Marking 60 years of Churchill Academy
PUBLISHED: 13:00 06 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:59 06 February 2017
Churchill Academy has played a pivotal role in the lives of thousands of North Somerset people, taking them from young-but-talented 11-year olds to adults ready to thrive in the real world. The school is celebrating its diamond anniversary, with jam-packed programme of events set to mark the occasion, culminating in a gala dinner in September. Reporter Sam Frost, a former Churchill student, has waded through 60 years of history to see what has changed and what the future holds.
When I first walked through the gates at Churchill Community School in 2004, I did not know much about the real world. Sporting a goofy navy v-neck jumper and tie combination, I was apprehensive about the years ahead at ‘big school’.
It is some thirteen years on and much has changed, including the school’s name and the once dodgy-looking uniform.
Much has changed for me too. I have graduated from university, started a family and I am working in a job I love. My time at Churchill Academy has undoubtedly prepared me to deal with these real-world obstacles, but the school has thousands of more exciting tales to tell.
And while many things have changed over the past 60 years, some principles still hold true at my old school. Many of the original classrooms are still in use, too.
Churchill Secondary Modern School opened to students on January 14, 1957 with the first register still intact today.
Then headteacher Reginald J Dennis, joined by just four members of staff, oversaw the opening of the school and its 124 pupils.
Building work at the school was unfinished when the fresh-faced students arrived so only four classrooms were available for use and school dinners had to be delivered from a kitchen in Yatton, while construction continued elsewhere.
Four classes, named IF, IK, IY and II were filled with pupils from Banwell, Blagdon, Winscombe and Wrington.
Chairman of the governors, Lt Col Lee, visited the school on its opening day to wish the staff and students a ‘happy and successful life in this new building’.
Churchill earned performing arts school status in 2003, and has continued to build its reputation with its popular gospel choir tours, sell-out performances at Weston’s Playhouse and dazzling dance shows.
In 2012 Churchill Community School converted to an academy and reaped the rewards three years later when it was awarded an outstanding grading from education watchdog Ofsted.
Actress Stefanie Martini, aged 26, certainly benefitted from the top-quality drama facilities at the school, going on to star in TV dramas Endeavour, Doctor Thorne and Emerald City.
Gymnast Ruby Harrold is also putting the school in the spotlight. She won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 before representing Team GB last summer at the Rio Olympics.
“I still believe the teaching quality at Churchill was the best I could have ever received, it has helped to progress me through university and then out into my professional career.”
Those are the words of former student Rob Spooner, who is forging a successful career in economics, and many would echo his sentiments. Churchill’s teachers have a knack for igniting a passion for learning.
The school’s ethos is to care, inspire, challenge and achieve, and there is no doubt the teachers are firing on all four cylinders.
Two of the school’s longest-serving members of staff condensed their 30-odd years of experience into just a few words.
Music teacher Paul Harrison said:
“Serving at Churchill Academy has been the best thing I could have done with my teaching career. I have served since 1985 and I have had many highlights.
“The core foundations to these highlights have been the hard-working, positive and talented students alongside a dedicated, highly-skilled and friendly staff team, a strong leadership team and wise and supportive governors.
“Even though I have seen many changes in the education sector there is a quality of life at Churchill which has enabled the school to successfully meet each new challenge.
“There are many highlights but seeing each student make progress and succeed in an ordinary classroom situation is always a joy.
“I meet students who tell me I have taught their parents and I am just waiting for the day I find I am teaching the grandchild of someone I taught back in 1985. When I do I will be able to say to them that they will be at an outstanding school with a lot to look forward to.”
Senior science technician Jackalyne Pring said:
“I have been at Churchill since 1983 and it is the best career decision I ever made. There have been many staff changes during the past 34 years, but the friendliness and professionalism has always been outstanding.
“In the science faculty we have had some controlled explosions and bangs, some caused by me and some by teaching staff, but the students love the excitement and sometimes it encourages them to go into science careers.
“Now I am nearing retirement I look back with pride at the wonderful achievements of past students having careers as diverse as medicine, veterinary sciences and astrophysics. It has been a pleasure working here.”
Proud headteacher Chris Hildrew, who took over from long-standing leader Barry Wratten a year ago, said: “The school has always had a reputation for excellence and we’ve been heartened to hear from our alumni who really value the education they received at Churchill.
“We’re proud to uphold that tradition and continue to provide an outstanding all-round education for all our students.”
Mr Hildrew admitted some facilities are in need of modernising, with a new business centre under construction and funding is being sought for a new science block.
He added: “Although the school has changed its name and its uniform at least three times, lessons continue to be taught in the same 60-year-old buildings that were constructed for the students of 1957.
“Although those buildings have served us well for 60 years, they are now in need of replacement.
“We’re thrilled to have the first of our new buildings going up on site now, and we have submitted plans to replace the rest of the original classrooms, so the students of 2017 can benefit from brand new state-of-the-art facilities – just like their predecessors did 60 years ago.”
To mark the 60-year anniversary, Churchill is calling on alumni to share their photos and experiences by emailing email@example.com or by joining the Churchill Academy at 60 Facebook group.