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Getting off to the right start: transition days help incoming pupils find their feet

Existing pupils and staff gave the incoming cohort of boys for September 2019 the warmest of welcomes as part of QE’s programme to facilitate the transition to senior school.

The new boys were afforded the opportunity to meet some of their future peers, to get to know their form tutors and to gain an insight into the practicalities of the School day – but also to learn just how exciting life as a young Elizabethan can be.

The boys and their parents, who are all considered to be joining the QE family, were welcomed by Headmaster Neil Enright. He congratulated the boys on their very considerable achievement in winning a place in the face of formidable competition: the School last year had more applicants than ever before.

“We are aware that this transition to secondary school is a milestone which is a substantial change and can present challenges,” said Mr Enright. “We recognise the importance of a well-planned programme of support and guidance, and are confident that this cohort of boys will be very successful and will make a strong contribution to the School throughout their time here.”

Three current Year 7 boys were part of the welcoming team and all made short speeches to the newcomers to reassure them about the QE experience and to introduce the Houses that form an important part of life at the School.

Broughton House’s Saim Khan greeted the visitors by saying: “Last year we were sitting exactly where you are now!” He recalled being excited, but also nervous. “I have made lots of new friends; there are House competitions which help each form become good teams. I was the first student in this year’s Year 7 to reach 100 merits and was awarded this silver badge I am wearing today,” he said.

The support offered for homework was the theme of the address given by Haris Shahid from Pearce House. “It took me a little while to get used to the homework, but the teachers here give lots of help and there are clinics in every subject. I’ve found the work really rewarding, as you have the chance to gain merits.” Among Haris’s achievements was taking first place in the Year 7 Photography Competition.

Andreas Angelopoulos, who is in Leicester House, talked about the extra-curricular activities on offer. “I was really pleased to be selected for the School’s chess team and am hoping to qualify for the English national team. I also play water polo, am learning clarinet and I am in the School’s concert band.” He said that whether the new boys were musical or sporting, there were many opportunities to make new friends while doing an activity they liked.

The incoming boys also heard from the current School Captain, Year 12’s Bhiramah Rammanohar, who urged them: “Above all else, get stuck in across all areas of School life!”

The visiting boys were then split into their form groups and met their tutors and senior prefects from their Houses. They enjoyed a tour of QE’s facilities and took part in some ‘ice-breakers’ to help them begin to get to know each other. The tours were led by prefects, who offered helpful advice and answered questions about life at the School.

Meanwhile, parents listened to presentations from: David Ryan, who will be Deputy Head, Pastoral, in September; Tom Harrison, who will be Head of Year 7, and Emi Aghdiran, who will be Deputy Head, Operations. The Headmaster rounded off the session: “We believe our School offers an experience like no other state school. It is very important, even before they arrive as pupils, that our boys feel part of this community and are alive to the many opportunities they will encounter here.”

Mr Enright went on to talk about the centrality of the support that parents give the School through the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s (FQE), in terms of achieving QE’s ambitious development plans.

The boys, parents, prefects and staff then came together to chat informally over coffee and soft drinks. Also in the diary for the new families before the start of term in September are uniform fittings, as well as bowling evening socials, organised by FQE.

  • For pupils who may be interested in joining the School in September 2020, there is an Open Evening on Thursday 4th July, starting at 3pm, with the last entry at 7.30pm.
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.

Dame Helen throws down the gauntlet to sixth-formers on social action

Dame Helen Hyde, former headmistress and now a leading social justice campaigner, encouraged QE pupils at the Year 12 Luncheon to say no to hatred in all its forms and to make a positive difference by taking action.

Dame Helen was the guest speaker at the annual meal, which is arranged to give sixth-formers experience of the sort of formal social occasions they will experience at university and in their careers beyond.

A recognised national education leader who mentored other heads and school leadership teams, she left Watford Grammar School for Girls, where she had been Headmistress for 29 years, in 2016, because, as her own website puts it, “she felt she could no longer be a bystander”.

She was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to national state education and Holocaust Education in 2013. Dame Helen was appointed to the Holocaust Commission established by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013-14. Last year, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hertfordshire.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “The boys and the teachers present greatly appreciated her thought-provoking contribution, which was perfectly pitched for the occasion. The boys always value the opportunity to hear from those eminent in their respective fields and to be able to put their questions to them.”

And Mr Enright told Dame Helen: “Your message about each individual being able to make a positive difference to the lives of others resonates very strongly with what we try to convey to the boys, both directly and with the support of our guest speakers. Your inspiring work in Rwanda provides evidence of what can be achieved.”

The luncheon, a three-course meal, was supported by Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s volunteers and Year 9 helpers. As is customary, a number of toasts were made prior to Dame Helen’s address. School Captain Bhiramah Rammanohar compèred the event, while Senior Vice-Captain Fozy Ahmed delivered the vote of thanks.

In her presentation, Dame Helen explored aspects of the Holocaust, in which members of her own family were murdered. She considered its unprecedented nature, the events that led up to it in Nazi Germany, the widespread complicity of many in Germany and occupied lands across Europe, and the reasons why the world powers failed to intervene.

Her family were originally from Germany, but some managed to escape abroad. Her father went to South Africa in 1936, where she was later born. She emigrated to Britain in 1970.

Her presentation also looked at South Africa’s history of Apartheid, as well as at genocides from that of the Armenians in the early 20th century through to recent events in Darfur in the Sudan and among the Rohingya from Myanmar.

She spoke about the work of Refugees to Recovery (R to R), which she set up with Tony Rindl, Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Watford. R to R works with other organisations to collect items badly needed by refugees.

Her work with Holocaust survivors led to Dame Helen’s interest in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when 1 million people died in 100 days. She is an active patron and co-director of the Rwandan Sisterhood, which brings together Rwandan women uprooted by the genocide and raises funds to provide ‘Mama packs’ to expectant women in Rwanda and other African countries.

She finished her presentation to the boys with a challenge, calling on them to consider “your decisions, your words and your actions” and to “be an upstander”, taking action to help with the campaigns and charities she had outlined.

New ambassadors off to a good start with a display for International Women’s Day

QE’s new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors have been encouraging their fellow pupils to reflect on the need for a more gender-balanced world on International Women’s Day 2019.

Year 12 pupils Leo Kucera, Vithusan Kuganathan and Josh Osman have been appointed to the new positions within the prefect body.

They are working to further understanding and celebrate diversity, both within the context of the School and in broader society. The trio started their work in style by putting together a colourful and informative display on the School’s prominent new equality, diversity and inclusion noticeboard for International Women’s Day, which has as its theme #BalanceforBetter – the forging of a more gender-balanced world.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I am delighted that we now have increased peer leadership in these areas. Since we are a single-sex boys’ School, it is important that we ensure pupils have an awareness of gender issues and reflect on the challenges faced by women in our society and in different parts of the world, while also celebrating women’s achievements.

“Leo, Vithusan and Josh have done well to seize the opportunity presented by International Women’s Day to further these aims.”

The appointment of the new ambassadors is only one of a number of developments at the School in this area.

A new Diversity Society has started meeting on Mondays, run by Year 13 pupils Aashish Khimasia (last year’s School Captain), as well as Jonathan Ho, Yushin Lee and Omar Taymani. In their promotional material, they state that the society meetings will be an opportunity to look at ‘Mental health, sexuality, gender equality, identity politics, animal rights and whatever more you want to discuss’.

An Equality, Diversity and Inclusion calendar has also been created at the School to highlight relevant key events throughout the year, and the new noticeboard will be used to celebrate these, while also highlighting case studies of influential, successful and inspiring women.

In recent months, a number of guest speakers have addressed issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, such as:

  • Alice Fookes, of UN Women – the United Nations organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women
  • Natasha Devon MBE, who speaks on mental health, body image, gender and social equality
  • Gabriella Rutherford, from Survival International, who spoke about the rights of tribal peoples
  • Emily Whyte and Andrew Macklin, of charity Tender, which is working to end abuse and domestic violence.

In addition, the School seeks to address such issues both through the weekly Personal Development Time provided as part of the School’s pastoral support and through the academic curriculum.

QE’s New Year’s honours: top team take over at the start of 2019

New School Captain Bhiramah Rammanohar and his team take up their positions today at the start of the new term.

Together with his Senior Vice-Captains Fozy Ahmed and Oscar Smith, he heads a 120-strong group of School officials for 2019, who are all drawn from Year 12.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I congratulate all the prefects upon their well-deserved appointments. They come from a much-liked and well-respected year-group within the School.”

“Bhiramah is a worthy recipient of this honour, as is made clear by a recent School report which described him in these words: ‘One of the most affable, decent young men that one could care to meet or teach; he marries his many innate talents with a determined industry, the combination of which allows him to be successful in all facets of his School life.’”

Bhiramah entered Year 12 in September fresh from celebrating a run of ten grade 9s in his GCSEs – the highest possible grade under the new marking system. His current Head of Year, Lottie Coleman, points to his “compassion, enthusiasm and commitment to all that he does”.

The team of officials includes ten Vice-Captains, six House Captains, six Deputy House Captains and 92 Prefects. One innovation this year is the appointment of three Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Ambassadors – Leo Kucera, Vithusan Kuganathan and Josh Osman: their new positions reflect the increasing focus upon these areas across School life. They have been introduced following discussions conducted with boys through QE’s pupil panel.

“We are committed to nurturing leadership skills among our pupils,” Mr Enright added. “There are opportunities to develop these, beginning from boys’ first arrival in Year 7 and with the prefect system being very much the pinnacle. For those boys who secure a place in this illustrious cohort, there are certainly significant duties and responsibilities, but their positions also serve as a reward for the commitment and broad contributions they have made to the School in their time with us.”

Senior Vice-Captain Fozy Ahmed is a First XV rugby player. Assistant Head David Ryan wrote about him in his Year 11 report that he “sets an excellent example to other students, always acting in a relaxed, but thoughtful manner; he is mature beyond his years but also kind and considerate towards those around him.”

Like the School Captain, Senior Vice-Captain Oscar Smith, performed outstandingly at GCSE, achieving a clean sweep of grade 9s. A particularly keen and able linguist, he is described by Head of Languages Christopher Kidd as “impressive in every way…diligent, industrious and [with] the desire to perform at the very top level. He is mature, acting and working as a young adult, and attaining the results that his hard industry deserves.”

Mr Enright thanked 2018 School Captain Aashish Khimasia and his outgoing team for their efforts and commitment over the course of the year.

Vital messages: helping boys stay safe on the road

With dark winter journeys having often now become part of their daily routine, QE’s Year 7 learned some vital lessons about road safety through an innovative drama performance.

The specially tailored play and workshop by the visiting theatre company, The Riot Act, were arranged as part of the boys’ Personal Development Time programme.

Head of Year 7 David Ryan said: “For many of the boys, this year is the first time they have travelled to and from school independently. It is important that they are aware of the dangers of traffic and know how to keep themselves safe.”

The Riot Act was established six years ago by Dan Hobson, a professional scriptwriter and lecturer, and Ellen Casey, who is a teacher. The company deliver tailored dramas and workshops to fit in with curriculum requirements, whilst aiming to engage and entertain their audiences.

“The boys enjoyed the humorous play, which nevertheless contained serious messages,” said Mr Ryan.

After the drama they had an opportunity to reflect on what they had seen in the interactive workshop.

“These messages cannot be repeated often enough to boys of this age,” added Mr Ryan. “Particularly in the winter months when it is so much darker, they need to be vigilant to keep themselves safe on their journeys.”

Harsh realities! Boys acquire the financial facts of life

Boys were shocked to discover how much money is deducted at source when they learned how to decipher a payslip in a financial capability workshop, reported Head of Pupil Development Sarah Westcott.

The Year 8 boys also learned about the types of bank account they could access both now and in the future, as well as finding out about the importance of budgeting.

The exercise which saw them analysing a payslip to work out how much salary is deducted and for what purpose was particularly enjoyable, notwithstanding the shock it brought, Dr Westcott said. “Many of them expressed surprise at how much is taken before you even get paid!”

Further tasks then required the boys to think about different kinds of debt – what is a ’good’ debt, such as a mortgage, and what is a ‘bad’ debt, such as a store card or payday loan.

The event was organised with leading international and UK bank HSBC. It took place during one of the boys’ Personal Development Time (PDT) sessions. PDT lies at the heart of QE’s comprehensive pastoral support system and is focused on making pupils ‘confident and responsible’, in line with the School’s mission. All boys receive 90 minutes of PDT each week.

Besides learning about personal finance, there was another purpose in holding the workshop, Dr Westcott explained: “The event was part of a wider strategy at School to encourage more employers to come in to talk to students to provide a balanced careers perspective.”

Understanding the big issues: special assembly looks at relationships, ‘sexting’ and domestic abuse

Boys in Year 9 explored what makes relationships healthy and unhealthy in an hour-long assembly devoted to the topic of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Led by representatives from Tender, a charity ‘acting to end abuse’, the boys learned about the huge scale of the domestic violence problem – one in three women and one in five men will be impacted by it. Tender’s Emily Whyte and Andrew Macklin highlighted some stark facts: on average, two women are killed each week in the UK by a current or former partner, and for men, the figure is about two per month. Overall, about 85% of victims of domestic violence are women.

The boys were also told that it is very much a young people’s issue – statistics show that those aged 16-24 are the demographic mostly likely to suffer domestic violence. The highly interactive assembly included a discussion about ‘sexting’ that followed the screening of a film featuring a case study, entitled #ListenToYourSelfie. The discussion covered appropriate and inappropriate communication through technology and in online relationships. It focused on matters of trust, coercion and manipulation, as well as how to stay safe, the dangers of sending explicit images and an understanding of the law in this area.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “As a School, we are committed to exploring these serious issues and to building awareness and understanding among our pupils, not least because of the prevalence of domestic violence among young people across the country, as the statistics reveal.

“There will be follow-up to these discussions in form groups as part of our Personal Development Time programme; in fact, we are increasingly using such special assemblies to support the programme and to give boys an additional insight and point them towards external sources of advice and support.”

There was discussion of the different forms that domestic violence can take, with the definition having been expanded in recent years beyond purely physical abuse to include areas such as controlling behaviour and emotional abuse. Boys were told that physical violence is usually preceded by at least two or three other expressions of domestic abuse.

The assembly included a quiz on healthy relationships and an activity in which boys were asked to arrange a list of behaviours along a line from ‘most healthy’ to ‘most unhealthy’. This stimulated discussion of various forms of behaviour which was geared towards helping boys identify what positive, respectful relationships based on equal power look like and, conversely, helping them to identify unhealthy relationships.

This debate concluded that, of the terms provided, ‘respect’ was the most important ‘healthy’ factor, followed by ‘trust’ and ‘listening’. There was mature debate around matters such as jealousy, control, secrets and cheating, with the discussion considering the moral, ethical and legal aspects of such behaviours.

The representatives from Tender finished by encouraging boys to think about who in their lives they could turn to for help and support if they had a concern or wanted a second opinion on a relationship. They also ‘signposted’ the boys to publicly available support services and – should they be needed – ways of reporting issues in this area.

Making headlines, changing thinking

Bilal Harry Khan is fast becoming a leading voice on issues of social justice, race and masculinity.

In recent months, Bilal has featured in a number of BBC news and current affairs programmes and has launched a successful podcast with fellow Cambridge graduates, all ‘black and mixed-race guys’, looking at life, diversity and the challenges faced after graduation.

One episode of the podcast this month featured an interview with Stormzy, following the artist’s decision to sponsor scholarships at the university for black students.

Bilal (OE 2003–2010), who works as a facilitator running diversity and inclusion training workshops with corporate clients, is due to visit the School this term to deliver a talk to Year 11 on Masculinity in Britain. He turned freelance in August: “I will be looking to develop my portfolio of work as a facilitator in the coming years.”

Earlier in the year, Bilal was a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, also speaking about masculinity.

And this month, he was interviewed by the BBC’s Global Gender & Identity Correspondent, Megha Mohan. In the article, he related the challenges of living in the UK with a name that is unfamiliar to many – including one occasion when he visited a school (not QE) and a teacher introduced him in assembly as ‘Harry’ even though he had been repeatedly emailing the teacher and signing himself off as ‘Bilal’. The teacher later told him that ‘Bilal’ would have been “difficult” for the children, although in fact many of them had come up to him after his talk and said his name perfectly.

In his parting shot in the article, Bilal made a plea: “Children in the UK should be able to grow up loving and being proud of their names. You can play a part in that by learning to pronounce them properly. It is not that hard. If you can say ‘Tchaikovsky’, you can pronounce our names.”

He was interviewed on the BBC World Service about his mixed-race heritage in the run-up to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The royal bride had spoken of her confusion as a child when asked to describe her race and of the enduring impact of her mixed-race background during her acting career.

Bilal told presenter Nora Kim of his own experiences as a person from a mixed-race background. His father is Kenyan of South Asian heritage and his mother is Jamaican from a mixed-race (East Asian and black Caribbean) heritage.

He recalled a time when he was out with some of his QE schoolmates: “Most of my friends were Asian. Someone’s girlfriend said ‘Oh, you are the black friend.’” This conversation caused him to reflect at the time that “my identity is based on how other people perceive me”.

When used in the UK, the term ‘mixed-race’ is generally presumed to mean a combination of white and ‘something else’, he said, yet that did not describe him or many other people. “Perhaps we need to change the definition to include people like myself, like my mum,” he said.

After leaving QE, Bilal read Theology at Cambridge. While there, he met the three friends with whom he launched the Over the Bridge podcast in March this year.

Since graduating, he has worked as a youth engagement officer in Barnet and then, for more than four years, for WE, a Toronto-based non-profit organisation working globally with young people and families.

Been there, done that! Thirty-two Oxbridge candidates benefit from performance coach’s expert advice and experience

Old Elizabethan Kam Taj returned to the School to lead a workshop on Oxbridge preparation for 32 sixth-formers.

Kam, a performance coach and motivational speaker, who himself studied at Churchill College, Cambridge, covered topics ranging from university interviews to procrastination in the all-day session.

The course was part of the extensive programme QE provides to support senior boys as they make university applications and consider career choices that best match their talents and aptitudes. Applications to Oxford and Cambridge must be made by 15 October for places starting the following autumn. QE boys secured 144 places at the two universities in the five years from 2013 to 2017.

Afterwards, Kam (Kamran Tajbaksh, OE 2004–2011) praised his Year 12 audience who had “stayed engaged and receptive for the duration of the course”, even though, as he pointed out, they had just completed their examinations and were looking forward to the start of the summer holidays in just a few days’ time.

While at QE, Kam achieved 13 A* grades at GCSE and four A*s with one A at A-level. On graduating with a first in Manufacturing Engineering, Kam initially took up a post as a management consultant with a global company. However, he had begun doing performance coaching work while still at university: “It was far more fulfilling than academics (even more so than my sports!) – and my clients were achieving great results.”

So, in 2016, he “left the strategy consulting world and began living my dream for myself”.
He recently published his first book 8 Principles of Exam Domination, which aims to help pupils achieve their desired grades with minimal stress.

His talk covered topics entitled:

  • Acing uni interviews
  • Overcoming procrastination
  • Planning & prioritisation
  • Mindset management

Kam also introduced a new topic, with the QE boys the first to hear about his Motivational Fire Formula.

Afterwards, Kam thanked the School from his Instagram account and wished all the boys a “great summer” and hoped they would “come back refreshed and ready to smash Year 13!”