Last summer, the government published “A National Plan for music education.” Whilst schools are crushed under the weight of non-statutory guidance from the Department for Education, telling schools they should be doing this, or they should be doing that, this was one plan that I could fully support. The ministerial foreword says:
Excellent music education opens opportunities, but it is not simply a means to an end: it is also an end in itself. It gives children and young people an opportunity to express themselves, to explore their creativity, to work hard at something, persevere and shine. These experiences and achievements stay with them and shape their lives.
From The Power of Music to Change Lives: a national plan for music education, June 2022
I found myself in the unusual position of being inspired by a piece of government guidance!
I grew up playing instruments, having lessons on the piano and guitar throughout my school days. I was in bands and ensembles from primary school, through university and beyond. When I completed my newly qualified teacher year, I bought myself a saxophone as a “congratulations” present to myself, alongside a challenge to learn to play it well enough to be in the band for my school’s production of Bugsy Malone in the next academic year.
Since then I have played in pit bands for school productions of Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell, Return to the Forbidden Planet (three times!) and more. I’ve directed – and even written! – musicals. I’ve played in big bands, covers bands, rock bands and jazz groups. There’s nothing quite like playing with others, sharing never-to-be-repeated moments in live performance, where the interactions and interplay between the musicians and the audiences create that unique moment in time for all involved.
This is why I am pleased to see the Department for Education prioritising music education. There is a recognition of the contribution that music makes to the economy, and the careers that can be pursued within the music industry; this is, after all, a government document. But it is also clear that a good quality music education is a right for all our young people.
We are fortunate at Churchill to be building on a firm foundation, with an established strength in the musical life of the school, supported by the North Somerset music service and, more locally, the amazing support of Churchill Music. Our partnership with Churchill Music continues to thrive, not least in the Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition which took place on Monday.
This competition, along with the wealth of musical activities across the school, shows that music is at the very heart of our education at Churchill – and will continue to be there, whether or not the government issues non-statutory guidance to tell us that it should be.
There are many, many privileges in being a Headteacher, but one of the unparalleled joys of the role is seeing your students absolutely smash it out of the park. I’ve seen it on the sports field, I see it in classrooms, I see it in exam results; this week, I saw it as the casts of Rock of Ages melted the faces of enthusiastic audiences from the stage of the Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare.
The musical – which ran in its original version for 2,328 performances on Broadway – is set in the Los Angeles rock scene of the 1980s. Big hair, big egos and rock’n’roll excess are the order of the day, as aspiring rock star Drew (Brett Kelly/Matt Lucas) and wannabe actress Sherrie (Ivana Eamesova/Nina Campbell) try to make it big. Along the way they are variously helped and hindered by the big characters of LA’s Sunset Strip, against a backdrop of a threat to the Strip’s very existence from the wrecking ball of arch efficiency-enthusiast Hilda (Emma Cekaj/Maddie Pole). The whole affair is punctuated by songs from the classic hair-metal bands of the period – Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Journey and more.
These are some big songs, with big tunes and big notes, which need big performances – and the students delivered. In fact, such is the talent on display that the show had two casts, each as fantastic as the other. Each performance also featured two bands – one on-stage, and one in the orchestra pit – and those bands were different each night as well! They were note perfect, nailing every riff and solo in perfect synchronisation with the on-stage action.
The main cast were simply amazing, but what made the show for me was the strength in depth. The dancers, chorus, and hilarious cameo performances had the audience in raptures. The costumes, make-up and hair (there was some REALLY big hair!) were all amazing, and the behind-the-scenes crew ran the production like a well-oiled machine – sound, lighting, props and set were all exemplary.
One of our priorities over the past few years has been developing leadership skills in our students. Well, here it was: students selling programmes, students directing scenes, students running the bands, running the backstage, running the show. Students working with one another across years, across houses, across friendship groups, supporting one another in a massive team effort. It was no surprise that the other cast was packing the back row of the balcony to cheer on those on stage when they were “off” – that is the spirit which this production has created, and it ran through the theatre like electricity.
I did have a word with Mr Buckley, Director of Performing Arts and this production, about the propensity for his shows to coincide with major incidents. You may recall that Singin’ in the Rain was almost derailed by the Beast from the East snowstorm in 2018; Sweeney Todd went on stage in 2020 just before we were all locked down by the pandemic; and this year’s show coincided with Storm Eunice bringing a red weather warning and winds of over 90mph. Mr Buckley reminded me that correlation is not causation, and that the third Academy value is determination, and that I should take Journey’s advice – “don’t stop believing.” Quite right – the show must go on!
And go on it did – a thrilling, professional-standard performance, sizzling with energy and joy and the release of being on stage in a packed theatre again. I could not be prouder of everyone involved.
Christmas always comes early at Churchill, as we hold our Christmas Concert in late November! This year we were back at the Playhouse theatre in Weston-super-Mare, where we last performed Sweeney Todd in February 2020. It was great to be back!
The Performing Arts team have been amazing in keeping music, dance and drama going through the pandemic last year, where there were restrictions on choral singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments. Thankfully, this year those restrictions have been lifted and the team have been unleashed! As a result we had performances from Brass, Flute and Clarinet ensembles, along with Concert Band, Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, giving us fantastic pieces from their repertoire including classical, modern and festive music.
There were also four choirs on the bill: the classical Chamber Choir, our Youthful Spirit gospel choir, the Year 7-10 choir and the massed ranks of the Year 7 and 8 Junior Choir which closed the show. There’s no doubt that the Junior Choir was a great way to finish the night, telling the Christmas story through music (and synchronised actions!) There were some incredible soloists fronting the choir, with Lucy Donovan, Anna Pope, Ella Phippen, Ben Marks, Ben Payne and Joe Armfelt wowing the audience!
The concert also showcased our student leaders, with Peter Skeen (Year 12) conducting Big Orchestra, Bori Gunyits and Miyah Barker (Year 13) conducting the Year 7-10 choir, Toby Wilson (Year 10) arranging pieces for Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, and the highly efficient backstage crew led by Mimi Mendl and Mia Wakeling (Year 13). All of the songs performed by Junior Choir were also composed by our students!
The first half concluded with an early showcase for next spring’s production of Rock of Ages. The stage was fizzing with energy and the double cast gave us a taste of what to expect when we return to the Playhouse between 16th and 18th February 2022 for what promises to be a spectacular show.
A huge thank you goes out to all the staff from the Academy and the Playhouse who helped get the concert together, to the wonderful audiences across the two nights, and to the amazing students who owned the stage. It felt good to be back!
What a show! Audiences last week were treated to spectacular performances of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s not every school that could manage a production this complex, this musically and theatrically challenging, this dark…but Churchill’s students didn’t just manage it, they pulled it off in style. Sondheim’s complex score was performed note-perfectly by the pit orchestra. On stage, the singers delivered the overlapping, rapid-fire songs with such confidence and gusto that the audience were carried along with the story, the characters and the experience of grimy, backstreet Victorian London, brought to life by the wonderful sets, costumes and production design.
But, my goodness it was dark! Sweeney Todd is exiled for a crime he didn’t commit so an evil judge could get his hands on Todd’s daughter. The judge has Todd’s daughter committed to a lunatic asylum rather than allow her to see another man. Todd, returning, sets up a barber shop with the sole intention of using it as a trap to murder his enemies. Pie-shop-owner Mrs Lovett, allowing Todd to think his wife has died, uses the bodies of Todd’s victims as the filling for her gruesome produce, selling them to enthusiastic and unsuspecting customers. It sounds horrendous, but the show trod that delicate line between horror and humour perfectly, so that the audience were entertained throughout, even as the body-count mounted.
The performances were professional-standard, from the lead actors to each member of the chorus. The show was double-cast, meaning that each audience got to see different combinations of actors in the lead roles. When I saw it, on the Friday night, Brett Kelly was a brilliant Sweeney. On stage for almost the entire duration of the show, his performance maintained intensity and drive from the first moment to the last. He was matched by Kornelia Harasimiuk’s Mrs Lovett, whose knockabout comedy was a horrific mask for her selfish plotting. The young lovers, Johanna (Evie Tallon) and Anthony (Bobby Rawlins) were both compelling. I must make special mention of Will Truckle’s gloriously over-the-top Pirelli, whose Italian accent was trumped by his excellent Irish; and Jessica Bailey as The Beggar Woman was a compelling presence on stage, causing gasps of realisation from the audience as her true identity was revealed.
The supporting cast were also note-perfect. The villainous Judge Turpin (Bede Burston) and his sidekick The Beadle (Charlie Tyler) were so evil, they made the audience sympathise with the murderer-and-cannibal duo of Todd and Lovett! But the image that will stay with me is that of the young Tobias, a role shared between eight young actors across the performances. In a world of twisted morality and selfishness, Tobias’s final scene was chilling indeed.
What came across to me was the tremendous team effort that goes to make a production. Sound, lighting, costume, props, stage management, choreography, musicians, staff, students, parents, families…everyone contributed to the success of the show. I know how hard everyone has worked, and the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. Well – it was worth it. Hearty congratulations to everyone involved – it was a spectacular show.
Over the past week I have had the pleasure of two wonderful musical experiences at Churchill. On Thursday night, I watched the culmination of the annual composition project. Our students worked alongside musicians from Worle School to write for a professional string quartet, under mentorship from composer-in-residence Sadie Harrison. Thursday’s recital saw their work performed by the Asana String Quartet, and it was a wonderful showcase of their creativity and skill. The pieces were by turns witty, melodramatic, spiky, smooth, and inventive. I was amazed!
Last week I was at our Christmas Concerts at St Paul’s Church in Weston-super-Mare. This was a new venue for us, but we had a wonderful time there being entertained by all manner of music and musicians. See the Academy website for my full review!
The Junior Choir rehearsing at St Paul’s ahead of the Christmas Concert
We are so fortunate to have a thriving music and performing arts department at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. In schools up and down the country, this part of the curriculum has been cut back and reduced. We are not one of those schools! At Churchill we have four music teachers and a team of instrumental teachers keeping music well and truly alive in the school! In the Christmas Concert Programme, the music team wrote about a year in the life of the Music Department throughout 2019. This shows you how much the musical life of the Academy has to offer!
A look back at the Music Department in 2019
The 12th annual Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Monday 28th January at St John’s Church, Churchill. This fabulous event is held in partnership with Churchill Music. The audience was treated to a varied programme by eight of the Academy’s most promising musicians, with pieces from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century from composers including Handel, Chopin. Telemann, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Kapustin. The distinguished judging panel, chaired by Susanna Stranders from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, had the difficult task of selecting the winners. More important, however, was the specific feedback the panel provided to the performers, to help them improve and develop their stage presence, engagement with the audience, and musicality.
After much deliberation – during which the audience were treated to a performance by the Academy’s Chamber Choir – the Young Musician of the Year prize was awarded to pianist Jordan Walters. Jordan, who joined Churchill in Year 12 from Priory School, played two contrasting pieces by Chopin, holding the audience spellbound with his musicality and technical prowess.
The Ursual Dornton Vocal Prize – a new award, sponsored by the Trinity Singers in memory of the much missed Churchill Music trustee – was awarded to George Derry, who also won the audience prize which was voted for on the evening. His spirited rendition of “My Name is John Wellington Wells” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer brought the house down!
The Raymond Hayter Song Prize was won by Naomi Blowers, whilst the Churchill Music Junior Trophy was awarded to Ella Hutchinson for her performance on the cello. The other competitors – Molly Sprouting (voice), John Skeen (piano), Maisie Slingsby (flute), Molly Johnson (voice), and George Skeen (violin) – also received awards for their participation in the finals.
Following the performance, all the winning students were invited to play at the Young Artists Showcase at St Georges, Bristol.
In February, Youthful Spirit Gospel Choir gave a performance in the school hall for the charity CentrePoint. The choir also gave a performance in late March for the Friends of Axbridge Church and also supported the RNLI by giving a joint concert with Joyful Spirit Gospel Choir. Weston Hospice Care has been supported by both Chamber Choir and Youthful Spirit – Chamber Choir sang at a Charity garden party in June to help raise funds for Weston Hospice; Youthful Spirit were invited to sing at the Anniversary Service for Weston Hospice Care’s 30th year at Christ Church.
In March, members of the Music Department were fortunate to attend an open rehearsal with Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason before their recent concert for Churchill Music! Sheku played cello at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and his sister Isata is an accomplished pianist.
The visit of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) LEAP Ensemble in March was a real highlight of the Music Department’s year. The LEAP Ensemble are all advanced students from the RBC and they wowed hundreds of people with their playing over the two days. They worked with Year 12 and 13 A Level Music students on their compositions, impressed with their Monday evening concert at All Saints’ Church, Wrington and then entertained 300 primary school students. In January 2020, our Music Technology A level students are looking forward to visiting Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
In April, Churchill Academy GCSE students were involved in composition workshops with New Music South West; this is a venture that allows our young students to have their compositions performed by professional musicians. In addition, the workshop allows composition tutors to work with our students to experiment with different techniques and arrangement styles.
Congratulations to Chloe Phipps, Year 10, Peter Skeen, Year 9, Molly Johnson, Year12, Holly Stoneman, Year 11, Matthew Lucas, Year 8, Molly Axtell, Year 9 and Martha Withers, Year 9 who all performed and won their classes during May’s Weston Festival of Music & Drama. In addition, Chloe played in three classes on her clarinet and she won each one, with Honours, and then won the overall Senior Wind Player prize and was presented with a cup. Peter was awarded an Honours mark for his performance on the cello. Both of them played in the winner’s concert in Weston Methodist Church.
The Music Department held a 3 day Summer Music Festival in the sunshine in late June. Bands and duos from year 7 – 10 took to the stage to an appreciative audience who also enjoyed ice-creams!
July saw the Gospel Choir head off on their annual tour to Austria. As always this was hugely successful and saw audiences in excess of 1000.
Many congratulations to Junior Young Musician of the Year (2018) Kimi Powell who has been awarded a Robert Lewin Scholarship from the AYM Young Musicians’ charity. He has also been awarded a place on the South West Music school’s Performance Development Programme. Kimi is an accomplished drummer and percussionist, preparing for his Grade 8 this year. We’re sure he has a bright (and loud!) musical future ahead of him.
In August, we were very proud teachers of our Year 13 Music Class who achieved 100% B Grades at A Level.
In September, we welcomed the newest member of staff to the Music Department – Miss Dalwood. Miss Dalwood is a multi-instrumentalist who has really made an impact on the department!
September also saw the start of the rehearsing for the Christmas Concert alongside the whole school musical production of Sweeney Todd, which saw around 100 students audition to be part of a cast of 50.
In November, Chamber Choir gave a very successful concert of their full repertoire at All Saints Church Weston Super Mare alongside the Trinity Singers. This choir welcomes students, teachers and parents and really focusses on demanding sacred and secular vocal music.
All of our GCSE and A Level Music students were treated to a visit by the Lyra Trio comprising 3 Royal Academy students who gave stunning performances and then answered questions about “life as a conservatoire student”.
Our Year 10 GCSE students are currently working with the Asan String Quartet and professional composer Sadie Harrison alongside Yr 9, 10 & 11 Worle students on an annual composition project. We are very lucky to have Churchill Music! supporting the Music Department at Churchill financially for these projects and enabling our students to experience life as a musician outside a departmental setting.
Churchill’s annual Junior Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Thursday 24th October. Congratulations to Rhiannon Allen-House, winner of the Music Maestro Junior Young Musician Competition was awarded the Colin Undery Trophy for 2019. Rhiannon alongside Oscar Vince and Aislinn Shipton are performing as part of the Christmas Concert.
This Christmas Concert is really our highlight of the year and we welcome full inclusion. The Year 7 and 8 choir Junior Choir is a great way for our younger students to enjoy the community of the Academy in a fun, sociable way. It is definitely a Churchill tradition.
I love the Christmas Concert! I remember seeing my first one in December 2015, just before I started as Headteacher in January. I was blown away then, and if anything the standard just keeps on going up!
This year’s event was no exception. There were over 400 students involved over the two nights, with such an array of music on show – musical theatre, pop, folk, jazz and classical, and even a moment of metal from Churchill’s Young Musician of the Year, Kimi Powell on drums! Young Musician runner-up Bronwen Deane had the audience in the palm of her hand with a performance of her own song, “That’s what they all say” – she has a bright future ahead of her. Last year’s competition winner, Maddie Pole, is now in the final of the Fame by Fearless talent competition – you can vote for her to win here until midnight on Sunday 25th November 2018.
Gospel Choir introduced some fantastic soloists to the Playhouse this year: Ruby Polli, Cara Crozier-Cole, Benedict Pearce, Livvy Green, Olive Barnett and Freya Hinnigan-Chambers sang their hearts out, backed as ever by an incredible sound from the enthusiastic chorus. Many of the same students also sang in Chamber Choir, whilst a beautiful acapella rendition of White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes showed you didn’t need instruments to make a wonderful sound.
Instrumentalists, however, were in plentiful supply! Big Orchestra and Concert Band both gave excellent performances, including a suite from “Enter the Dragon” arranged by our very own Mr Spencer, and a spirited performance by the Jazz Band fronted enthusiastically by Sol Walker-Mckee and Arthur Burston.
The highlight of the show for many was the Junior Choir, as the massed ranks of Year 7 and 8 singers kicked off the festive period with a re-telling of the Christmas story through songs written by students. The soloists this year were fantastic, and the actions and performance level from the choir were brilliant – how they managed to muster the energy after a disco is beyond me!
The Christmas Concert is a real team effort. Weston Playhouse work with us every year, and over thirty Academy staff were involved behind the scenes and front of house. But what impressed me most – as always – was the leadership of our students. Students compered the show, conducted orchestras, led vocal groups, ran the stage management, arranged musical items, and sold programmes. Seeing the potential and promise of these great young people, and their joy in music making, is what makes all the effort and organisation worthwhile.
It was a terrific show – over seventy of our students were involved on stage across two casts. What was more remarkable is that the show only started rehearsing on 17th September, with the first performance on 23rd October! To put on such a professional performance in such a short space of time, whilst also keeping up with school work and all of the learning in lessons, is a truly staggering achievement.
Tallulah and her dancers
It was a great team effort – the students worked with and for one another, playing the comic scenes brilliantly but also, in the case of Maria Amaral as Fizzy and Gemma Partridge as Blousey Brown, bringing some touching poignancy to the more emotional moments.
The big “splurge”
Behind the scenes, our Sixth Formers and some older students from the main school made the show look and sound amazing. The set was designed, built, painted and decorated entirely by students from the Sixth Form’s specialist tutor programme – and it was spectacular. The band sounded great, and the technical crew on sound, lighting and stage management were excellent. The way that our older students supported the younger performers is typical of Churchill’s vertical system and our value of kindness.
Last week I wrote about the vital role of the arts at Churchill. I was left thinking that there couldn’t be a better introduction to that spirit than a show like this! Audiences were also treated to a gallery of A-level Art, Photography and Design work in the foyer, whilst refreshments were provided in aid of the Mend the Gap team’s Kenya expedition.
The final song of the show – “You Give a Little Love” – sums up the spirit of the show:
We could have been anything that we wanted to be
Yes that decision was ours
It’s been decided, we’re weaker divided
Let friendship double up our powers
The final chorus echoed out: “you give a little love and it all comes back to you; you know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.” These students have already made such a positive difference at Churchill, and I know they will remember the experience for years to come.
The cast from night two
Congratulations to all the cast and crew, and special thanks to the dedicated team of staff who made it all happen – especially director and mastermind Miss Bones.
On Wednesday, I was out of school at a conference for school leaders in Taunton. The conference was packed full of information I needed to know: the latest updates on school funding, on exam results, on Ofsted, on Department for Education policy, on teacher recruitment and retention….a lot of information! But, in the middle of the session on exam results, we were shown a chart from a BBC survey on examination entries in 2018. The chart showed the decline in exam entries across the country for arts subjects.
Of course, it is important for all students to have a secure foundation in academic subjects. Churchill’s core curriculum in our personalised stage (Years 9-11) requires students to take English, Maths, Science, and two more subjects chosen from French, Spanish, History, Geography and Computer Science, because we agree that a core curriculum of academic subjects is the right thing for our students.
But not at the expense of the arts!
The performers at this week’s Young Musician of the Year competition
The creative arts is one of this country’s most thriving industries. We are world leaders in music, drama, theatre, film, media and art – there are strong, viable careers for our young people in the creative industries. If these subjects aren’t offered, we are closing the door on those futures. Even if you don’t go on to work in the arts, studying a creative subject brings with it much needed confidence, empathy, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and reflection.
Last year’s Junior Choir in action
What makes me angry is that ensuring all students have a strong academic core curriculum does not mean the arts have to suffer. At Churchill, the arts are thriving. The school is full of music, dance, drama, and art. This year, we have 72 students taking Performing Arts courses in Year 9 – five more than the previous year. We have 41 students taking Music – an increase of more than 30% on two years ago. And as for Art itself, we have 79 students taking Art or Textiles in Year 9 – ten more than the year before. All of those students study core academic subjects too!
It’s such a shame that schools up and down the country are reducing provision in these subjects. As Headteacher of Churchill, I will continue to defend our exceptional arts provision: our children’s creativity depends on it!
At one point in Saturday’s performance of Singin’ in the Rain, the character Cosmo Brown (Cai Williams/Ricky Parsons) delivered the line: “the show must go on. Come rain, some shine, come sleet, come snow, the show must go on.” He nearly brought the house down.
Because this was no ordinary performance. Storm Emma and the “Beast from the East” had conspired together to shut down not only Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but much of the United Kingdom. Rehearsals were called off. In the midst of a Red Warning from the Met Office, Thursday evening’s performance was cancelled. Friday was also snowed off. But, with the words of Cosmo Brown ringing in their ears, the intrepid team of Mr Buckley, Mrs Lippe, Mrs Rees and Mr Stuart would not give up. The show – for one performance only – was on.
There had been no time for a technical or a dress rehearsal, and the two casts were combined and meshed together to ensure everyone got their chance on the Playhouse stage. But the cast and crew were so well-rehearsed, so professional, and so single-mindedly determined to put on a show that the audience would never have known it. Props and sets arrived on time, films flickered into life, and the rain fell from the sky right on cue. It was simply stunning.
The actors adapted brilliantly to their shared stage time. Lucy Taylor and Molly Sprouting shone as Kathy Selden, whilst Melissa Harrold and Cara Crozier-Cole were hilariously grating as the none-too-bright megastar Lina Lamont. Jack Baker and Matt Hogg (R.F. Simpson) sparred with Ricky Parsons and Cai Williams (Cosmo Brown) with impeccable comic timing, supported by a cast as impressive in its depth and breadth as it was in the quality of its performance. But the show revolved around James Duby in the lead as silent-film-turned-musical star Don Lockwood. On stage for almost the whole show, James sang, danced and acted as though he was born to do it, holding the entire audience in the palm of his hand and bringing such energy and verve to the production that you couldn’t help but be carried along with it.
This was a show packed with song and dance. From the chaotic comic choreography of “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the huge production number “Broadway Melody,” the dancing was exceptional. Singing was of the highest quality, whilst the pit band, conducted by Mr Spencer, would have held their own in any professional theatre. The melodramatic silent movies (and, later, the talking pictures) shot and edited by Will Maitland-Round had the audience in stitches for all the right reasons. And the unseen technical crew, running the props, costumes, set, lighting, sound and special effects for the first time ever, made the production look incredible and flow as smoothly as it could possibly have done.
You might have expected the show to be tinged with disappointment, as it hadn’t turned out the way that everyone would have wanted it to. But actually, inside the theatre, the cast, crew and audience were united in a joyous celebration, as if the show had got onto the stage through the force of sheer willpower alone. We went home through the melting snow, singing the songs, and privileged to have been part of such a special, memorable performance.
Thank you to everyone involved – students, staff, and families – for making Singin’ in the Rain not only possible, but wonderful.
I remember the first lesson I ever taught. The thought of standing up in front of thirty children and expecting them to listen and do as they were told made my heart pound and a cold sweat prickle on my brow. I was full of nerves. But I walked into the classroom and I taught that lesson. It wasn’t brilliant – but I did it. And, having done one, the next one was easier – and better. Now, over twenty years into my career, I think nothing of standing up in in front of 270 students in assembly, or a hall full of parents on our Open Evenings, or even (as I did recently) in front of nearly 400 teachers in the conference centre at Old Trafford, Manchester!
This is how confidence in built. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t: it’s something you develop with practice. The first time you speak up in front of a group of people can be terrifying: what if I make a mistake? What if I get it wrong? What if they think I’m stupid? Those feelings never go away, but the next time they will be lessened, and the next time lessened further, until you think nothing of them at all. That’s when you start to come across as confident.
At Churchill we aim to empower everyone at the Academy to develop knowledge, skills, character and confidence, as we believe these ingredients give young people (and adults!) the best chance of success later in life. We try to create opportunities for our young people to build confidence through practice. One example of this is our Year 8 public speaking competition. Every Year 8 student has the opportunity to give a speech in front of their class. The winners go through to the Year 8 finals, and the winners of that have a chance to compete in the regional Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Club. Each time, the audience is bigger and less familiar, but the staging up allows the students to build their confidence each time.
The same was true at the fantastic Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition, held on Monday evening at St John’s Church in association with Churchill Music! Eight young musicians performed with such self-assurance, commitment and skill that the audience was gripped and enthralled by every one of them.
The chair of the adjudication panel, violinist Ruth Rogers, spoke afterwards about nerves, and about how even she gets nervous every time she performs. Her advice was to focus on another musician, rather than the audience, and to enjoy the performance. Our young musicians definitely benefitted from her advice: if they were nervous, they didn’t show it, and this enabled the audience to put their faith in the performers, to trust them, which allowed them to be carried away by the wonderful music making on display.
Over recent weeks I’ve been interviewing Year 11 students for places in our Sixth Form, and they have all presented themselves really well: good eye contact, a firm handshake, and clear, well articulated answers to my questions. Just like the musicians on Monday night, or the Year 8s the week before, they might have been nervous inside, but they came across as confident, self-assured young people. And it’s the impression you give which matters, not what’s happening inside. That impression of confidence gives people faith in you and your abilities, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in yourself.
So, even if you’re not feeling confident, pretend. Act as if you are. Because the next time, it’ll be easier, and the next time easier still, until, eventually, you’ll find that the confidence you were pretending to have has turned into the real thing. As five times Wimbledon champion and four time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams said:
Believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and some day, you will.