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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!”

Coming to QE? A helping hand for our new Elizabethans and their parents

A series of special events have been helping boys due to join Year 7 in September start to get to know each other and learn their way around the campus.

The half-day induction sessions for the boys and their parents offered opportunities for the soon-to-be Elizabethans to meet those who will be in their form groups, as well as their form tutors and their Head of Year.

Headmaster Neil Enright explained to them what ‘the QE experience’ entails, while current boys, including School Captain Aashish Khimasia, of Year 12, and three boys at the end of their first year, added their perspectives.

“These events are about welcoming the boys and their families and helping support the transition to secondary school, ensuring that there are some familiar faces come September,” explained Mr Enright afterwards. “The induction sessions also make clear that it is, in fact, the whole family that is joining the Elizabethan community and that parents (through our home-school partnership) will play a very significant role in the success of their sons.”

After hearing from the Headmaster and these current pupils, the boys headed off into their new form groups for activities designed both to enable them to become acquainted with each other and to learn more about the School itself.

The activities included a tour of the School, led by prefects, with an accompanying quiz for the boys to complete on their way round. “One of the big challenges of going to secondary school can be the sheer scale of the site, so anything to help new boys get their bearings is useful,” said Mr Enright.

Parents were given further briefings by QE’s leadership, including an introduction to the School’s support systems and the role of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s. They then had the opportunity to talk to the Headmaster over coffee.

Jack’s journey: moving account of recovery from a serious eating disorder

A local man who almost died from anorexia as a teenager, but has now successfully recovered, gave a brutally honest account of his experiences to Year 9.

In his first-ever talk to a school audience, Jack Jacobs told the QE boys how the eating disorder almost claimed his life, before he took the important step of asking for help and then fought his way back to health.

Having decided he wanted to make a positive difference to others and help bring about positive change, he is now establishing a foundation, No Limits, to help people reach their full potential.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Jack’s was an inspiring story that clearly engaged the boys and got them thinking. It was shocking to hear how bad things got, but he showed how, with resilience and perseverance, even in the most trying of circumstances you can turn things around and make a success of yourself.”

Jack was invited to QE because of the general recognition that anorexia is a growing problem among teenage boys nationally, an increasing number of whom are afflicted by body-image issues that lead to them not eating properly or to over-exercising. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are both addressed in QE’s new Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy.

Although not a former QE pupil, Jack comes from the local area. He told the Year 9 boys that despite playing rugby and cricket, he was a little “chubby” at school and that his fellow pupils and even some teachers indulged in name-calling and labelled him “fat”.

""When he and his family moved to a new house on a long road, he took the opportunity to lose weight by running up and down that road. Determined to get in shape, he “ran and swam and then ran and swam”. He lost two-and-a-half stone in three months at the age of 14, yet the name-calling continued.

He therefore decided to run in a mini-marathon, driven on by teachers who had told him “you can’t run”. They were quickly proved wrong when he competed at Lea Valley with far more experienced runners and came in the top ten. He was scouted for a running club and emerged as a very strong runner, as evidenced by his 5k time of just 18 minutes.

He was, he told the boys, motivated by a desire to prove others wrong, so he started doing all the things people said he was not capable of doing. But he became fixated on fitness, food and counting calories. In short, he was starving himself.

""Even at the time, he recognised that his behaviour was becoming unhealthy, and yet, he said, that was almost the point: “I wanted to look ill. If my dad said: ‘You look well today,’ it would upset me and make me want to lose more weight. I was a zombie, focused on numbers: the numbers on the scales would determine my day.”

Eventually Jack broke down and sought the assistance of others. “Asking for help is not weak, it’s strong – it shows you are self-aware, which is really important in life,” he told Year 9.

He ended up in hospital, with a heartbeat of 33 bpm and a blood pressure of 70/40 – readings that indicate a patient is close to death. The doctors took him up to another ward in the hospital where other teenagers were being fed by tubes because they wouldn’t eat. Seeing this, he made the decision to “grow”, that is, to get better.

As he began his recovery, he again had people telling him he could not do certain things, including doctors advising him not to take his GCSEs, but just to focus on eating. Jack feels the system treats people as “numbers”, rather than as individuals, but he believes “if you have self-respect, that is all you need and you can do it”.

A few months after being in hospital, he sat his GCSEs and achieved an A* grade, 8 As and a couple of Bs. “Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do things,” he said.

Jack stressed the merits of talking oneself into a better position: “What you say to yourself is what you become.” Having not been physically or mentally well enough to go anywhere for about a year, he then went to college. He started saying he had recovered (even doing so for a programme on ITV) – and then felt that he had to live up to this.

""He also began saying that he would be working for a leading firm of accountants in two years’ time on their school-leaver programme. He duly achieved this, getting through a seven-stage interview process. However, once there, he decided that his money-motivated colleagues were not the sort of people he really wanted to be working with – he wanted to work for positive change. It was important, he concluded, that we all ask ourselves: “What do we want to be remembered for?” People were, after all, remembered not for their money, but for who they really were, he said.