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Sixth Form geographers have coastal erosion in their sights

The sands of time may be slipping away for the crumbling coast of Essex – but not if QE’s A-level geographers can help it!

Braving a biting chill on the beach, the Sixth Form group investigated not only the threat posed by rapid coastal erosion at Walton-on-the-Naze, but also evaluated steps being taken by the town’s authorities to check it.

Geography teacher Chris Butler said: “Fieldtrips like this are so important in bringing to life what can be rather abstract concepts, such as coastal erosion and management. I was delighted with the boys’ approach across all three days of the trip. They worked extremely hard in challenging conditions and were a credit to the School.”

Walton has one of the fastest retreating cliff lines in the British Isles: on average, the cliffs are retreating between one and two metres every year. That the cliffs are falling away so rapidly is due largely to their geology.

“The fossiliferous clays and sands exposed in the Naze area belong to the London Clay and Red Crag formations, and provide evidence of prehistoric life and conditions 54 million years ago and 2.5 million years ago respectively,” said Mr Butler. “Fossils, such as those of shark teeth and mangroves, occur commonly throughout both, and the area has attracted fossil-hunters since the 19th century.

“However, the formations unfortunately represent a relatively weak barrier to coastal erosion.”

Local officials have implemented a large number of strategies in a bid to slow the rate of erosion and protect the town and its services.

As well as looking into the impact of the erosion on both landforms and the built environment as part of their A-level studies, the boys also investigated the relative success of each management strategy the town had introduced and the impact that these techniques have had on both physical and human environments.

“Although no fossils were recovered, the fieldtrip was a great success, and despite the weather being bitterly cold, the boys demonstrated admirable fieldwork skills in sampling and collecting their data before analysis back in the classroom,” said Mr Butler.

The party stayed just over the Suffolk border in the Field Studies Council’s (FSC) Flatford Mill, which was once owned by John Constable’s family. He immortalised the Mill in his famous painting, The Hay Wain, in 1821.

Mr Butler added: “The boys were complimented on their positive attitudes, outstanding work ethic and manners by FSC staff and teachers from other visiting schools.”

Top to bottom, the pictures show: Year 12’s Sabbir Hossain using a level to chart platform gradient; boys profiling the protected beach and ‘slope toe’ at Walton; Red Crag and London Clay formations; Flatford Mill, as depicted in The Hay Wain, and the mill as it is today.



Going places! Revamped Élite Geography club draws enthusiastic response

From the Kashmir dispute and the rights of UK asylum seekers to urban planning and new directions for nuclear power, members have been savouring a highly varied range of topics at meetings of QE’s Élite Geography club.

And while the club for top GCSE geographers is run by Geography teacher Helen Davies, it is, she points out, recently the boys themselves who have been providing this food for thought in a string of “absolutely excellent presentations”.

The club, which is running under a new format this year, is open, by invitation, to boys among the top 30 geographers in Year 11. Pupils from Years 10–13 are also welcome to drop in and listen to the presentations on a week-by-week open basis.

The club’s activities comprise a combination of short projects using resources produced by the University of Oxford and presentations from the Year 11 geographers.

“The purpose of this enrichment activity is to develop awareness of the world and help pupils think holistically and critically about the issues affecting it now and in the future,” said Ms Davies.

“Geography is a subject that is valued highly by universities and employers, and being involved in Élite Geography could not only improve boys’ results at GCSE or A-level, but also help them develop high-order thinking skills – such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis – that will benefit their studies more widely across the curriculum.

“The students who are taking part in it this year in its new format are just loving it.”

The year’s programme began with a trio of presentations from Ms Davies on Water Scarcity followed by a week looking at the Ethics of Global Poverty.

Since then, it has been the pupils who have presented to their peers.

Among them is Year 11’s Chanakya Seetharam, pictured right, who gave a presentation on Geography through a Marxist lens. He said: “As a keen geographer, I have never been particularly given to the perception of Geography as somehow a ‘soft’ subject. The club provides an indisputably rigorous and academic forum, in which to discuss topical geographical issues.”

Presentations in January have included:

  • Geographies of conflict: the Kashmir Dispute, given by Ady Tiwari
  • Evaluating the use of thorium as an energy source for nuclear power, from Arjun Mistry
  • Megafauna: the significance of long-term climatic changes and tropic cascades, delivered by Koustuv Bhowmick.

All these boys are in Year 11.

Pictured, top, is Year 11’s Saim Khan, speaking about Mitigating the impacts of solar hazards. Other previous topics this academic year were delivered respectively by Year 13 pupils Jai Patel and Thanojan Sivananthan: The rights of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and Contemporary urban planning.

South of the river – and out on the streets!

Sixth-formers headed for south London to investigate the pace of urban change as part of their Geography studies.

All Year 12 AS Geography students made the journey to Wandsworth for the human geography fieldtrip. They will be assessed on the fieldwork completed in their AS examinations next summer.

The day was spent answering the question To what extent has Northcote ward in Wandsworth undergone the process of gentrification?

A study published last year by the Runnymede Trust and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) showed that Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets and Newham experienced more gentrification than any other London boroughs from 2010–2016.

Head of Geography Emily Parry said the trip was both educationally successful and enjoyable: “We were very fortunate to have beautiful, sunny autumnal weather in which to conduct the fieldwork.”

Accompanied by Miss Parry and James Kane, Geography teacher and Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations), the group spent the day investigating the topic by looking at three sub-questions:

  1. Over the last 30 years, what trends have occurred in employment, house tenure and price?
  2. Are properties in the area well-kept and is the built environment attractive?
  3. Are there a large number of boutique and high-end shops and services?

They used the following methods: questionnaires; environmental quality surveys; residential decay surveys and land-use mapping.

The fieldwork was conducted along a residential transect*, Wakehurst Road, and a commercial transect, Northcote Road.

The same boys will go on a residential trip in February to complete their physical fieldwork.

* transect: a line or narrow area along or within which measurements are taken, and items counted, etc. in scientific studies


Shifting perceptions of refugees: learning from an old boy’s first-hand account of life in a camp

Old Elizabethan Sajjad Dar spoke to QE geographers about the powerful lessons he learned while volunteering at Eleonas refugee camp in Greece.

Sajjad (OE 2009–2016), who graduated in Human Geography from Durham University, highlighted how media portrayals often create negative perceptions of refugees, often showing them either as a threat or as merely passive receivers of aid.

He set out in his talk to make a case for an alternative view, highlighting the fact that, for example, refugees were generally better at organising workshops than the volunteer helpers working in the camp.

Emily Parry, Head of Geography, said: “I am very grateful to Sajjad for giving an inspiring and engaging talk that so powerfully illustrated why Human Geography is a fascinating and important area of study.”

After completing his MA in Human Geography at Durham, Sajjad took an MSc in Spatial Planning at UCL, which he finished last year. He is currently working as a planning officer for the London Borough of Newham.

His talk, which was entitled The Power of Representation, centred on his dissertation, which compared media representations of refugees with his own experience of volunteering at the refugee camp and was entitled Navigating everyday life at camp Eleonas.

The camp in Athens hosts refugees from Syria, Senegal and Somalia. Sajjad’s work in a small school there focused on helping young refugees with Key Stage 1-level studies and on teaching English speaking, literacy and comprehension at a higher level.

Corresponding to the dissertation’s title, in his talk he considered how refugees live their lives in the camp and “what we can learn about their life from this”.

His aim, he said, was to “unveil narratives that are often not shown by the general media”. How refugees are represented is very important, he averred. Sajjad noted that ‘flooding’ metaphors are often used in reference to refugees, implying that they present a problem which is “overwhelming and uncontrollable”.

He added: “Whoever has the power to define an object has a lot of power over that object, with the object in this case being refugees.”

Sajjad also talked about his degree studies and the career he has recently started. He reflected, in particular, on the field trip he took to Jerusalem in the fourth year of his MA and discussed the differing senses of place in the various religious quarters of the city.

While at Durham, he was also his college’s representative for the COCO charity, which works globally with the aim of providing “sustainable sources of quality education to children living in poor and marginalised communities”.

The lunchtime talk was open to boys studying Geography in Years 10 and 12.

Poetry, puzzles, castles, eco products…and a truly dastardly crime: it’s the QE 2022 Primary Challenge!

QE expanded its series of popular challenges for local primary school children this year, adding a humanities day to the programme.

The events, which are part of QE’s partnerships work with the local community, are aimed at giving Year 5 girls and boys an early taste of secondary school education.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We are pleased to support local primary schools in this way.

“I know that our staff and pupils involved in running these enrichment activities greatly enjoy the opportunity to meet the visiting children.”

The first of the three days was the ever-popular Primary Forensics Workshop. The visitors were tasked with completing a number of experiments and analyses to work out who had murdered the Headmaster!

There were stations where the children could undertake: hair and fibre analysis using a microscope; fingerprint analysis, and blood spatter analysis (with a blood substitute).

The pupils worked to solve the ‘crime’, using the evidence they collected to build a case, while also weighing up the respective motives of the suspects.

Boys from Year 12 helped staff run this workshop, engaging with the children at each station.

In the Maths and English Challenge, the girls and boys had to solve a series of games and puzzles that ranged from a cross-number round to a session looking at composing and performing poetry.

There was a focus on teamwork and collaboration. Each team had the support of a QE Year 7 pupil.

Special plaudits went to Foulds School pupils, who achieved a near-clean sweep of the prizes, having impressed across the various disciplines on the day.

The new humanities day hosted by the History, Geography and Economics departments comprised two separate activities.

Firstly, teams were given the challenge of designing a castle on paper. They had to base their design on a certain set of criteria and follow a budget, requiring them to decide which features they wanted to prioritise.

They then faced a number of scenarios, presenting both challenges and opportunities for their fortifications. Could their castle and kingdom survive?

“This was a way of exploring history and strategy in a fun and engaging way,” said Mr Enright. “The Year 5 pupils also had to adapt their plans as the scenarios unfolded, which meant teams had to communicate well and quickly make decisions.”

There was then a Sustainability Challenge run jointly by Geography and Economics. The children had to work in groups and devise a sustainable product. They designed their product, chose a logo and decided on their target market. Then each group presented to the other children in attendance. Among the ideas generated were: a mobile phone where the case is a solar panel and charges the phone, and a ‘plastic’ bottle where the bottle itself is biodegradable.

“Our staff were really impressed with the confidence shown by the children in their presentations and by the creativity they brought to bear in designing their products,” said the Headmaster.

Participating Barnet primary schools this year included: Underhill, Whitings Hill, Christchurch, and Foulds.

QE trio reach final of Oxford video competition

Three QE boys were finalists in a national Geography competition run by Christ Church, Oxford.

Shreyas Mone, of Year 10, Zhuoer Chen, of Year 9, and Sarang Nair, of Year 7, were among just ten finalists nationwide.

All three were invited with their parents to a special prize-giving day at Christ Church, one of the largest and most famous of all the Oxford University colleges. The day included a pitch to encourage the visiting high-flyers to consider studying Geography there.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “My congratulations go to Shreyas and to Zhuoer and Sarang on their success.”

The competition, which is part of Christ Church’s outreach work, was open to all UK state school pupils in Years 7–10. Entrants had to submit a video 2–5 minutes long on a geographical issue or phenomenon that was local to them.

The day featured screenings of the videos, a prize-giving ceremony, a tour of the college, and talks from current students and staff. There was also a workshop about geopolitics in popular culture, which covered, inter alia, the issues of missile tests in Iron Man and mineral resources in Black Panther, as well as how Bond villains were supposedly based upon enemies of the USA.

Shreyas’s video – entitled Why is the UK’s weather so dismal? – explored why the UK has mild temperatures and high rainfall, compared to the cold, dry conditions of Canada, when, for example, Calgary is on a latitude slightly to the south of London.

The video compared average yearly temperatures at Greenwich weather station with those at Calgary and found they were 11.35C higher.

This, Shreyas explained, is partly because of the Gulf Stream bringing warm water to Britain and conversely the Labrador current taking cold water to southern Canada. In the video, he addresses why this affects the weather in inland areas, rather than just the coast.

His video was illustrated by a range of maps and photos and even a clip of a fox jumping into snow, with colourful captions setting out his argument.

Shreyas was inspired to enter the competition after seeing it advertised by Head of Geography Emily Parry on eQE, the School’s remote learning platform.

Sarang’s video on the Effects of floods in Hertfordshire included photos of recent floods; it looked at where flood plains are and explored whether houses should be built on flood plains.

Going, going, gone: geographers see for themselves the effects of rapid coastal erosion

Sixth-formers observed striking evidence of coastal erosion during a three-day residential trip to Essex.

The 20 Year 12 geographers were able to inspect two World War II pillboxes that had fallen off the cliff at Walton-on-the-Naze and are now exposed by the sea at low tide.

Head of Geography Emily Parry added that other historical attractions date much further back than the war.

“This coast’s unique geology has fossilised shark teeth and the remains of ancient mangrove forest, which are now hidden within the soft clay. The boys enjoyed searching for (and claiming to have found!) them.

“For many students it was the first time on a School trip of this kind for over three years and they enjoyed the change of scene and of pace.”

During the trip, the boys completed fieldwork to investigate sediment size, infiltration rate and gradient at multiple sites along Walton Beach.

The party stayed in the Grade I-listed Flatford Mill. Today owned by the National Trust and leased to the Field Studies Council, the mill was owned by successive generations of the Constable family and was the subject of one of John Constable’s most famous paintings, completed in 1816.

One of the boys, Abhiraj Singh, said that the visit had brought their Coasts unit of work to life, while his classmate, Mithil Parmar, added: “It was a fantastic three-day residential, giving us a break from the classroom environment and a chance to see Geography in action.”



Exploring the lingering legacy of Japan’s worst modern disaster

Old Elizabethan Makoto Takahashi, a global expert on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan, gave a group of current sixth-formers a special invitation to an exhibition he has curated.

Featuring photography and a number of essays, the exhibition, which marks the tenth anniversary of the nuclear disaster and the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated it, is being held at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 and triggered a triple meltdown at the power station, forcing 200,000 people from their homes.

Makoto (OE 2003-2010) treated the 13 Art & Design and Geography A-level students to a lecture and a personal tour.

Head of Art Craig Wheatley said: “The exhibition explores the lingering legacy of the 2011 disaster. There is a sophisticated and diverse range of photography that challenged the boys’ appreciation of both the aesthetic and conceptual. Having Makoto’s insight was invaluable; his willingness to explain and unpack the work was matched by the boys’ enthusiasm and desire to learn more.”

“In his QE days, Makoto was himself a talented A-level artist and geographer,” Mr Wheatley said.

He is a lecturer at the Technical University of Munich and will be returning to the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance as a Fulbright-Lloyd’s Fellow in early 2022.

He began work on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster ten years ago, soon after it happened. He received his BA, MPhil and PhD from Cambridge University and was a visiting fellow at Waseda University in Tokyo.

His thesis, which examined how claims to expert authority are made in conditions of low public trust, received the American Association of Geographers’ Jacques May Thesis Prize.

The exhibition, entitled Picturing the Invisible, sees his research interests coming together with his longstanding engagement with the London art scene: while in the Sixth Form at QE, he took part in in the Royal Academy’s attRAct programme and in the Louis Vuitton Young Arts Program; he has also been an Event Manager at the OPEN Ealing community art gallery.

Expressing his gratitude to Makoto, Mr Wheatley added: “As a cross curricular trip between the Art and Geography departments, this was a fabulous opportunity for learning.  It combined detailed analysis of visual language with geological narrative of the ‘worst crisis Japan has faced since World War II’.”

The exhibition is on until 23rd December.

It’s complicated: senior geographers get some surprising answers to their questions during field trips

Boys studying Geography headed off to both city and country as field trips returned to their pre-pandemic ‘normal’ for the first time.

On their Human Geography trip, A-level students investigated gentrification in Wandsworth, where they met residents only too willing to share their views on how their area had changed.

On their more rural trip, pictured, Year 11 geographers encountered some locals, too ­– deer in Epping Forest ­­– while also having to face the challenge of understanding why the results of their practical investigation did not line up with classroom theory.

Head of Geography Emily Parry said: “We took 159 boys on field trips ­– 131 Year 11 pupils to Epping Forest over two days and 28 from Year 12 and Year 13 to Northcote ward in Wandsworth.

“It was great to be able to get out again, as so many trips had to be cancelled last year. Fieldwork is a very valuable part of Geography, as it gives the students real-world experience of what they have been studying in the classroom – helping both to consolidate and extend their learning. It also helps them develop skills which are difficult to develop in the classroom alone, such as teamwork and dynamic problem-solving in a changing environment.”

The Year 11 Physical Geography fieldwork in Epping Forest involved answering the question: How do river characteristics change with distance downstream along Loughton Brook? The boys went to three sites along the river and investigated its width, depth, velocity and sediment size & roundness. The fieldwork was led by staff from Epping Forest Field Studies Centre and was part of the AQA GCSE Geography course.

The field trip helped to consolidate boys’ understanding of rivers, which they had previously studied in a unit titled Physical Landscapes of the UK.

“We were lucky to have dry weather on both days and fortunate to see the deer,” Miss Parry added.

“We found that the width, depth and velocity did change downstream as predicted by the Bradshaw model, but there wasn’t a clear trend in terms of sediment size and roundness. This was in part due to human error during data collection, and in part due to the fact that this is a seasonal river and that, because of the lack of rainfall recently, water levels were low.”

“This was a valuable learning opportunity, as it enabled pupils to better understand the ‘messiness’ of ‘geographical reality’,” said Miss Parry.

For their Human Geography studies, boys made a short visit in the summer to investigate the question: To what extent is Barnet High Street a successful high street?

More recently, this month’s visit by Year 12 and 13 pupils to south London had as its goal exploration of the question: To what extent has Northcote ward undergone the process of gentrification? The visit was for part of a unit of study for the Edexcel A-level course entitled Regenerating Places, under which the sixth-formers are looking at the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Newham.

The fieldwork study allowed them to gain first-hand experience of how the borough of Wandsworth has changed. They completed a range of fieldwork techniques, including environmental quality surveys, land-use mapping and questionnaires.

“It was concluded that the Northcote ward area has been gentrified. This was evidenced through the range of boutique and high-end shops found along Northcote Road, the quality of the housing and built environment, plus the changing demographics of the area.

“The boys met some local residents who had lived in the area a long time and were keen to share their views on how the area has changed dramatically in recent decades – some sharing a view that people were being priced out of the area.”

The trip also included one further discovery of note, Miss Parry added: “The Year 12 & 13 boys were very happy to find out there was a Nando’s on Northcote Road where they could have their lunch!”


To the curriculum and beyond!

Experts have been helping QE A-level students see the exciting topical applications of their subjects in the real world in a series of lectures streamed into the School.

Sixth-formers have already enjoyed stimulating day-long sessions on Medicine in Action, Chemistry in Action, Product Design in Action and Geography in Action, with a similar event for Biology due to take place in December.

The training days are run by The Training Partnership, the leading provider of external educational study days in the UK, and would normally be held in London, but are this year being conducted remotely because of Covid-19.

QE’s Head of Technology, Michael Noonan, said that the Product Design A-level students, and even a couple of “enthusiastic non-subject specialists”, enjoyed a “superb day” of lectures. “Favourite amongst the talks attended by students was Pioneering aeronautical innovation by Sam Rogers – an aeronautical engineer working in product development for Gravity Industries, a company who are currently developing a jetpack suit.”

One of the pupils attending, Paul Ofordu, of Year 12, said: “It was amazing to see the application of prototyping, testing and iterative design in such a high-end product development project.”

The Resourcefulness and design lecture, delivered by Kingston University Senior Lecturer Pascal Anson, stimulated a practical activity, pictured. “Here we see some examples of structures which were resourcefully developed by the students using VEX IQ and EDR Robotics game elements – great thinking on their feet!” added Mr Noonan.

Chemistry students gathered in the Main School Hall to hear engaging contributions from speakers who ranged from Andrea Sella, a synthetic chemist and broadcaster, talking about mercury – “the most beautiful element in the periodic table and the most reviled” – to marine engineer Hayley Loren exploring whether nuclear fusion could provide the solution to the world’s energy issues.

Julia Lister, QE’s Head of Chemistry, said: “The engaging Chemistry in Action lectures covered an array of topics. Streaming these lectures took students from key concepts to cutting-edge science and future directions across many applications of the subject.”

The Geography lectures were similarly wide-ranging. One talk, entitled Lessons in sustainability: An explorer’s tale, was by Jason Lewis, the first person to circumnavigate the earth without using motors or sails. Another featured academic Martin Evans, from the University of Manchester, speaking on Landscape Systems in the Anthropocene. And Emily Parry, Head of Geography, highlighted lectures on water insecurity and on how COVID-19 has impacted the Pacific Islands.

“The boys enjoyed the talks, which both built up content covered in their A-level course and extended their knowledge on a range of issues facing the planet,” she said.

“Each lecture was followed with a Q&A session in which the boys could send in questions to the lecturer. Often questions focused around what young people themselves could do to help address some of the issues explored such as climate change, river pollution and how we choose a sustainable future.”

Head of Biology Gillian Ridge said that after the forthcoming Biology in Action day, boys who attend will be invited to give a series of lunchtime presentations to the rest of their year based on the talks.