The festive season got off to an excellent start with a wonderful Christmas Concert in the Shearly Hall, featuring rich sounds from our musicians and an eclectic programme that ranged from jazz to Bach.
The concert was held in association with the Rotary Club of Barnet, with which the School has enjoyed links for many years. The printed programme opened with a note of welcome from Brian Coleman, Old Elizabethan (1972–1979) and President of the Barnet Rotary Club.
Since then, heavy snow has given the School a truly festive feel, although I am glad to say that we managed to remain open. In our final 2017 event tailored for Old Elizabethans, a capacity 60 guests gathered in Tudor Hall, the School’s historic home, for a drinks-and-canapés reception prior to a wonderful Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in the Parish Church. OE guests spanned all generations and included several who were in London from abroad (including the US and Canada). Guests enjoyed exploring the space that was the heart of the School until its relocation to Queen’s Road in 1932, with features such as the infamous ‘whipping post’ proving a talking point. At the service, the usual combination of traditional carols and biblical readings was accompanied by highly accomplished performances from the School Choir and the Chamber Choir – the Anthem, And the Glory of the Lord, from Handel’s Messiah a particular highlight. The Mayor of the Borough of Barnet, Cllr Brian Salinger, was present at both the reception and the service.
In my recent letter to parents, I emphasised that, in considering their own futures, boys can derive considerable benefit by learning from alumni who have already travelled along the pathways that they plan to take or would like to explore. As we look forward to the start of a new calendar year, this seems an appropriate juncture at which to focus on how alumni can assist our boys in enhancing their future prospects.
One of the areas we are currently working on is QE Connect. Still in its early stages, this initiative will bring new coherence to our work to establish even closer connections between the School and our old boys. QE Connect will formalise ways of matching the boys in the School to alumni who can give them access to a broad network that will help them in pursuing their academic and professional aspirations.
The range of assistance already afforded our pupils by Old Elizabethans is striking. Alumni provide mock interviews and are a source of work experience for our older boys. An increasing number visit the School to talk to boys about university and careers. This term has seen visits from OE speakers following very different paths. For example, Drew Williams (2005-2012) is building a successful career with multinational professional services firm EY, after, somewhat unusually for a QE boy, opting not to go to university, while US-based entrepreneur Sachin Duggal (1994–2001), who is featured in this e-newsletter, has studied at three of the world’s leading universities. I am very pleased that we currently have recent leavers studying at Ivy League universities in the US who are very active in our alumni network and happy to help Year 12 boys with their applications. In addition, old boys increasingly play an important role at significant events in the School calendar, whether that is the Elizabethan Union Dinner Debate, the formal Year 12 luncheon, or, this term, the Careers Convention.
Through such events, senior boys can access the wealth of knowledge, experience and contacts that exists among our burgeoning network of old boys. The common thread of those alumni who have engaged with the School in the way I have described is that all wish to give something back and support current pupils. As a meritocracy, inevitably quite a high proportion of our pupils are the first to go to university in their immediate families; the first to aim for the most competitive professions. Their family backgrounds may not, therefore, give them access to the wider network that is so often indispensable to career success. Our alumni can be the gateway to that network – and we will be intentional about encouraging boys to engage with those of you who wish to be involved.
Learning how to network effectively is an essential skill for all those with ambitious aspirations towards success in their professional lives. It is essential that our pupils cultivate the requisite skills, which are certainly among the “positive personal qualities and attitudes” valued by society that are mentioned in our Development Plan. It is especially important to develop the confidence to initiate conversations, particularly with people one does not know. This applies even – or perhaps especially – to the pupil who considers himself not naturally a confident person.
The Tigertones, Princeton’s all-male a capella group, proved to be fantastic role models in this regard when they visited us as part of their London tour: they were supremely confident, yet with conversation that was always appropriate to the situation. That is, in part, why we bring in such visitors. I am urging boys to seek out opportunities to practise the art of conversation, learning to ask appropriate questions and to listen effectively so that they can take their cue from the responses. Confidence is, after all, one-third of our mission statement as a School.
Another route through which boys can develop confidence and the ability to converse well with adults is by taking on positions of responsibility within the School. These exist in all years, culminating in the appointment of our Senior Officials in Year 12. I am grateful to our outgoing School Captain Oliver Robinson for his service and congratulate Aashish Khimasia and his team of Senior Vice- Captains and Vice-Captains on their appointment for 2018.
Part of the key to conversation is naturally the ability to use language well. The work of our poet-in-residence, Anthony Anaxagorou (1994–1999), reflects our emphasis on the development of good oracy, as does the example set by George ‘the Poet’ Mpanga (2002–2009). In the wake of the royal engagement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the BBC turned to George for an insider’s perspective on the prince: he is an ambassador for Sentebale, one of Prince Harry’s charitable foundations, which supports the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana. Having observed the prince’s work there at first hand, George was interviewed for a primetime BBC1 documentary about the engagement, fronted by Kirsty Young.
Our recent evening of rugby at Allianz Park, the home of Saracens, was a great occasion, notwithstanding the First XV’s 18–10 defeat against Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’. It was very well supported by Old Elizabethans. Those pictured are top row, left, to bottom right: Alex Grethe, Jake Nielen, Anton Bridge, Ioannis Loupas (all 2004-2011); Anoop Raghaven and Max Hassell, (both 2002–2009; Alvin Bombo (2002–2007); Gideon Levitt (2004–2011); Aaron Levitt (2002–2009); Matteo Yoon, Adam Kuo, Alex Goring (all 2003–2010), and Francis Vu (2000–2008). I was also delighted to catch up with David Clark (1993–2000), Paul Clark (1990–1997), Liam Higgs-Howson (2000–2007), Kelvin Hughes (1999–2006), Tomas Vieira-Short (2010–2017) and Lee Wright (2001-2008), among many others.
I am pleased to be able to say that we have just secured planning permission to create new facilities for Music within the existing Mayes Building. These will include rehearsal and performance spaces and will also retain an atrium to accommodate boys during breaks in the School day. Whilst the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s are not in a position to proceed immediately, this next stage of our Estates Strategy is fully worked up and we look forward to developing this as our next big project in due course. In the meantime, we continue to make use of donations from old boys for smaller projects bringing immediate benefits for current pupils.
As this term draws to a close, I remember with considerable satisfaction the fact that it opened with the School basking in the enjoyment of our dazzling summer results: nearly 42% of A-levels taken were at A*, while our GCSE performance was our best ever, with 71% of examinations awarded A* or its equivalent. Since then, we have had further independent corroboration of our success in meeting academic challenges. First came the announcement that QE had been named in eighth place out of 2,500 secondary schools (independent and state-funded) for performance and take-up of the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Next were official league tables showing that for the second year, QE again topped the list of all boys’ grammar schools for achievement against the Government’s Progress 8 measure, which charts the improvements made by children across eight key subjects between the end of primary school and GCSE. Most recently, we have been named as the country’s leading boys’ state school – and in second place overall – in the influential Sunday Times Parent Power survey.
My best wishes to all Old Elizabethans for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.