I know a lot of people who read these pages have an unbroken distaste for fee-paying, selective education and the divisions it may cause, and that some will naturally say: ‘Well, it’s easy for him, he doesn’t have to deal with the same challenges as inner city secondaries’.
But if we leave that debate for another day without dismissing it, we can at least drink up his blog on the school’s website, which is sort of captivating for its chatty enthusiasm, just the right side of Partridge.
“After the phoney war of training days and start-of-year meetings, there is something about the first week of school,” he writes, with an uncommon romance, “all those crisp, over-sized uniforms, first year sixth formers in razor sharp suits and this year, for once, sun-tanned faces, which puts a spring in a teacher’s step: it’s really good to be back, hopes ride high!”
The phoney war of training day. Just listen to that, say it in a Churchillian voice if you must but Channel 4 quick-smart your fly-on-the-wall cameras to Highgate Village right away, there is a talking head docu-star in the making here.
But don’t take my tone for mockery. His sincerity is quite infectious. He goes on: “To those of you already here, my hopes are already riding high, and it’s only week one, thank you, thank you for your energy and get up and go: you make anyone want to jump out of bed to get here! Yes, that’s it: we’re a ‘jump-out-of-bed school!’… I’ll use that next time… Have a great year.”
Shamefully for me, I only discovered Mr Pettitt’s love of life after a parent sent the New Journal a link to the school leavers video from the end of last term in which students writhe it out to rapper 50 Cent’s innuendo-laden Candy Shop song. It’s mildly awkward and the result is a bit of newspaper po-facery about what the kids get up to today, with the underlying inference on this occasion that, given Highgate’s record and grand alumni, we could be looking at future law lords and politicians twerking in the canteen. Who knows: some of these lollipop lolsters could one day be making the laws of the land.
But this is where Mr Pettitt kind of shines again. His response sets out a mild acceptance that the film could be viewed the wrong way and might not have been made in exactly the way it was, but also provides a considered defence of teenagers just being teenagers. When a journalist is on the phone, some headteachers, through no fault of their own, they trained to teach, not be press officers, feel they need to publicly condemn everything that might have caused even the tiniest offence and profusely apologise for everything with a sweat-on about what the governors might be thinking.
Mr Pettitt’s response is instead perfectly pitched and supportive: “Irony is a double-edged sword, but the clip in the Highgate leavers’ film is meant ironically: these are girls and boys who have grown up together from age 11 and have the utmost respect for each other, whose relationships have been trusting and affectionate yes, and also long-term and loyal. So I read this as a co-ed year group parodying the sexism in much of the media and in society. But it isn’t well judged and, given that it could give offence and send out the opposite message to that which I believe was intended, it’s unfortunate that it was filmed at all.”
And he adds: “Highgate understands the need for high jinks and admires the ingenuity that brought much of this film to life, but regrets the making and uploading of this particular clip, and hopes that any parent with a concern, such as the one who brought the film to the attention to the Camden New Journal, will wish to contact the school. I know that this year group would be upset to know that their film had given offence and would be quick to offer their apologies.”
Kids turning adults will appreciate that kind of response. It’ll then be up to them whether they still want their 50 Cent tea-bagging on YouTube in 20 years time when they are sitting on the Commons green benches.