I fear that by the time you are reading this the memory of ten days of summer sunshine and pink blossom will be distant, washed away by April showers and treacherous snows. But even if that is the case, I’ll still remember the happy hub-bub of break-time voices as sixth formers risking sunburn sat sprawling, leaned loafing, stood uncurling or knelt nattering in the Science Quad. As the bell calling us to work rang out, we were all – teacher and taught – as reluctant as each other to break up the gathering and togethering. It was a lovely interlude that told us how glad we were simply to be gathered and togethered.
It’s that time of year when we meet new people interested in joining the ranks of support and teaching staff and when, having come to terms with the fact of others’ leaving, become intrigued about those who might be succeeding them. We have been thinking how we can make the experience of trying Highgate out for size even more attractive and welcoming than it already is, especially to anyone who’s not known a private school before. One colleague’s bright idea to include a third interviewer on the General Panel not involved in the recruitment decisions has shifted the dynamic: their role is to empathise with the interviewee and their nervousness and to hold a mirror up to the regular interviewers. It’s early days but I was conscious in recent weeks of how well interviewees have slipped into a more natural groove and have run with their thoughts. In one such exchange that I wished I would have recorded, we found ourselves talking about the effects on young people of polarising Brexit debates, of the pandemic and lock-down, of the focus on racism, racial violence, sexism and sexual violence, of questions about social inequality. While it has been inspiring to see the next generation of voters engaging actively and as activists – gone are the crises of political apathy and disengagement in the young – adults observing their children have wondered whether the latter aren’t being encouraged to take on too much, to assume responsibility prematurely, even to feel guilty at the expense of childhood and playfulness.
Schools all over the country have, Covid absences notwithstanding, relished the return of sports fixtures, plays, concerts and competitions in recent months. Highgate has felt just the same: it’s difficult not to wish footballers and netballers fresh from local derbies back out on the pitch to re-live their sporting victories or to see the singers and dancers of Legally Blond walking along a corridor and not expect them to break into their stage routine or the soloists of the House Vocal not burst into song or the actors of the absurdist French play, Le Rhinocéros not slot into fluent, farcical French or their classicist cousins not spring into the winsome whimsy of The Frogs as they hop along to Hades in their search for a decent playwright to rescue Athens from political stalemate, or to wish oneself back to the Roundhouse to listen to the creative best of Highgate’s live music scene.
We concluded that these young people, all young people, need to hear it when they do what young people do best. It’s right to acknowledge that we in the west, and in the UK in particular, and in our neck of the London woods, lead a lucky life. But that set of ifs and buts needn’t and mustn’t take away from our young people hearing that they are amazing people doing amazing things. Day by day. Because that’s what young people do.