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  • Highgate School
    North Road
    London
    N6 4AY
  • Head: Mr Adam S Pettitt
  • T 020 8347 3564
  • F 020 8340 7674
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.highgateschool.org.uk
  • Highgate School is an English independent day school for boys and girls aged 11 to 18, with a linked junior school. Located in Highgate, in the London borough of Haringey, it was founded in 1565 and educates over 1200 pupils.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Haringey
  • Pupils: 1,700; sixth formers: 350
  • Religion: Church of England/Christian
  • Fees: £18,705 - 21,600 pa
  • Open days: Contact Admissions
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report
  • Linked schools: Highgate Junior School

What says..

It may not have the campus feel of its more suburban competitors, and the walk to the pitches makes for a good 10 minute warm up, but the net outdoor space featuring fields, pavilions, hard tennis courts and Astroturfs far exceeds expectations for a London school – and that’s on top of the sports hall, squash courts and indoor pool (undergoing a major renovation at the time of our visit). Gentle souls can breathe a sigh of relief...

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What the school says...

Highgate is a co-educational day school with pupils from a diverse range of backgrounds across North London. We offer a Pre-Preparatory School (ages 3-7), Junior School (ages 7-11) and Senior School (ages 11-18).

Our School has three principal aims: to be a place for learning and scholarship; to be an exemplar for the healthy life; and to be a reflective community. Our teachers are enthusiastic, experienced and well-qualified subject specialists. Pastoral care is at the heart of all we do, and we provide extensive extra-curricular activities, including sport, music and drama, to further enhance your Highgate experience.

Entry to our Junior School is normally at the age of 7. All candidates take an entrance examination, and a significant proportion are then interviewed in groups. For pupils joining our Senior School at 11, there are tests, and a significant proportion are then interviewed. There are generally a few places for 13+ entry although these are limited. Pupils from other schools are admitted to our Sixth Form, following an interview. Only occasionally are there vacancies at other levels.

We provide means-tested bursaries and scholarships (both academic and musical) at 11+, 13+ and 16+. Our scholarships are honorary.
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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2006, Adam Pettitt MA (50s). Oxford modern and medieval linguist. Has taught French and German at Eton, Oundle and Abingdon and was second master at Norwich School under Jim Hawkins, former head of Harrow. Immaculate and clipped of tone; parents say ‘visionary’ and a ‘driving force’. Mere mortals have to concentrate to keep up when he speaks and there’s absolutely no conjecture – he is propelled by a sharply focused and incisively articulated moral and educational philosophy. Presides over quite the tidiest desk we have seen (one pen, one notebook, acres of spotless, ocean blue space). ‘Employability’ at the heart of his strategy: ‘We have to ask firstly whether pupils enjoy themselves and secondly whether they are acquiring employable traits.’ Tuned into social pressures faced by young people; aware of, and concerned about, potential for Highgate students to suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ but focused on communicating that ‘they don’t have to prove anything – it’s all about the now’. Refreshingly, not a passionate advocate for co-education but rather for good schools; ‘quality is far more important than the type of school,’ he says.

Created role of director of well-being in October 2018; says ‘talking about mental health was the missing part of the jigsaw’. Speaks with heartfelt passion about the London Academy of Excellence in Tottenham, a state sixth form college founded under his leadership in 2017 of which Highgate is the academic sponsor. Pupils can’t fail to benefit from his firm commitment to social diversity and educational values; says he is ‘determined not to be beholden to exam results’ – although with Highgate floating towards the top of most league tables, it’s clear that top results do indeed follow where his approach leads.

Academic matters

School populated by a bright, energetic and intellectually curious cohort. Coupled with the fierce competition for places at 11+ and a staffroom made up of the pick of the teaching bunch (who wouldn’t want to work here?) plus parents reporting favourably on the strong work ethic instilled in their children, it’s no surprise that Highgate sits towards the top of the exam league tables year after year. In 2019, 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE and 76 per cent A*/A at A level/Pre-U – impressive, although school is not an academic monoculture. ‘We need to stop the hierarchy between so-called academic subjects and the rest – we tell students to do what they love,’ says head. Bravo. That said, majority of pupils do follow fairly a fairly traditional academic path with relatively small numbers opting for eg theatre studies, classics or music at A level/Pre-U and there are none of the increasingly popular ‘modern’ subjects such as textiles, psychology or music tech on offer. Majority of subjects now taught as IGCSEs – none taken early – and many departments opt for Pre-U as an alternative to A levels.

Strong language provision; French and Latin in year 7, with Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, German and Greek on offer from year 9 to A level. Three-quarters of sixth formers take maths A level; having met one of the departmental heads we’re not surprised. ‘Everyone has such horror stories about how they were taught maths – our raison d’être is that none of our pupils leave with that’, she says. English teaching equally impressive, with the department boasting three published writers plus an author in residence. Creativity lies at the heart of the department and there’s a focus on bringing literature alive with frequent theatre visits and tours to eg Ireland for A level students studying Joyce, Beckett and Heaney: ‘we illuminate the experience so it’s not fettered by exam requirements.’ Ever-increasing emphasis on enhancing the school reading culture – newly appointed is a director of reading, creativity and literacy to help ‘develop the reading muscle,’ with a view to improving not just literacy but also mental health and well-being. Super classroom facilities across the board – science taught in lecture theatre style rooms, surrounded by the prerequisite selection of exotic flora and reptilian fauna.

Sane and sensitively individualised approach to SEN. Head of learning support covers junior and senior schools and has an expertise in autism. The support for all SpLd is individual, tailored, supportive and 'concerned with management rather than labelling.' The very few with EAL needs are usually the very bright. Those with mobility problems would struggle to navigate the main Victorian school building with its warrens of stairs.

Games, options, the arts

Few London schools can boast the wealth of space and facilities offered at Highgate. It may not have the campus feel of its more suburban competitors, and the walk to the pitches makes for a good 10 minute warm up, but the net outdoor space featuring fields, pavilions, hard tennis courts and Astroturfs far exceeds expectations for a London school – and that’s on top of the sports hall, squash courts and indoor pool (undergoing a major renovation at the time of our visit). Gentle souls can breathe a sigh of relief – there’s no compulsory rugby; football, netball, cricket and hockey are core sports, fives is very popular and strength and conditioning ‘really social,’ according to sixth formers. Teams, too, are ‘really fun and sociable’; as with all things Highgate, there’s a healthy buzz around physical activity – or SPEX as it is known here – that seems to be more about achieving individual goals and engendering a lifelong love of sport than focusing on fierce competition. On top of the more trad games, there’s also an outdoor activities curriculum aimed predominantly at the younger pupils, including orienteering on Hampstead Heath, bushcraft in the outdoor classroom, climbing and sailing, as well as trips to the school’s own outdoor centre in Wales.

Enrichment programme on Thursday lunchtimes for years 7 and 8 and after school on Tuesdays for years 9 to 11 provides a compulsory element to co-curricular participation in addition to the 80 or so clubs and societies on offer each week. There’s a strong emphasis on pupil leadership and clubs include a refreshing variety of non-academic options from beekeeping or sign language to genealogy or pocket watch society as well as the usual subject related societies. Over 230 pupils were participating in DofE at the time of our visit, with seven fresh from receiving their gold award at Buckingham Palace that week and 55 working towards it.

Drama and music both thriving; one of our tour highlights was heading out of the main school building through a rather dingy concrete underpass only to pop up in the music department with its auditorium, used for concerts (drama productions are often staged at RADA), suite of practice rooms, studio used for informal chamber music performances and music technology suite, complete with fleet of gleaming Macs and new recording booth. Recent major musical productions have included West Side Story, South Pacific and Oliver! (Guys and Dolls in planning at the time of our visit), and a group of senior thespians head to the Edinburgh Fringe most years. With John Rutter and John Tavener both former pupils, choral music is entrenched in the tradition of the school and six choirs cater for all abilities range from a training choir for years 7 and 8 to the elite chapel choir; the ‘huge’ house singing competition in which all pupils participate takes place at Alexandra Palace and the ‘massive’ carol services take place in Dalston and St Michael’s Church, Highgate. There are 50 peripatetic music teachers to brush pupils up for participation in one of the many orchestras and ensembles that range from the symphony orchestra to the professionally mentored hip hop collective. Superb quality of artwork on display in the Mills Centre, home to the art and DTE (design, technology and engineering) departments.

Background and atmosphere

Founded as the Free Grammar School of Sir Roger Cholmeley, Knight at Highgate, in 1565 – former pupils still known as Old Cholmeleians. Became Highgate School in the late 19th century. The painstakingly refurbished chapel (spectacular) and main buildings are 19th century. Some impressive bits – old gothic central hall with Norman arches, leaded lights, wrought iron balcony and cantilevered ceiling and splendid new Sir Martin Gilbert library in old assembly hall; our guide told us she couldn’t help but feel inspired as she climbed the Shakespearian steps to reach it – and the moment we stepped inside we couldn’t help but agree: it’s a real library which, unlike so many schools' learning resource centres, actually has books in it, alongside all its rows of PCs, and an atmosphere to encourage concentration and study.

By the 1960s, the school buildings (some of which were generously described by our guide as ‘brutalist’), were spread over the heart of Highgate Village. The Charter Building adds new subject rooms in a five-storey glass cube. All very high tech – interactive whiteboards and PCs everywhere. The whole site is now a mix of the new, light, glass-bound, airy and stylish, and the old, rather shabby, small passages and dark areas along which school operates a clever one-way system. Much tramping up and down the hill between the main buildings and the Mills Centre, playing fields, dining hall etc, but far from grumbling, pupils say they enjoy the ‘down time’ these mini commutes allow. Girls joined the sixth form in 2004 and year 7 in 2006, and the whole school is now fully and highly successfully co-educational. A Christian foundation and an inclusive one, with multi-faith assemblies and speakers from different religions on a weekly basis.

The word on the street from local tutors and parents we spoke to was that Highgate is very much the ‘school du jour’ – some went so far as to describe it as ‘a bit A list’. Far from feeling rarefied or entitled, however, the overall vibe is very down to earth and low key, with pupils describing themselves as ‘grateful’ for being there. Evidence of inclusion and philanthropy is everywhere, and volunteering is ‘part of the school’s DNA’ said staff. Some form of community activity is compulsory in years 7 and 8, often taking place at local primary schools – Highgate has partnerships with up to 50 state-maintained schools and head is clear that involvement is ‘absolutely not tokenistic’. Nowhere is this commitment more evident than with the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham, a new sixth form with Tottenham Hotspur FC and Highgate as its business and academic sponsors. This is the base for the Highgate Teaching Consultancy and eight of the school’s teachers work there on a regular basis: ‘Tottenham pupils are genuinely receiving a Highgate education,’ says head, who himself has swapped roles with the LAE head on occasion. On a global scale, Highgate supports a school in Uganda, taking pupils there to create ‘a real sense of giving back’. Another of school’s leading lights is the environmental committee; ‘there’s a real momentum building,’ said staff, ‘pupils are already activists in year 7’. Clingfilm-free ethical snacking, reusable cups for all and a ‘fast fashion free February’, where pupils and teachers joined forces to downscale their wardrobes, are all cogs in the Highgate sustainability wheel, which is so key now that one of the school governors runs an executive sustainability committee.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Director of well-being, a qualified clinical psychologist, appointed October 2018 to galvanise pastoral offering. From year 9 pupils are put into one of 12 houses which encourage inter-year group friendships and permeate the whole school with a family atmosphere. Inclusivity is par for the course and sixth formers told us that the LGBT community is open and accepted and there are a number of openly gay teachers. Tolerance, however, didn’t extend as far as gender neutral loos which had a very short-lived presence in the school – now only one remains. The famed gender neutral uniform (a quick Google will tell you everything you need to know) wasn’t noticeably different to any other co-ed school. Discipline, according to pupils, is not dependent on the whims of individual staff but 'whole school', ie you know what is coming to you at every level should you transgress. When things do go wrong, there are counsellors on hand to help, house meetings dedicated to all matters pastoral and a culture of open dialogue between younger pupils and their older peers. Whatever they are doing seems to be working – our visit fell smack bang in the middle of exam season but year 13s were reported to be ‘happy and relaxed’. ‘We try to play down exam pressure,’ says head, and parents we spoke to uniformly report happy, happy children.

Pupils and parents

From a wide area of north and more central London, though most live nearby, if not within walking distance. Parents are professionals, entrepreneurs or media types; 25 per cent Jewish but an overwhelmingly Caucasian majority; there’s a noticeable lack of ethnic diversity. Head, however, says he is conscious of this and strategies are in place to redress the balance over time. Pupils are pleasantly self-assured, friendly and outgoing with girls and boys co-existing in sibling-like harmony. More than any other school we have visited recently, a strong whiff of social conscience permeates the place – students have placed a self-imposed ban on plastic water bottles and concerns for the environment are evident through various student-led activities (including an accompanied visit to the Climate Strike). Although parents told us that school was overzealous on enforcing micro rules such as tucking in of shirts and neatness of hair, we found a reassuringly scruffy bunch as we scanned the dining hall, with its ‘massively improved’ food (‘we want them to be slightly angular’, says head) – delightfully boisterous and clearly happy to be there. OCs include Rt Hons Charles Clarke and Anthony Crosland, Michael Mansfield QC, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey of Oasis and The Who, Orlando Weeks of The Maccabees and DJ Yoda, Phil Tufnell, Sir Clive Sinclair, Alex Comfort, Nigel Williams, Sir John Tavener, Barry Norman, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Sir John Betjeman. Doubtless, old girl Cholmeleians shortly to make their marks.

Entrance

Selective and oversubscribed at all entry points. Around 100 move up from junior school and are joined at 11+ by 80 or so external candidates, around half of which are from state primary schools and 40 per cent (mainly girls) from local preps. Approximately 600 pupils apply for these places with a third interviewed. Only a handful of places available at 13+; tests and interviews currently in autumn term of year 6. At 16+, some 120 apply for between 35 and 50 places and all are invited to an assessment day comprising exams in chosen A level subjects and interviews, and up to half come from state schools.

Exit

A dozen or so – mainly boys – leave after GCSEs, often to Camden School for Girls, which has a mixed sixth form. Around 90 per cent of leavers gain places at their first choice university, with Edinburgh, Durham, King’s College London, UCL, Imperial, Exeter, Warwick, York and Leeds among most favoured. Applications to USA are increasing. Excellent Oxbridge numbers – 25 places in 2019.

Employability core to curriculum from year 9 onwards with careers focus in PHSE plus COA testing, work experience, interview coaching workshops and heavy use of alumni as external speakers and mentors.

Money matters

Fees in line with others in area, and include lunch, books, compulsory field work and curricular day visits.. Scholarships purely honorary; music and academic at all the usual entry points. Generous bursary pot allows for 10 to 12 of up to 100 per cent at 11+ and a further three at 16+ each year.

Our view

A rare and magical combination of the high-flying and the humble, delivering a first class, modern education to those lucky enough to land there.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Two well-qualified specialist Learning Support teachers are employed who offer support to small groups and individuals.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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