Headmaster’s Update

Headmaster’s Update

Saturday, 24th March, was significant for Queen Elizabeth’s School for two reasons. First, it marked the 445th anniversary of the founding of the School in 1573. And second, it was the date of our annual Elizabethan Union Dinner Debate, a formal occasion now in its 53rd year that brings together the School’s present with its past through the involvement of current Year 12 pupils alongside Old Elizabethans.

We will be reporting back to you in due course on the events of that evening and of this term’s QE Rugby Sevens. The continuity provided by the annual running of such events not only celebrates the School’s rich heritage, but also points to its future, as the Sixth Form debaters of today become the alumni of tomorrow and they, in turn, interact with their successors at the School.

Within our history, we have a long record of excellence. We continue our regular celebrations of commitment and achievement in School, such as our recent Senior Awards Ceremony. The excellence achieved at QE is, in its many forms, in part a result of the high standards and aspirations maintained by the School, the parents and the boys themselves. But, of course, there can be a tension between striving for excellence and falling into the trap of perfectionism. For their own wellbeing, it is most important that boys retain a sense of perspective and that they are supported at School and at home to ensure this.

We place considerable emphasis on the characteristics – specifically the skills and habits – required for successful learning. This year, staff are reviewing and fine-tuning the School’s own assessment strategies to provide a foundation for the development, assessment and rewarding of these skills and habits (as well as the identification of strategies to support those students who are not effective at developing them). I have been suggesting to parents that they can play their part by encouraging their sons to participate in our very wide range of enrichment activities – including sports, the arts and volunteering – to ensure boys at QE are well-rounded and broadly accomplished, thus reducing the risk of their becoming narrow or obsessive.

We now very regularly invite expert speakers, many of them alumni, to speak to the boys through our lecture programmes and on other occasions. Their often-sage advice is another invaluable help in combatting perfectionism. It is striking how frequently highly accomplished speakers refer to the setbacks they have suffered, or describe situations in which a failure became serendipitous for a future success. Entrepreneurs are always talking about the importance of failing as a means of learning. And one recent Old Elizabethan speaker, Jake Green (1992–1997) explained that he was rejected by a particular law firm after university, but has since become a partner there, following experience elsewhere.

Other OE visitors to the School this term have included 2017 leaver Ché Applewhaite – who took a break from his first year at Harvard to speak to Year 12 boys interested in applying to Ivy League universities – and entrepreneur Akshay Ruparelia (2009-2016), reportedly the country’s youngest self-made millionaire at 19 through the success of his online estate agency, Doorsteps.co.uk.

A new development in the Sixth Form this year has been the QE-USP enrichment option, a modular course designed to allow Year 12 pupils to enhance their skills in putting together the best possible university application – which means one in which the laudable quality of academic ambition is nonetheless tempered by realism and pitched according to each boy’s abilities. (The ‘USP’ aspect stands both for University admissions Support Programme and for Unique Selling Point.) Then there is the continuing development of QE Connect, our initiative that matches current pupils with alumni who can provide them with specific help in setting and then pursuing their university and career aspirations.

Excellence abounds at this School. I am pleased to be able to state that this year, our sixth-formers have received 28 Oxbridge offers, including 12 from Oxford, which is now closing in on Cambridge, for which there are 16 offers. The Oxford figure is a record, certainly in recent years, and a feat that was happily timed for the visit of Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, as Guest of Honour at our 2018 Senior Awards. Other examples of excellence this term include our success in the Mathematics and Physics Olympiads, our robotics teams qualifying for the World Championship in the US and those boys who delighted audiences in this term’s Music performances and in the School Play, The 39 Steps.

My warmest wishes go to all Old Elizabethans.

Neil Enright