From the Headmaster

From the Headmaster

As I approach the end of my first term as Headmaster of Queen Elizabeth’s School, I am acutely aware that I have inherited the mantle of an outstanding predecessor whose great leadership and energy have hugely enhanced and enriched the School, and who has thereby ensured that our mission to produce young men who are “confident, able and responsible” continues to be fulfilled.

This summer’s exceptional public examination results marked a fitting postscript to Dr Marincowitz’s headmastership. For any school to attain its best-ever results at both GCSE and A-level in the same summer is an achievement; for a school such as QE to do so, when it already has a record of several years of consistent high academic success, is remarkable indeed. At GCSE, 90% of examinations taken this year were awarded A* or A grades, with almost all the others (8.9%) at B. The proportion of boys achieving five or more A* or A grades continues to rise: 97.8% of the 179-strong Year 11 achieved this benchmark, compared with 96% last year and 92.1% in 2009. Our A-level results were equally impressive, with 98% of grades at A*-B and an average points score per pupil of 504. Encouragingly, close scrutiny of the A-level results reveals strong performance across the curriculum: for example, more than three-quarters of our English candidates gained A*, as did seven of our 11 Art students. Economics and Mathematics were among other departments for which very good results were reported.

QE pupils – including Sam Sherman, profiled elsewhere in this e-newsletter – took the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) for the first time this year and here, too, there was success, with 26 of the 27 candidates (96%) gaining A* or A grades. I am keen to foster academic enrichment beyond the sometimes narrow confines of the National Curriculum and of examination board syllabuses; the EPQ is thus a welcome addition to our Sixth Form programme, alongside other enriching activities such as our academic symposium with students from North London Collegiate School.

Just a few weeks after receiving news of our summer examination successes, the School was able to announce that we had been awarded the prestigious Prince’s Teaching Institute Mark in four subjects. The PTI Mark, which is awarded retrospectively for 2010/11, was awarded for the first time to the English, Geography and History departments. The Science department gained it in the previous year and had it renewed, while the School’s Modern Foreign Languages department is now working towards gaining the mark. To gain the mark requires considerable commitment from the departments concerned: they have to demonstrate how they have fostered their students’ enthusiasm and understanding, while also showing commitment to increasing teachers’ subject knowledge. Furthermore, senior QE teachers have begun to play a significant part in the PTI’s work. Assistant Head, Anne MacDonald, and Head of History, Tahmer Mahmoud, have been appointed as mentors for the institute’s Schools Programme and have helped other schools agree their targets.

Our wide variety of extra-curricular provision intentionally encompasses both academic endeavour and worthwhile activities beyond the classroom. Debating is of course a proven way of putting boys on their mettle academically. Under the leadership of our Head of Debating, Nisha Mayer, it is now taking place throughout the School from Year 7 upwards and I am particularly heartened by the re-establishment of the Elizabethan Union, the School’s formal debating society. Exchanges and overseas visits constitute another important facet of our life as a School. This term for the first time we hosted French and German schools in the same week. The end-of-term Carol Service in the Parish Church and the Rotary Christmas Concert are important both for the opportunities to perform that they afford our musicians and for the role they play in upholding the traditions of the School.

Another key event has been the successful biennial inspection of our Combined Cadet Force. The Reviewing Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Cliffe, of the Royal Engineers, commended the cadets’ “exceptional personal standards” and the unit’s “cohesion and enthusiasm”. The unit’s Captain, Mev Armon, who also teaches Biology at QE, was singled out for praise for “his inspiring personal leadership style and sacrifice, which, together with the School ethos, sees the cadets being given responsibility and developing very good leadership and military skills”. Lt Col Cliffe concluded his report: “Queen Elizabeth’s School is a first-class example of how cadet units can produce first-class young men. With co-ordinated support, I am certain that the unit will continue to flourish.”

During a busy term, Professor A C Grayling’s impassioned address to our Sixth-Formers on the importance of studying the humanities stands out as both timely and significant; it is a necessary corrective to the excessively utilitarian approach to education that has grown around the world in recent years. I consider that it is entirely legitimate to pursue learning for learning’s sake; to develop oneself before developing one’s career. Practical applications can come later: we strongly encourage QE pupils to seek fulfilment by following their genuine academic interests both here and at university, whether those interests lie in science or the arts. The School is in rude health at a time when many great challenges loom: cuts in public spending; economic hardships and uncertainty facing many of our families, and unprecedented competition for university places. What is important at such a juncture is that we remain true to our mission and resist any calls – from whatever quarter – to sacrifice the arts and other non-vocational areas of study in the misguided belief that these are useless fripperies which must be cut away in order to stay competitive in the market.

I am also determined to continue QE’s notable success in contributing to social mobility. This School is a needs-blind meritocracy, where all boys of ability can and do succeed, regardless of their background. In a recent essay, Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, stated that while many more children from poorer backgrounds now reach nationally expected levels at age 11 and stay on at school after 16, when it comes to university entry there remain big gaps between the destinations of children from poor families and those from affluent homes. This discrepancy is due not to discrimination from universities, but to the under-achievement nationally of poorer children at A-level. Queen Elizabeth’s School continues to buck this trend, with a large majority of our leavers going on to Russell Group universities, even though our pupils are described by Ofsted as of “average deprivation”. I am pleased to report that the construction of the first phase of the building which will house our new Library and dining hall is progressing well. It is also good to be able to report that our School Shop enjoyed a successful first season, not only in terms of commercial performance but also in the way that it enabled us as a School community to meet our new intake of Year 7 parents early on.

Similarly, I valued the opportunity which the 116th Old Elizabethans Annual Dinner gave me to meet some of our old boys in my first term as Headmaster. It was interesting to hear the thoughts of our guest speaker, Zaid Belbagi (2000-2007). As many of you will know, the cohort who will be marking the tenth anniversary of their leaving the School at the end of the current academic year are among those who are especially invited to the Annual Dinner. This year, they included Paralympian rower Tom Aggar (1995-2002): I am sure that his fellow old boys will join me in wishing him every success as he seeks to repeat his Beijing successes by winning gold at London 2012.

I would like to conclude by giving all our alumni my best wishes for a happy festive season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Neil Enright