The new Science and Technology Building

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

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

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I got to sit in a JCB!

A bigger project

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

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

A look at the plans

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

What’s next?

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

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

Strategic Priorities for Churchill

When I took up post as Headteacher, the Governors gave me 100 days to look at, listen to and learn about the Academy in order to plan the next steps. As part of that process I met students, staff, Governors, families, and representatives from the local community. I summarised all this in my post What Have I Learned? at the end of March.

Since then I have been working hard with my colleagues to plan for the future of the Academy. We already have an outstanding Ofsted report, a track record of success, skilful and dedicated staff, and hardworking and motivated students. What next?

The answer was to get down to the basics of what we need to do to ensure that the Churchill formula is sustainable, and that being a truly great school runs deep into every aspect of our practice. So, first of all, what is it all for?

The Aims of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

The aims of the Academy are laid out by the Governors, and they are linked to our four core values. They are:

  • Care: To provide outstanding care to safeguard all members of the Academy and secure their well-being
  • Inspire: To provide outstanding teaching and opportunities for development for all members of the Academy
  • Challenge: To set ambitious goals for achievement, progress and behaviour for all members of the Academy
  • Achieve: To secure outstanding academic results and celebrate the wider achievements of all members of the Academy

Everything we do at the Academy is dedicated to achieving those aims. Underneath them, I wanted to put some detail into the priorities we now have as we move beyond our Outstanding status to become a truly great school.

The Priorities of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

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The Strategic Priorities for the Academy

Each of these four priorities will govern our planning over the coming years. Achieving these priorities will unlock the potential of students at the Academy to achieve the very best outcomes from their learning. You can find the details of the plan in our Strategic Priorities document, and I have summarised the key points below.

Care: to promote the welfare of students and staff

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Care

This priority is fundamental to the success of learning at Churchill. Students are only prepared to take risks with their learning and push themselves forward if they feel safe, secure and cared for. Staff who are similarly cared for, nurtured and given the opportunities to grow will continue to give of their best, day in, day out.

Within the priority of Care, we aim to provide access to personalised pathways through the curriculum, and access to appropriate support, whilst promoting welfare. This means building on the strong foundation of the House system to provide first-rate pastoral care, and combining that with access to tailored academic support. It also means ensuring that the Academy continues to feel like a family, with a sense of belonging and enjoyment which comes from celebrating success in all its forms. Above all, it means remembering that every member of the Academy, student or staff, is an individual, and that we must, in the words of Daniel Pink, “treat people as people” in everything we do.

Read more about Care in our Strategic Priorities document.

Inspire: to develop the very best practice in teaching, learning and leadership

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Inspire

Teaching and learning is our core business. We already have exceptional practice across the Academy, so my priority is to ensure that exceptional becomes the norm. This involves learning from others, sharing our own best practice, and developing a culture of innovation in teaching and learning. Above all, though, it means empowering students to lead their own learning. Our teachers will always teach well, but only the students themselves can learn. Ensuring that they understand how to learn effectively, that they have a hunger for learning, and that they take responsibility for their own progress and development, is vital.

Read more about Inspire in our Strategic Priorities document.

Challenge: to develop a growth mindset across the Academy, so that learners embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to success

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Challenge

“Learners” in this priority refers equally to students and staff, and the growth mindset approach means that we all share a belief that intelligence and ability are not fixed, but can grow and develop with effort, practice and determination. I have outlined growth mindset ideas on this blog before, in How to grow your brainYou can learn anything, and The power of praise (amongst others!). What it means in practice is that learners focus on the process of learning, over and above the final product. They see each lesson, each task, each event, as an opportunity to learn, and continue to seek challenges to help them grow. You can hear and see some of the research behind growth mindset, and the implications for schools, in the video below:

Committing to this approach will ensure that attending Churchill Academy will embed positive learning behaviours for life. It won’t be easy – but that’s why we hold “Challenge” as one of our core values!

Read more about Challenge in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieve: to set consistently high expectations so that all learners achieve exceptional personal and academic outcomes.

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Achieve

This priority came out of the discussion: what is school for? Is it just about exam results? Or is it about more than that? I felt very strongly from my discussions with staff, students, families and governors that Churchill’s strength lies in the balance it strikes between academic outcomes – exam results – and the broader personal outcomes that ensure our students become good citizens with character, resilience and a set of skills valued by employers.

Academically, our aim is simple: year on year we want students at Churchill to do better here than they would have done in any other school. We want them to make more progress and achieve more than similar students do elsewhere. When families choose to send their children to Churchill I want them to know they are getting the best possible chance of success.

More broadly, it is about balancing that academic success with opportunities in the performing arts, sports, outdoor education, student leadership, community activities, volunteering and participation  which will broaden and deepen students’ skills, understanding of citizenship, and sense of belonging. Within all these activities, curricular and extra-curricular, we expect consistently excellent attitudes and behaviour for learning, to embed those approaches in everything we do.

Read more about Achieve in our Strategic Priorities document.

Sustainability: the Academy will ensure sustainability in achieving these priorities.

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Sustainability – investing in the future

These are challenging times for all public services. Demands on our limited resources continue to increase. Our final priority is based on prudent and effective deployment of those resources so they have the maximum impact on learning, reducing waste, and ensuring that whatever we do is sustainable over the longer term. It means valuing the work/life balance of our staff and ensuring that they have the time, energy, expertise and resources they need to do the best job they possibly can. It means exploring collaborations with other schools to share resources where we can. It means redeveloping our site, buildings and grounds so that they are environmentally friendly, efficient, and fit for 21st century learning. And it means building an approach which is not a flash-in-the-pan but which can be sustained over the years to come.

Read more about Sustainability in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieving our priorities

These priorities are the aspirations of our Academy over the years to come. We are already planning what we are going to do to change, develop and improve our work to move ourselves towards achieving them. It’s an exciting time! We can’t wait to get started…

What have I learned?

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At the start of my Headship at the Academy, I told students, staff and families that my mission up until Easter was to look, listen and learn as much about the place as I could so I could make an informed decision about what I needed to keep, grow and change. This has been a fascinating process and I wanted to share it with you!

Students

How did I do it? – I have visited lessons every day since I started at the Academy! I’ve seen lessons in every department and from every year group. I’ve also eaten lunch with the students in each of the kitchens, spent time in all of the house wells, and got down on to the field when the weather permitted us to open it. I’ve met with the House Captains and the Sixth Form Council, and met with several deputations of students who wanted to chat. I’ve taught my own Year 7 class and supported students in the Academy Skills Centre. I’ve been to Breakfast Club, run a detention, and take on Miss Bones and Jens Hullah in an epic rowing challenge. It’s been incredible!

What did they say? – students are overwhelmingly positive about the Academy. They really appreciate the expertise and energy that teachers put into their lessons. They recognise that they are lucky to come to an outstanding school and they want to make the most of every opportunity. Many students speak very highly of the wealth of extra-curricular activities on offer, including the performing arts, sports and outdoor education to name but a few! In lessons I’ve seen students eager to learn, well-organised, focused and well-behaved.

I’ve had a few requests from students to relax some of our rules and regulations. In particular, students wanted me to allow mobile phones in school. I won’t do this – we have very good reasons for not allowing them to be used in school as I explained on this blog in the post Why We Don’t Allow Mobiles In SchoolAlong similar lines, some students wanted to be allowed to listen to music in class – but the research shows that this can undermine learning as I explained in the post Can I listen to music while I work? I revisited this theme for my assembly on Concentration which seemed to go down well!

Students have been very positive about our use of social media to celebrate the work of the Academy. This is in its infancy but we’ve broken 300 followers on Instagram this week (which is nothing compared to the Performing Arts Department’s account which is nearly at 500!)

 

Staff

How did I do it? – I’ve been meeting with every single member of staff individually. So far I’ve held 106 meetings! I’m looking forward to the rest after the Easter holiday. It’s been great to hear what they’ve had to say and to get their perspectives on the place. I’ve asked them what the best things about working here are, and what they think I should be working on.

What did they say? – When asked what the best thing about Churchill is, almost every single member of staff has said “the students.” Time and again the teachers and the support staff have spoken about how the young people at Churchill are keen to learn, focused on achieving their best, and willing to support the Academy and one another. The warmth and strength of those relationships is a vital part of the Academy’s success – the students love the staff and the staff love the students. I sometimes feel I’m the luckiest Headteacher in the country!

Families

How did I do it? – It seems like a long time ago now, but back in January I held “Meet the Headteacher” evenings to meet with families from each of the Houses. Since then I’ve met families at many of the school events such as the Options Evening, Parents Evenings, West Side Story, the Spring Concert, the Dance Showcase, Dance Their Socks Off, Spelling Bee, Vocabulary Millionnaire final, Young Musician of the Year…it’s been busy! I’ve also been grateful to the parents who have emailed, phoned, written or come in to see me since January, and I have found this especially helpful.

What did they say? – as I explained in the newsletter in February, families are overwhelmingly positive about the work of the Academy. In particular vertical tutoring and the house system, the quality of staff, the ethos and values of the Academy and the performing arts opportunities were singled out for praise. These are all vital parts of what we do at Churchill and it’s my mission to protect them! Families advised us to improve communication, reports to parents, facilities, catering services and extra-curricular provision. These are all things we’re working on. Finally, families wanted us to enforce expectations around uniform, improve the buildings and facilities, develop homework and improve communication and reports to families. I’m on the case…

What now?

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The plan for our new Business Studies and IT block – now approved!

The next step for me is to put in place the plan to take the Academy from its position of considerable strength to the next level of success. The signs are already looking promising: our successful bid for a new building begins the process of improving the quality of the facilities. We are fully subscribed for September with 270 offers of places made at Churchill to Year 6 children and their families. Students are working hard, staff are positive about their prospects, and the sun has shone sufficiently to get the field open at lunch time!

Over the next term we are working on:

  • Care: ensuring the wellbeing of all members of the Academy is prioritised and that appropriate support is provided to those that need it
  • Inspire: planning professional development so that the provision of excellent teaching and learning is the focus for all
  • Challenge: redeveloping assessment, target setting and reporting to make it clearer and more helpful for students, teachers, and families
  • Achieve: ensuring that outcomes are the best that they can be, whilst recognising that achievement is about more than just exam results.

We are also planning for our new building, preparing our new website for launch, and so much more besides! Watch this space…