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by Imogen Blake
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Education secretary Michael Gove has outraged pupils at a Hampstead public school after suggesting it is inferior to its Highgate rival – by comparing the two schools to football clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The cabinet minster said that University College School (UCS) was Tottenham, to Highgate School’s Arsenal at the launch of a project to get students into the retail industry at Highgate School.
He added: “UCS might think it’s special but the glittering trophies go to Highgate. I can tell I’ve just lost about half the audience, but the right half to lose.”
Arsenal have finished above bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League every year since 1995 and the Gunners have won many more “glittering trophies” than Spurs throughout their history.
In January, UCS topped the Ham&High’s league table for GCSE results and featured in the top 100 schools in the UK, although it was outperformed by Highgate School in the A-Level league tables.
In an open letter to Mr Gove, UCS pupil Samuel Cowling, 15, said he felt “belittled” by the MP’s comments. “To suggest that the work I put in daily is not of the same calibre as the students of Highgate is something that is simply unfounded,” he wrote on the school’s student blog, The Compass.
“Above all else I am saddened to see a man of your position and influence orchestrating a personal attack on a school, and student body, in the name of humour.
“I speak for myself and my peers when I say that I am extremely disappointed and I hope in the future you can focus on the successes of both schools, leaving the friendly rivalry to the schoolboys.”
Mr Gove’s tongue-in-cheek comments were made as he pledged his support to a scheme launched by Topshop boss Sir Philip Green and Highgate School last week to offer work experience and career opportunities in the retail industry to pupils at more than 20 schools across Camden, Barnet and Haringey.
UCS headteacher Mark Beard said: “Michael Gove’s comments last week were most likely meant in jest but, like many a politician’s jokes, they fell wide of the mark.
“Did he appreciate that Arsenal have not won a trophy (glittering or otherwise) in almost nine years and, at the end of both of the last two seasons, a solitary point has stood between them and Spurs? Mr Gove might instead have acknowledged that UCS and Highgate School enjoy an excellent working relationship and a healthy local rivalry in all sporting and academic pursuits.”
Adam Pettitt, Highgate School’s headteacher, said: “We were delighted to host Michael Gove at Highgate last week.
“His speech was warmly supportive of our partnership with Arcadia [owner of Topshop] and was in places very funny.
“I’m sure he was no more serious about the respective qualities of Highgate and UCS than when he compared me to Kylie Minogue.”