Headmaster’s update

Headmaster’s update

With the Summer Term now at its end, it may be instructive to reflect on the successes and challenges that the past months have brought.

The inclement weather on Founder’s Day was, of course, one such challenge, but the day was successful nonetheless, raising substantial sums for the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s. We are always pleased to welcome OEs to Founder’s Day; I was happy to see a good number in attendance this year.

Our recent Junior Awards ceremony was another highlight, with old boy Akhil Shah, our Guest of Honour, providing a shining example to our younger boys. And the School chess team are to be congratulated on achieving second place in the final of the English Chess Federation National Schools’ Championship at Uppingham School. As far as I know, this is QE’s best-ever result at this prestigious competition.

I was encouraged to see Queen Elizabeth’s School named as London’s top boys’ state school in a Sunday Times feature on the capital’s schools. The School is eighth in the newspaper’s London-wide rankings, headed only by fee-paying schools and by the girls’ grammar, Henrietta Barnett. Nationally, QE currently stands in joint-11th place in the Sunday Times’ rankings of the best 700 secondary schools, rising from 17th place last year. In these national tables, it is again the leading boys’ state school. The tables are based on the percentage of top grades at both A-level and GCSE. For A-levels only, QE was joint-fourth overall nationally, outstripping all other state schools.

My attention was caught by press coverage of research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This emphasised how important it is that teenagers read; it found that reading for pleasure at the age of 15 is the most important indicator of the future success of the child. Our new library will greatly enhance our facilities in this regard. It will have capacity for 13,000 books – we will therefore be building up our collections – and will provide a commodious environment for reading and research. I am pleased to be able to report that recent progress on the Library and Dining Hall project has been good. We are now working on interior finishes and we expect the new facilities to be complete in the autumn.

Attention is now turning towards the next objectives in QE’s estates strategy. Foremost amongst these is replacement of the Fern Building’s roof, at an estimated cost of £800,000. More than £100,000 has been spent on repairs since the building’s completion in 1974, but leaks have persisted. The building has a good-quality steel frame, so installing a higher and better insulated roof, will allow it to be re-clad and re-configured internally at a later date, perhaps as a new location for the gym. After that, we hope to convert the Heard Building into a dedicated teaching block for English. And further into the future, areas of the site that we have identified for potential development include the Mayes Building.

It was also interesting to read recently of the concerns raised by Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, regarding the failure of many non-selective state schools to nurture their brightest pupils, with the result that children at selective state schools are far more likely to win places at top universities than those who went to non-selective ones. Department for Education data shows that QE sends more pupils to Russell Group universities than any other state school, according to the most recent figures available.

A report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that the number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds gaining places at Russell Group universities has declined over the past decade. In contradistinction to this trend, I believe Queen Elizabeth’s School is demonstrably playing its part in furthering social mobility: our boys come from a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds, and the School is strictly a meritocracy, with boys making progress here solely on the basis of their ability and application. Some 95% of QE Year 13 leavers went to Russell Group universities in 2012. We do all we can to ensure our pupils gain places at the leading universities. This year, for example, we have a new initiative, giving our Year 12 boys considering applications to Oxford or Cambridge, or to read Medicine, formal mock interview experience with OEs and other friends of the School who are experts in their field. Locations for these practice interviews include the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall, the Houses of Parliament and the adjoining Portcullis House. I am most grateful to all those who have given up their time to help with this initiative.

We are not, however, complacent. Last year, we set out our School Priorities for Development 2012-2016. We have since made very good progress. One emerging priority for the forthcoming academic year is making a start on greater differentiation of the curriculum and its delivery. While all QE boys will continue to aspire to similarly high levels of achievement, we will work on developing strategies to suit their varying needs, including adapting our teaching styles as necessary. We believe we already do that, but we would like to do it even better.

I wish all our alumni and their families a pleasant summer.

Neil Enright