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I was glad I was sitting down.

I trotted along to assembly this morning (Year 13 followed by Y10, different presentations, but a similar theme: lovely and persuasive attempt to cajole Year 13s into looking after themselves a little more in the run-up to their ‘practice exams; Y10s listened to Y13s talking about how they could learn to ‘be themselves’ and in so doing build up strong mental health – more on this anon), and was mulling over some of the quite powerful testimonies which Y10 pupils and I had just heard when a very cheerful Y13 speaker greeted me and said that she really liked my blog. Now I’m a sucker for praise, and scour the weekly stats for evidence that someone has read the latest post, but it had never occurred to me that students, especially Highgate School’s finest, ever had the time or inclination to do so. I was rather touched, but very surprised!

And talking of touched, I’m in the mood for a bit of welldone-ing. Our twice-weekly briefings have been packed solid with bashfully delivered news of pupils doing amazing things: last week, news reached us that our top physicists (boys and girls) had won the Princeton University Physics Competition were ‘first in the world’. As I said to my colleagues, that sounds pretty good – I mean, the world, that is! In December and in January we were invited to St James’ Palace to witness our pupils receiving their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards: on both occasions, we were picked out for a warm tête à tête with the DoE leadership, not only to receive kind praise for the numbers (over 130 embarked on bronze) but to be quizzed on what makes it work. We’ve also heard that one of our pupils has been selected to represent the UK in the International Vex Robotics Competition, and young mathematicians came up trumps in the Olympiad Competition for that discipline. If all that were not enough, thirty or so budding thesps graced the Drama Studio on Monday and Tuesday in Moliere Schmoliere, an evening of short sketches for younger pupils and excerpts from the great French comic himself for senior Francophiles. With what aplomb they acted, and in beautifully delivered, completely intelligible, authentic French! Bravo!

On Thursday the Heads and Deputy Heads of School were wrestling with the implications of data protection legislation which appears to prevent them from giving birthday cards to support staff (birthdays being personal data which cannot be shared), and were determined to find a solution in their campaign to ensure that pupils appreciate the work of the unsung heroes of the Dining Hall and our super-spruce corridors and classrooms. And the final act of this half-term – Year 12 students form the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham and Highgate spent an afternoon together in a carousel of activities commissioned by a working party of students from both schools, keen to forge links across our sibling schools, ending up in the auditorium to hear a scratch choir performing music from Africa, Finland and further afield mastered in 60 minutes of rehearsal. Even the teachers were made to join in, chanting, ironically I hope, ‘We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control’. Not sure if everyone present got the reference, given their ages, but those listening to pop in the 80s certainly did. But we did all get the fact that the culture of encounter in a divided world is built on opening minds, opening hearts, through meeting, talking, sharing.

Great stuff. Have a good half-term break, everyone.

Adam Pettitt, 12 February 2018