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“It’s a bittersweet moment”: Highgate School headteacher “proud” but “sad” following coronavirus closure

PUBLISHED: 09:35 29 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:02 30 March 2020

Mr Pettitt said he was missing the school

Mr Pettitt said he was missing the school "horribly". Picture: Highgate School

Highgate School

“It’s a bittersweet moment. It’s lovely to be proud of the school doing such great things but it’s quite sad that it’s all at home.”

The Highgate head said schools' closure gave the education sector a chance to reflect. Picture: Highgate SchoolThe Highgate head said schools' closure gave the education sector a chance to reflect. Picture: Highgate School

While schools in Haringey and across the UK have closed their doors in response to coronavirus, one Highgate institution isn’t letting the pandemic affect their pupils’ education, nor their “sense of community”.

Highgate School in North Road has responded to the lockdown by taking its learning online - what it’s calling ‘Highgate at Home’.

From 8.30am to 4pm, its pupils sit down and are guided through a series of lessons and activities through their virtual learning platform ‘Hero’ - whether that be maths, meal suggestions, German or yoga.

Headteacher Adam Pettitt admits the school’s closure forced it to snap into gear slightly quicker than anticipated, but that Highgate - for the first time in its 450-year history - was adjusting to its new, virtual environment.

The North Road school has sent 280 safety goggles to the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Highgate SchoolThe North Road school has sent 280 safety goggles to the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Highgate School

“All our learning is taking place remotely. We’re trying to be fun and keep the sense of community going,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see how quickly staff and students have adapted from what was pretty much a standing start because it only became clear to us relatively late in the day that schools would be closing before Easter.”

Adam believes that while staff and pupils are itching to start back up, the pause of classroom learning will “undoubtedly” bring about change upon their eventual return, giving the education sector a rare opportunity to reflect.

In particular, he believes the revision of GCSEs, and the possibility of them becoming diploma-style qualifications, could be the “big policy change”.

200 bars of soap were handed out to students on the school's final day by the design technology department. Picture: Highgate School200 bars of soap were handed out to students on the school's final day by the design technology department. Picture: Highgate School

Adam added: “In one sense, I think that we will all be so much more conscious of taking things for granted - about being in the community and having friends around you, and the school being a community which creates itself so quickly.”

The independent school, which holds 1,800 students, is still physically open for around 30 pupils of key workers, mainly from the NHS.

Highgate has further contacted Haringey Council to see if students from neighbouring schools need accommodating.

Yet despite the vast majority of its operation being taken online, Highgate staff are still doing their best to support community relief efforts and ensure pupils are following safety measures of social distancing and handwashing.

The school’s science department, for instance, arranged for 280 pairs of safety googles to be donated to the Whittington Hospital as a helping hand and thank you to all of the nurses and doctors working on the frontline.

Before the school’s closure, two hundred bars of soap were also made by its design technology department, music recommendations were posted on its website for pupils’ quieter moments, and the art history team published a daily painting to stimulate the creative juices.

Adam continued: “There’s a sense that everybody is trying to be thoughtful about what it’s going to be like sitting at home, not being able to go to a museum or theatre.

“So we’re trying to support students and help them keep the cultural aspects of their lives ticking over.”

Highgate School’s head knows that staff and pupils must be patient before any sort of return can be considered, but he admits the current detached nature of learning comes a distant second to the real thing.

“I’m really proud of the school,” he said.

“I miss it horribly - the fact you don’t get to see the staff other than online, you don’t get to see the kids, it’s hard.”

Adam said he took photos of the school, staff and pupils just before it closed as a reminder of what he would be missing, but, at the same time, what he could look forward to when normal service resumed.

Closing our conversation, he said: “It’s a bittersweet moment.

“It’s lovely to be proud of the school doing such great things, but it’s quite sad that it’s all at home.

“Nonetheless, I’m really enjoying being at home with my own children so I hope that’s the same for everyone else.”


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