A Parallel Universe in The Leafy North London Suburb of Highgate
There are times, when exhausted by the bizarre and inexplicable events of life in London, that I wonder whether people live in parallel universes. We exist on a plane where certain rules apply, where there’s an understanding of how things work, where we all agree on what is normal.
And then, every once in a while you step into another world, where the things you hold dear no longer apply, where the ground on which you stand appears to shift as if it obeys different laws of physics.
I believe I recently had a glimpse into another such dimension when I heard that Adam Pettitt, headmaster of Highgate School, had said that high house prices were the reason traffic was so horrendous in this leafy corner of North London.
The logic, which would not hold where I come from, goes something like this: Highgate Village’s notoriously bad traffic congestion is created by parents driving their kids to school because they can no longer afford to buy homes nearby.
“One of the problems is the house prices here,” he told the Highgate Society, a local residents' group. “If you drew a catchment area circle around Highgate, you would then exclude people who have chosen to live, for example, in Enfield, so they can afford to send their children to Highgate.”
On this plane that Mr Pettitt inhabits, congestion is caused not by parents driving their children miles to a selective school rather than the local one on their doorstep, but by the soaring house prices removing their ability to move within walking distance of the school.
This is not what critics will say is the “politics of envy”
“The reality is, as Highgate is popular, you can be more assertive about how willing your parents are to engage in a travel plan to reduce the numbers of people driving,” he went on to say.
“We could do with more help from Transport for London. We looked at running coaches into Highgate but we felt it could actually cause more problems due to the size of the roads in the village.”
So, Mr Pettitt wants the public transport authority to take kids to a private school because their parents don’t want to send them to the local state school where they live and because, while they can afford the £18,145 a year fees, they can’t afford to live in the picture-postcard Village.
It reminded me of a glimpse into another world I had recently when I read that “shocking” trebling in the number of food parcels in the last year was not because 1.8 million people are on zero-hours jobs, because of underemployment, the cuts to benefit payments or the squeeze in wages but because, according to Conservative minister Matt Hancock, “more people know about them.”
Back on Planet Highgate, Mr Pettitt went on: “Perhaps [we] should have sold up 150 years ago and moved to a green field site” as Charterhouse school did in 1864 when it moved from the City of London to Surrey.
Now there’s an idea.
Why not be even more imaginative? Move to a part of the country where Highgate School might help improve levels of education and where there is plenty of space. Hull, North Yorkshire or Merseyside all spring to mind. The empty site that Highgate School would leave behind could be used to develop the affordable housing that London so badly needs.
Or even better, Highgate School could adopt the selection criteria used by its local education authority, the London Borough of Haringay, where the key criterion for admission is how far you live from the school. Highgate School’s intake would arrive on foot or bus like those kids do in other dimensions in North London and across the land.
There are those that will say that I am being silly because we cannot delve into other dimensions. They could be right but that, I’m afraid, makes matters worse.
It shows that the wealthiest in our society live in a world so utterly removed from the rest of us that we no longer have anything in common. We are going back to a world of “them” and “us” where the winners take all and have little idea of what’s left for the rest. We have become so estranged from one another where the value system that used to bind us together is falling apart.
This is not what critics will say is the “politics of envy.” Differences between rich and poor have always existed and probably always will. But we have, in the last few years, got to a point where we live parallel lives in the same geographical space, sharing little more than the air we breathe. When we all pull in our own direction not caring, or worse, not even giving thought to how that might affect others we are taking society to a place it hasn’t been for a hundred years. Time travel and other dimensions - now this is really getting trippy.
The writer is a governor at an inner city London primary school
About the author
Penelope Trunchbull is a pseudonym for a governor at two state schools in North London. She has a long and varied career in education but sadly she cannot reveal where.
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