Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

I am pleased to report that the spirit of competition has been to the fore at Queen Elizabeth’s School throughout the Spring Term.

The celebration of excellence and the virtue of competition are ingrained into QE life from the very beginning of a boy’s School career here, as demonstrated recently by our fiercely contested Year 7 Music Scholarships and junior chess tournament. We are keen to foster competition through such regular events in our calendar; our Senior Awards ceremony is another important example.

Competition is a key aspect of our House system, which spans both academic and extra-curricular areas of School life. For example, through the House competition, boys who may not be picked for School teams can nonetheless enjoy the chance to represent their House in all the competitive sports played at QE. In other fields, too, our pupils are encouraged to prove themselves in numerous external competitive events and initiatives, whether at local, regional, national or international level.

Last year’s QE team in the Engineering Education Scheme achieved the highest score ever recorded in the national scheme’s 12-year history and have recently been talking to construction industry representatives about implementing their ideas for tower crane safety. This year’s entrants from Year 12 are also on course to do well.

QE has also reached the final for the first time in the prestigious Hans Woyda Mathematics Competition. Having knocked out Harrow School in the semi-final, we narrowly lost to St Paul’s School in the final. One of the team, Year 12 student, Gabriel Gendler, was also chosen to represent the UK at an international Mathematics competition in Romania, where the UK was placed third.

Also at an individual level, Madhi Elango’s success in reaching the Physics Olympiad training camp – a distinction achieved by only 16 candidates nationwide – is all the more impressive given that he is still in Year 12, whereas many other competitors are in the year above. Similarly, our former School Captain, Nigethan Sathiyalingam, has reached the last 16 in the Biology Olympiad. And Michael Zhao is the first-ever QE pupil to reach the final of the British Informatics Olympiad.

Competition is one important tool in motivating boys; inspiring them and broadening their horizons is another. This term we have been privileged to welcome a number of inspirational visitors to the School. They include Professor Chris Brink, Vice Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, our Guest of Honour at Senior Awards. He is not only a distinguished logician, but he also led the transformation of Stellenbosch University in South Africa from an institution closely associated with the former apartheid régime to an academically strong university that is playing a full part in the development of modern South African society. In a speech which resonated with our own ethos and aims, he told the boys: “It doesn’t matter where you come from; it is where you end up that matters.” As a young man, he grew up in a small town on the edge of the Kalahari desert and did not have the opportunity to travel or leave South Africa until he arrived in the UK at 24 to start his PhD at Cambridge. He also addressed the boys on the importance of overcoming not only disadvantage, but advantage too. “Those who overcome disadvantage make a better life for themselves, whereas those who overcome advantage make a better life for others,” he said. All at QE work to develop boys’ awareness that they achieve genuine fulfilment by seeking to make a contribution to society rather than pursuing only personal gain. In so doing, I believe the School satisfies Professor Brink’s final maxim: an institution should know not only what it is good at, but what it is good for.

Lord Sassoon, until very recently Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, gave Sixth-Formers an inside view of government when he spoke at our Year 12 formal luncheon. Baroness Coussins, who is part of the Peers in Schools programme, paid a welcome return visit. And Richard Peltier, of French education organisation Français Facile, gave our Year 10-13 pupils a useful day of immersion in the French language. Mathematics expert Matt Parker entertained all 180 boys in Year 10 with some ‘comedy’ maths, but with serious educational import. For our Sixth Form Extended Project Qualification science students, two post-doctoral researchers from Cancer Research UK covered the themes of DNA repair, while Professor Sarben Sarkar, of King’s College, London, (and the father of Year 7 boy, Robert Sarkar) spoke about astronomical black holes.

QE pupils have this year secured 29 offers to Oxford or Cambridge – our second-highest total ever, representing a good improvement on last year’s tally of 25. The recent trend for our boys to look towards a more internationally diverse set of university destinations continues: already Joseph Vinson has an offer to study at Yale in the USA, while Nigel Leung has been offered a conditional university place in Hong Kong. Given the introduction of tuition fees in the UK, I would similarly urge all our pupils at least to look at opportunities abroad – including any financial support that may be available – when they are considering their future academic path.

Our current major building project continues to progress well. I am pleased to announce that it will include an attractive new area to be known as Café 1573 – named after the year in which QE was established. (24th March was the 440th anniversary of the granting of the Charter by Queen Elizabeth I to found the School.) Set on a slightly lower level than the new Dining Hall and opening on to Red Square, Café 1573 will provide a coffee shop-style service for hot drinks and food, as well as a social area in which senior pupils can relax. It will also be used by the School for special occasions. The Dining Hall and Café 1573 are scheduled to open during the Autumn Term this year, with the Library on the floor above to follow.

I am working with senior colleagues, the Governing Body and the Trustees of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s on the further development of the School site. In the first place, we will be tackling an urgent maintenance issue: the leaking flat roof of the Fern Building. A planning application has been submitted to replace this with a new roof, which will include a curved roof on a large part of the building similar to that on the Martin Swimming Pool. We are also in the process of developing plans for improved accommodation elsewhere on the School site. These developments in our built environment are very much aligned with the outworking of the School’s strategic priorities for 2012-16.

I wish all our former pupils a pleasant Easter.

Neil Enright