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Birds, basketball, a basilica and fun among the branches – creating memories of a lifetime on QE’s long-running French exchange

Twenty-two Year 8 pupils spent a week soaking up modern French culture and improving their language skills on a trip to eastern France.

The group were kept busy with a host of activities during their stay with pupils from QE’s partner school, Collège St Pierre, from the town of Bourg en Bresse, between Lyon and Geneva.

The trip was the return leg of the exchange, following the visit in February of the French pupils.

Languages teacher Katrin Hood said that the exchange had definitely been a highlight of the year: “It was such a pleasure to see our students rise to the challenge of ‘living like locals’ for a week in another country.”

By spending evenings and the weekend of the trip with families, the QE boys were able to build their confidence in French, as well as experiencing a different way of life.

Pupil Aarav Agrawal, of Pearce House, said: “My partner was David and he was a really nice person and his family really treated me well; especially with snacks! My favourite part of the whole French exchange was probably our visit to the 1055 leisure park with our partners. It had laser tag, VR, bowling and a trampoline park.”

The official programme also included:

  • A joint visit for both the QE boys and their partners to the Parc des Oiseaux (bird park)
  • QE day trip to Lyon, one of France’s biggest cities with a beautiful old town
  • A day at the Collège St Pierre to see lessons take place
  • An interactive quiz about Bourg en Bresse, which lies at the foot of the Jura mountains and is the capital of the ancient province of Bresse
  • An afternoon at Accrobranche (similar to Go Ape).

Several of the boys listed their own highlights. For Noah Green, it was the bird park visit, although he said the whole trip was “definitely the most fun thing” he had ever done as a QE pupil.

Noah’s fellow member of Underne form, Harsh Chavda, said: “I particularly enjoyed going to the market on the last day because it is rare to find such markets here in London. There were so many different shops – selling cheese, olives, bread, desserts, Chinese food, clothes and so much more! Some of us asked the owner of the cheese store to give us his strongest cheese, and we all tasted some. It was so strong and for me, disgusting!

“When we went to Lyon, we learned about the Basilica of Notre-Dame and how it’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary for saving Lyon from the plague.

“My highlight of the trip has to be the basketball match my exchange family took me to, because I have never been to one and the atmosphere in the stadium was so good. All in all, the French exchange trip created memories of a lifetime – such a special experience.”

Accompanying the boys were Ms Hood, Sciences teacher Bryn Evans and cover supervisor Joan Anderson. The exchange with Collège St Pierre has been running since 2010.

“We are very grateful to all of the families who took part for hosting our French guests so well, and to all of our colleagues who have played a part in the success of the trip,” said Ms Hood.



Hitting the heights on the German exchange

QE boys mixed pleasure with plenty of language-learning on the first German exchange since the pandemic.

The Year 9 trip to the north German city of Bielefeld saw the QE party enjoy the high life at one of the world’s tallest and fastest roller-coasters, at a tree-climbing adventure park and at the mediaeval Sparrenberg Castle (known locally as the Sparrenburg), which towers over the city centre.

They savoured more down-to-earth attractions, including a town trail and a football match between local teams in a city stadium, while sating their appetites at a food factory and at a barbecue organised in their honour.

And they worked hard during their week abroad, helping their exchange partners and their classmates by serving as language assistants in English lessons, while also participating in History, Music, Art and PE projects.

Burgunde Lukasser-Weitlaner, QE’s Assistant Head of Languages (Modern), said: “The first exchange after COVID turned out to be a great success: some boys asked why we did not go for two weeks! We were presented with a fantastic programme in Bielefeld, an excellent mix of fun and learning.”

The exchange, which began in 2005, is with a co-educational grammar school (or ‘Gymnasium’), Friedrich von Bodelschwingh Gymnasium in Bielefeld. The school is named after a German pastor, theologian and public health advocate, who ran large homes for people with learning difficulties and refused to comply with the Nazis’ euthanasia policies.

The boys spent a day at the Heide Park Resort in the town of Soltau and rode on the Colossos: Kampf der Giganten (Colossos: Battle of the Giants) roller coaster. “They enjoyed that tremendously,” said Miss Lukasser-Weitlaner.

The headquarters of the German multinational food company, Dr Oetker, is in Bielefeld. The boys relished both a guided tour of the factory, and the free treats they were served at the end. There was more food at a barbecue for the whole exchange group organised by the German parents.

The QE boys’ programme included these four projects, which gave them ample opportunity to practise their German:

  • History: looking at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful demonstrations leading up to it. “I was impressed with the contributions some of our boys were able to make,” said Miss Lukasser-Weitlaner;
  • Music: the boys created their own digital music using GarageBand software. One of the party, Peter Atanasov, said: “We made our own beats on iPads to accompany a melody and learnt about new music genres as well.”
  • PE: the boys sampled a few different sports, Peter reports, such as “dodgeball with a German twist”. They also developed their teamwork abilities with a few memory-focused team games;
  • Art: for a project based on a theme of ‘exploration’, the boys used ink to portray faces showing different emotions. The project included listening to music and then drawing faces to match the music, with, for example, slow music being represented by a sad facial expression.
Great to be back! First post-pandemic French exchange prompts anniversary celebrations

As the School as a whole marks QE’s 450th anniversary, the Languages department has its own landmark to celebrate – ten years of its French exchange.

Twenty-one boys headed to Bourg-en-Bresse this month, a town which lies northeast of Lyon at the foot of the Jura Mountains. Their exchange partners came to Barnet last term.

The QE boys enjoyed a week of activities that ranged from trips to local attractions to attending classes in the partner school, Collège St Pierre. This tenth exchange follows a three-year gap because of the pandemic.

Head of Languages Nora Schlatte said: “We were particularly excited for the 2023 French exchange, having not had an exchange run since 2019, and the trip was a great success.

“The QE boys and their French partners got on really well and it was great to see them sharing experiences and speaking more and more French as the week went on. Families on both sides said how happy they were to have been able to take part in this experience and we are thrilled to be maintaining our strong link with Collège St Pierre.”

The first exchange with Bourg-en-Bresse was in the 2010 Summer Term, when 13 pupils from Years 8 and 9 visited Collège St-Pierre, the alma mater of a QE French teacher of the time, Océane Jullien, who now teaches in Thailand.

On this year’s trip the QE boys flew in to Geneva and then took a coach over the border to Bourg-en-Bresse, where they were met by the host families. They were accompanied by Ms Schlatte, Languages teacher Katrin Hood (who is also Head of Year 8) and Cover Supervisor Joan Anderson.

Their busy week included a:

  • Visit to the local ‘parc des oiseaux’ (bird park) with their partners
  • Day trip to Lyon, taking in a museum visit (Musée du Cinéma et de la Miniature), picnic lunch, shopping and a funicular railway ride to the cathedral, where they could enjoy the views from the hill
  • Weekend spent with the families – activities reported include bowling, trips to the cinema, cave visits, and visits to the Chamonix mountain region
  • Scavenger hunt through the town and a woodland adventure activity
  • Day in school, taking part in a quiz, and, with their exchange partners, in an Art lesson, Mathematics lesson, PE activity and going to a basketball match in the evening
  • Trip to the market.

Among the QE party was Dhruva Arjun, who said: “My highlight was watching the basketball match on the last night. The atmosphere was really fun and it was great to be there with our exchange partners.”

Fellow member of Harrisons’ House, Aaryav Sharma, said some of his most memorable moments took place above ground level: “We had a great afternoon doing accrobranche, which is a treetop adventure activity,” adding that he and two friends all “managed the really difficult black run, which was great!”

Tanish Nori, a member of Underne House, relished spending time with his partner and the family. “At the weekend, they took me to the Alps and we went to the Aiguille du Midi, which was amazing.”

Last term, Headmaster Neil Enright joined key staff involved in the exchange in celebrating a decade of successful trips with a special afternoon tea.



‘Hidden beauty’ – but talent on full display in creative magazine

Boys from across the School gave free rein to their creative side in the latest edition of the pupil-run magazine, The Arabella.

The 37-page colour publication features contributions from boys in every year group under the theme of ‘hidden beauty’.

The contents from the 26 contributors include poetry, art, creative prose writing in English, French & German, and essays on music.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I congratulate all those whose work has been featured: it is another high-quality edition of our creative magazine, with plenty of examples of the sort of free-thinking scholarship that we seek to cultivate at Queen Elizabeth’s School.”

The most entries were for the poetry section, where the ten contributors’ poems – with titles as diverse as The Passageway (Ishan Nakadi, of Year 9) and Introspect (Akheel Kale, of Year 11) were interspersed with examples of boys’ GCSE and A-level artwork.

The section featuring writing on modern languages is prefaced by the editor-in-chief, 2023 School Captain Darren Lee, of Year 12. Addressing the pupil readership, Darren writes: “Don’t feel restricted to only writing in French or German: we would love to see entries in languages spoken at home! In the next edition, we hope to extend the languages section and include Classics submissions…”

In the music section William Joanes, of Year 10, takes a highly technical look at Hidden Science in Music, illustrated with a picture of the inner ear, while Year 12’s Tharun Dhamodharan delivers a paeon to the human voice, The Hidden Instrument.

The creative writing section is similarly varied, from final-year student Antony Yassa’s science-based examination of The Microscopic World to Year 11 pupil Shreyas Mone’s musings on Beauty in destruction – “a different kind of beauty” – where he cites examples such as volcanoes, thunderstorms and even videos of building demolition.

Six artists’ work is featured, including the front-cover illustration by Year 13’s Dylan Domb, pictured top, and pieces by Gabriel Gulliford (also Year 13), above right, and Year 12’s Pratham Bhavsar, left.

As the foreword explains, the magazine is named after Arabella Stuart, a descendant of Henry VII and sixth in line to the crown, who fell foul of King James I when in 1610 she secretly married another potential heir to the throne, William Seymore. While her husband was sent to the Tower of London, Arabella was committed to the care of the Bishop of Durham, but fell ill in Barnet en route. She stayed for some months at the home of a Governor of the School, Thomas Conyers, while her spiritual needs were attended to by another Governor, Rev Matthias Milward, who was also subsequently appointed Master (Headmaster) of the School.

Darren led an editorial team of 21 boys. Staff assistance and support came from: Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations) James Kane; Head of English Robert Hyland; Curator of QE Collections and Head of Library Services Jenni Blackford; Library Services Assistant Corinna Illingworth, and from teachers in the Languages department.

Submissions are now being invited for the next issue, which will be issue 8 and is on the theme of ‘The Lure of Power’.

We shall overcome…if we work together: School Captain’s discussion of climate crisis impresses judges in German essay competition

The 2023 School Captain, Darren Lee, has taken a prize as one of the runners-up in a prestigious national German essay-writing competition.

Following an adjudication process that looked both at content and language, Darren was named among the prize-winners by King’s College London.

The A-level German writing competition run by King’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures was on the theme of how to tackle and overcome the climate crisis (Wie bewältigen wir die Klimakrise?).

Congratulating him, Assistant Head of Languages Burgunde Lukasser-Weitlaner said: “Darren’s prize is richly deserved. His competition entry was creative; it displayed his impressive language skills to good effect, and it also made a convincing argument.”

Darren opened this 443-word piece with an original poem, before then setting out to break down the issue into the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’, considering how both large corporations and individuals could tackle the climate crisis.

The poem takes an apocalyptic view, ending with the words “…unsere Masken können nicht den Gestank eines sterbenden Planets reinigen”. (“Our masks cannot clean the stench of a dying planet.”)

But thereafter, while not flinching from the difficulties, Darren, who is in Year 12, strikes a cautiously optimistic note, stating that although it might appear that humanity is already doomed, there is in fact some progress.

He concludes his essay by urging people to eschew the temptation to blame others (“Es ist zu einfach, die Schuld auf anderen zu geben”), whether it be the rich, previous generations or huge, faceless corporations.

Instead, businesses can work together at the micro level, he urges, and thereby collectively reach the macro targets needed to provide a healthy environment for future generations.

He thanked both Frau Lukasser-Weitlaner for providing him with the opportunity to submit his essay in the competition and his German teacher, Rebecca Grundy, “for equipping me with the skills to write it!” Darren attended an online prize-giving organised by King’s.

The runner-up prize is only the latest success for Darren, who officially took over as School Captain on New Year’s Day and recently won a prestigious Arkwright Scholarship for engineering.



QE’s new role in reviving classics

Queen Elizabeth’s School is to work with the charity, Classics for All, as a ‘Hub’ for developing the study of classics across schools in North London.

Based at King’s College London, Classics for All was established to halt the decline of classics in state schools nationwide. As a Hub School, QE will host events such as  debates, symposia and lectures for other local schools on topics related to classics.

The School re-introduced Latin as a full curriculum subject in 2012, and all boys opting to study more than one language at GCSE are invited to take classes in Ancient Greek. The announcement follows QE’s inaugural Shakespeare and Latin Festival, which got under way towards the end of the Autumn Term.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I welcome this announcement and congratulate our teachers on all the creative work they are doing to enrich our pupils’ appreciation of classics. Learning Latin and Greek not only gives the boys insights into the rich cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, but also instils academic rigour generally and is of particular help in the learning of modern languages.”

The announcement of QE’s new role is one of a series of recent announcements from external organisations which have further underlined QE’s academic credentials. Earlier this month, the influential Sunday Times Parent Power survey confirmed that this year’s QE A-level results were the best of any state school in the country. Before that, Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to Mr Enright to congratulate the School on its “leadership in continuing to promote the teaching of languages”. All 191 boys in last year’s Year 11 were entered for at least one modern foreign language GCSE – a 100% rate which puts QE “amongst the top schools in England for the proportion of pupils studying a language at GCSE”, Mr Gibb wrote.

In addition to a School production of Julius Caesar (staged in School and at Finchley’s artsdepot as part of this year’s Shakespeare Schools Festival), the QE Shakespeare and Latin Festival has featured lectures by academics from UCL and King’s College London. Boys across the School have also been getting involved in mythology quizzes and recital competitions.

Crispin Bonham-Carter, Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement), said: “Since we are one of the few state schools to teach Latin to all, it’s not surprising that universities are keen to forge closer links.”

In her lecture delivered at the School, Dr Emily Pillinger, Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King’s, looked at Decadence in New York and Ancient Rome. Her well-attended talk was open to senior Latinists and English Literature GCSE and A-level students. “Dr Pillinger drew out the links between Baz Luhrmann’s film of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel and the ancient Latin text, The Feast of Trimalchio,” said Mr Bonham-Carter.

For her part, UCL Professor of Latin Gesine Manuwald lectured on the real-life characters of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cicero.

“Both academics were hugely impressed by how engaged and knowledgeable our young classicists are,” Mr Bonham-Carter added.




Crepes, a cruise – and commuting French-style

From their arrival in Paris to their departure three days later, QE A-level French students enjoyed their authentic taste of Parisian life and the opportunity for some language learning. 

Moving around on public transport, the boys took in the sights and used local specialist guides who spoke to them in French.   

Head of Languages Nora Schlatte said: “The trip was an ideal opportunity for students to practise their language skills in an authentic environment, while experiencing the culture of France’s capital at first hand.” 

The group visited the Latin Quarter, the Ile de la Cité, including a walk around the outside of Notre Dame; the catacombs, the Pompidou Centre, the Stade de France; Montmartre, the Sacré Cœur, the Musée d’Orsay and the Arc de Triomphe. 

Ms Schlatte, who accompanied the 14 boys on the trip, along with Enrichment tutor and History teacher John Haswell, added that the boys had benefitted from the guided tours being delivered in French and had enjoyed the opportunity to explore the catacombs themselves. 

“An understanding of Paris’s history and modern cultural life is an integral part of the A-level course, and this trip had direct relevance to the boys’ course of study,” she said. 

Amongst the highlights for the boys were the evening boat trip and the tour of the Stade de France. Shuaib Adam, of Year 12, said: “Seeing the Eiffel Tower in person on the first night had me in awe, let alone a cruise along the River Seine watching the Eiffel Tower light show.” 

“We travelled around Paris via the Métro, which was much better as we really got to experience that Parisian lifestyle,” he added. 

“We were also given lots of free time to explore the city ourselves and try out the great French cuisine, including the renowned ‘galettes and crepes’, which couldn’t have been any better and which rounded off the trip.” 


Linguists enjoy being alienated at the theatre

Sixth-formers made a trip to watch one of the most famous works by the influential 20th-century Marxist German playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht.

The group of Year 12 and Year 13 German students took the train to Kingston to watch The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Der kaukasische Kreidekreis) in the town’s Rose Theatre.

Languages teacher Rebecca Grundy said: “Although not an official member of the Communist party, Brecht was committed to highlighting social injustices and the imbalance of power distribution through his work.

“He was a proponent of ‘epic theatre’ (episches Theater); it was his belief that theatre is a way of showing audiences the world as it is, and of encouraging them to respond.

“Brecht made use of the ‘alienation effect’ (Verfremdungseffekt) to achieve this; theatrical devices aimed to keep the audience critically, rather than emotionally, engaged. The students enjoyed spotting these in the play.”

Set in the Soviet Union around the end of World War II, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a re-writing of a 14th-century Chinese play, The Chalk Circle, by Li Xingdao.

It relates the story of a land dispute between two agricultural communes and of a visit by a singer and his band of musicians. The singer tells a parable as a way of settling the dispute, concluding that the land should go to those who will use it most productively – the fruit growers – and not the goat farmers who owned it previously.

It thus features a play within a play, which is itself an example of an alienation device. Other examples include the:

  • Use of song to narrate the action and characters’ thoughts;
  • Jarring use of props, including a teddy bear as a baby!
  • Sparse set.

The visit reinforced the boys’ Sixth Form German studies. The Sixth Form course covers Berlin and its cultural scene. Brecht lived and worked in East Berlin for a large part of his career, although The Caucasian Chalk Circle was written in the United States, where Brecht was living in exile during the war.

He returned to East Berlin after the war and died there in 1956 at the age of 58. At first supportive of the government’s repressive measures following the East German uprising of 1953, Brecht eventually expressed his disillusionment over the events

The trip was organised by Ms Grundy, who accompanied the group, together with her fellow Languages teacher, Katrin Hood.

Year 12’s Hanan Moyeed said: “This trip was absolutely unforgettable. Seeing the play was a brilliant experience. It also links well to what we have been looking at in lessons.”

Linguists shine in national competition

QE linguists have won national and regional honours in a literary translation competition run from The Queen’s College, Oxford, that attracted thousands of entries nationwide.

Year 7 pupil Jonas Dawit took second prize nationally for French in his age group, while Year 11’s Arjun Patel was the winner for Greater London for German. Olly Salter, of Year 12, also won a regional commendation, again for German.

All the QE boys who entered the Anthea Bell Competition were given a one-off lesson about literary translation from German or French into English, using resources provided by the competition organisers.

Languages teacher Katrin Hood said: “I congratulate everyone who entered, and of course our winners, who did brilliantly to be recognised amongst such fierce competition!”

It was the second consecutive year that QE has entered the competition, which is named after an acclaimed English literary translator who died in 2018.

“It has once again been a pleasure to discuss literary translations in class, and to hear our students’ fantastic and creative solutions to the particular challenges each text presents,” said Ms Hood.

The competition is run by The Queen’s College Translation Exchange – an initiative which seeks to bring together university students, school pupils, teachers and members of the public – and involves young linguists submitting their own translations of a specified piece of writing.

An internal round at the School is held first: open to all boys, it this year attracted 73 entrants, representing an increase on the 2021 figure.

From these entrants, judges from across the Languages department picked the best French and best German translator for each age group. They also identified the five from each group whom the School was allowed to enter into the national competition.

Nationwide, 14,000 secondary school pupils undertook the translation task, with more than 3,200 then going through to the national competition, which was judged by a team comprising both Queen’s College undergraduates and professional translators.

National runner-up Jonas had to translate the surrealist poet Robert Desnos’s poem, Le Crapaud, (The Toad). Its first stanza is:

Sur les bords de la Marne
Un crapaud il y a
Qui pleure à chaudes larmes
Sous un acacia.

Jonas translated this as :

A toad all warty
On the banks of the Marne
Weeps hot tears
Under a thorn.

“He has chosen to maintain the rhyme scheme of the original, but in doing so has had to change the meaning of some of the original words. These decisions are central to the translator’s craft,” said Ms Hood.

“The competition gave us an opportunity to go beyond what we normally do in the classroom and allowed the boys to be introduced to a wide range of literary texts that they otherwise might not have come across.”

After learning of his commendation, Olly reflected on the experience: “’Entering the Anthea Bell translation competition was immensely rewarding. The need to think outside of the box – to ensure not only the meaning, but also the tone, of the text was preserved – was exciting and something I will carry with me into my future study of languages and translation. I am so glad that I took part.”

The year group winners in the internal QE competition, most of whom are pictured, top, were as follows.

Year 7 – Jonas Dawit
Year 8 – Nimesh Nirojan
Year 9 – Binaga Solangaarachchi
Year 11 – Darren Lee
Sixth Form – Theo Mama-Kahn

Year 7 – Stephan Tinss
Year 8 – Hardik Ingale
Year 9 – Keon Robert
Year 10 – Avkash Lahkar
Year 11 – Arjun Patel
Sixth Form – Alan Yee Kin Yan

Sixth-formers crowned German national debating champions at first attempt

A Year 12 team has taken first prize in a prestigious German-language national debating competition.

It is the first time QE has entered this well-established annual event run by the Goethe-Institut, a global cultural organisation that is the German equivalent of the British Council.

The four-strong team from QE impressed in three earlier rounds, before eventually taking the title in the final, overcoming a team drawn from the near-4,000 students at The Sixth Form College, Farnborough.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Congratulations to the team on their great success against tough opposition in this well-regarded national competition.”

Assistant Head of Languages Burgunde Lukasser explained that the motions debated were challenging, as the topics and the necessary vocabulary do not form part of the AS course followed in Year 12. “Our boys, team captain Olly Salter, Theo Mama-Kahn, Jai Patel and Ansh Jassra, were incredibly impressive each time. They really made us proud!”

Languages teacher Katrin Hood, who also accompanied the boys, added: “Theo, Ansh, Olly and Jai are exceptional Germanists and gave eloquent and dynamic performances. Their teamwork was outstanding, and it was clear how thoroughly they had prepared for the occasion. The boys had received helpful feedback from the debate judges along the way, and made a real effort to fine-tune their performance for each new round. The result was nothing short of mind-blowing!

“The atmosphere during the event was lovely, as Year 12 students from other schools came to watch. It was fantastic to see so many young people from around the country chatting and sharing their love of learning German.”

The first two rounds of the contest, the Debattierwettbewerb (debating competition), were held online, the third took place at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham, and the final in the Goethe-Institut’s London base.

The rounds, motions and results were as follows:

Round 1: School canteens should only be allowed to sell vegetarian/vegan food. QE, in favour of the motion, beat Coloma Convent Girls’ School in south London.

Round 2: The use of social media endangers the health of young people. QE, against the motion, beat The Royal Grammar School, Guildford.

Round 3: The mental health of young people has been neglected during the pandemic. QE, against the motion, beat Dr Challoner’s.

Round 4: The future of medical provision is digital. QE, against the motion, beat Farnborough.

The three judges evaluated the teams against four criteria: knowledge of the topic and argumentation; debating skills in German; oral expression in German, and interaction with the audience. The judges announce the result and their overall impression, but do not publish the final score.

“It was a great experience for all involved,” said Miss Lukasser. “The person in charge of the debating competition, Frau Vogelgesang, said in an email to me afterwards that they were still talking about the amazing performance of the QE team.”