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Highgate private school scraps end-of-year prizes

The £20,000-a-year school that enraged parents by introducing gender-neutral toilets has also scrapped its prize-giving – to avoid upsetting pupils who do not win anything.

High achievers at Highgate School will no longer be recognised at a traditional end-of-year ceremony in order ‘to be sensitive to the feelings of the other pupils’.

Instead, the 452-year-old school in North London will hold several smaller events attended exclusively by prize winners and their families.

Highgate School in North London has angered parents with the ‘achingly liberal’ decision to axe an end-of-year prize-giving

It follows a growing trend by schools to ditch awards in order to spare children’s feelings, with many even making their sports days ‘non-competitive’.

But parents have reacted with bemusement to the ‘nonsensical’ change, saying it does little to prepare children for real life, with one describing it as another example of the school’s ‘achingly liberal’ agenda.

The policy emerged after headmaster Adam Pettitt was last week forced to apologise to parents after angering them by introducing ‘gender-neutral’ toilets.

The former Eton College teacher oversaw the conversion of lavatory facilities at the school over the summer holidays for pupils who are ‘gender fluid or don’t wish to identify themselves with a gender’.

But the change was condemned by parents and pupils, neither of whom were informed about it beforehand.

The school, whose ex-pupils include late poet laureate Sir John Betjeman and film critic Barry Norman, was previously criticised over plans in May to introduce a gender-neutral uniform, which allowed boys to wear skirts.

In a recent letter to parents describing the decision to scrap the whole-school prize-giving, Stuart Evans, the head of lower school, wrote: ‘We felt it was not right for pupils who were not prize winners to sit through an event where prize winners are being singled out and applauded.

‘We decided to have smaller prize-givings just for the prize winners and their parents.

Adam Pettitt was forced to apologise after angering parents with gender-neutral toilets at the school

Adam Pettitt was forced to apologise after angering parents with gender-neutral toilets at the school

‘In doing this, there is no intention to be exclusive, but rather to be sensitive to the feelings of the other pupils.’ However, parents branded the decision as ‘nonsense’. One mother said yesterday: ‘At my son’s old prep school all the children attended the formal prize-giving and it was a lovely event. Now at senior school, the school thinks it’s too sensitive?

‘What about public exams, university or the world of work? My husband and I think the system is nonsense.’

Earlier this year, a survey found that more than half of British primary schools held sports days that do not recognise winners.

According to the poll by Families Online, 57 per cent of parents said their children’s infant and primary schools hold sports days with a ‘non-competitive theme’.

This includes events where individual children are not singled out to compete but instead work in teams and are recognised simply for taking part.

The research found this is because ‘too many children will be made to feel inadequate if they don’t win at something and may feel excluded if they are not naturally sporty.’

In 2013, a former parish priest called on church schools to ban prize-givings because they are ‘un-Christian’. The Rev Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard, co-founder of education charity IntoUniversity, said singling out the brightest pupils for praise left those students not receiving prizes with the ‘gently corrosive sense of being not quite good enough’.

Last week’s apology over the gender-neutral toilets issue came after Mr Pettitt received several complaints from parents.

In a letter to parents, he said staff at the school were ‘taking stock and working hard’ to ensure the school’s toilet facilities would ‘meet the needs of all pupils’.

The toilets, which have closed cubicles for boys and girls, have been installed at Highgate’s senior school, which caters for 11 to 18-year-old pupils.

One parent said: ‘Shouldn’t they just be relaxed and learning? Not fretting about when and where they can go to toilet.’



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