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Proud QEGS Head tells of 'splendid year'

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: January 02, 2008

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A PROUD Dr Roger Wilkes told the audience at this year's Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School speech night that 2007 has been a "splendid year" and that record exam results and fine sporting acheivements will stand it in good stead for a rosy future.

In his speech, the headmaster remarked on the considerable achievements managed by QEGS pupils over the last 12 months, and acknowledged the efforts of dozens of pupils that went the extra mile and helped the Green Road school once again enjoy national glory.

Guest of honour at the annual event was Richard Partington, a senior tutor at Churchill College in Cambridge and introducing speakers was chairman of the school's governing body, Cliff Lewer.

In his half-hour speech, Dr Wilkes welcomed Mr Partington on his fourth visit to the school. He explained: "Richard and I met in 2004 to organise a programme to encourage Derbyshire students to aim higher in their university choices.

"He was joined for the programme by Mark Wormald from Corpus Christi College Oxford. As a result applications to top universities by Derbyshire students grew markedly.

"Everyone who has met Richard has been enthused by his commitment to young people and to dispelling misguided preconceptions about what they can achieve.

"However beware. When I invited him to be here tonight I told him that a QEGS Speech Day was like Market Snodsbury Grammar School without the laced orange juice!

"He replied promising to play Bertie Woosler to my Aunt Agatha. Devotees of PG Woodhouse will understand the allusion and start to worry. Richard you are most welcome.

"My fear is being compared to you oratorically rather than having to wear 'barbed wire next to the skin'."

Dr Wilkes went on to dispel a stigma he feels is becoming attached to the modern state school system. "If you read the popular press", he said, "education is never far from the top of the agenda.

"The themes are pretty constant. State education is at best mediocre at worst useless unless it is selective, teachers are unskilled and lazy, the system promotes mediocrity, discourages effort and fails the overwhelming majority of children.

"Everyone it seems is an expert. They can be categorised on the right by the floggers and disciplinarians who think that schools are too soft and liberal, and on the left by those who say that we impose a straight jacket on naturally inquisitive minds.

"Criticism is constant indeed being an educational critic is almost now like being a theatre critic or a television critic.

"Only last weekend a Sunday Times Columnist drew upon her encyclopaedic knowledge of modern education to declare that everything would be solved by the simple process of sacking all the bad teachers.

"Central to the problem is of course the Head, harassed, confused, vacillating, not in the real world, living only for the prospect of early retirement on a gold plated pension.

So that is the problem. What is the answer? None is given. Is it because the answer is too hard or if you pose a question that is patently false you cannot expect an answer?"

His address, which was enjoyed by a school hall full of pupils, former pupils, parents and VIPs, this year carried an American theme after he spent 10 percent of the last 14 months in the United States

"I want to add to my theme of America two words to describe the tone of Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, they are opportunity and aspiration.

"They are in my view vital to the success of the school, indeed they are the key elements of any successful school.

"But you don't just need to speak them, that merely makes them platitudes. The themes are to be modelled in all that we do every day.

"Opportunity could of course be the opportunity to be mediocre. That is something that we do not do.

"We give the opportunity to be the best that you can, our ethos encourages or compels this and most support it.

"Like all schools we use baseline data to establish appropriate levels of achievements for each pupil.

"But for me the baseline data sets the minimum level of achievement that is acceptable, it does not set a maximum.

"If it did it would not work."

Full report and pictures on Page 16 and 17

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