Senior Awards: Oxford Vice-Chancellor bestows prizes at this highlight of the QE year

More than 100 awards were presented to QE’s high achievers by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University at Senior Awards – one of the academic highlights of the School’s calendar.

The ceremony in the School Hall represents an opportunity for the School to reward excellence in boys from Year 10 to the Sixth Form. Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor at Oxford since 2009, was the guest of honour, while the VIP party also included the Deputy Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Bridget Perry.

The evening featured musical interludes from some of the School’s leading musicians, with pieces by composers including Puccini, Mendelssohn and César Franck. The soloists were Thomas Archbold (alto saxophone), Jamie Mui (voice) and Simon Purdy (violin).

""Parents were able to enjoy a buffet supper in the Shearly Hall, mingling with the special guests and with teachers.
In his address, Headmaster Neil Enright said: “The boys present here this evening to collect their prizes from Professor Hamilton have found their places in our School community; they are excelling among their very capable and talented peers and this occasion is a wonderful occasion for us to publicly recognise them as examples of outstanding performance.”

Like the prize-winners, Professor Hamilton was a grammar school boy: he attended the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, in the days when it was still in the state sector. Today he is both a distinguished chemist and a greatly respected university administrator on both sides of the Atlantic, having been Provost at Yale from 2004 to 2008. He is only the second vice-chancellor to have been recruited externally in Oxford’s long history.

""In his speech, he drew parallels between Oxford and QE: both value uncompromising academic excellence and both are hard to get into – an unavoidable consequence of their being complete meritocracies. Neither is interested in parental income, in where students live or in their religious background. Professor Hamilton said Oxford undertakes extensive outreach work and he pointed out that a majority of undergraduates are from state schools, with 10 per cent coming from homes where the combined income is less than £16,000. For this latter group, generous bursaries are available and fees may be waived.

Professor Hamilton amused the audience of boys, parents, staff and guests by stating that the boys should always argue with their teachers – although purely in academic terms; they should question and challenge received wisdom.

""He then praised teachers, pointing out that the impact of an inspirational teacher can last a lifetime. The Professor said he valued their efforts so highly that every year at Oxford, first-year students from state schools were invited to nominate an outstanding teacher who had sparked a passion in them. A small number – perhaps ten or 12 – were then chosen for the University of Oxford Inspirational Teachers Award and invited to a reception in Oxford.

Able boys at QE should not hesitate to apply to Oxford, Professor Hamilton urged. In fact, if they did so and were successful, not only would he be able to meet some of them, but he might also meet some of their teachers, provided of course that they had been nominated for the awards.

The subject prizes awarded reflected the full breadth of the academic curriculum. There were also awards for extra-curricular achievement – such as the prize for debating & public speaking and the Combined Cadet Force Prize – and for contributions to the life of the School, such as those for leadership & involvement and for commitment & service.