WHEN DID HIGHGATE BECOME CO-EDUCATIONAL?
In 2001 the Governors took the decision to transform Highgate from a boys’ school into a co-educational school. Although our Pre-Prep has always been co-educational, it was not until 2004 that Highgate Junior and Senior Schools welcomed girls for the first time at the various different entry points. As a result of this, our metamorphosis is now complete; indeed, from September 2010, the whole of the Highgate Foundation (ranging from the Pre-Prep to the Upper Sixth) has become fully co-educational.
As a school, we believe that co-education makes sense in today’s society. We think that we have a significant role to play in equipping our pupils with the necessary tools to not only successfully fulfil their academic potential, but also to learn how to work and play happily alongside each other.
Although we know that there are some very good single sex schools in North London, we are also aware that there is an ever-increasing demand from parents for first-rate co-educational independent schools. The academically selective nature of Highgate means that we seek to balance this pursuit of academic excellence with an invigorating all-round education for girls and boys. We want girls and boys to be able to experience everything that the school has to offer. Furthermore, it means that families can send both their sons and daughters to us.
HOW DID WE PREPARE FOR CO-EDUCATION?
To facilitate the smooth transition to full co-education, we adopted a rigorous planning and preparation programme which examined a number of key areas: the School’s aims and ethos; the teaching and learning environment, the curriculum, the teaching staff, Pastoral Care, facilities and development projects, sports’ provision and extra-curricular activities.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
We have learned just how important it is to treat our pupils as individuals and to avoid gender stereotyping. Although we have extended our curriculum to incorporate subjects such as Theatre Studies and The History of Art, the reality is that, academically, girls and boys choose to study what they are personally interested in, and certainly in the classroom they often seem to spur each other on: some of our top Mathematicians are girls; some of our most creative pupils are boys. In other words, we have learned how vital it is for us to educate the male and the female in each child and we encourage staff to find and nurture the individual talents and interests of all of our pupils.
We are also aware that sometimes girls just want to be girls and boys just want to be boys, and that is fine. For our part, we simply want our pupils to feel happy and confident enough to be themselves, and we feel that the positive interaction between pupils is a central part of that process. Above all, we want our pupils to not only be tolerant of difference, but to celebrate that difference, be that one of gender, sexuality, race or religion. Having girls here makes that diversity possible and natural.
HAS IT WORKED?
Yes. We have been delighted by the overwhelmingly positive response to co-education from pupils, parents and staff alike – to the extent that it is now almost impossible to imagine Highgate School without its healthy mix of boys and girls.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Whilst we are delighted that the movement towards full coeducation has worked, we know that we cannot afford to be complacent; we know that we must be pro-active at ensuring that we get it right both now and in the future. Constant monitoring, evaluation and planning will help us to ensure that we are providing the best possible educational experience for our girls and our boys.