Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

After a spring and summer spent largely in lockdown, I am pleased to report that this Autumn Term has felt much more normal.

The majority of School life has taken place, albeit often in adapted form. Not only have our classrooms once again reverberated softly to the sounds of teaching and learning, but there has also been a welcome return to those in-person extra-curricular activities which could be run within our year-group bubbles. Alongside this, cross-bubble activities have taken place online, including our much-valued peer-mentoring system.

I do not underestimate the magnitude of the changes many have had to contend with. To name just two examples among many, our University Mock Interview Evening and our Year 11 Careers Convention at the School both had to be cancelled. I, therefore, greatly appreciated the willingness of alumni such as Zac Howlett-Davies (2006–2013) and Karan Dewnani (2006–2013) to support senior boys by giving online interviews and speaking at our virtual careers event respectively. Overall, however, I can say that we have been fortunate in terms of the number of incidences of Covid-19 within the School. It has certainly been difficult at times, but I am thankful that we have not faced really significant disruption.

I was naturally delighted to read the highly laudatory report on Queen Elizabeth’s School published recently by the Good Schools Guide. The guide’s Kate Hilpern began her research during lockdown and then visited us in October. Her final report commented on how we had “flexed quickly and well” to the challenge of Covid-19 and had “learned from it, too” in areas extending beyond the classroom, including pastoral care.

That process has continued throughout the Autumn Term. The intelligent use of technology has enabled much more day-to-day normality. For those needing to isolate at home it has also enabled them to participate in their lessons.

We have seen some bold initiatives within the scope of the current restrictions. Our Year 9 Drama Club members rose magnificently to the challenge of staging an abridged version of Hamlet for this year’s Shakespeare Schools Festival. Music, too, has adjusted well to the current dispensation, deploying web broadcasting and live-streaming to ensure that the term’s concerts reached as wide an audience as possible.

The Good Schools Guide mentioned our “intellectual approach to Art”, noting the breadth of the forms and materials used, such as animation, installation, sculpture, and painting. While sports fixtures with other schools have not been possible, the PE department have been ensuring boys stay match-fit, organising intra-year group games and tournaments in rugby and water polo, for example.

Our new, pupil-led initiative, Perspective, continues to have an impact. We were pleased to welcome Jamie Sherman (OE 2002–2009) and Arjun Goswami (OE 2001–2008) on International Men’s Day, when they spoke about their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community in an event that combined an actual meeting with senior prefects with live-streaming into Year 9–13 tutor rooms. During Black History Month, Ifeanyi Chinweze (OE 2008-2015), recorded films for older and younger boys. recounting discriminatory comments against him as a teenager and telling the junior pupils: “It’s important to understand that racism is not limited to hate crimes or acts of violence.” Our forthcoming curriculum review will incorporate themes of combatting racial bias.

In spite of all the new pandemic-related restrictions, the term got off to a very cheerful start as we continued to celebrate the GCSE and A-level grades awarded to our boys during August. All the things we were hoping for in the summer were realised. At GCSE, a shining performance at the very top, with 61% of all grades being at level 9, helped propel us towards what were ostensibly our best-ever results. It was a similar story at A-level, where our leavers achieved 99.6% A*–B grades, as well as a 9.3% increase to 54.6% in the number of A-levels awarded an A* grade; both figures represent a School record. Given the cancellation of public examinations in 2020, comparing these awarded grades with previous years’ results is difficult. But they are, by any measure, remarkable statistics, and I fully appreciate what an extraordinary amount of time and effort from our whole Elizabethan community stands behind them. They are a vindication of our emphasis on free-thinking scholarship. As the Good Schools Guide put it in their summing-up: “[QE is] a place where boys can expect to get carried away with the collective will to learn both in and outside the classroom, the result of which is one of the most inspiring learning environments we’ve ever come across.”

The end of term sees the retirement of Deputy Head Emi Aghdiran. Emi joined QE in 1998 and has made an outstanding contribution over many years.  She was the School’s first Business Manager and also our first female Assistant Head, before her promotion to Deputy. Dynamic and visionary, yet with attention to detail, she has been a significant factor in the School’s present success. On a personal note, I have found her hugely supportive and a pleasure to work with. Happily, she is by no means quitting the Elizabethan community entirely: she will remain a trustee of the School and of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s. I wish her a happy retirement.

Work on our keenly awaited Music School continues apace. The foundation works have largely been completed, and the erecting of the steel frame is scheduled to start this week. We remain on track for completion in time for the autumn of 2021.

I also eagerly anticipate the publication of our exciting new School Development Plan, covering the period 2021–2025, which was approved by the Governors last month. We look forward to launching it.

May I conclude by saying how impressed I have been at the resilience and good humour shown by so many in our Elizabethan family in the face of the unprecedented crisis which 2020 has brought us. For that, I thank you.

I extend my best wishes to all alumni for a peaceful Christmas holiday and for health and happiness in the New Year.

Neil Enright