Old school tie is a liability for pupils at top public school

HIGH class pupils in Highgate are keeping a low profile to avoid being targeted by thugs wanting their mobile phones, music players and wallets

Tan Parsons

HIGH class pupils in Highgate are keeping a low profile to avoid being targeted by thugs wanting their mobile phones, music players and wallets.

Pupils at the £13,000-a-year Highgate School are now being advised to cover up their uniforms when they head out onto the streets. The move follows a string of muggings outside the school gates.

Headteacher Adam Pettitt said: "The police say young people in all schools should be allowed to dress down on their way to and from school if it makes them safer.

"We follow that advice and our students don't have to wear their uniforms outside of school. It's bad that children should have to cover up their uniforms, but I think the greater sadness is that we have to teach young people how to protect themselves, and unfortunately this is part of it."

Mr Pettitt did not think the problem was particular to Highgate School or to Highgate in general.

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He said: "I get the impression it's just as difficult controlling the problems between different state schools. When there were road closures recently and all the buses were diverted there were problems between groups of children from different schools - I think it's more to do with rivalries than anything else.

"The message we are trying to get across to our kids is to use their common sense. They should think about what they are carrying with them and if they have to have their mobile phone with them, then they don't have to use it all the time."

A Year Nine student from Highgate School, who did not wish to be named, said: "We've been told there have been a few muggings around here, and that if we want we can wear a jacket over our blazers, or put them in our bags so that we don't look so conspicuous."

A Year Ten student said: "The staff haven't told us that we need to make ourselves scruffy or anything. We still have to have our top button done up. It's just that they advise us to wear a coat over our blazers."

A year ago a quartet of students from the school tried to cultivate a bad boy image by broadcasting a foul-mouthed rap on the website YouTube.

They were duly reprimanded for bringing the exclusive school into disrepute with their racist, sexist and homophobic lyrics. But it seems the boys' actions have failed to toughen up the image of the school, whose students are still seen as easy pickings by others.

Highgate Police Safer Neighbourhood Sgt Leon Christodoulou said: "Crime figures show robberies in Highgate are rare. But we have become aware of a number of incidents since October 2007 mainly involving students at Highgate School.

"The groups targeting these students tend to think they come from more privileged backgrounds and are therefore likely to have a bit more money on them. We have spoken to the school to raise the possibility that students should perhaps be allowed to take their ties off or wear jackets over their blazers outside school grounds."

Liberal Democrat councillor for Highgate Bob Hare said: "The muggers probably feel these kids have got it made and therefore have better quality phones. It's so strange because Highgate doesn't feel like a dangerous place. It must be happening in quiet streets where these people are able to mug someone without being seen."