. By the end of 1941 the first extermination camp, Chelmno in Poland, had been established. These camps, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, and others,  enabled the Nazis to commit mass murder throughout the rest of the Second World War.

selection_on_the_ramp_at_auschwitz_ii-birkenau2c_1944_28auschwitz_album29_3a

Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz II, c. May 1944. Women and children are lined up on one side, men on the other, waiting for the SS to determine who was fit for work. About 20 percent at Auschwitz were selected for work and the rest gassed

By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had been murdered in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps.

 

Auschwitz 01

Churchill students visiting Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust during Activities Week 2019

I find the idea of the Holocaust unbearable. The fact that human beings – actual people – could be so inhuman in the treatment of others, is shocking. I will never forget my own visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial site. I went when I was in Year 12, on a German exchange, with my German host family. The father of the family openly wept as we walked through the memorial, confronted by horrific images of the atrocities committed there, by Germans, just a generation before. I remember thinking at the time that the lessons learned from the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In recognition of this event, Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday used the theme of “Stand Together.” In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing together with those people targeted and singled out as “others.” We can – and we must – do better.

Today there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of hostility in our society, because the horrors of the Holocaust can never be allowed to happen again.

 

stand-together-4-2222-2

 

Top 5 Safer Internet Day Tips

Tuesday 5th February was Safer Internet Day 2019. The aim of Safer Internet Day is to inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. There are lots of resources available online linked to the day to help with that conversation, including top tips for parents and carers and top tips for 11-18 year olds. Google has also created the Be Internet Awesome resource for young people to help them be safe, confident explorers of the online world.

Here are my top five tips for a safer internet:

1. The internet is written in pen, not pencil

pennotpencil

I can’t remember where I heard this tip. but it’s always stuck with me. When you post something online, it’s there forever. Even on services like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, where posts disappear after their time limit is up, screenshots can be taken and re-shared.

In the future, you could be judged by what you have put online – by prospective employers, business contacts, or even journalists. There have been several high profile cases which highlight this problem: Jack Maynard was forced out of the “I’m a Celebrity” jungle last year in a controversy over old social media posts, and Toby Young was forced to resign his position as part of the university regulator when offensive old tweets resurfaced – even though they had been deleted.

When you put something online, it helps if you have in your mind that you are making a permanent record. Ask yourself: would I be happy for someone to read this ten years from now?

2. Would you say it face to face?

A laptop, phone or tablet screen feels like a shield sometimes: what we put on social media disappears into the ether and we don’t see the impact of the messages we are sending. But just because we don’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It helps to think about communication over social media in the same way as a face-to-face conversation. If it isn’t something you would say to someone’s face, it’s probably not something you should put online. And this isn’t just about young people: there are some terrible adult role models online, who seem to build their reputation on being horrible to and about others.

The most horrific example I have seen of this is the terrible case of Megan Evans; I have spoken about her before in my kindness assembly. 14-year-old Megan was found dead on February 7, 2017. She had been the victim of online bullying, which her mother believes drove her to take her own life. After a long period of bullying by her classmates and peers, one of the other children in her school sent her the message: “why don’t you kill yourself?”

Megan replied saying: “Ok.”

The fact that somebody in Megan’s life chose to express cruelty and unkindness had the most tragic and devastating consequences. Her family and her friends – and the young person who sent that final message – will be living with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives. The heart-rending video below, as Megan’s mother is interviewed on This Morning, shows just how devastating this unkindness can be.

My rule is: if it isn’t right to say, it isn’t right to post.

3. Keep some things back

Sharing personal information online carries risks too. Posting your phone number, your address, date of birth or information about your family publicly on social media opens you up to identity fraud. In the video below, a coffee shop offers a free drink if customers like their Facebook page. The barista asks for the customers name, and a behind-the-scenes team matches the name to the Facebook like and sees what information it can harvest from just these two data points. What could a stranger learn about you from your online posts?

Similarly, be cautious with location sharing on your social media posts. Do you really want strangers to know exactly where you are? Along with your profile photo, this could lead to a risky situation – if a stranger knows where you are, and knows who you are, then it increases your vulnerability.

4. Stay secure

password_648x429

It’s important to choose strong passwords for your online accounts. Google advises using a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers, r3pl@cing le++ers wit# sYmb0ls & n^mb3rs 1ike Thi$ to create memorable but hard-to-hack passwords. It’s also really important to use different passwords across different accounts. I know it’s tempting to use one memorable password every time but if one account is hacked, every account you have is then compromised.

5. Be kind online

The internet is neither good nor bad; it’s a neutral platform. It’s the people that use it that set the tone in the online space. If people choose to be kind, helpful and supportive online, that will be the tone that is set – but the reverse is also true. We can all make a contribution to helping the online world be a better place by:

  • Sharing and spreading positive messages
  • Stopping the spread of harmful or untrue messages by not sharing them with others
  • Call out unkind or inappropriate behaviour online: block them and report it
  • Offer support to the victims of unkindness or bullying online – be part of the solution, not the problem.

thinkbeforeyouspeak

With thanks to Google’s Be Internet Awesome project for inspiring this week’s blog. If you have been inspired you can take a Be Internet Awesome Pledge here.

Advent: Acts of Kindness

Like many children up and down the country, my kids look forward to advent as the twenty four days of the year when they’re allowed to have chocolate before breakfast! We’ve hung our calendars and they are getting out of bed that little bit more willingly than usual, tempted by the lure of an edible treat.

It’s true that the consumption of daily confectionery is somewhat removed from the Christian meaning of advent. In the Christian faith, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and advent is a reminder to prepare for this important religious festival.

This year, like last year, Mr Gale in the Maths Faculty has shared his “Kindness Calendar” with the school. The Kindness Calendar is a great way to mark advent by giving, rather than receiving, tied into one of the Academy’s core values. Each school day of the advent period, there’s a kindness task for students and staff to carry out. There are bonus tasks to extend it into the weekend too!

kindnesscalendar

Our Kindness Calendar

Why not try each of the daily acts of kindness on the days running up to Christmas? After you’ve had your chocolate, of course…

Why are we here?

It’s great to be back for a new year at Churchill! In my start-of-term assembly for each of the Houses, I outlined some practical priorities: some of the key changes to the Academy site which will be taking place this year, and reminders about our expectations of behaviour and conduct.

At the start of the year, however, my most important priority was to take a longer and wider view, and to remind all students why were are here, and what we are trying to achieve together at Churchill.

Our purpose: to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference

 

kenya2018(school)

Churchill students working with young people at Rigoma Primary and Secondary School in Kenya, summer 2018 (source)

Our purpose at Churchill is “to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference.” This can be at a personal level: we can all make a positive difference to ourselves, through the work we do to improve our knowledge, skills and character every day. We can also make a positive difference to others, through helping them when they are finding things difficult and making their experience of school better.

On a wider scale, we can all make a positive difference to the Academy community. This can be in simple, practical ways like keeping the site neat and tidy, but also in less obvious ways by contributing to our positive atmosphere: behaving kindly and respectfully; being ready and eager to learn; and supporting and encouraging one another in our efforts to improve.

Looking up still further, we know that all our young people can make a positive difference in the wider world, both during their time as students here but also after they have left us. Our hope is that, because of the education they have had here, Churchill students will go on to make the world a better place. This is a lofty ambition – but it is what motivates and guides us in the work we do every day.

Our vision: to set no limits on what we can achieve

Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Sports Day 2018

Our vision at Churchill is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Limits can be external, with other people telling you that “you’ll never be able to do X,” or “you’re only capable of Y.” We strive to avoid this kind of talk at Churchill, recognising that it is impossible to know someone’s true potential, and that effort and application make it far more likely that we will achieve our goals.

The limits we set ourselves can be far more challenging. We all have a voice inside ourselves that says “it’s too hard,” or “I’ll never be able to do it,” or “I can’t.” At Churchill we try hard to find an inner voice to talk back in, so that we can find a way to overcome those barriers we can set ourselves.

GM Phrases

Our values: kindness, curiosity, determination

Valuescropped

Our three values are based on the character strengths that underpin our vision and our purpose. Developing kindness, curiosity and determination will help us all to reach our goals. Each value reflects a different aspect of our character: kindness is a strength of the heart; curiosity is a strength of the mind; determination is a strength of the will.

Kindness

At Churchill, we are kind to one another. This means that we are considerate and generous every day, caring for one another and doing everything we can to make sure everybody else has a good day at school. Kindness reinforces our shared sense of community; it builds trust and respect; and it ensures that we take our social responsibilities seriously.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

Curiosity

At Churchill, we are constantly curious and hungry for new learning. We value enquiring minds and a spirit of exploration. The desire to know or learn something new motivates us to try our hardest in everything we do.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” (Plutarch)

Determination

At Churchill, we are persistent and relentless in the pursuit of our goals – both academic and personal. This determination to keep going when learning is difficult, and to come back and try again when we struggle, helps us to succeed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison)

It is the interplay between our values, our vision and our purpose that enable us to achieve success. I’m looking forward, this year, to taking further strides towards our shared goals. As Henry Ford said, “if everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.”

Focus Fortnight: Kindness

Monday 13th November was World Kindness Day, and kicked off our Focus Fortnight on our core value of Kindness. Over this two weeks we are encouraging all students, staff and members of the Academy community to make a special effort to carry out acts of kindness for one another. Here are some of the suggestions that have been made:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are global movements like Random Acts of Kindness and Pay It Forward which are founded on the idea that if each of us acts kindly towards another person for no other reason than that it’s a nice thing – the right thing – to do, it has the cumulative effect of making the world better for all of us. This is something that is really important to us at Churchill, which is why it is one of our three core values. It was also the theme of my Kindness Assembly back in March.

When we do something nice for no reason, everybody benefits. We feel better; we make somebody else’s life better too. Not just this fortnight, but from now on, we want to make sure that we all choose kindness. Do something nice for somebody else. Help one another. Not because there’s anything in it for us, but because when we do something kind, we’ve made school a nicer place for someone else to be. And if it’s a nicer place for someone else, it’ll be nicer for us too. So when we choose kindness, everybody benefits.

act-of-kindnessjpg

You can take a “Be Kind” pledge on the This Morning website here, and view some more “kindness” videos below:

If you’ve noticed a special act of kindness, please let us know in the comments or contact the Academy. Thank you!

Churchill’s Values: Kindness, Curiosity, Determination

Valuescropped

Our values are what we judge to be important in life; they are the principles and standards that govern our behaviour. We spent the summer term thinking long and hard about what we valued, and what we should value, as a school. A group of sixteen staff volunteers worked together to develop our ideas, before representatives from each of the main school tutor groups and the Sixth Form council offered their views.  The Governing Body formally adopted Churchill Academy & Sixth Form’s new values in July 2017.

The values are designed to guide our behaviour and decision-making in everything we do at the Academy. Our three values are kindness, curiosity, and determination.

Kindness

At Churchill, we are kind to one another. This means that we are considerate and generous every day, caring for one another and doing everything we can to make sure everybody else has a good day at school. Kindness reinforces our shared sense of community; it builds trust and respect; and it ensures that we take our social responsibilities seriously.

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

Curiosity

At Churchill, we are constantly curious and hungry for new learning. We value enquiring minds and a spirit of exploration. The desire to know or learn something new motivates us to try our hardest in everything we do.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” (Plutarch)

Determination

At Churchill, we are persistent and relentless in the pursuit of our goals – both academic and personal. This determination to keep going when learning is difficult, and to come back and try again when we struggle, helps us to succeed.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison)

 

Thank you to all the staff, students and Governors who contributed to the work on our vision and values.

 

 

Assembly: Kindness

IMG_0409 (1)

A lovely thing happened the other weekend. I was working in my office at home, when a paper aeroplane came soaring through the air to land nearby. Written on one wing were the words “open this”. Intrigued, I unfolded the aeroplane to find a lovely message from my six-year-old son.

IMG_0411

“Dear Daddy I love you love from Joseph”

I asked what I had done to deserve this wonderful gift, but there was no reason. My son had just decided to do something kind – and it made my day. It got me thinking about kindness, and what motivates us to do something nice for somebody else.

Of course, there might be selfish motivations. People might do nice things because they think there’s something in it for them. It might help their reputation and social standing, or there might be a financial reward in it for them. Or there might be a sudden emergency and instinct could kick in to help someone in danger…

All of these are completely understandable motives for doing something kind and nice for other people. But what we see in the video clip was that, as one person came to help, so did more and more, until everyone on the train and platform was united in trying to help the single passenger in distress. This domino effect is powerful, and it can happen more slowly and subtly than in the emergency situation we saw on the station platform in Australia.

There are global movements like Random Acts of Kindness and Pay It Forward which are founded on the idea that if each of us acts kindly towards another person for no other reason than that it’s a nice thing – the right thing – to do, it has the cumulative effect of making the world better for all of us. And this is not a new idea!

200px-marcus_aurelius_metropolitan_museum

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and a renowned philosopher in the Stoic school. In his book Meditations, he lays out his guide to self-improvement, including in the twelfth book this simple advice:

If it’s not right, don’t do it

If it’s not true, don’t say it.

This is a great maxim to live by; indeed, if we all stuck to that rule, our world would certainly be a better one. The only thing I take issue with in Marcus Aurelius’ advice is the note of prohibition, of telling us what not to do. I would revise it to:

If it’s right, do it.

If it’s true, say it.

But of course, truth always needs to be tempered with kindness. And, before we act or speak, we need to think carefully about our actions and words.

thinkbeforeyouspeak

This came through to me most powerfully this year when I heard the tragic story of Megan Evans. 14-year-old Megan, from Milford Haven was found dead on February 7. She had been the victim of online bullying, which her mother Nicola Harteveld believes drove her to take her own life.

Megan-Evans

Megan Evans

“Megan was bright, vivacious, happy, hugely popular, sporty, confident, outgoing, fiercely independent, just a normal, happy go lucky teenager,” Ms Harteveld told Phillip Schofield and This Morning co-host Holly Willoughby, when she appeared on the show in February.

When Megan started to be inundated with bullying messages on Snapchat, she kept it to herself. Her mother said: “We’re all distraught, and angry because no one noticed anything different with her.”

The final message she received read “Why don’t you kill yourself?”

Megan replied saying: “Ok.”

The fact that somebody in Megan’s life chose to express cruelty and unkindness had the most tragic and devastating consequences. Her family and her friends – and the young person who sent that final message – will be living with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2007, Jonny Benjamin, aged just 20, was diagnosed with a mental illness, schizophrenia, and hospitalised. Desperate, and unable to understand his condition or see any way out, on January 14th 2008 he walked out of hospital in London and on to Waterloo Bridge, intending to throw himself off into the icy waters below. Hundreds of Londoners were walking across the bridge on their way to work. How many of them saw what was happening? How many walked on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man stopped and spoke to Jonny. He offered to buy him a cup of coffee, and he said words which changed Jonny’s life. He said: “you can get through this. You can get better.”  Up until that moment, nobody had told Jonny that getting better was a possibility. And, in that moment, Jonny himself stepped back from the brink. After twenty five minutes of talking, he came down. The police took him away. And the stranger went on his way to work.

Jonny-Benjaminv2

Jonny Benjamin

Jonny went on to control his condition with medication and treatment, and became a campaigner for mental health, raising awareness of the condition so that other sufferers have people to tell them “you can get through this; you can get better.” In 2014 he ran a campaign to find the stranger on the bridge who stopped and helped him six years earlier, using social media to track him down. He found him. He is a man called Neil Laybourn, who said this:

“In truth, it could have been anyone who stopped that day. It could have been the person behind me, but this time it was me.”

Neil’s kindness saved Jonny’s life, and Jonny’s life has gone on to save countless others through his campaigning work. He couldn’t have known that at the moment he chose to stop and help; in that moment, he was just doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.

Altruism-in-the-charity-sector

When we do something nice for no reason, everybody benefits. We feel better; we make somebody else’s life better too. At school this week – and from now on – make sure that you choose kindness. Do something nice for somebody else. Help one another. Not because there’s anything in it for you, but because when you do something kind, you’ve made school a nicer place for someone else to be. And if it’s a nicer place for someone else, it’ll be nicer for you too. So when you choose kindness, everybody benefits.

act-of-kindnessjpg

You can take a “Be Kind” pledge on the This Morning website here, and view some more “kindness” videos below: