Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

I began my report in the Christmas edition of Alumni News by stating that the Autumn Term had felt “much more normal”; as I now look back on the past three months, that is certainly not a phrase which I would employ to characterise this Spring Term.

From the very start, we faced rapidly changing circumstances, firstly gearing up to run a testing programme in early January, and then having to put it on hold at the eleventh hour as the country abruptly entered a further lockdown and we reverted to remote learning for all the boys.

Once again, both staff and pupils have demonstrated very commendable adaptability, even in the face of often-worrying news about the national and international situation, and, for some, closer to home, too. We have stuck together as a community, and there has been a resilient determination among my colleagues to ensure that boys at Queen Elizabeth’s School continue to receive an excellent education in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Thanks to an extraordinary amount of work and a great deal of flexibility, our teachers and support staff have now developed very considerable expertise in using MS Teams and the resources and tools available through eQE, such that they are able to deliver an online school which is the envy of many, and which replicates as closely as possible the normal, rich QE classroom experience.

The whole Elizabethan community was seen at its very best recently, when everyone contributed to making sure that we had a wonderful reopening on 11th March. The in-school testing programme was an unprecedented logistical challenge which, of course, had to be carried out in strictly controlled conditions to ensure it was Covid-safe: I heartily commend the commitment of our volunteers and staff who ran it so cheerfully and efficiently, and I give my thanks to QE parents and boys who played their part by signing up in great numbers for the tests.

We have maintained an extra-curricular programme, adapting activities as necessary so that we can continue with as many of them as possible. The 2021 QE University Convention, held over the final week-and-a-half of term, is a fine example of the way in which we have ‘flexed’ to ensure that important events in the School calendar are retained in order that pupils do not miss out on opportunities.

It has also reflected one of the really characteristic aspects of the lockdown, namely the enthusiastic engagement of our alumni in supporting current pupils, aided by our QE Connect platform and the new technology we are using as a School. Well over 50 alumni were scheduled over the 19 sessions and, as has become customary, most, although not all, were those who left QE last summer. They were therefore able to relate to our current pupils their experiences of their first two terms at university during this pandemic.

We have also welcomed a number of alumni during the term as virtual speakers. They include football agent Max Hassell (OE 2002–2009) who reflected on his diagnosed ADHD, anxiety and depression in a talk to senior pupils in a talk during Children’s Mental Health Week, and Bilal Harry Khan (OE 2003-2009) who took part in our new series of bitesize Perspective discussions, speaking about why ‘micro-aggressions’ are so harmful and suggesting ways that the issue can be addressed. My thanks go to all Old Elizabethans who have supported the School this term.

Another major event that was run in adapted form was this week’s Senior Awards. I reiterate the congratulations I offered at the dual ceremonies to all our prize-winners from Years 10–13.

One very bright spot that came in the darkest days of the shutdown was the announcement that our boys had secured 39 offers of places from Oxford and Cambridge. That is a very remarkable total, second only to last year’s highest-ever tally of 40 places offered. Yet in one sense, it is also an encouraging indication of ‘business as usual’ – a sign that, pandemic or no pandemic, we will continue to nurture our very able students, fostering in them a love of learning, high-level thinking and deep intellectual curiosity, and preparing them to thrive at the world’s best universities and in their careers.

Our new School Development Plan launched at the start of the term will play a considerable part in helping us achieve that. To amplify further our current distinction as a School, we recognise in the plan that we must ensure that the mix of attributes and skills we develop in our boys remains relevant in a world, which, as the last 12 months have demonstrated, is fast-changing and sometimes unpredictable. I am pleased that the plan was so well-received, and I look forward to working with colleagues to implement it over the next four years.

Through all the turmoil of recent months, work on the Music School building project has continued unabated, and we remain on schedule to open this exciting new facility in the autumn of this year.

As we look forward to the Summer Term, we have a carefully worked-out plan in place for our GCSE, AS and A2 cohorts. Boys in Years 11, 12 and 13 have a lot of work to do in terms of the final summative assessments that they will be taking in the early weeks of the term. All the best to them as they embark on their last push with their revision and preparation! Year 12 will then quickly be moving on to A-level preparation for their final examinations in the summer of 2022. We also have a programme for Year 11 – a bridge between GCSE studies and the Sixth Form – so that they can use their time productively.

While certain aspects inevitably remain uncertain, we hope that the next term will see a period of stability as the country progressively emerges from this crisis.

In the meantime, my warm wishes go to all alumni.

Neil Enright