Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

This has been a good term, punctuated in the middle by the significant event of our English department moving into the refurbished and extended Heard Building.

This building is especially important in the recent history of our School since, in the late 1990s, its construction was one of the very first capital projects to be funded through the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s. It is named in honour of Luxton Robert ‘George’ Heard (OE 1927–1936). George, who died in 2009, was School Captain in his final year as a pupil. He later became QE’s Chairman of Governors, preceding the current Chairman, Barrie Martin, who took over in 1999.

Now, in the latest stage of our Estates Strategy, the Heard Building has been not merely repurposed but thoroughly modernised, structurally strengthened and upgraded, with a new link added to the adjacent Fern Building. The block provides self-contained accommodation for English, including eight classrooms and offices. It has been decorated with enlarged photographs of recent School drama productions. The project was completed on time and on budget. And once again, the work, with costs totalling more than £1m, has been entirely funded through FQE.

I am delighted at the success of this project and I would like to commence this letter by placing on record my gratitude to all the old boys and supporters of the School who have contributed. OE donations help us to deliver our Estates Strategy and are especially important in this era of challenging financial circumstances for schools in the state sector. Without such generosity, whether in the form of one-off gifts or in regular donations, our pupils and staff simply would not be enjoying the benefits afforded by these impressive new facilities. I invite any of our alumni who feel able to make a contribution, in any form, to the School, to contact me or my new Executive Assistant, Matthew Rose, a former School Captain here (OE 2002–2009). I would also welcome connection with any Old Elizabethans through my LinkedIn account.

Last summer’s very strong examination results have continued to reverberate at the School this term. January brought the publication of the annual Government league tables, which confirmed QE’s position in the foremost rank of all schools across both the independent and state sectors. QE was named the top boys’ school nationally for GCSE results, while at A-level, ranked in the tables by average point score per entry, we were the second-ranked state school in the country.

More recently, I was pleased to receive a letter from the Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, congratulating us on our “high standards…hard work and professionalism”. The letter concentrated on the School’s performance at GCSE against the Government’s new ‘Progress 8’ measure. Progress 8 measures the progress pupils make over eight key subjects, including English and Mathematics, between Key Stage 2 and the end of Key Stage 4. Queen Elizabeth’s School, Mr Gibb wrote, is among the top five per cent of schools nationally.

Following the recent Government announcement on the funding of new, selective free schools, I re-iterate my contention that it is essential that state-maintained education caters for the most able students and, furthermore, that the system enables social mobility. These are priorities that are absolutely core to our values at Queen Elizabeth’s School.

Our new School Development Plan, introduced this academic year, attaches considerable importance to providing challenge for all our very able pupils, so that they continue to make academic progress throughout their time at the School. The plan highlights the need for teachers to direct and inspire pupils to develop habits that will be useful to them in their learning. One of the habits I am especially keen for our boys to cultivate is that of asking questions. I have urged pupils not to be embarrassed but always to adopt an interrogative approach if they do not understand something: this is a sign of strength, not weakness. By persevering in asking good questions, boys will find they can readily eliminate any academic difficulties they face in the classroom.

But while that is valuable, the benefits of asking questions extend well beyond such a utilitarian outcome. Through our burgeoning lecture programme, we have recently welcomed several inspirational speakers to the School. One of the purposes of that programme is to give boys opportunities to ask questions of those who have great expertise and experience in fields that extend far outside our normal curriculum. We thus seek to nurture a culture of intellectual curiosity.

I was interested to read recently about what Google looks for in its new employees. Among the qualities it seeks is ‘high cognitive ability’ – those who are not only bright, but intellectually curious and able to learn. Google values role-related knowledge, but not deep specialisation in a narrow area: even when employing staff in a technical role, although the company assesses expertise in computer science thoroughly, it nonetheless prefers those with an extensive general understanding of computer science rather than a narrowly specialised knowledge of one field. The company has also coined a neologism – ‘Googleyness’ – to sum up a package of related qualities that it looks for when recruiting. These include enjoying fun, intellectual humility, conscientiousness, being comfortable with ambiguity (Google acknowledges that it does not know how the business will evolve) and evidence that applicants have taken some courageous or interesting paths in their lives.

The School’s own equivalent of Googleyness – ‘QE Qualities’, perhaps – would certainly include intellectual curiosity, alongside grit and resilience. Since QE is a selective school, our pupils are naturally endowed with intelligence. It gives them a valuable head start in life, but no more than that. In fact, a strong academic record on its own is recognised by employers as a poor predictor of performance. Employees who thrive eschew complacency and instead actively seek fresh challenges, embracing any failures as opportunities for growth.

As we adapt to a fast-changing world, it has been interesting to have had contact in recent months with three Old Elizabethans – Kam Taj, Jay Shetty and Aaron Tan – who are all, in their various ways, following unconventional career paths. Jay and Aaron feature in this newsletter, while Kam appeared in the Christmas edition. They and other OEs featured here are exemplars of those demonstrating a willingness to ask questions and then act courageously on the answers they receive.

I extend my best wishes to all our old boys for the Easter holiday.


Neil Enright