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“If you get the grades, you belong”: first-ever black Master of an Oxbridge college speaks to QE sixth-formers

The guest speaker at the Year 12 Luncheon was Sonita Alleyne OBE, who in October 2019 became the first black Master of an Oxbridge College.

On taking up the role at Jesus College, Cambridge, she also became the first woman to lead the college in its 524-year history. QE is the first school she has visited since becoming Master.

After the luncheon she met with Year 13’s Bhiramah Rammanohar, Reza Sair and Drew Sellis, who all hold offers for Jesus College. The trio are among 40 QE Oxbridge offers this year – a School record.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This luncheon is the first event for Year 12 at which they can gain experience of the type of formal social occasions that they will encounter at university and in their professional lives. Sonita gave a terrific and inspiring address that was perfectly adapted to the occasion. Boys will certainly have gone away with a greater awareness of what life at Cambridge is like and of the exciting intellectual and personal development opportunities available.

“During her speech, she spoke of how the very experience of applying for, and then studying at, a university such as Cambridge, brings together people of different backgrounds, giving them that experience in common.

“This will have resonated with many of the sixth-formers present, since QE provides a state school pathway for boys from very different backgrounds (many of them the first in their family to enter higher education at all) with the opportunity to go to some of the world’s leading universities.”

The luncheon featured the customary toasts, led by School Captain Ivin Jose, who fulfilled an MC role. Grace was said by Guy Flint, Senior Vice-Captain, and the vote of thanks given by his fellow Senior Vice-Captain, George Raynor.

Sonita Alleyne was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, and brought up in Leytonstone, East London. She attended a comprehensive school before going to Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, where she read Philosophy. A career in radio followed, and she founded production company Somethin’ Else, which she led as Chief Executive from 1991 until 2009. She is a Fellow both of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts and of the Radio Academy (FRA).

She began her speech to the sixth-formers with a word on examinations: “Exams can’t tell the world how funny you are, or how kind, or how much you love manga or wine…” But what they are, she said, is a metric that the world uses to judge success, and so for that reason they do have some importance.

One of her key pieces of advice was about keeping options open: “In life, you need to keep doors open for yourself,” she advised. The difficulty was in knowing which doors they should be. Other people would not always open doors for them, so the boys needed to be active in this regard.

For her, one such door had been Cambridge itself. In her letter to Jesus College in relation to becoming Master, she wrote: “I left Cambridge over 30 years ago, but it never left me.”

As an undergraduate, she had a real interest in artificial intelligence, so, she told the boys, she had planned to read Computer Science after an initial year of Philosophy (joint courses being more common at that time), but ended up studying Philosophy alone throughout.

She recalled that to help sixth-formers prepare for the university application process, her secondary school had just made them talk – about ideas, news, science, indeed about anything. She found she relished this and thus greatly enjoyed the Cambridge interview process and the intellectual stimulation it brought. Not only did she find the discussions “challenging in a way that GCSEs weren’t”, but they helped provide her with a sense of belonging.

Once at Cambridge, she threw herself into many enriching activities which she had not had the time or opportunity to follow at school, including Music, singing, theatre and student politics. She was even secretary of the college Mystical Science Club. (“There were only two of us!”)

She noted, however, that it was the informal shared conversations around college – and outside of these activities – that most helped her develop deep friendships and formulate her views: “[That was] where I discovered my sense of agency.” She graduated as a “free-thinking” person – a recurring phrase during her address.

After university, she had a series of jobs (“a zig-zag career”). “Don’t stress about finding a career for life, or knowing what you want to do when you graduate…take things one step at a time,” she counselled, adding that she is still taking her career one step a time.

Setting up Somethin’ Else at the age of 24 was, though, a watershed moment for her, she said. Today, she enjoys running her business, her media work, and her regeneration work as part of the London Olympic Development Corporation.

She also now takes great satisfaction from supporting other people in getting through challenges or making progress in their lives: “I am always proud to say that I help people.”

Her final advice to the boys was to be free-thinking, to challenge themselves, to “push open a few doors and to follow your ideas, because they matter”.

In a question-and-answer session following her talk, she was asked about her views on lowering grade offers for students from the state sector or disadvantaged backgrounds. “Cambridge should be a bastion of excellence, not of élitism,” she replied, but said she feels that the systematic dropping of grades does not work.

Her preference was to encourage more people to apply (“It’s one of five options and costs no more than any other university – what have you got to lose?”) and to improve access that way. Bright students such as those from QE neither want nor need entrance requirements to be lowered. “If you get the grades, you belong,” she said, adding that it is important to debunk a sense that people from certain backgrounds might not fit in. “My job as Master is about community – and it’s the best job in the world.”

“Life is messy”: autistic speaker draws some universally applicable lessons from her perspective

Award-winning speaker Robyn Steward told Year 10 and 11 boys of how she emerged from years of bullying to become a successful speaker, author, academic researcher and musician.

Delivering the Spring Middle School Lecture, Robyn, an Ambassador for the National Autistic Society, gave the boys insights into the particular problems faced by autistic people, but also suggested some ways in which everyone could benefit from what she has learned.

Pointing out that life does not always unfold in a straight line, she said it was important to make the most of the present: “Life is messy. All I’ve got is today – and when I realise that, it makes me a happier person,” she said.

“Find your tribe” – those people one belongs with – she urged the boys, adding: “Don’t worry if you haven’t found your thing yet; keep looking.” She, for example, had had no idea when she started out on her career that she would end up as a professional musician, yet she now plays the trumpet and has put on “inclusive-conscious” gigs entitled Robyn’s Rocket in London.

Head of Academic Enrichment Nisha Mayer said: “I would like to thank Robyn for giving a lecture that contrived to be both inspiring and humorous, while at the same helping to deepen the boys’ understanding of autism.”

In her talk entitled Autism from a person, not a textbook, Robyn told her audience in the Shearly Hall that she wished she had had the opportunity to hear an autistic speaker when she was at school, as she was just made to feel different and “weird”.

She had been widely bullied and called names such as “retard” or “spastic”. This was the result of ignorance and of her classmates being “jokey”. In her view, there were two types of bullying, she explained – the “jokers” trying to raise a laugh from their friends at the expense of someone else, and those who are “mean at heart’. The majority are the former, who, she believed, would be shocked to realise she was talking all these years later about the harmful effects of what they had said.

She was in a special needs class at primary school, but the bullying really started in high school, she said. Recalling the great insecurity she felt about visiting the toilets, she explained that she had been told the other pupils would “flush her head down the loo” and, as an autistic person, she had taken this very literally. Robyn has cerebral palsy, so she was also worried about not being able to operate the locks properly. She was, in fact, locked in the toilet, manhandled and called names. Fortunately, her mother supported her in this ordeal, she said.

Speaking about the effects of bullying generally, she said: “I don’t think anyone should have to feel like that. It is crushing for your self-confidence.”

In 2015, Robyn was joint awardee of the National Autistic Society’s Professional award for outstanding achievement by an individual on the Autism Spectrum for her work in raising awareness of the abuse experienced by autistic people. In 2018, she was listed on the Power 100 list of the most influential disabled people in the UK.

We can all do something to combat bullying, she told the QE boys. If they saw a friend saying unkind things, they could say: “Hey, stop it! That person has feelings,” and could also tell the target of the bullying not to worry about it. And since the boys comprise a community at QE, they should work together and support each other, recognising that everyone experiences low self-esteem at times.

At college, she had more freedom to protect herself – she could leave a room when she chose, for example. She studied IT – and “really enjoyed it”, despite further bullying – and then art & design. She learned at college about the concept of Theory of Mind, which was a huge insight: she realised that being autistic, she had struggled to understand someone else’s perception of a situation in the way that others do through empathy or reading facial expression or observing body language. All of this she had to learn from scratch.

Showing the boys her school photo, she asked them what was different about her (and stated that their age group is normally better at spotting the answer than adults!). Unlike her peers, she was not looking at the camera and was not smiling, she pointed out, adding that this is because many autistic people do not pick up on social cues.

In spite of all the bullying, she now has a full and varied life, Robyn said. “I have no GCSEs and yet here I am, aged 33, saying I’ve turned out all right.” She has a BBC podcast with fellow autistic presenter Jamie Knight – 1800 seconds on autism – and is also host of the Autism Matters podcast from Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice. She works with UCL and the Wellcome Trust, conducting research to understand how we are all different. For more than 15 years, she has been travelling the world giving talks. She is the author of books providing guidance for autistic people.

Afterwards, Year 13 pupil Saifullah Shah complimented Robyn on her talk and then opened the floor up for questions.

Stay curious and beware the bubble!

BBC presenter Mishal Husain explained to QE’s Lower School boys how following her own ambitions and focusing on excelling at every stage of her career had brought her success as one of the UK’s best-known and most-respected journalists.

A news presenter for BBC Television and BBC Radio, Mishal is a host on Radio 4’s influential Today programme and is a familiar face around the world thanks to her work on BBC World News’s Impact programme.

She has a number of ‘firsts’ to her name. She was Today’s first Muslim presenter and the BBC’s first Washington news anchor. When she met Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013, she asked the Burmese politician – a Nobel Peace Prize laureate now widely considered to have fallen from grace – about the plight of the Rohingyas. She believes she was the first journalist to have done so.

In her talk to Years 7–9, she spoke about how, in the face of her parents’ wishes that she become a doctor, she had instead pursued a path as a journalist.

She recounted highlights of a career that has taken her to places – including many dangerous locations – all over the world.

Mishal, the author of two books on achieving career success, also devoted considerable time to answering the boys’ questions, having first stressed to them the importance of maintaining a questioning approach in life – an attitude that was, of course, critical to her career as a journalist and interviewer, but was also important more generally, she said.

If there was one message she could impart to the boys, it would be: “Keep your minds as curious as they are now.”

While acknowledging that “we are all a product of our own bubbles” – affected by social influences, families, our education and so on – she urged boys to push against this as much as possible.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I am sure the boys will have taken away from her talk a great insight into the world of broadcast journalism, as well as much good advice, applicable to them whatever their individual ambitions and aspirations may be.”

“We constantly seek to raise awareness among our boys and their families of the enormous range of opportunities that are open to Elizabethans. Mishal showed our Lower School boys what success can be achieved by following your interests and playing to your strengths – a message that reinforces what they hear from their teachers and one that I hope they found inspiring.”

Born in Northampton to parents originally from Lucknow in India who later migrated to Pakistan, Mishal moved to the UAE at the age of two, where her father worked as a doctor. She was brought up in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, before she was sent to Cobham Hall boarding school in Kent.

She studied law at Cambridge and then went on to take a Master’s degree in the discipline at the European University Institute in Florence, having settled on Law as a good ‘in between’ subject – one that was respected, even if it was not Medicine.

Yet after university, she sought out opportunities in the media. After starting at Bloomberg Television, she joined the BBC as a junior producer in 1998.

It was, she said, almost the case that she had to appear on national and international television as a broadcast journalist before her parents would accept her not having followed in her father’s footsteps.

She told the boys how difficult it is to become a presenter – an aspiration held by many, but realised by few. “You may start off doing something far from your dream job… but those willing to give everything on a menial job are those that get noticed, and good things come to them: you’ve got to excel at what you are doing today.” Thus, while she harboured ambitions to present on the Today programme – recognising it as the pinnacle of its kind – she focused in the meantime on being the best journalist she could be, before eventually achieving this aim in 2015.

Being on the programme had taught her resilience: “You do an interview, come off-air and then get torn to pieces online.” But she is now better able to take the peaks and the troughs. When things go wrong, she takes from it the lessons that need to be learned, but then turns the page, not dwelling on her mistakes.

Through it all, her passion for the importance of impartial journalism in the 21st century remains not only undimmed, but, if anything, strengthened. In an interview this month for The Sunday Times Magazine, she told interviewer Donna Ferguson: “The purpose of news, I think, is to search for the truth without fear or favour. To do my job well, I need to be able to put my own opinions aside and be open to arguments of different kinds, and to treat them fairly. This era where established news organisations have been attacked and come under unprecedented pressure has reaffirmed why I wanted to go into journalism in the first place.”

Married with three sons, Mishal lives in north London. She is the author of two books – The skills: from first job to dream job – what every woman needs to know and the recently published The skills: how to win at work (copies of which she donated to the School).

After her visit, she posted a message on social media praising the boys for “listening intently” to her talk.

Solidarity not stereotypes: QE’s senior pupils hear from LGBT activist

Society and the mass media are the source of stereotypes that lead to prejudice and discrimination, an LGBT activist told QE’s senior pupils.

Jessica Amery, from Haringey-based charity Wise Thoughts presented an assembly on LGBT issues to Years 11-13 in the Shearly Hall.

She told the boys that although she had a transgender parent, she nevertheless faced homophobia when coming out as a lesbian.

And she pointed out the ways in which LGBT people’s mental health is at risk. According to research, she stated, schoolchildren hear ‘that’s so gay’ every 14 minutes: “Every time it’s said, it’s like a little stab to the LGBT community.”

Wise Thoughts’ website says that it “creates dynamic local, national and international arts initiatives and delivers services that help address social justice issues for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex (LGBTQI+) and black, Asian & minority-ethnic (BAME) communities”. The charity runs the GFEST (Gaywise FESTival), which starts next month on the theme of #QueerQueeries.

Jessica began her talk by asking the boys to take 10 seconds to think about how comfortable it is to talk about LGBT. Then she asked them to take another 10 seconds to discuss stereotypes, explaining that stereotypes are defined by ‘putting someone in a box’ – for example, ‘you are gay if…’

Such phrases create fear, making people feel it is unacceptable to hold hands or touch those who are gay, she stated, adding that stereotypes result in segregation. Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination are thus all part of the same picture, she said.

Some 50% of LGBT people experience bullying, which Jessica defined as including texts, social media messages, people ignoring you or making comments. LGBT students have the highest rate of truancy and homelessness, and their education also suffers disproportionately, she said.

Headmaster, Neil Enright said: “This was an important assembly on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language. There will be some pupils for whom this is deeply personal, whilst for others it is about understanding the lives of those with different experiences to them and being tolerant, supportive members of the School community and wider society.”

From worrier to warrior: fashion entrepreneur speaks to sixth-formers on his mental health battle

A campaigner addressed sixth-formers about his own mental health journey and told how it inspired him to start a socially conscious fashion business.

George Hodgson, founder of the successful Maison de Choup* brand, visited the School just a few days before World Mental Health Day.

“I’m using fashion as a vehicle to raise awareness of mental health,” he told the Year 12 and 13 boys, adding that his was “a positive message, but a sensitive one”.

In the talk, he recounted the many ups and downs he experienced over a three-year period. “I kept asking myself when I would be better. The biggest word is time.”

He started his talk with a breathing exercise, talking to the boys about mindfulness, paying attention to one’s breath and letting one’s thoughts pass. He asked them to join in by trying the exercise themselves for a few minutes.

George, who comes from near Winchester in Hampshire, explained that he had been hyperactive from a young age. His mental health problems began when, at a festival in 2012, he experimented with drugs – ecstasy and MDMA – aged 16. He did not enjoy the experience and started to feel paranoid afterwards, so quickly decided it wasn’t for him.

A week later whilst clearing out the horses at his parents’ house, he had his first attack: he felt hot, could not breathe and started to panic. These attacks continued every day for a week. He was diagnosed with panic disorder and anxiety, and was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for counselling.

George then developed OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and began washing his hands 50 – 100 times daily. He experienced suicidal thoughts that increased over a two-week period.

He saw a reassuring therapist who listened to his story. He was told there was a 40-week waiting list to start treatment and was lucky enough to be treated privately as his parents were able to support him. This treatment included hypnotherapy to put him through the sensations of panic in a safe environment. George was prescribed beta blockers and SSRIs (a class of drugs typically used as anti-depressants).

When he was feeling better, George and his friends travelled to Thorpe Park, where they all decided to go on the Stealth roller-coaster. He realised that the medication he was on had made him numb – he felt nothing, no adrenaline or excitement from any of the rides.

George’s story continued with a referral for cognitive behavioural therapy to learn coping mechanisms. He learnt to challenge his anxiety by breaking down thoughts and trying to rationalise them.

Not long after this, George was at his grandmother’s house where he kept imagining there was cocaine on the table. One-and-a-half years into treatment, he opened up to family and found that talking helped.

In all, it took him three years to get better. During his recovery, he used diaries and drawings to express himself. While unable to go to college or work, George went to his father’s office and started experimenting with designs.

Eventually, he decided to start his own t-shirt business, with the help of a friend. In 2017 he launched his Warrior collection, which includes clothing with words such as ‘don’t feed the fears’, ‘sometimes I’m okay, sometimes I’m not’ and ‘warrior, not worrier’.

His aim, he explained, was not to label people with ‘I have anxiety’, but to encourage them to open up about their stories if asked about the t-shirts, thereby starting a conversation about mental health.

His collection made it to London Fashion Week, with celebrities and TV reality-show stars wearing it.

He started selling his story to newspapers and magazines to raise awareness, and the brand’s success grew very rapidly as it featured in publications including Vanity Fair, The Observer and the Evening Standard’s Style magazine, and was a winner in the British Fashion Startup Awards.

Twenty-five per cent of the proceeds of certain of his designs go to YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

After his success with Maison de Choup, George went back to a festival – “the biggest place for drugs” – and found that he had no problem in being there. Indeed, he is now able to speak to a roomful of people, he pointed out to the boys.

Among his messages to the audience were: “It’s ok not to be ok” and “If you’re suffering or a friend is suffering, you are not alone.”

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “George spoke very frankly about his personal experience and in doing so exemplified the way in which talking about mental health can prove an important step in helping deal with the issues that you may be encountering. Through such assemblies we want to raise awareness among our boys of the sorts of challenges that people can go through with their mental health and to underline that there is an understanding and supportive community around them should they find themselves in a similar situation, now or in the future.”

* ‘Choup’ was George’s childhood nickname for his sister, Charlotte, who supported him throughout his mental health problems.

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.