| Share

Loos, well, that’s because over the holidays we converted two sets of previously gender-specific loos to gender-neutral ones: girls, boys and those who are gender fluid or don’t wish to identify themselves with a gender, can use them. Of course, we still have the majority of our loos designated for girls or for boys, and for female and male staff or visitors but, not having the space to make a net addition of loos, we did convert previously boys-only or girls-only loos, and habits have had to change. I don’t want to go into the gory details, but it’s clear that if boys and girls are to use cubicles (floor-to-ceiling doors to ensure privacy), more discussion and adaptation will be required. After all, this is new territory for school even if it’s the norm at home.

Young people are pleasingly accepting of and sympathetic to those whose lives are made miserable by the inability of institutions to adapt to their gender-fluidity or their gender-neutrality, but when a change is introduced which will cater for a small number of people but has the potential to disturb the tranquillity of the majority, passions rise. Highgate is only doing what most public bodies are now accepting they need to do, but the law of unintended consequences is certainly at play. I’ll be interested to see if (and what) this very well-intentioned and necessary change delivers; what is certain is that feed-back and consultation will be critical, not only about the surface (and important) issues, but about the underlying ones, too.

There’s not meant to be any link to the next point, but we do seem to be a school which makes a huge amount of bottled water available to our pupils and our staff: no packed lunch, no trip would be complete without the plastic bottle of water which has been transported to Highgate by road and rail. Surely we can do better? We all have water bottles, and we can fill ‘em up at home and top ‘em up at school. We know it’s important to be hydrated, but let’s not pollute the atmosphere in so doing. Simple: no more bottled water at school – but, on this one, let’s get to the pupils first and make sure they see the point of a small change for them but a massive change in our environmental footprint. My guess is that they will being pushing for more than just this tweak to our way of reducing waste.

And talking of polluting the air, Bishopswood Road users will have seen rhyme in action: ‘Save the air//Walk there!’ So runs the laminated verse outside the Junior School. The seductive pleasures of modern motors and dirty (or not so dirty) diesel need to be challenged, to be resisted, and not only for what they do to our planet or to the quality of life of those close to Highgate School, important though they both are, but for our children’s lungs! The fug of exhaust fumes, of our creeping 4x4s as they inch along the bucolic sports fields and playgrounds, gets inside the airways of those same children who have been neatly, clinically shipped from home to school. Local residents and parents lose their cool and exchange unrepeatable insults, whipped up by traffic treacle of no nutritional value. For those of us who live close by, let’s enjoy that walk or join a walking bus; for those who are further afield, let’s try out public transport, or help get a new bus route off the ground. Come on, Highgate!

Adam Pettitt, 11 September 2017