Highgate School headteacher: ‘Michael Gove was brilliant as education secretary’

The headteacher of one of the capital’s most prestigious schools branded the controversial former education secretary Michael Gove “brilliant” in a wide-ranging talk to the Highgate Society.

Adam Pettitt, the charismatic leader of Highgate School, also confessed that he loathes GCSEs and would be happy to see them scrapped at the society’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Monday at the school’s Dyne House in Southwood Lane.

Asked why the North Road independent school has not chosen to get rid of the exams, he replied: “I think it would cause parental anxiety.

“Universities, stupidly and wrongly, say that GCSEs are the best prediction of degree class result so therefore GCSEs are important.

“And loathe them as I do, they do not get in the way of good teaching.”

But he added: “If the government were to go to something like a 14 to 19 [educational system], I would be quite pleased by it.”

The ongoing debate over the extent to which independent schools should provide public benefit prompted more bold remarks from Mr Pettitt.

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The issue was first brought to the fore in November after shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt announced plans to revoke tax breaks for public schools if they don’t support the state sector.

Mr Pettitt, who broadly agrees with Labour’s policy, said: “Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt pretty much say the same thing, that coasting schools are not right. There’s undeniable logic that there needs to be synergy.”

He added that despite Gove’s “unpopularity”, he believes the chief whip is “brilliant in many respects”.

Other issues on the agenda included the mental wellbeing of teenagers and the frustration of increased regulation due to fears of radicalisation in the wake of the Birmingham Trojan Horse scandal.

Mr Pettitt also revealed that last month he changed his official title from “headmaster” to “head” after members of the school’s gender equality society lobbied him to opt for a more neutral term.