Viewing archives for Lecture Programme

Proud to be different: Paralympian urges hard work and kindness

Medal-winning Paralaympian Amy Marren inspired Year 7 boys when she visited to give a guest assembly – but also stressed the hard work, planning and discipline needed to combine her swimming with a legal career.

Amy, who is 20, was invited to the School because she is close friends with QE Technology Assistant Stephanie Tomlinson.

At London 2012 she made her Paralympics debut as one of the youngest GB athletes. The following year she won four titles at the IPC Swimming World Championships in Montreal, as well as four gold and two silver medals. She won bronze in the Individual Medley at Rio in 2016.

Alongside her swimming training, Amy is a paralegal apprentice. Combining the two activities requires a 5.30am start five days a week in order to squeeze in 24 hours a week in the pool and gym and 40 hours of work and studying.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was a very positive and inspiring assembly, promoting pride in difference and emphasising what can be achieved with character, dedication and ambition.”

Amy, who was born with disability (a missing hand), not only competed at Rio but has won a World Championships and met the Queen. She feels “lucky and privileged to compete” and undertakes work to support others, such as being patron of a charity that teaches disabled children to swim.

Speaking about the challenges of coping and adapting with one hand, she said: “I used to be shy, but am proud of who I am… You should always be you, that’s very important.

“People do treat you a bit differently, and in some ways you are different – I was 13 before I could tie my own shoe laces – but I am proud to be different now. There are no limits to what you can achieve.”

In the past, she used to “hide” her arm within a prosthetic limb to look “normal”.

Amy stressed the value of turning to family and friends to help – “you are not alone” – and she urged the boys to be kind to one another, treating those who are different in some way just the same as anybody else.

In a question-and-answer session, she spoke further about her sporting and personal achievements, her experience of disability and of any discrimination she had encountered.

Game theory: from football to Economics… and Brexit!

A visiting historian and economist set out how game theory applies across a very wide range of human activity in a lecture to senior boys – while also giving his own views and predictions about Brexit.

Dr Steve Davies is Head of Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs and has previously held academic roles in both the UK and US. He has authored several books, including Empiricism and History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and was co-editor with Nigel Ashford of The Dictionary of Conservative and Libertarian Thought (Routledge, 1991).

In his lecture to senior boys, he illustrated applications of game theory in football, TV game shows and in oligopolies (where a market or industry is dominated by a small number of large sellers). Game theory is the study of mathematical models of strategic interaction between rational decision-makers.

Shamendra Uduwawala, Head of Economics, expressed his gratitude to Dr Davies for his visit, saying: “Game theory is a fascinating area of study, and he contributed significantly to our boys’ understanding of it by using such diverse and interesting examples. It was also good to have his own, well-informed perspective on Brexit, which complemented the lecture given here recently by Clément Leroy, a Research and Policy Engagement Associate from UCL’s European Institute.”

Himself a keen Manchester City fan, Dr Davies chose the penalty shoot-out at the end of the 2008 Champions League final between City’s local rivals Manchester United and Chelsea to illustrate game theory in the sport. United won the match after the team’s goalkeeper Van der Sar first pointed to his left, but then dived to his right, correctly guessing that Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka would shoot that way. Van der Sar saved and United duly won European football’s top prize.

Dr Davies also looked at game theory in the game show, Golden Balls, and at the dilemma faced by two suspects interrogated for crimes, where they must choose whether the best thing for themselves is to confess, stay silent or betray the other prisoner.

Turning to oligopolistic markets, he examined the issue of such markets involving just two firms. Both firms could benefit from both having high prices, but one will always try to undercut the other firm by lowering prices, he pointed out. This problem could be overcome by collusion, although that is illegal.

Dr Davies also digressed to talk about Brexit. Stating that there was an impression of widespread panic about it within business, he blamed the media because he said they were predicting – incorrectly, in his view – that desperate shortages are inevitable. In terms of companies stockpiling, this is usual in any time of uncertainty and is not uniquely or solely about Brexit.

Alluding to the current febrile political atmosphere, with much plotting going on in Westminster pubs, he noted the similarity to the 1885 general election, the first to be held after an extension of the franchise which meant that for the first time, a majority of adult males could vote.

There would be, he predicted, no second referendum, since a majority of Parliament is against it. A cross-party deal will form – to secure outcomes such as ‘Norway plus’ or continuing membership of the customs union – but he forecast that major splits will continue to happen as the March 29th Brexit deadline approaches.

Clarity from Clément helps boys understand Brexit

A Brexit specialist from UCL’s European Institute gave boys some expert insights into the current political turmoil in a lecture to Years 10 and 11.

Clément Leroy, a Research and Policy Engagement Associate at the institute, came to QE to explain the background of the recent ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament and looked at all the major issues involved.

Although he did not, of course, know how things will play out in the coming weeks, he suggested that a ‘no deal’ outcome is quite possible – and even likely – given that this is the default position if a deal is not agreed and approved by Parliament.

Mr Leroy worked on Brexit at the French Embassy in London and on EU economic policies at the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Paris prior to his appointment to the European Institute.

Nisha Mayer, Head of Academic Enrichment, thanked Mr Leroy for his visit: “He did a good job of explaining the current situation, bringing some clarity – if not solutions!.

She added: “With wall-to-wall media coverage and lots of material on social media, it is important that we help the boys sort through the ‘noise’ to understand the key facts and issues about matters as significant as the Brexit process. We seek to develop the critical thinking and questioning skills that will equip them to formulate balanced and informed viewpoints, even if they may still respectfully disagree.”

Among the topics Mr Leroy covered during the lecture were the initial referendum, the negotiations, the Irish backstop and the potential outcomes and how we might reach them. Boys also had the opportunity to ask questions.

Learning about tribes in trouble

Visiting expert Gabriella Rutherford not only helped boys understand the threats and challenges faced by tribal people around the world, but also encouraged them to reflect on lives that are different from – and sometimes surprisingly similar to – their own.

Gabriella, from Survival International, the global organisation championing tribal peoples’ rights, spoke at a Lower School lecture assembly. She focused on the challenges facing tribal people around the world and encouraged the boys to think about ‘otherness’.

She looked at how our conceptions of other people and groups are often based on the ways in which we believe they are different to us. She asked the boys to picture a tribal person in their mind. Establishing the sort of image that is often conjured up – a jungle environment, spears, feathers and bare chests – she looked into where that image comes from. She then pointed out that while such tribes do exist, there are others that look and live more like us than we might imagine, particularly among contacted tribes with whom there has been cultural and economic exchange.

Gabriella touched on the ongoing threats to tribal people from racism and prejudice, and from those who advocate taking control of their lands in the public or national interest – as, she said, President Bolsonaro is hinting at in Brazil.

Head of Academic Enrichment Nisha Mayer said: “This was an engaging assembly, which required the boys to consider and voice their own ideas.

“One aspect of our lecture programme is that, through it, we seek to encourage boys to think critically about people with different life experiences, understanding their value and the challenges they face. This assembly raised awareness of a particular set of issues and got boys engaged in the moral questions around the cultures and the treatment of tribal peoples in different parts of the world.”

Topics covered during the assembly included:

  • What tribal people need to survive. (Their own land and self-determination are key elements, Gabriella stated);
  • The dangers associated with outside contact, including the people losing control over resources and also their lack of immunity to viruses and other illnesses. Some 50–90% of tribal communities are typically wiped out following outside human contact;
  • The benefits brought by tribal people and communities. They often constitute very strong communities; and 80% of the world’s biodiversity is located in tribal land, so they are hugely important for conservation;
  • Whether there is ever justification for the outside world making contact with an uncontacted tribe.

On the final point, Survival International’s view is that there really is no such justification, since: it is impossible for us, as outsiders, to assess the harm that we might be doing; since tribal peoples have human rights, just as we do, and these should not be forfeited to some notion of the ‘public good’; and since they are equipped to deal with problems in their own ways, even if these ways are different from ours.

Gabriella encouraged boys to consider getting involved in the Survival International Youth Action Group that is being established.

Unscrambling an egg and why nothing is better than the “worst system of government”

It was standing room only in the Conference Centre when Mark D’Arcy, the BBC’s Parliamentary Correspondent, gave a talk to the Politics Society.

With boys eager to hear an inside view on the political machinations surrounding Brexit, Mr D’Arcy’s lecture proved a significant lunchtime draw.

Mr D’Arcy who has been a correspondent for Today in Parliament since 2002 and presents BBC Parliament’s political review show, Book Talk, covered the biggest issues of the day in Parliament. He talked about Brexit in depth, touched on how Parliament operates and shared his own experiences as a journalist.

His career has included stints at LWT’s Weekend World and the Leicester Mercury. Since joining the BBC he has also produced, and occasionally presented, Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour.

He told the boys that politics had not been “normal” over the last two years: “It is unusual that you have Cabinet ministers threatening to resign, or actually resigning, almost daily. Politics used to be boring!”

Politics was now split into Brexit and ‘everything else’, including all the usual big issues such as the NHS, housing and education. He added that dealing with Brexit is very complex: “Because of how closely we have been integrated in a whole range of areas over decades, it will take some time to establish new relationships. It’s like trying to unscramble an egg.”

Generally, in politics and government, he said, it is very difficult to make things much better, but easy to make them very much worse. “The first aim of any politician is to avoid the latter!”

Mr D’Arcy said that Brexit is the biggest thing he will have seen go through Parliament, whether the deal is passed or not. He predicted the process will be very difficult because of the Parliamentary arithmetic and the differences of opinion, particularly within the Conservative Party. But he added that Labour is also divided – their strategy seems to wait and try to force a General Election. But would the public want another one? he wondered, adding that General Elections are exhausting for journalists. At this stage, no serious commentator can really predict, with any certainty, how it will all end up,” he added.

The Headmaster, Neil Enright, said: “This was a fantastic opportunity for the boys to hear from, and engage with, an eminent journalist, who is observing first-hand and up-close the unfolding of the key issues of the day at this pivotal point in recent political history. It is also very pleasing that the very active Politics Society continues to thrive.”

Mr D’Arcy went on to talk more broadly about Parliament, paraphrasing a quotation attributed to Churchill that Parliamentary democracy is “the worst system, apart from all the others”.

He talked through the make-up of Parliament and mentioned safe seats and how they give those members a different focus to those in a close marginal. And yet history shows that those in supposedly safe seats may still have a shock at election time, he pointed out.

Other topics covered included the structure and functions of Parliament, including more technical matters, such as statutory instruments and different mechanisms for changing the law. He noted the difficulties associated with the government not having a functional majority – as seen with the recent row and Government climb-down over fixed-odds betting terminals.

“Rebels find voting against their party leadership easier the more they do it,” he said. “It means that the law can be changed against the Government’s will and it can lose its control over the country, which would be fatal for its credibility.”

There was a Q&A session during which the boys pressed Mr D’Arcy on such matters as: what Theresa May’s strategy should be ahead of a potential election; whether Brexit could trigger independence referenda in Scotland and Northern Ireland; whether there is space for a third big party and why he became a journalist. To this last question, he replied that he is fascinated by the human element of the drama: “As a journalist you get a ring-side seat!”

He was also asked who would be most likely to win a Tory leadership election, to which he said it would depend upon the circumstances under which it arose. Any run-off was likely to be between a ‘remain’ candidate (that is to say, someone who would have been in favour of a remain vote in the original referendum, though might now support the UK leaving the EU) and a ‘leave’ candidate, an enthusiastic Brexiteer.

Mr D’Arcy describes himself as a politics nerd, a cricket fanatic, an amateur cook and a Bruce Springsteen fan.

Stand up and stand out: advice to QE’s budding lawyers from old boy

A litigator working at the heart of the UK’s financial regulatory system urged on QE’s aspiring lawyers the importance of a genuine passion for the Law.

Those who possess such a passion and duly enter the legal profession must then make sure they stand out from the crowd, Samir Manek (OE 2001-2008) advised senior pupils in a lunchtime lecture.

Samir, who took a First in Law at the University of Warwick, trained at Allen & Overy, one of the so-called ‘magic circle’ of leading UK law firms. He now works at the Financial Conduct Authority, where his job title is Associate (Solicitor). His role entails supervising a global investment bank to ensure adherence to the letter and spirit of the rules, and assisting with investigations into, and prosecution of, white-collar crime at investment banks.

In the lecture, he told the boys: “You have to have a good and natural reason for wanting to study Law, and, once out of university, work in it – not that everyone who reads Law has to become a lawyer. It’s no good studying it because your parents have told you to, and I hope that’s not the case for anyone here,” he said, suggesting the boys needed to think about the what, where, when and why of studying Law.

He also advised boys to make the most of opportunities to prepare for their future. “Do read things, email barristers – I followed a QC about, which was very useful! All this will help you to gain insight and experience.”

During his time as an undergraduate, Samir became President of the Warwick European Law Society and was involved in the university debating team. He also spent a year abroad at Utrecht University.

He told the pupils it was important to take and to make opportunities to excel. “You are all incredibly bright and, if you work hard, you’ll do well wherever you go, but think about what will make you stand out – it is always good to have a position of leadership, even if it’s not related to Law,” said Samir. In the afternoon, after the lecture, he conducted mock interviews for a number of Year 13 boys.

Head of Year 13 Michael Feven thanked Samir for contributing his time and for his sound advice. “It is very important that our boys’ career choices tally with their own strengths and interests,” he said.

Man of influence – recent graduate’s early experience at the cutting edge of politics

Only a few short months after starting his job as a Civil Service economist, Old Elizabethan Andrei Sandu was already advising a Government Minister at a European summit, he told senior boys at a special lunchtime lecture.

Andrei (OE 2007-14) took up his role in August last year with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of the economists’ group of the Civil Service Fast Stream. By the autumn of 2017, he was called upon to attend a Council of Ministers summit in Brussels, where he advised Lord Henley, of BEIS, throughout the session.

“There are few jobs where just four months in you are able to shape UK policy and EU law,” he told the boys as he promoted Civil Service careers. After his lecture, he also conducted a number of mock interviews with pupils considering studying Economics at university.

Thanking him for his visit, Head of Year 13 Michael Feven said: “This was an ideal opportunity for boys to hear about an interesting and rewarding career path in economics.”

After leaving QE, Andrei read Economics at Durham, where he gained a first-class degree last year.
In broad terms, he set out for the lunchtime audience both the departmental structure of the Civil Service and his own role, which involves advising the Government of the day and supporting it in implementing its plans, while remaining politically neutral. He also provided information about BEIS, including the history of the 2016 merger of the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills with the Department of Energy & Climate Change to form the new department.

His role at BEIS is as lead economist working on EU energy regulations, analysing draft laws and regulations to explore which aspects the UK would consent to and which it would want to see amended. He considers factors such as how much implementation would cost, the likely policies required to achieve particular targets and how measures should be phased in – whether, for example, to stipulate even progress each year or whether instead to specify an incremental build-up.

Andrei will return to QE on 22nd November for the School’s annual Careers Convention, where he will give his support and advice to boys in Year 11 beginning to think about their future career paths.

Professor speaks to QE boys about the fascinating, complex future of AI in education

A leading academic expert on Artificial Intelligence set out both its huge potential for education – and some of the looming pitfalls.

Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design at UCL’s Knowledge Lab, took as her starting point in the Senior School lecture assembly the need for deep human understanding: “AI is the inter-disciplinary study of intelligence – if we don’t understand intelligence, we can’t automate it.”

Together with educationalist Sir Anthony Seldon and entrepreneur Priya Lakhani, she is one of the leaders of the new Institute for Ethical AI in Education. Headmaster Neil Enright was among those who attended its launch this month at Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster.

During her lecture at QE, she highlighted ways in which Artificial Intelligence might obviate an impending global shortage of teachers – an estimated 69 million more will be needed by 2030. It could, for example, be used in teaching larger groups, releasing human teachers to focus on particular aspects of the curriculum with particular children.

However, Professor’s Luckin’s work takes in not only how AI can be used to assist human education, but also how education itself may need to change in response to the new technology. And in her lecture to the boys and staff, she said that, since AI can learn information faster and more accurately than humans can, there is a need to move beyond a focus on subject knowledge. This, she acknowledged, was already being done at QE, with the School’s emphasis on skills such as problem-solving and on synthesising and understanding the meaning of data.

She pointed to some of the ethical issues presented by the new technology. AI is built upon “big data”, she told the assembly, and it was not only in the area of data security that there were concerns, but also in how representative the data used is. There have been cases where AI has delivered skewed results, such as facial recognition only recognising certain ethnicities, or has shown a gender bias in its decisions. “We need to be appropriately sceptical,” she said – careful about what is automated ensuring that companies and technologies are held to account. “We need detailed explanatory answers when being presented with a seemingly nice solution to something.”

There were specific issues in education which AI was particularly well-suited to tackle: speech recognition might be deployed to help people with disabilities, she said, noting that Google has predicted that developments in speech recognition will be more significant than driverless cars. Yet doing so was no easy matter, because of the ways in which voices change.

In a question-and-answer session with the boys after the lecture, Professor Luckin delved into: issues of AI and consciousness; understanding what knowledge is and where it comes from; the need for AI that can explain its decisions, and how the education sector should be engaged in the development of the technology. She also explained the importance of inter-subjectivity in teaching and learning to make the best use of AI – that is, achieving the right blend between human interaction and machine-learning.

In thanking Professor Luckin, Year 13 pupil John Tan said: “Whilst we live in a society characterised by technology and technological advance, her talk emphasised the importance of the human connection in education.”

In addition to her work in education, Professor Luckin is also working with the Department of Health on a project commissioned by current Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (in his previous role as Health Secretary) into how AI will impact and can help the NHS.

A copy of Professor Luckin’s book, Machine Learning and Human Intelligence, which was published in June, was donated to The Queen’s Library.

Visiting MP eyes Brexit reality gap

Media reports about the extent of divisions within the parliamentary Conservative Party over the Brexit negotiations are well wide of the mark, MP Mike Freer told sixth-formers.

The Tory MP and former QE governor came into School to speak to Year 13 in a special assembly and responded robustly when asked whether he thought splits in the party would prevent the Government from winning any vote on Brexit.

“I sometimes feel as if I work at a different House of Commons to what I see portrayed in the media,” said Mr Freer, an Assistant Government Whip and MP for Finchley and Golders Green. He stated that the vast bulk of the Parliamentary Conservative Party supports the Prime Minister, adding that not only had she been a successful Home Secretary, but that she also knew Europe and understood that good deals inevitably happen at the very last minute.

And Mr Freer had another example of how perceptions of British politics can be affected by the media: he pointed out that although the chamber of the House of Commons usually appears quite empty on the BBC Parliament channel, this was because most of Parliament’s work was in fact conducted outside the chamber.

Mr Freer was on QE’s Governing Body when he was as a councillor in the London Borough of Barnet, where he served as Leader prior to running for Parliament. He spoke to the boys about the true role of MPs in the legislative process and about how to effect changes in public policy, before answering their questions on a wide range of political topics.

An MP’s job is to scrutinise the law, not make it, he explained. The law usually comes from the Government, which is the executive. However, there are a number of ways in which MPs can achieve a change in the law, through lobbying, questioning, building consensus, and trying to amend legislation as it progresses through Parliament. One approach is to hang an amendment on to a piece of legislation already tabled – known in the US as a Christmas tree bill. Westminster Hall debates – for which MPs sit in a horseshoe arrangement intended to encourage non-confrontational discussions – provide another opportunity to influence, he said.

Mr Freer recounted how he had secured changes to the law to:

  • Make residential squatting illegal
  • Remove ‘poppers’ from the list of drugs controlled under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 (having challenged the Department of Health’s evidence about their health impact).
  • Make PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) available on the NHS. (PrEP is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected.)
  • Extend the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine’s availability to include boys.

“Changing public policy is the most worthwhile thing about being an MP. I’m proud if I’ve stopped one person getting an HPV-related cancer,” he said.

Boys challenged Mr Freer in a number of areas during the Q & A session. He was asked, for example, “how do you reconcile the fact that your constituency voted for ‘remain’ with the Government’s position (that you are whipping)?”

“Easy! I’m a democrat,” he replied, adding that the Brexit referendum was the largest democratic vote in the country’s history and that all should therefore respect its outcome.

There were also questions on his voting record, including one on tuition fees. One sixth-former put a particularly thoughtful question about community relations: how did Mr Freer reconcile religious rights with the rights of other groups, such as the LGBT+ community, within such a diverse constituency. His answer was that trust is built over time as people get to know you as their MP and see you working hard for the local area; this allows you to disagree on particular issues without destroying those relationships.

After the assembly, Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was a wide-ranging talk and set of questions, which engaged the boys and which will have aided their understanding of the political and legislative processes, not least in terms of gaining an insight into how MPs influence public policy. It is important that our pupils are able to consider a range of political perspectives on the key issues of the day and engage critically with them.”

What’s on your mind? Lecture tackles boys’ questions on mental health issues

An award-winning mental health campaigner gave senior boys some serious food for thought when she visited the School.

Natasha Devon looked at topics ranging from the need to deal with stress and the perils of stoicism, to the limitations of the English language, during a lecture assembly given to Years 10 and 12.

She made sure her answers were truly relevant by inviting boys to submit their questions anonymously in advance – and received questions on body image, the pressures on men to not cause offence, social media, examination stress, gender and even the TV programme, Love Island.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We want all our pupils to be both happy and resilient; we therefore arrange events such as this lecture in order to nurture boys’ wellbeing. I am grateful to Natasha for her engaging examination of some of the key issues relating to mental health.”

Natasha, who won an MBE for services to young people in 2015 and a Fellowship from the University of Wales in the following year, used the boys’ pre-submitted questions to structure her talk.

She emphasised that stoicism should not be equated with strength, telling the boys that they could, in fact, demonstrate strength by talking about problems, confiding in others and seeking help. Yet she acknowledged that this could be tougher for boys than for girls because gendered language equates masculinity with strength. She suggested gender is a spectrum and that generalisations such as ‘men are like this’ and ‘women are like that’ only deal with an average and, even then, one that most people would not fully identify with.

She recounted her experience of trying to deal with difficult family matters when she was about ten years old – and the eldest child among her siblings and cousins – by being ‘strong’, reasoning that because things were not happening to her directly they were not really affecting her. But this, she felt, probably contributed to the anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorder she suffered from subsequently.

Natasha, who has authored and contributed to books on mental health, urged that, just as physical health is considered relevant to everyone – not just those who are ill – so everyone should be aware of mental health: it should not be considered to be an issue only for those who experience a mental health problem.

While encouraging the boys to discuss things with each other, she pointed out that they could not expect to be able to fix other people’s mental health issues, just as people who are not doctors would not expect to be able to cure a physical ailment. There were measures that laypeople could take to help, however: she is promoting having trained mental-health first-aiders in all workplaces. (QE’s pastoral staff have already been trained.) Importantly, she said, such training helps people know what to say and what not to say: although English had the greatest variety in its vocabulary overall, it was far more limited than many other languages in expressing feelings and emotions – something, she opined, which doesn’t help!

Natasha also listed factors which contribute to good mental health, stating that it helps to:
• Be loved
• Have a sense of belonging
• Have a purpose
• Achieve things
• Feel that your voice is heard.

She advised the boys that they needed to deal with stress so that it does not “overflow”. Mindfulness techniques, endorphin-releasing physical activity and taking breaks from revision could all help and might even prevent one’s mind going blank in an examination.