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Making a child’s dream come true: alumni raise money for Sri Lanka education charity

Three Old Elizabethan medics are among a group of London healthcare students who have teamed up to sponsor a child’s education in Sri Lanka.

Raahul Niranchanan (2010–2017), Vipushan Konesalingam (2010-2016) and Athithyan Vijayathasan (2009-2016) are supporting a string of fundraising activities to raise £3,000 for Ocean Stars Trust – a UK charity working in Sri Lanka.

All three are studying at George’s University of London and are committee members of the St George’s Tamil Society.

“If there was one lesson we learnt from attending School at QE, it was the idea that everyone is capable of making a change,” says Raahul.

The team originally began as 17 people meeting in the living room of a house numbered 17A, hence the team name they adopted, 17A.

Their JustGiving page explains their motivation: “We appreciate that growing up in London…we often take what we have for granted. So, when uni got a bit tough for us and we started complaining, we took a step back: we realised we’ve actually got an opportunity to even get as far as studying a degree.

“But there are kids out there who don’t even know if they would still be in school tomorrow, or who can only dream of having an education.

“We know education is a gift that no one or nothing should take away from you, not even poverty.

“Our aim is to be able to give the opportunity we received so easily to another child. A child who dreams for a better education, a better future and a better life. We hope we can help make those dreams come true.”

The charity they have chosen works closely with orphans and other disadvantaged children in Sri Lanka.

The team got things off to a good start with a successful bake sale at St George’s University, London, which raised £500, followed by a Hot Wing Challenge – a spicy wing-eating contest in which OE courage featured prominently!

For more information, or to donate to Team 17A, go to their JustGiving, Instagram or Facebook page.

Recounting the rise and fall – and rise again – of Classics at QE

Old Elizabethan Professor P J Rhodes, a leading ancient historian, highlights a QE connection in a new academic tribute to one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek art.

Peter John Rhodes (OE 1951–1959), who is usually cited as P J Rhodes, has penned a chapter entitled Buildings and History in a festschrift published this spring, Greek Art in Motion: Studies in honour of Sir John Boardman on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

In the chapter, Professor Rhodes, who is Honorary Professor and Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the University of Durham, mentions that one of Sir John’s contemporaries at Chigwell School was J W Finnett. John Finnett went on to become a popular Classics master at QE, teaching Professor Rhodes when he was in the Sixth Form.

“In my 14th year of retirement, I remain reasonably compos et mentis et corporis,” says Professor Rhodes. “I am still academically active — reading, writing, participating in conferences, still doing a little teaching and higher-degree examining; an academically focused tour of Iran in 2000 gave me a taste for travelling to exotic places (all too often visiting them shortly before trouble strikes — but my reputation hasn’t yet led to my being denied entry to any country).”

He has also been inspired recently to look further into the history of Classics teaching at QE. In an article for the Old Elizabethans Association’s magazine, the Elizabethan, he charts the fluctuating fortunes of Latin and Greek at the School across the centuries, as well as recording his own memories of his teachers in these subjects.

He was at QE during the last of E H Jenkins’ three decades as Headmaster and was in the last year of two-form entry (60 boys) before the post-war expansion. The senior Latin master in that era was Percival Timson, who had been at the school since 1935. John Finnett joined QE in 1951, aged 23.

“Timson and Finnett were of different generations and different styles, but they made an effective pair,” Professor Rhodes recalls in the Elizabethan article. “Timson hated music: on one of the few occasions when he unbent, he explained that at Oxford he had done little work in his first year so needed to do a lot before taking Mods in his second, and at that stage found any sounds that might distract him intolerable. Finnett was keen on music, but regarded Mozart as the greatest composer of all time and everybody more recent as inferior to him.”

A particular inspiration was “rumbustious” Rex M Wingfield, who was his first-form master and first Latin teacher: “…I think he bears much of the responsibility for my having become a Classicist.”

Another Classics teacher was Lynton E Whiteley, from Cambridge. “…On arrival in 1953 he projected a fierce image, and though I think he mellowed I was always somewhat afraid of him.”
Professor Rhodes is the eldest of three brothers, of whom the youngest, John Andrew, also went to QE and later became a modern historian at Wadham College, Oxford (to which Prof Rhodes went as an undergraduate).

“At School I was in Underne House (under John Pearce); I was successful in the classroom but not on the games field (honour was eventually satisfied when I acted as scorer for cricket teams: the Second XI for two years and then the First XI for three); I was involved in music (as a pianist), in the Elizabethan Union and with the school’s printing press.”

He took Latin, Greek, Ancient History and History A-levels at QE. “I sailed through A Level and S Level, but it then took me two years in the Seventh Form to catch up with the kind of competitors who had started Latin at seven and Greek at nine and had spent their school time on little else.” [S Level, involving extra papers, was for those applying for state scholarships for university, before the later introduction of a universal grant system.]Perseverance, and my parents’ patience, were rewarded, and I did in the end in 1959 achieve the Holy Grail of an Oxford Scholarship in Classics.”

At Oxford, he was a prize-winning undergraduate at Wadham. “As it happens, Finnett later went to Wadham too…as a visiting Schoolmaster Fellow. Sadly, in 1971 he died of cancer, aged only 43.”

Professor Rhodes was awarded a double first-class degree from Oxford. “I continued as a [cricket] scorer in my first year but not thereafter, did not pursue a career in the Union Society, but was involved in music (singing tenor, and, in the absence of better players, acting as a not very good organist).”

He went to Durham as a young lecturer in Classics in 1965 and rose to become, firstly, a senior lecturer, and then, in 1983, Professor of Ancient History there. He retired in 2005 and still lives in Durham.

During his career, he has published extensively on the Classical Greek world; his works span the decades, from The Athenian Boule, published in 1972, to a forthcoming edition of Herodotus, Histories, V.

He has held a number of visiting fellowships; Wolfson College, Oxford (1984), University of New England, Australia (1988), Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1993), and All Souls College, Oxford (1998). He served as President of the Classical Association from 2014 to 2015. In 1987, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2005 was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Danish Academy.

“In Durham I continued with choral singing for many years, and again in the occasional absence of better players, as a not very good organist, and for a few years I was involved with a printing press; I have also been an active member (including two stints as secretary) of the Senior Common Room of University College.”

In the mid-2000s, soon after his retirement, the then-Headmaster, Dr John Marincowitz, told him on a visit to the School that he hoped to reintroduce Latin soon. Professor Rhodes has been heartened to learn not only that this was subsequently done – it is now a curriculum subject – but that Greek is today also available as an extra-curricular subject.

Back in Barnet: undergraduates return to QE to advise current boys on uni applications

Around 60 of last year’s leavers who are now two terms into their degree courses came back to QE to contribute to the School’s Universities Convention.

With fresh experience of university life, and with the Sixth Form and university application process such a recent memory, they were well-placed to give some first-hand advice to current Year 12 pupils.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “There is always a good turnout for the convention, and it is excellent to see that that each new cohort of OEs is so willing to stay connected with the School and to actively support it.

“These, the youngest of our Old Elizabethans, are able to provide very current insights into their various courses, clubs and societies and their chosen universities. As such, they are a trusted and valuable source of information for our sixth-formers.

“Staff always enjoy the opportunity to hear how these recent leavers are getting on – even if it can sometimes be hard to recognise some, with their ‘civilian’ clothes, beards and new, non-QE-approved hairstyles!”

The returning alumni had the opportunity to catch up both with each other and with their former teachers in a buffet lunch held for them in the Main Hall, which was provided with assistance from the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s.

The Year 12 boys were encouraged to be quite specific with their questions to the alumni, asking, for example whether there was anything the students wished someone had told them before they applied.

The current pupils also quizzed the OEs on topics such as the cost of accommodation in university cities.

The Universities Convention is part of QE’s University admissions Support Programme (USP), which is designed to ensure boys receive the best advice, guidance and assistance in preparing university applications.

This sits alongside the broader careers provision, through which boys can look at the jobs, professions and industries they might wish to pursue after university, or what other paths they might want to take upon leaving the School.

Some of the students at the convention had also been in to the School the previous week in order to speak to Year 13 on similar issues: Abbas Adejonwo, Rehaan Bapoo, Dhruv Kanabar, Yashwanth Matta and Oliver Robinson gave advice based upon their experiences as first-year undergraduates at Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick.

Look back in gratitude: ‘urban monk’ Jay recalls support from QE

Global social media star and motivational guru Jay Shetty has paid generous tribute to his QE teachers in an ITV interview.

Jay (OE 1999-2006) was speaking to ITV London news anchor Charlene White about the astonishing worldwide impact of his work, which includes a single video with 366m views and social media channels that have gained 21m followers and amassed some 4 billion views in just three years.

Towards the end of the interview, Jay recalled some of the difficulties of his teenage years: “I used to get into a lot of trouble growing up…I was suspended from school multiple times. That was me looking for meaning, that was me trying to find answers and solutions – and so when I found those, I wanted to share them with the world.”

Asked whether his teachers would be surprised at his current life and career, Jay responded warmly. “I have to say that my teachers at Queen Elizabeth’s boys’ School were very patient with me, they were very coaching, they mentored me very well and, yeah, they were great.”

Jay, who grew up in Wood Green, has previously told the School of his fond memories of his time at QE, singling out Head of Art of Stephen Buckeridge and Assistant Head David Ryan for their support, and pointing to his enjoyment of rugby and of public-speaking classes which, he said, “changed my life”.

On leaving QE, Jay went on to Cass Business School in London, from which he graduated with a first-class degree in Management Science. Then, however, his life took an unusual turn: he spent three years as a monk in India in the Hindu Vedic tradition.

When he returned with a mission to, in his words, “make wisdom go viral”, he was spotted by Arianna Huffington and brought to New York, where he rapidly gained a following for his daily show, HuffPost Live #FollowTheReader.

In 2016, Jay married dietitian Roshni Devlukia. Jay featured in the influential Forbes European 30 Under 30 in 2017 – an accolade he described at the time as “one of the greatest moments in my journey so far”.

In the interview with ITV London, Jay explained the rationale behind his motivational videos. “I saw that social media was a place where so many people were having challenges – they were getting stressed out [because of] anxiety, mental health…What I try and do is use social media in a way that people can turn to it as a guide, as a way of thinking about their thoughts, how to improve their relationships, how to improve their careers…and how they can find meaning in their life.”

Jay, who was also interviewed in recent days by Sky News, presents regular interviews with people in the public spotlight, with his subjects this year including celebrities such as Russell Brand, supermodel Gisele Bündchen and tennis star Novak Djokovic.

Winning the vote? Deft debating shakes faith of some in democracy

Sixth-formers took on Old Elizabethan opposition to debate one of the biggest questions of our era – whether there is a future for democracy.

More than 170 guests, including Old Elizabethans, Year 12 pupils and staff, attended the 54th Elizabethan Union Annual Dinner Debate. The debate is a formal event which helps sixth-formers prepare for similar occasions at university and, later, in their professional lives.

At the start of the evening, an indicative vote on the motion, This House believes democracy has had its day, revealed that a large majority – around an 80:20 split – opposed it. However, the School team successfully shook the faith in democracy of some 15-20 people, who had swung to their side of the argument by the final vote, thus technically giving the School victory in the debate. Nevertheless, a majority – albeit now reduced to 70:30 – remained opposed to the motion.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was an enjoyable occasion, with some adroitly made arguments on both sides and contributions in the floor debate that were both enthusiastic and well-considered. I am grateful to the visiting alumni, including our guest speaker, Nikhil Patel.”

The School team of Chris Hall and Aryan Jain explained that democracy was failing to solve the big questions and, furthermore, was wrongly identifying what those big questions were. They gave as examples the fact that large amounts of effort were being spent in the UK on Europe and Brexit, but correspondingly less on issues such as climate change, education and welfare. The pair argued that the electorate’s greatest concerns were not always based upon real evidence – a problem they blamed on media distortion.

Instead they put forward a form of technocratic government under which the experts could get on with running the country and implementing the right policies, noting that we already entrust large and important sections of government, such as the legal system, to independent non-elected institutions – in this case, the judiciary.

“It was perhaps an idealised vision of how such a government might operate, but Chris Hall grounded it all strongly in logic,” said the Headmaster.

The motion was opposed by Ashwin Sharma (OE 2008–2015) and by Year 12 boy Alex Beard (replacing old boy Jason Thomas [OE 2010–2015], who was unable to attend).

“Ashwin and Alex worked very well together to argue a compelling case, with Alex stepping in very well to complete the opposition and contributing significantly to the very high standard of debating across all the speakers,” said the Headmaster.

They argued that democracy is the best system we have. Moreover, the rise of the internet and other new technologies are increasing democratic opportunities around the world, including in countries not typically classed as democracies. Democracy is more than just elections, they pointed out, stating that the very fact that the Elizabethan Union Dinner Debate was taking place was itself evidence of a functioning democracy.

In his after-dinner address Nikhil Patel (OE 2007–2014) recalled his own School days. He heeded the advice given on his very first day by the then-Headmaster Dr John Marincowitz to “get stuck in”,  throwing himself into School life and later becoming School Captain (in 2013), as well as playing in the First XI cricket squad, captaining the Second XV rugby team and playing the saxophone in several ensembles.

He advised the assembled sixth-formers similarly: “Always endeavour to challenge yourself, push the boundaries of what you previously thought and attempt new things, whether that be a language, a sport or an activity.”

They should pursue things about which they are “truly passionate”, he said, before espousing the power and value of friendship: “…always remember your roots and who was with you on this journey when it all started.

After leaving QE, Nikhil studied Geography and Management at Cambridge University where he was President of the India Society and captain of the Fitzwilliam College cricket team when they were twice winners of the Cuppers inter-collegiate competition. After university he took a gap year and now works as a Management Consultant for EY and an advisor to WOAW, a content marketing firm. He was accompanied by his partner, Aparna Joshi.

Nikhil finished his address with a toast to the Elizabethan Union. Current School Captain Bhiramah Rammanohar proposed a toast to ‘The Visitors’, while there were also the customary toasts to ‘Her Majesty, the Queen’ and to ‘The Pious Memory of Queen Elizabeth I’. Year 12 pupil Viraj Mehta chaired the debate.

The guests enjoyed a dinner of spicy parsnip soup followed by confit of lamb (or pulled vegetables) and chocolate cake.

Theory and practice: sixth-formers learn about the real-world importance of Economic Geography

A young Elizabethan now forging a career in private banking with a global finance giant returned to the School to lead a Sixth Form discussion on Economic Geography.

Hemang Hirani (OE 2008-15), who studied Geography and Economics at the London School of Economics and is now working for Barclays, gave a presentation to the select group of Year 12 geographers entitled The role of cities: an introduction to the field of Economic Geography.

Thanking him for his visit, Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This is an important aspect of alumni support – Old Elizabethans coming back to the School to help stretch the older boys academically by giving them an insight into, and a taste of, university-level material and discussion.”

In a lavishly illustrated talk, Hemang included: a satellite picture of Earth by night; a world map showing the growing percentage of the planet’s population in urban areas since 1950, and colour-coded maps of the USA and India depicting the importance of cities in both advanced and emerging economies.

He considered an influential academic paper on the topic, taking the boys through theoretical aspects such as labour market pooling, input-output linkages and knowledge spill-overs, as well as examining complex equations used by economic geographers.

The event was organised by Geography teacher Anne Macdonald, who said Hemang also answered questions about university, including the experience of studying at LSE and the benefits of studying Geography and Economics as a combination. “Indeed, he explained that his new employers – Barclays Private Banking – indicated that one of the things that persuaded them to offer Hemang the job was the broad perspective he was able to offer as a results of having studied Economic Geography.”

In his own time in the Sixth Form at QE, Hemang was a Senior Vice Captain. He has previously been involved in helping QE’s sixth-formers apply for Geography places at university.

In addition, during his time at LSE, Hemang was a Widening Participation Mentor, undertaking weekly visits to state secondary schools in the City of London area to help underachieving groups of Year 12 pupils with university applications.

He has been involved in volunteering ventures ranging from mentoring pupils at under-performing London schools to supporting poor cancer patients in Mumbai.

After graduating, he undertook a number of internships, including three months with Swiss investment bank and financial services company UBS as a Summer Analyst. He joined Barclays Private Bank in a similar role in June last year.

“I enjoyed my internship within the Real Estate Finance team and was offered a role to bridge the gap between the internship and the graduate programme starting this July,” Hemang said. “In the current role, we work closely with hedge fund and private equity professionals from a wealth management perspective.”

Music-lover and movie-maker Richard rises to become Chief Medical Officer at Network Rail

Richard Peters took a degree in Music and then months later embarked on another in Medicine – after receiving some essential help from QE in the interim.

He then successfully trained as a doctor – albeit punctuated by a two-year spell in America pursuing his passion for making film and TV programmes – and later began a career specialising in occupational medicine. Today, Dr Richard Peters is Chief Medical Officer at Network Rail, responsible for the health and safety of 41,000 employees, as well as that of millions of passengers and other customers.

Richard’s time at QE in the late 1990s was relatively brief: he did not arrive until he was 14 and he completed some of his A-level studies elsewhere, since the School at that time was unable to offer the combination of courses he wanted to follow.

Yet he has nothing but praise for the support Headmaster Dr John Marincowitz offered him when he approached him after completing his Music degree at Birmingham in the summer of 2002. Richard wanted to go to King’s College London the same year to read Medicine, and Dr Marincowitz readily agreed to meet him to discuss the matter.

“I talked to him, and within a week he had done my UCAS application. That is the important thing about a school like QE Boys: if you change your career path, they are more than happy to help you to support your ambitions in any way, whether that’s supporting your UCAS application or writing references.”

It had been a similar story when he had joined the School, he recalls: his family had been living in the US and he went straight into the GCSE years. His coming to the School at such a time could easily have been regarded as a problem, yet there was no sense of that at all, and he quickly found common cause with those who shared his love for music.

“When I joined, the warmth and kindness of staff and students to welcome me in at quite a difficult stage was fantastic. Having that support, both from the teachers and from other boys who had a passion for music…well, it was really nice to become part of the QE music family.”

Richard, whose instruments are the flute and piano, threw himself into School life, playing with both the School Orchestra and Concert Band, and eventually becoming House Captain for Pearce. He was among the first users of the then-new Music block and he also has happy memories of developing film in the School darkroom for his GCSE Photography.

He already had a nascent interest in matters medical, wanting at that stage to become a dentist, yet decided to study Music to degree level, taking his Music Performance AS in Year 12 before leaving QE to complete his A-levels and then in 1999 going to Birmingham’s acclaimed Music department, where Edward Elgar had first held the Chair.

After completing his Medical degree at King’s in 2007, he had a variety of roles in the NHS as part of his training. In 2011, he was appointed an Occupational Health Physician at London’s Royal Free Hospital. He then worked in occupational health for AXA PPP Healthcare, before becoming Chief Medical Officer in Capita’s Personal Independence Payment team. He moved to Network Rail in February 2017.

“I love the job. We are a very diverse organisation. My day could involve anything from going ‘on track’, speaking at large national conferences, chairing various steering groups and committees, to working with the business to design an effective health, wellbeing and ergonomic strategy.”

There is a strong focus on the customer. “We have an increasing commuter population that wants a safe, reliable and efficient railway – when they are walking through our stations, for example – and we need to be able to deliver this effectively, hence the importance for a healthy workforce.”

Richard fulfils a number of senior voluntary roles, including chairing the Rail Safety and Standards Board’s Occupational Health Specialist Advisory Group. He is also an Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer at UCL Medical School where he teaches Occupational Medicine to the medical students.

He retains the enthusiasm that drove him a decade ago to spend two years in Los Angeles making films and working on TV shows. “While I don’t have much spare time, I did manage to combine medicine and media – two of my passions! – when I produced and co-wrote a first-aid training film for Network Rail: it was a fictional drama to raise awareness of the importance of first-aiders for saving lives.”

As for his third passion, music, he continues to play both the flute and piano and also enjoys helping his eldest daughter with her piano practice. He and his wife Kate, a GP in training, who live in London, have two girls, with another on the way in June.

Richard stays in contact with a number of other OEs, mostly by social media, although meeting up does prove difficult with all their busy schedules.

Rohan and Conor’s great escape for Oxford RAG

Two Old Elizabethan friends have teamed up for the annual charity ‘jailbreak’ run by the Oxford University Student Union.

Conor Mellon (OE 2010-2017) and Rohan Radia (also 2010-2017) will be heading out of Oxford on 9th March and will then have 36 hours to get as far away from the city as they can without spending any money. Their purpose is to raise as much money as possible for the RAG (Raise and Give) charities.

On their fundraising page, the pair state: “We will be hitchhiking, charming, and busking (?!) our way on to boats, trains and planes in our effort to beat the other teams and escape from Oxford! Rohan will use his excellent interpersonal skills and awkward humour along the way and Conor will contribute rusty French, rudimentary German, and a healthy dose of positivity. We have never attempted anything like this before and are excited to give it a crack.”

Last year’s competitors reached such far-flung destinations as Sweden, Turkey and even Malaysia.
Jailbreak is one of the biggest fundraisers for the student union’s adopted charities. These currently include:

  • Education Partnerships Africa, which works with schools in Uganda and Kenya, providing material resources and extra-curricular activities to help young students
  • Aspire Oxford, a social enterprise that helps homeless and disadvantaged people in Oxford secure employment and housing
  • The Porch, which helps Oxford’s homeless single and vulnerably housed adults towards more positive lifestyles
  • IntoUniversity, which provides local learning centres supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds as they attain university places or pursue other aspirations.

“Ultimately we’re doing this to raise money for the fantastic charities that RAG supports,” the pair state. “100% of donations go to these charities…so please help them by donating! Thanks.”

Conor, who went to Lincoln College to read History and German, has been working for the university’s History Society this term and has invited young historians from QE along to hear outspoken historian David Starkey deliver a talk in March.

Rohan, who went to Oxford to study History and Economics at Somerville College, last year co-led a team of five students working to help the university’s Careers Service establish compliance with recycling policy.

In the previous academic year, Rohan had served on The Oxford Union’s Secretary’s Committee.

Out of sight but, please, not out of mind: old boy returns to School to give an update on the international refugee crisis

The international migrant crisis in southern Europe may have faded from the headlines in recent months, but the humanitarian challenge remains, Old Elizabethan Nicholas Millet reminded QE boys when he returned to his alma mater.

Nick (OE 2001–2008) co-founded Refugee Education Chios, which provides education, support and training for teenagers and young adults living on the Greek island of Chios, which became a de facto detention centre after the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement.

The project offers safe places – a youth centre and a learning centre – outside the Vial detention camp, reaching up to 250 children and youth aged up to 22 each week. Both centres tailor their work to the refugees’ particular needs, with, for example, the learning centre offering a trauma-sensitive curriculum and the youth centre helping teenagers develop trusting relationships and confidence in their own abilities and skills.

He spoke to boys in the middle years of QE about the charity’s work and about the migrant crisis in general, highlighting the ongoing nature of the problem, which, he said, was all too easily forgotten.

Thanking him for his visit, Head of Academic Enrichment Nisha Mayer said afterwards: “Nick provided an enormously insightful and, at times, emotional talk, which was a good reminder of the importance of being involved with humanitarian causes.”

Nick first got involved in the refugee relief work before the 2016 agreement came into force. Inspired to take action to help refugees by a weekend visit to the ‘Jungle’ camp at Calais, he put his successful career as a management consultant on hold and flew to Chios, which lies just 7km off the mainland of Turkey.

The island was the arrival point for the highest number of refugees after Lesbos, with up to 1,500 men, women and children making the journey across the Aegean Sea every night at that time. During his talk, Nick showed the boys photographs of refugees arriving on Chios, often in perilously overloaded rubber dinghies. Other images revealed the poor conditions in the camp.

Nick, of Stanmore, has a history of involvement in humanitarian projects. Shortly after leaving QE, he spent time at the Sri Sathya Sai School – a village school in Kerala, India, which QE has supported since 2002. And, while he was reading for the Politics, Psychology and Sociology Tripos at Cambridge, he undertook research for the Grameen Bank, the Nobel Prize-winning microfinance organisation based in Bangladesh which works to help the poor.

On his most recent visit to QE, Nick mentioned especially the desperate plight of lone child refugees, telling the boys: “Children are sent because their parents can’t afford for the whole family to escape.”

“Grammar schools provide an unrivalled ladder of opportunity” – new report published as QE’s George the Poet inspires the next generation at Cambridge

New research highlights the success of grammar schools in sending large numbers of pupils from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to top universities.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) study shows not only that students of all backgrounds are much more likely to progress to a top-tier university if they have been educated in an area with grammar schools, but that this is particularly true for those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

Its publication comes as the magazine of King’s College, Cambridge, reports on Old Elizabethan George the Poet’s key role in the college’s first-ever open day for BME applicants. The magazine explains that although King’s accepts a relatively high number of state school pupils, it remains concerned about the ethnic diversity level among its student body.

Nationally renowned spoken-word performer and social commentator George Mpanga (OE 2002–2009), who himself attended King’s, led an empowerment session for the visiting prospective undergraduates. He told them how his time at Cambridge helped him understand the inner-city community he had come from, giving him an academically-based perspective which has informed his subsequent commentary on race, education and class.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “At Queen Elizabeth’s School, we are proud of our long-term success as an entirely meritocratic institution, and it is noteworthy that many of our leavers, such as George, who go on to Oxford and Cambridge are from modest backgrounds, often representing the first generation of their families to go into higher education. Nevertheless, we have made it one of our key priorities to do even more to ensure fair access and we are currently developing our outreach activities accordingly.”

The 60-page HEPI research paper, entitled The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to Higher Education, was written by Iain Mansfield, a former senior civil servant at departments including the Department for Education. Its findings suggest that grammar schools can increase the likelihood of progression to the top third of higher education institutions (as defined by the Department for Education) for pupils from some traditionally disadvantaged groups, including pupils in the most disadvantaged two quintiles, namely social disadvantage and BME. In fact, it showed that the latter are more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in an area with selective schools than in a non-selective area, with England’s 163 grammar schools sending more BME students to Cambridge than all 1,849 non-selective state schools combined.

Commenting on the findings in the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Mansfield makes a plea for expanding grammar schools: “…for many disadvantaged students, grammar schools provide an unrivalled ladder of opportunity, offering them a route to elite higher education that is simply not systematically available to them elsewhere.”

He also tackles one frequent criticism of selective education head-on: “Did you know that that 45 per cent of pupils at grammar schools come from households with below-median incomes? Opponents of grammar schools like to portray them as only for the rich, but this statistic makes that claim demonstrably untrue. Yes, it’s true that grammar schools take a lower proportion of pupils on free school meals than one might expect – but the same is true of the most academically successful comprehensive schools, due to house-price selection.”

For his part, George Mpanga sought to inspire the visiting A-level students at King’s College, telling them: “I’m looking forward to seeing you guys in ten years and you saying to me: ‘Oh, remember that time in King’s? I was there!’ Because you will be someone, wherever you choose to go, you will be of consequence. I anticipate that; I look forward to that.”

He told them how his own time as an undergraduate had changed him: “When I went to Cambridge, I looked back at my community through binoculars and I could see it for what it is. That wouldn’t have been possible if I’d stayed in the environment. I would have become either consumed by my anger or completely disconnected with the social set-up, with the social scene.

“Being here gave me the space to look at it objectively and apply some of the disciplines of sociology, of the humanities, of the social sciences to what I saw growing up. It gave me that language. And what I found is, when I went back to that environment, everyone understood. No one looked at me funny because I’d gone to Cambridge.”

He recalled the occasion when the President of the African and Caribbean Society had persuaded him to give his first performance at Cambridge. “He was like, ‘You have to contribute. What? You’re just going to be here and you’re not going to give yourself? You’re not going to represent where you’re from in this place?’ And that pricked my conscience a little bit, so I agreed to do it.”