Viewing archives for Geography

Peak performance in the Peak District: boys stretch themselves above and below ground, and on water, too

Year 8 boys enjoyed the challenge of demanding new experiences out in the wilds on a trip to the Peak District.

Thirty-five boys took part in activities including mountaineering, canoeing and caving, before heading down into the city for a visit to the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography and Planning.

It was the first such QE Geography trip to the Derbyshire Peaks.

Head of Geography Chris Butler said: “The boys enjoyed the trip enormously, as did the staff accompanying them. For many of the boys, it was the first time that they had come close to a true wilderness.”

The primary aim of the visit was to take pupils into an open rural landscape and get them to appreciate some of the processes that have shaped that landscape and how we interact with them. The activities were also designed to extend the boys both physically and mentally.

“Day two saw us hike on to the Kinder Plateau [also known as Kinder Scout] and take in its desolate beauty,” said Mr Butler. “The long walk up to the highest point at 601m saw the boys having to scramble Grindsbrook before topping out. To many, this was quite an accomplishment.”

One of the boys, Siddarth Kulathumani, said: “This was my first time going on this sort of trip where I knew there was going to be a lot of exercise and climbing. At first, I was a bit nervous, but that all changed during the huge climbs, learning with my friends and really pushing myself.”

The party stayed at the Edale YHA accommodation (Youth Hostels Association), which is nestled in the almost inaccessible Edale Valley in Derbyshire.

As soon as the boys had dropped their luggage off on arrival, the group immediately set about climbing Mam Tor, an imposing peak to the south of where they were staying.

“Mam Tor is known as the Shivering Mountain owing to its highly unstable geology. Interbedded with layers of shale and coal measures, the entire mass is slowly slipping towards the southwest,” said Mr Butler.

The climb was conducted in overcast, wet and gloomy conditions. However, on arrival at the top, the sky cleared, and the group were treated to magnificent views of the Hope Valley and the Peak District.

“The principal aim of this day was to make sure that the boys were ready for the challenges that lay ahead. All passed successfully, and by the time the weary party arrived back at Edale, they had walked nearly seven miles and gained nearly 200m elevation to reach the peak. Dinner was enthusiastically wolfed down!”

The next day brought an early start for the climb to Kinder Plateau. “The views from the plateau were simply stunning, and the group were extremely fortunate to have had good weather up there.”

Before lunch, the QE staff made the most of the opportunity to talk to the boys about the importance of upland peat deposits and bogs.

Pupil Adyansh Sahai enjoyed the combination of education and exercise: “The vistas surrounding the Kinder Scout peak were amazing, and the hike itself was incredible, because we were gaining knowledge while having fun.”

It was a steep descent back down to the YHA centre via the Pennine Way, where Mr Butler then regaled the boys with a ghost story after their well-earned dinner.

On day three, the boys were in the hands of the YHA activity centre staff. In the morning, the group split, and half went canoeing on a reservoir, whilst the remaining boys visited a number of large cave systems. Here, they were taught how to pothole and cave.

“Perhaps the most impressive cave was Carlswark Cavern – home to the Oyster Cavern, the largest brachiopod bed anywhere in Europe,” said Mr Butler.

Siddarth said this was his favourite activity, while another of the boys, Arinze Ezeuko, added: “The caving was a great experience as I had never done anything like it before, and it made me realise how complex they truly were.”

After one more night at the YHA centre, the group then took the bus into Sheffield to visit the university. “The staff there gave fascinating talks on some of their research, including research with a PhD student who has been tracking the response of large glaciers and ice sheets to global warming,” said Mr Butler.

They also found out about the department’s work with the Mars Rover, and the role that the Planning Department plays in shaping our cities, not just today but also exploring how cities will look in the future.

“It was a fascinating insight into the subject at university and certainly gave many of the boys pause for thought.”

Mr Butler thanked his colleagues, Eleanor Barrett, Bryn Evans and Celia Wallace, who accompanied him. “I would also like to thank the boys for being such good company. Their superb behaviour, willingness to get involved and genuine interest in what they were doing was acknowledged by the YHA centre staff and by the university staff.”

  • Click on the thumbnails below to view photos from the trip.


Seeing things in the round: geopolitics charity quiz explores global affairs

The two Year 8 boys behind QE’s Geopolitics Club staged a successful quiz to share their passion with their peers.

Ibrahim Syed and Azaan Haque promoted the lunchtime quiz to Year 7 and 8, who turned out in numbers to answer the questions, raising money for Greenpeace in the process.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “With geopolitics at the forefront of so much of the news at the moment – from conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, to the Red Sea and the recent election in Taiwan – it is important that our pupils understand how place and space interconnect with politics and international relations.

“Well done to the two organisers! We have many pupil-run clubs, and this is a great example of students taking leadership in offering opportunities to share their interest in a topic with their peers, thus creating additional enrichment activities. It was also lovely to see other boys supporting those efforts through their enthusiastic participation.”

Geopolitics is defined as: political activity as influenced by the physical features of a country or area of the world; the study of the way a country’s size, position, etc. influence its power and its relationships with other countries.

Ibrahim and Azaan were assisted by QE Flourish tutor Eleanor Barrett, who is also a Geography teacher.

“They approached me to help organise payment, booking the Main Hall and supporting in the promotion and running of the event,” she said.

“They worked hard to create a PowerPoint quiz and serve as quiz masters, and they were rewarded with a brilliant turn-out.”

“The material, looking at global relations and geographical influences, was very advanced for Key Stage 3.”

The quiz included individual question rounds, team rounds and a buzzer round. It started with the basics (What do you think geopolitics is? was the first question, for one point), but quickly moved on to more advanced questions (for example, The Strait of Gibraltar separates the Iberian Peninsula from which African country?).

Among the attendees was Priyankan Ampalavanar, of Year 8, who said: “The geopolitics quiz was not only a very riveting experience, but it also broadened my mind to how aspects of geopolitics are intertwined with our daily lives.”

The event raised more than £50 for Greenpeace. It was the second year such a quiz has been run.


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.