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Thriving in a fast-changing world: Junior Awards 2019

With more than 100 prizes presented, the Junior Awards Ceremony in the final week of the academic year gave public recognition to the high achievement and outstanding commitment of QE’s youngest pupils.

The formal ceremony in the School Hall took its traditional form, with the audience of prize-winners, their parents, VIP guests and staff treated to classical music interludes during the prize-giving.

Yet in his speech, Headmaster Neil Enright reminded the young high-fliers that theirs is a changing world: “If rapid progress is a feature of our School, it most certainly is in aspects of the wider world. Whilst much focus this month is on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, it is also the 100th anniversary of the first two-way crossing of the Atlantic by airship. That only fifty years should separate those landmark events, itself would seem to emphasise the point. The rate of technological and human progress has never been so great.”

This, said Mr Enright, provided the boys both with wonderful opportunities and new challenges. “Try new things and broaden your base of skills and knowledge, as your generation will need to adapt in an economy and a society disrupted by technology and associated structural change.”

Technological change was also making the globe “smaller, more connected and more accessible,” he added. “In the last year boys here have been variously to Canada (for rugby and skiing), Beijing (for astrophysics), Russia (for History and Politics), France and Germany (on language exchange programmes), Sicily (for Geography), Kentucky (for robotics) and New York (for an international mock trial competition), among other destinations.

“But” the Headmaster said, “we may have reached a moment when progress is not all about faster, further and bigger – at least in the non-digital world. Climate change, for example, means grappling with new imperatives, of doing things smarter, cleaner and more sustainably.”

The implications of this for QE’s pupils were clear: “It is through a rounded combination of academic, technical, creative and social skills that progress on the biggest issues facing us in the future will rely. This is a roundedness we try to prepare you for…You are in a privileged position to be well set to face that future with confidence and optimism, building on your prior success to progress further and further, to thrive in a changing world, and to change it.”

Among the VIP guests at the afternoon ceremony were Councillor Lachhya Gurung, Deputy Mayor of the Borough of Barnet, as well as governors and representatives of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s. In his welcome to the Deputy Mayor, the Headmaster pointed to his 18 years of service with the Brigade of Gurkhas and his longstanding chairmanship of the Burnt Oak Nepalese Community.

The Headmaster also welcomed the Guest of Honour, Old Elizabethan Akash Gandhi (2005–2012), who, he told the audience, had himself picked up no fewer than five Junior Awards when he was in Year 7, for Geography, Mathematics, Science, Stapylton House and the overall Charles Fitch Memorial Award for Outstanding Commitment.

In his speech, Akash, who is currently working as a Junior Doctor, urged current boys not to forget the values and ethos of QE.

Akash threw himself into life as a pupil, playing cricket (he was described by the Headmaster as an “excellent all-rounder”), getting involved in debating, helping younger boys through peer mentoring, supporting the Sai School Appeal and serving as a Senior Lieutenant, then one of the leading positions within the prefect team.

On leaving, he went up to Queens’ College, Cambridge, to read Medicine, taking a first-class degree with prize & honours. From there, he went to University College London, for his clinical training, again excelling in his studies. Akash is now a Junior Doctor in Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, but carves out time every year to support QE’s aspiring Sixth Form medics with their UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) preparations.

Akash recalled the message instilled in him by his father: “It is not about what you do, but who you become by what you do.” It is, he said, more important to be concerned about what will be said in your eulogy than what is written in your CV.

And Akash had three specific areas of advice. The first was to find and follow your passions. “During my time at QE, my passions were my culture, cricket, charity work and football. And so, at university I found myself as the Vice-President of Cambridge University’s India Society. I also captained my college’s cricket team all the way to the final of the cup tournament – despite only ever representing QE’s C team.”

The second area was to find your mentors and to remember to thank them. “You are not alone, and you’d be a fool not to seek advice from those around you, especially in an establishment like this one.

“Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, embrace the power of true friendships – trust me on this one,” Akash told the boys. “From my experience, boys of this School look out for each other long after they have stopped sporting its badge. Joining Stapylton House with Mr [Mark] Peplow at the helm, little did I realise the everlasting friendships that I would go on to make. With some of them, I have travelled across central America, Asia and Australia. With others, I have worked together to help provide treatment for patients attending emergency departments across London.

“I can safely say that I am still surrounded by the values, ethos and ethic that I felt whilst studying at QE. I suppose that’s easy to say when I got to work last Friday to find that four out of the five doctors on my team were also QE boys. And as for the fifth? She’s a proud mother of a son who currently goes to QE!

“Congratulations on your achievements, keep working hard, and the best of luck for the future,” Akash concluded.

During the afternoon, the School’s young musicians performed works by Handel, Bach, Chopin and the Bohemia-born Josef Fiala, who died in 1816. A Recessional piece was composed by Year 12’s Ifeatu Obiora and Federico Rocco.

The vote of thanks was delivered by Saim Khan, winner of the Year 7 award for public speaking.

The awards presented covered a full range of academic subjects and extra-curricular activities, with some also recognising service to the School.

After the ceremony, boys and their parents enjoyed refreshments with staff and other guests.

Rainbows and ribbons, PowerPoints and posters: ambassadors embrace special month with Pride

From how to support people who are coming out to understanding transgender transitioning, the School’s new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors covered key themes during activities marking Pride month.

The trio of ambassadors, all drawn from Year 12, used a spectrum of material to communicate with fellow pupils in an age-appropriate and accessible way.

Josh Osman, Vithusan Kuganathan and Leo Kucera promoted better understanding of LGBTQ during Personal Development Time sessions, using PowerPoint presentations and encouraging questions in Q&As. As well as updating the dedicated equality, diversity & inclusion noticeboard, they put up posters around the School, while a rainbow flag was hung in Café 1573. They also sold Pride ribbons at the Founder’s Day fête.

For Year 7 & 8 boys, in addition to a discussion session exploring how young LGBT people might feel, the ambassadors ran a poster competition. The entrants could choose as their theme any of the Equality Act-protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation). Josh said: “We were very pleased with both the level of participation and the quality of the submissions. There were many excellent entries.” The best entries are being displayed on the noticeboard.

For the older boys, there were lessons on challenging stereotypes and understanding the different ways gender is thought about around the world (Year 9), on promoting a better understanding of the transgender aspect of LGBTQ and, particularly, of transitioning (Year 10), and on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of what to say if someone were to come out to you (Year 12).

Since being appointed earlier this year, the three ambassadors have celebrated International Women’s Day at the School and launched the noticeboard. Their next big event is planned for Black History Month in October.

Speaking about their roles, and their work overall to date, Vithusan said: “We are looking to make these issues clearer to younger years – to teach these values.” Leo added: “This is part of the School’s ‘confident, able and responsible’ mission. It is about changes in society and reflecting that. Others in Year 12 have helped, which is great, as these things shouldn’t just be left to the School’s hierarchy. As students we are more relatable to the younger students – we’ve been in their shoes not long ago.”

All three boys stressed the importance and value of student leadership. Josh said: “It is such an important role. We are a very traditional School in many ways, but we’re here to prove the School is progressive. We are setting a foundation for the future of diversity at QE. We are still finding what we can do; our job is to create the mould for ambassadors to build upon in future years.”

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.