Cottesmore’s Good Schools Guide Report
Cottesmore School
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Cottesmore’s Good Schools Guide Report

What The Good Schools Guide says:

Headmaster

Since 2008, Tom Rogerson, married to Lottie, with two small sons, Wilf and Bear. Cottesmore runs in the family (grandad and dad were heads before him) – ‘I’ve been quietly planning to take over since I was 17’, said the head. Routed via other schools (Ludgrove, Eaton House and Broomwood); his dad wouldn’t let him take the headship too early. Quite right, dad.

Articulate and thoughtful, focuses on each pupil and knows them all – they chatter away happily with him. A strong team with Lottie, who provides ballast for the head’s lively energy.

Parents like him – ‘He’s a warm guy, easy to talk to, and always there when I pick up and drop off from exeats’. Another: ‘A school derives its culture from the head – and I like its culture. It places emphasis on traditional Christian values: kindness, courtesy, honour and fair play.’

Entrance

Pre-prep: taster day, during which prospective pupils will do a piece of work assessing English and maths. Prep: English and maths tests, interview (children need to be ‘interested and interesting’) and head’s report from previous school.

 

Exit

 

To many of the more magnificent public schools: Eton, Harrow, Cheltenham Ladies' College, and other varieties too. Twelve academic scholarships in recent round – nearly half the year.

 

Our view

 

Approach the school past towering rhododendrons, lawns mowed to velvety smoothness, golf flags, the fragrance of flowers and hedges. Cottesmore is a stately Victorian pile – enter through the heavy wooden door carved with mischievous sprites. Wood panelled walls, stately hall with minstrels' gallery; fishing rods leaning casually against the wall in a corridor. Things here are orderly, but it’s not an institutional tidiness: there’s a feeling of a home, where places for things arise organically and become established through habit.

 

Grounds which beg to be played in: climbable trees everywhere, from 'the monkeys' – a cave of under rhododendron/tree branches - to the hollow oak: climb its ancient trunk in a circular direction (teacher present, and only up to a certain height). Bamboo for forts and den making – so popular here that it occasionally has official activity status. A parent described his son, who had fallen out of a tree, limping towards his wife on the last exeat – ‘he’s having a childhood and that’s wonderful.’

 

Children here are bubbling, confident and eager, so keen to tell us about their school that we hardly needed to ask questions. They happily fill their own skin: we’ve rarely met a group of children so content to be themselves. Some bounced up to say hello and give their views; easily said, in front of their head, what they didn’t like about school (the chairs are too low and they want new showers). 

 

We met too, quieter introverts, busy with the library and their model railway in the basement. They’ve started their own after-supper library lecture series (‘tea’ was exceedingly popular). Not so likely to bubble eagerly about the things they love; but no hesitation in expressing their views, and total confidence in their value. Geekiness is certainly not frowned upon – ‘they’re lauded for loving the library’, said Lottie.

 

The head said, ‘we’re a family school’, then chuckled; whether this is a good thing clearly depends on how dysfunctional the family. Certainly the warmth and care seen here must exceed what many families experience at Christmas. Home to 150 pupils (‘beautifully small’, said a mum).

 

Broad church here – which means chapel isn’t optional. Cultural Christianity, whose values informally underpin the community, but ‘we go about it quietly’.

 

An academically rigorous school – ‘rigour balanced with fun’, said the head. A flamboyant fashion designer to be is celebrated; but ‘he has to be good at maths by the time he leaves’. Lack of endeavour here would be a problem – ‘that’s not an option’.

 

‘Not a pressure cooker’, said a parent who has experienced the hothouse of London preps, ‘[and] notches up in balanced and useful lives’. Relative to other preps in the area, it’s doing extremely well: another parent we spoke to was very happy with the academic side, describing it as ‘pretty strong and rigorous’, with parents getting regular feedback - every three weeks. (His son had just got a place at Harrow – he was an extremely happy dad.)

 

Small classes, no bigger than 14. Single form entry until year 4, then double form entry, finally splitting in three in the final year. Pupils are streamed (but not labelled) and set within those streams. Academic subjects take place around the quad, the fountain in the middle providing restful accompaniment to those getting their heads down. Lively walls showing work, but order and method evident – displays are exceedingly neat. This school does extremely well at enthusing its pupils: they showed a keen interest in Latin, eagerly pointing out Latin in the roots of words, and telling us their favourite myths. 

 

Maths lessons have been transformed by new IT (iPads, Chromebooks and a Raspberry Pis). Pupils were whizzing through tables on iPads – less time marking means more time teaching; or ‘connecting’, as the head likes to say. Excelling at maths is something this school particularly prides itself on: the head has increased the number of maths teachers and seen CE scores soar. 

 

A geography teacher was enthusiastically making geography pertinent to the real world: ‘What are the pros and cons of building a Tesco in the Cottesmore grounds?’ (The head’s smile became a little fixed at this point…) Making ant homes was cited by one excited little girl as the best geography lesson ever. Parents are happy that the computer room is well policed: no chatrooms or other elicit YouTube pleasures; no own devices in school (other than for travelling).

 

Achievement is celebrated through stars (house points), show ups and stay ups. Show ups for extremely good work or behaviour; stay up for a jolly if you come top in an assessment or effort, or when teams have an unbeaten day – popcorn, movie and games. A popular treat.

 

Learning support helps students who have mild dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, also those with speech and language difficulties. Ten to 20 per cent of pupils receive one-to-one help, and in-class assistance (charged as an extra). The fact a child has SEN doesn’t make any difference to attainment here, says the head.

 

Behind a glass panelled door is pre-prep, the colour and liveliness evident through the glass panels. Coloured cellophane hung from the ceiling in strips – ‘we’re doing under the sea at the moment’. Single form entry, around 10 per class, children seated at round tables, doors in each class opening onto the lawn: a much more relaxed, crazy colour atmosphere than on the other side of the door, but a similarly high standard evident from the written work in displays. The rather extraordinary cubed times tables produced by a boy in year 1 caused adults in the area to look at each other blankly, each hoping one of the others might know if he’d got them right. A parent told us that Cottesmore was the only school they visited which was more interested in the child than the parents: Lottie got right down to her daughter's level – ‘so, do you like spiders?’ And off they went to find one.

 

A large array of sports on offer: 33, including all the usual major sports, as well as the less usual: archery, shooting and billiards. Pupils of all abilities play in matches, and even the C and D teams play a good number of fixtures. They win plenty of matches (the Colts As and Bs recently unbeaten in any sport for seven months) and get plenty of support – Danish housekeeping team take great joy in waving their pompoms in support of the third X1.‘It is competitive – they care a lot for sport, but they know they have all types, and encourage and get the best out of everyone.’

 

Houses here are called sets, and there’s plenty of friendly inter-set competition. A parent, commenting on the set dash, said ‘The whole school cheer each other, particularly the useless ones…To be very kind, is to be very Cottesmore’, he added. 

 

Indoor heated pool and Astroturf large enough for three tennis courts; three grass courts too, with some boys racing in from playing tennis at break. The ‘gravel’ – an open sided, covered Astroturf - is so popular that ripping it down was out of the question: the roof has been replaced. 

 

Plenty of clubs, from real tennis to fishing for carp in the pond – ‘the film club is just the best’, said one girl. Chess compulsory for two years – it’s taken very seriously here (under 11 girls champs).

 

Music is strong, with 80-90 per cent learning instruments; there are three choirs, including the chapel choir, which often tours abroad. The head of music is also head of drama, so every play tends to be a musical, said a parent: Oliver! the last, described by another parent as ‘excellent - my quite shy son volunteered for it…’

 

Everyone in the prep has a bed and boards to some extent: 80 per cent full time, everyone else up to four nights a week (must stick to chosen nights). In this small school, there are no separate boarding houses: everyone just troops upstairs to bed, the matron’s flat situated between the boys' and girls' dorms. 

 

Large dormitories for 8, three per room for older pupils, the usual is six. Pupils wake to music – the latest charts.

 

‘Palatial since my day’, said a parent; but actually they’re mid renovation – decoration of some rooms is a bit tired. Some new loos, one landing with a squidgy new carpet, and couple of lovely lampshades, one in white feathers, another rose shape (both in response to pupil request). Pine bunk beds, well used. Showers and basins clean, but a bit elderly – nice old taps though; ‘it’s all going’, said the head briskly; although the parents we spoke to were happy with it as it is.

 

Matrons and nurse (who is an angel, we were repeatedly told) reside in nearby rooms on every corridor: if pupils are poorly in the night, they wake the dormitory monitor who gets matron. Lovely bright sick bay, complete with bears and TV.

 

Year groups take it in turn to occupy the drawing room in evenings (music, piano, chess, Wi dance), other year groups spilling out into hall, library and ICT room, playing ping pong or snooker. Children here flow everywhere – no feeling of being penned into a particular area.

 

Lots of activities at the weekends: Saturday morning school, then matches; trips on Sundays – children talked with great joy of a trip to Brighton Pier, when older pupils were allowed to go off in groups of four, and told us how much they love the independence – ‘at my last school they never stopped watching us’, said one, impatiently. ‘Here, they trust us’.

 

Children keep in touch by email ‘asking for things’, Sunday letter writing, Skype and can phone if they want to.

 

Each class sends a rep to the school council and food committee – a food committee board in a class room simply stated ‘BETTER BURGER’; but they don’t have much to complain about: they’ve won awards for their food, which a parent described as ‘brilliant’ – the custard (with stewed apple) was clearly not just tipped from a tin of Ambrosia.

 

The children’s happiness is testament to how well they are cared for – and indeed the school Happiness Charter is on the wall of every room. A parent described the school as ‘gentle’; they chose Cottesmore for its rounded, happy pupils, and nurturing environment. Easy for pupils to speak to staff here – they're all out in the hall at break time, accompanied by their coffee trolley. 

 

Certainly the best mannered children we’ve met at a prep, leaping to their feet if we so much as glanced over, opening doors, shaking hands. Watching the children, it seemed evident that the respectful environment influences how they treat each other.

 

Time out area on a wooden chest in front of the study – pupils who’ve been a bit rowdy perch there until they’ve calmed down. A clear bullying policy: pupils and staff are expected to bring forward if they see it. The one incident a parent described to us was ‘clamped down on quickly’.

 

Pupils from London, home counties, and abroad, including expats and diplomats. Lots of London parents, but not the competitive ones (school reckons that leavers' list suggests some parents are competitive). A parent from London told us he looked at 20 prep schools, and Cottesmore had the best combination of options one could get: ‘A* in all the things that really matter in life’.

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