Viewing archives for Symposia

QE robotics goes intercontinental

Robotics at QE went international as never before this summer, with no fewer than nine teams heading to the VEX World Championships in Texas and then, in the last week of term, a visit from the reigning senior Australian champions.

The six IQ (Year 8 and 9) and three VRC (Year 10) teams picked up a string of trophies in Dallas, while also taking time to sample the sights of the city.

Back in Barnet, the Australians’ visit was a meeting of champions, since the Australian VRC winners among the party from Barker College, Sydney, had the chance to rub shoulders with QE’s Team Nova, crowned at this year’s UK’s VRC national finals in Telford.

Head of Digital Teaching & Learning Michael Noonan said: “A last-minute opportunity arose to host the Australians, which gave talented robotics students from different sides of the world an opportunity to share ideas and best practice, and to plan for the season ahead in a symposium-style event.

“It was a great way to end a year which has seen large numbers of our boys take part in regional, national and international events, enjoying great experiences and achieving some notable triumphs, including Team Nova winning the UK tournament championship.

“2022–2023 was also a year of firsts: it included a visit in the spring to the inaugural VEX Robotics Signature Event in Las Vegas (attended by our Year 12 squads unable to attend the World Championships because of their Summer Term public examinations), and our teams being named winners or runners-up in nine separate VEX Robotics Online Challenges – which made QE the most successful organisation in the world in this format.”

The 60-strong group of 15–17 year-old Australians called in during their trip to London and Paris. Their school, Barker College, is a large, high-achieving independent school on the North Shore of Sydney.

In a message to the School before the visit, Barker College Design & Technology teacher Kevin Jones wrote: “Our teachers and students can’t get their heads around the fact you were founded in 1573!” This, he pointed out, was fully 200 years before Captain James Cook became the first European to sail along the Eastern coast of Australia.

At the World Championships in Dallas, the younger QE boys’ trophy haul included a trio of awards for Team Gearsquad and a Create Award for Year 8’s TechnoGear.

At the senior level, the 19 VRC competitors collectively came away with six awards, including an Inspire Award and the Promote Video Online Challenge Award.  Two of the three teams – Nova and Shattersquad – battled through tough early competition and successfully made it through to their divisional knockout stages.

During their time in Dallas, QE pupils: visited attractions including the Illusion Museum and Dallas Aquarium; paid their respects at the John F Kennedy memorial site (the US President was assassinated in Dallas in 1963), and enjoyed the spectacular views from the top of the iconic Reunion Tower.


Sixth Form symposium: stimulating scholarship through debate

Tackling topics as diverse as privacy laws, genome-editing and social equality, 50 sixth-formers from QE and North London Collegiate School enjoyed ample opportunity to air and develop their views in a joint academic symposium.

The event, hosted by QE, is an important means of helping final-year pupils with their applications to university, said organiser Nisha Mayer, who is QE’s Head of Pupil Enrichment.

“All these students expect to be interviewed in the coming weeks for places in Medicine, Science, Engineering, Law, PPE [Oxford’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics course] and Economics,” said Mrs Mayer. “This annual academic symposium collaboration with NLCS is invaluable in this preparation.”

QE’s Assistant Head (Pupil Development) Crispin Bonham-Carter fired up the participants with a rousing welcoming address: “I reminded them that ‘symposia’ were ancient Greek dining parties where young adults were expected to debate important ideas and subject themselves to scrutiny.

“I also pointed out that the Greek word for debate, ‘agon’, gives us both ‘agony’ but also ‘protagonist’ – and I urged on them the importance of performance when stepping into the role of the ‘public expert’.”

Mr Bonham-Carter added that the symposium participants should not be afraid to ask if they had any questions, “as it was unlikely they would be alone”.

Reflecting on a successful event afterwards, Mrs Mayer said: “The students were highly engaged and articulate, the discussions constructive and purposeful.”

QE pupils engage in a number of such symposia throughout the year, aimed at different year groups, all with the aim of encouraging independent thinking. Headmaster Neil Enright highlighted their importance when he was invited recently to give a speech on scholarship to the Girls’ Schools Association’s Annual Conference for Heads.

“Discussion and collaboration are key features of our partnership work with other schools,” he told the independent school heads assembled in Bristol. “These sessions have obviously played an important role in enabling our young men to engage with equally capable, and often more confident, young women, but also in furthering academic curiosity.

“Of course, the stimulation of the source material is challenging in its own right, whether it is developing critical listening skills from studying Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky with Year 7, enabling Year 9 students to evaluate philosophical arguments, or challenging our sixth-formers to consider the nexus between water and community in a geographical study.

“Another key scholarly benefit lies in the socialisation that they encourage and develop – the ability to argue and deliberate with fellow students; to work together collaboratively towards conclusions; or simply to experience the cut and thrust of academic debate.”

Thirdly, academic symposia also develop action and responsibility, enabling participants to become those who can exercise choices according to their own values, and are not therefore “confined by the curriculum, or timetables, or teachers, or examiners”, Mr Enright added.

He concluded the section of his speech on symposia with these words: “We are all well acquainted with extra-curricular interaction with other schools – on the sports field, perhaps in the performing arts or academic competitions, but these collaborative academic interactions seem to work as a catalyst for inspiring further academic enquiry.”

Punching above their weight: Year 8 pupils impress with their debating skills

With topics that included a second Brexit referendum, a joint Year 8 debating symposium with a leading girls’ school looked sure to be lively – and so it proved.

The joint event with The Henrietta Barnett School drew intelligent, engaging contributions from all sides, reported Nisha Mayer, Head of QE’s Academic Enrichment

Motions put forward at the symposium ranged from This House believes driverless cars will make driving safer to This House believes there should be a second referendum on Brexit.

Around 70 pupils from the two schools took part in the event, which followed the Extended Mace format. (Mace is the name of a famous schools debating competition run by the English-Speaking Union). This style involves three pairs of proposers and opposers; two from each side make their case and respond before a floor debate. The last pairing then draw the threads of the debate together to make a final case.

The participants were given 30 minutes to research their topics and prepare their arguments before the debates took place. The six best debaters were selected from across all the debates to participate in a final surprise debate at the end of the day. This was on the motion, This House believes that there should be a tax on meat. The finalists were given 20 minutes to get themselves ready.

Mrs Mayer said: “The event was a fantastic success. The finalists were debating at the level of Year 9 or even Year 10 debaters. The floor debate was particularly engaging, too. Events such as this are important because they aid the boys’ oracy and thinking skills, while enabling them to socialise with pupils of similar ability from a girls’ school.”

Hot topics: QE boys discuss women in the workplace with girls’ school pupils

Fifty pupils from Year 8 tested their debating skills under pressure during a visit to a leading girls’ school.

The QE boys joined an equal number of girls from The Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead for the competitive debating symposium. After the motions to be debated were announced, the mixed groups of boys and girls then had just half-an-hour to research their topics before the debates started.

The motions included: This House believes the media does not have a right to intrude in the lives of public figures and This House would impose quotas for women in workplaces where they are under-represented.

The symposium was one of a regular series of academic enrichment events for Years 8-10 held jointly with HBS.

Nisha Mayer, QE’s Head of Academic Enrichment, said: “Students were very engaged and enthused throughout the morning. We lay great emphasis on the importance of developing oracy – the ability to communicate well using the spoken word. At events such as this symposium, pupils gain early exposure to the need to articulate their arguments. They learn to think on their feet and begin to appreciate the importance of keeping abreast of current affairs and societal issues – an interest that we seek to cultivate both during lesson time and in extra-curricular activities.

“Because of our single-sex environment at QE, there are also benefits for the boys in interacting and sharing ideas with peers from a girls’ school: we are very fortunate to have such a mutually advantageous partnership.”

After the initial debates in ‘break-out’ rooms, all 100 boys and girls joined together for the final, where the best six debaters did battle, each receiving certificates.

Boys from QE and pupils from a leading girls’ school had just 45 minutes to prepare for a special series of debates.


One hundred Ye ar 8 boys and five QE staff headed off to The Henrietta Barnett School for the afternoon of workshops chaired by the pupils themselves.


Academic Enrichment tutor Helen Davies said: “The purpose was to provide challenge for the students and put them in a situation where they were required to take academic risks.”


""They therefore had to research debating points and evidence in the 45 minutes after they were given the topics, which were:


    • This house believes that creating new grammar schools, as proposed by the current government, is a good idea,


    • This house believes that friends are more important than family,


    • This house believes that students need more time to discuss religious and political beliefs in school, as part of the curriculum,


    • This house believes that secondary school students should have more choice in the subjects they study at school. 



""The debates took place in four rooms and each was supervised by a member of staff and by an HBS sixth-former.


“The HBS sixth-formers worked very well with all the students and gave a short piece of feedback to every Year 8 student at the end of each debate, which was all thoughtful and constructive,” said Miss Davies.


""Pupils engaged well in all the debates, Miss Davies said, with interesting points being raised from the floor. “QE and HBS students clearly enjoyed working together and sharing their ideas with students from another school.


“In debate 2, students brought up some interesting ideas to do with families which suffer from domestic abuse and child carers and, in debate 4, some interesting subjects were suggested that could be taught in a wider curriculum at secondary schools.”


""At the end of the day, the best eight debaters overall were asked to prepare for a final debate – and this time they were given just 15 minutes to prepare. The debate took place in front of all the other pupils, with all of them “rising to the challenge very well”.


“The event was an excellent opportunity for our boys to interact with students from another school in a challenging but supportive environment, where they were required to develop and voice their own opinions. It is exciting to see our partnership with HBS expanding this year, so a greater number of boys are able to benefit from these types of events,” Miss Davies concluded.