Education secretary Michael Gove ends UCS v Highgate School dispute over football comments with handshake

The friendly rivalry between Highgate School and Hampstead’s University College School (UCS) goes back decades, perhaps even centuries.

But tensions reached an all-time high when Education Secretary Michael Gove waded into the feud back in February when, in the eyes of UCS schoolboys, he spoke the unspeakable.

Talking to a large crowd at the launch of a project to get pupils into the retail industry, he compared the schools to north London football clubs – and bitter rivals – Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

“Highgate is the Arsenal to UCS’s Spurs,” the cabinet member said glibly. “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.”

His comments predictably sparked the ire of many UCS teenagers. But it appears Mr Gove and headteachers Mark Beard and Adam Pettitt have settled their differences as they were snapped shaking hands and posing for the camera with cheesy grins.


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They met up at Brighton College’s education conference on the south coast two weeks ago to resolve the tongue-in-cheek dispute.

Mr Pettitt, Highgate School’s headteacher, said: “All agreed that this was a meeting of equals, as befitted last term’s varsity football match between Highgate and UCS, which ended in a fiercely contested but gentlemanly 1-1 draw.

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“Opinion remained divided over the qualities of Arsenal, Spurs and the Secretary of State’s team, QPR, but no photos of that conversation exist.”

Could this photo mark an end to the age-old rivalry? Heathman thinks not.

It may have been all smiles at the conference, but UCS headteacher Mr Beard had not been so forgiving at the time of Mr Gove’s controversial comments.

“Michael Gove’s comments were most likely meant in jest but, like many a politician’s jokes, they fell wide of the mark,” he said.

When it comes to football, and Hampstead and Highgate’s public schools, some old wounds never truly heal.

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