Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

Despite the most difficult circumstances this term, Queen Elizabeth’s School has continued in extraordinary times to do all of our ordinary things well – not, of course, that there is anything ordinary about QE and the Elizabethan community.

I have been concerned by national media reports about children being educationally disadvantaged during lockdown. Thanks to the hard work of teaching and support staff, QE boys do not find themselves in that situation.

Staff have been hugely active in finding new, creative ways of working. It has been difficult, but we have provided pupils with their full curriculum entitlement. Every lesson has been delivered; academically strong, purposeful teaching and learning has been maintained. That we have been able to do so is thanks to the heavy investments made in the development of our digital eQE platform in recent years.

Those eQE investments have generally been funded through voluntary giving, and I am deeply grateful to the many alumni who give generously to the School. Our biggest annual fundraiser is normally Founder’s Day – and I am pleased to report that, the pandemic notwithstanding, this year is no exception. We easily exceeded our £20,000 target in the first Virtual Founder’s Day in the School’s 447-year history; the current total stands at more than £22,000, including Gift Aid.

The programme, presented through the YouTube Premiere facility, was a carefully curated combination of traditional elements, adapted for a digital environment, and innovative features, such as our video curry cook-along. Robert Rinder (OE 1989–1994) made a special guest appearance. My thanks go to him and the many old boys who supported us.

Founder’s Day was also a very public reminder of the philanthropy underpinning the work of The Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s – one aspect of the uniqueness that makes QE a state school like no other. It is as a direct result of FQE’s work and of our success in a Department for Education competitive bidding process that we are in a position to go ahead with our Music School project: construction work will start during the holidays. This, again, is far from ordinary: our boldness at this juncture speaks volumes about the confidence I and the Governors have in the future of the School.

Just as we have continued to provide all boys with a full timetable of lessons, Old Elizabethans have continued to support our senior pupils by providing careers and university guidance remotely during lockdown. They included, among others, Sam Colman (OE 1998–2005), Rohan Shah (OE 2012–2019) , Kiran Modi (OE 2007–2014), Karan Dewnani (OE 2006–2013) and Binu Perera (OE 2012–2019). My heartfelt thanks go to all who have given their time so liberally.

George Mpanga (OE 2002–2009) has again been prominent on our TV screens and radios this term, and I was pleased to learn he had gained further critical recognition, too: his podcast (entitled Have you heard George’s podcast?) is the first-ever UK podcast to win a Peabody Award. Peabody Awards are one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious media awards series, so this is a considerable achievement.

I would also like to honour the many Elizabethans working for the NHS and in other key-worker roles, both here and overseas. Service has always been an important value for our School, and I know that the example of our alumni in these difficult days has inspired current boys as they think about their own futures. Indeed, some pupils have spent considerable amounts of their free time during lockdown volunteering in hospitals and in the community, or putting their engineering skills to good use by manufacturing PPE using equipment such as home 3D printers.

As Covid-19 continues to have a massive impact around the world, another important development during this period has been the global rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. I have now been here for 18 years, half of that time as Headmaster. I know how warm, respectful and kind Elizabethans are, and what a high value we place on diversity. Yet I recognise that we, in common with all organisations, do not always get everything right, and that there is more we can do.

During the term, our new, pupil-led forum, Perspective, was launched to look at issues such as racism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination. The Hughes brothers, Kelvin and Elliot, (OE 1999–2006 and 2002–2009 respectively) were invited as special guests to a Perspective discussion on Zoom for Years 11 and 12, in which I was also pleased to be able to take part. They made a very telling contribution to the discussion, bringing their own experiences and reflections from a generation above the current boys.

In this last week, Bilal Harry Khan (2003–2010) and Kam Taj (2004–2011), two alumni with whom the School has forged an ongoing relationship, have been among our very few physical visitors to the site during the term. Both came in to deliver workshops as part of a special pastoral day for our Year 12 boys, who have been spending increasing time here as lockdown eases, in line with Government policy. Bilal spoke on Tackling discrimination and prejudice and Kam Taj (2004–2011) addressed the sixth-formers on Intrinsic motivation.

Also this week, we have had Jay Shetty (OE 1999–2006), global podcaster, broadcaster and motivational speaker, as the guest speaker for our virtual Junior Awards ceremony.

While the current situation is unprecedented for all of us, I take heart from our proud heritage and from the strength of our Elizabethan community. The great contribution made by our old boys is a major element in this strength. That contribution continues to grow: QE Connect, our alumni platform, was launched at the start of the academic year and its membership has expanded steadily ever since, with more than 800 users now signed up.

QE has overcome past challenges quite as serious as Covid-19, including wars, financial crises and the plague. The dedication, generosity and loyalty of alumni, boys, parents, staff and Governors have carried us through before; they have sustained us during this lockdown, and they are enabling us now to emerge on the other side in a very strong position.

I have never been prouder of the School and would not want to be anywhere else. As we come to the end of a term unlike any other, I wish all our alumni a safe and enjoyable summer.

Neil Enright