Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

At this unprecedented time for schools and for society, our primary concern at the School is the wellbeing of all those in the Elizabethan community.

I am very conscious of the dedication and sacrifice of the many Old Elizabethans working so hard in the NHS and in other front-line professions. We are proud of the contribution they are making to the national effort.

We are doing what we can, too. Our Head of Technology, Michael Noonan, is currently using our 3D printers to manufacture face shields (a vital part of medics’ Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE) for the NHS. We have also worked with Dr Ahmer Farooqi, Director of the Barnet GP Federation (and a QE dad), to donate our supply of 228 pairs of eye protection glasses for use by local GPs in Barnet.

We are rapidly adapting to a new way of working and have instituted remote learning for all of the boys. Of course, eQE is already well established as a platform for complementary independent learning, but in the current situation it has now become our primary method for delivering education to the boys. We are challenging ourselves as a staff body to make lessons and activities as interactive and exciting as possible, and we are taking the opportunity to advance the School’s digital development, not just in terms of delivering the core curriculum, but also by thinking about what outstanding extra-curricular and pastoral provision looks like in this context. I am currently holding all staff meetings via Zoom’s video-conferencing software, for example, and we are looking at trialling this for learning activities, too. As we grapple with how we can ensure that the boys not only remain on track with their studies, but access as many opportunities to enrich themselves as possible, we are at the same time trying to maintain QE’s sense of community.

The strength of that community across the generations was evident in the numbers who contacted me to say that they wished to attend the memorial service that we had planned for Eamonn Harris. Unfortunately, the service had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am pleased to say, however, that we have been able to include three profiles of School Captains from Eamonn’s time as Headmaster in this edition of Alumni News.

We have had to cancel all in-person alumni events, but I would emphasise that we want to be there for alumni, just as we are for current pupils and their families. In addition to this newsletter, we are continuing to publish content about old boys in the Alumni section of the School website. I also remind all Old Elizabethans that you can make useful connections through QE Connect, whether those are with current boys or with other OEs. At this difficult time, let us help each other.

Another cancellation arising from the current crisis has been of this summer’s public examinations. While I well understand the disappointment that many of our boys are feeling at being thus deprived of the opportunity to show their prowess, they are still to receive grades, so the transition to university should continue in a similar way to normal.

One undoubted highlight of this term was the news that 40 boys have been offered Oxbridge places. This is a new record for QE and represents a very considerable achievement, for the boys individually and for the School. Twenty-seven places are for Cambridge, the remaining 13 for Oxford.

For any school in pursuit of academic excellence, Oxbridge places constitute a useful metric. It is evidence that, as a state school and a meritocracy, QE is effectively providing pathways to world-leading universities for bright students, regardless of their social, racial or religious background.

As the speaker at our Year 12 luncheon, Sonita Alleyne OBE told our sixth-formers: “If you get the grades, you belong.” Since she is the first-ever black Master of any Oxbridge college and the first female Master at Jesus College, Cambridge, this message carries special resonance. During her visit, she also met the three final-year boys – Drew Sellis, Reza Sair and Bhiramah Rammanohar – who hold offers from Jesus College for the autumn.

Oxbridge offers should certainly be celebrated, and there has been great news for others, too, with many boys holding offers for courses such as Medicine and Dentistry, for example. There are interesting opportunities overseas, with 12 boys applying to US universities and one to Japan; one pupil has been awarded a $180,000 scholarship to study at the University of Toronto, based on academic merit – our first-ever offer from a Canadian university, as far as I am aware. Applications have been made across disciplines including Arabic, Classics, Criminology, Music, and Optometry, alongside subjects more commonly chosen by our boys.

Nottingham remains a popular choice of university here, with some 50 Elizabethan undergraduates currently studying there, not to mention post-graduate students. I was therefore pleased to welcome as our Senior Awards guest speaker, Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor at Nottingham. At the ceremony, we recognised the scholarship and endeavours of boys from Years 10–12. In a new departure, we had planned a special valediction later in the year for Year 13; we hope this will still be able to take place.

Old Elizabethan help made a significant contribution to this year’s Oxbridge successes. Indeed, alumni now consistently play an important role in our senior boys achieving the best outcomes, lending their support through initiatives such as our USP (Universities Support Programme) and the inaugural Mock Interview Evening. Lectures and talks given by our alumni are also important in this regard: this term has seen Google manager Nikolai Donko (OE 2000-2007) enthusiastically championing ‘tech’ careers to the Upper School,  McKinsey Business Analyst Kiran Modi (OE 2007-2014) speaking to our aspiring economists, and Jordan Wan (OE 2004–2011) sharing with Year 9 boys insights into his work as an NHS Clinical Scientist Trainee. And when, during the winter, QE teams won two of the four main prizes (including the overall first prize) in the Institution of Civil Engineers’ #ICanEngineer competition in our first year of entry, another old boy, Karan Dewnani (OE 2006-2013) was on hand to greet them in the offices of engineering firm, Jacobs. Karan works for Jacobs as a Civil Engineer in the rail industry and, as a STEM Ambassador, was supporting the competition organisers on the day.

Very importantly, as I made clear in my speech at Senior Awards, the successes achieved by our senior boys are also the result of our emphasis on free-thinking scholarship throughout the entire School. Our focus is on the fundamental attributes that underpin scholarship, which include the nurturing of intellectual exploration beyond the bounds of the examination syllabus. We are open to expressions of scholarship which come in different guises and are inspired by different sources, such as the award-winning podcasts of George the Poet (George Mpanga, OE 2002–2009), or the work of another Old Elizabethan poet, Anthony Anaxagorou (1994–1999). We recognise that scholarship involves creativity (in the sciences as well as the arts), and that it can be emotional as well as empirical.

We are highly committed to excellence and to ensuring that it is evident in all the different facets of the School’s life. Our new Music School will be important as a venue for the creative arts and we recognise that the physical environment is a factor in the encouragement of scholarship. Alongside all the other ongoing improvement works taking place here, we are now out to tender for the build phase. We have ‘specced out’ the building, which will include a valuable social space (the atrium), and a recital hall.

While the operation of the School is inevitably disrupted at this time, as we look to the future, we are fortunate that the Elizabethan community is so strong. That strength will certainly see us through the present crisis, just as it has helped Queen Elizabeth’s School withstand other grave challenges in our 447-year history.

My very best wishes to you and your families. Thank you for your understanding and support, please stay in touch and, to repeat a widely used but nonetheless appropriate sentiment: stay safe.

Neil Enright