Cottesmore School, Pease Pottage
This full boarding, family-feel co-ed, feeding major public schools, occupies a grand Victorian mansion with a surprisingly cosy interior.
A co-ed boarding school, in sprawling grounds outside the quaintly named hamlet of Pease Pottage, near Crawley. It comprises a pre-prep for ages 4-8 and a prep for 8 – 13s.
Close to London and Gatwick, around a third of its pupils come from the local area and the home counties, a third from the capital, and a third from overseas.
Cottesmore makes its home in a Victorian brick building, once the country house of a rich merchant who bizarrely made his fortune when he found a diamond lodged in the throat of one of the ostriches he was farming in South Africa.
The mansion house, designed by Sir Ernest George (who also co-designed Southwark Bridge) is grand and beautiful from the outside but surprisingly cosy on its wood panelled inside due to the way it is divided into smaller spaces. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking what a lovely hotel it would make. Not that the school will be letting me check in with a wheelie suitcase any time soon – it’s very much home to the pupils and staff with both boarding and classes accommodated for the main part in this building.
The surrounding grounds are extensive and include a pre-prep garden, a nine hole golf course, an adventure playground and a lake where children can fish.
Besides extensive sports pitches, tennis courts and astros (one covered) there’s a 20-metre heated indoor pool and a shooting range. The head was trying out new archery equipment when I visited.
Within the Creative Arts Centre the design technology studio has some great facilities for this age group including a blacksmith’s hearth, ceramic and enamelling kilns and a 3D printer. I was impressed by some of the project work on display from creative eggcups in fantastically shaped plastic to chairs. ICT is incorporated into other subjects across the curriculum.
There’s also an IT room, and iPads and the like are used in classes, with the internet delivered on fibre optic broadband. A new drumming and recording studio is on the cards.
There’s an average of 14 pupils per class and subjects are mostly taught in dedicated rooms or areas by specialist staff. Parents receive an assessment of their child’s progress every four weeks.
A scholarship stream is introduced from Form 6 and the pupils in this receive ‘master classes’. Academically promising pupils lower down the school may be fast tracked to have two years in Form 6.
Many pupils go on to major public schools. In the last year, five Cottesmore pupils went on to Harrow, five to Charterhouse, four to Eton, three to Benenden, three to King’s Canterbury, two to Marlborough plus a variety of other schools. Several children gain scholarships each year across different subjects.
Pupils are entered annually for the Townsend Warner History prize and take part in the UK Maths Junior and Intermediate Challenges.
There’s been recent investment in the Cottesmore Talks programme, which sees outside speakers come to give educational and inspirational presentations. Local primary schools are also invited to attend.
Science was a recent focus and sculptor Eve Shepherd and politician Baroness Warsi have been among speakers on other subjects. The head is hoping to get a big name in musicals for a future event.
An annual Arts Week is held in the summer term with children working in groups to produce projects and performances. A professional actor visits to teach drama.
There’s also a prep school production each November with pupils from 7 – 13 involved. LAMDA lessons and exams are offered at the school.
An ISI report found music outstanding at the Cottesmore. There’s a school orchestra and three choirs, with the chapel choir performing internationally.
A speech and language therapist is part of the learning support team for those who need extra help.
Over the annual World Awareness Week all subjects (plus the school kitchen) take on the theme of a particular country – often selected because it is topical.
Chess and typing are taught in certain year groups.
Children are given their own garden plots to grow flowers and vegetables.
The uniform isn’t overly formal compared to some other independent schools.
Regular peer-voted kindness awards are given out.
Parents are able to meet the staff informally at home sports matches and tea on a weekly basis, whether or not their own child is playing.
Head and ethos
I join old Etonian Tom Rogerson for tea in his panelled study where a series of electric guitars on stands is the first clue that he and the school may be less formal than might be expected.
He has been known to perform pop tributes in assembly and supports pupils setting up their own bands. He’s also a keen Instagrammer, making frequent videos set to music of fun aspects of school life like waterslides on the lawn and house barbecues.
He talks of an ‘authentic’ family feel at Cottesmore and says he knows the names, future school hopes and other dreams of every child at the school.
Cottesmore is an academic school, he says, but he feels it is different to some others of its ilk in encouraging freedom of expression from pupils. A variety of experiences beyond the classroom gives the children greater purpose he believes, plus, with an eye on the future, he knows those top public schools look for character besides academic achievements.
In terms of the pupil fit, children who are ‘able to communicate with generosity’ is the ideal, he says, and who work hard but know how to have fun and treat others with kindness.
The school has won awards for its boarding.
Full boarding is the norm at Cottesmore from the age of eight up and 90% of staff live on site themselves, most within the same big building, so it does have a community/family feel and doesn’t empty out at weekends.
The dorms were some of the nicest I’ve seen. Unusually tidy for a start! The bathroom area had been recently refurbished.
A ‘Happiness Charter’ is put beside phones around the school with a flow chart of the pupils and staff children can speak to if they are worried about something.
There are nine exeat weekends besides the regular school holidays. For children using the Gatwick Express service to reach home in London there’s a staff escort service.
There are many intriguing folk art-style woodcarvings around the school including above the doorways of the dorms and in a minstrels’ gallery. Before it was a school the top floor of the building used to house an orangery. The whole place has a rather storybook feel as if there might be secret passages or characters who come to life.
The extensive cellar is put to good use and besides the shooting range contains a ten pin bowling alley, a massive Scalextric track and an electric railway that’s still growing thanks to pupils’ modelling efforts.
Real tennis – the precursor to lawn tennis – is among the more unusual sports on offer.
Though the school has no Scottish connections, there’s a tradition that on special days girls can wear a kilt in their choice of tartan.
The school’s drone club is very popular. (Check out the video on the website for a professional drone’s eye view of the school).
Outdoor Pursuits is another popular activity, with children learning fire lighting, shelter building and other survival skills.
Three broods of chicks are raised a year in an incubator in the DT studio.
Word on the ground
Among the things they liked most about the school the children I spoke to said that everyone knew each others’ names. One told me she had had found it difficult settling into boarding but had been helped by her teachers and friends.
The children were quick with a handshake and a ‘pleased to meet you’ but that’s where the formality ended. There was talk of how the school council was pushing for a zip wire (egging them on the head suggested a great one might go from the flagpole to the lake). They also told me about an inflatable assault course they’d had.
The head and I were drawn into an impromptu game of Australian handball. Recently imported by visiting pupils and now something of a craze at the school, it seemed to involve a mix of hopscotch, racket-less tennis and Ludo!
Prep: Boarding £9,095, Day Boarding £5,991
Pre-Prep: Reception and Year 1 £3,199, Year 2 £3,466, Year 3 £4,267
The Muddy Verdict
Good for: A fun, school as extended family feel within one lovely setting with a quirky Harry Potter-esque style and ample room to roam. Boarding that is very much a part of the school rather than a tacked on facility. An SEN provision. Allowing children an extra year in pre-prep before the move up to prep at eight. If you’ve an eye on big name public schools for the next step.
Not so good for: Though the inside is not as austere are the outside suggests, the grand building and cloistered setting will not suit all tastes. Boarding is not flexible. You’d need to judge if your child would suit an environment with a strong academic focus, particularly if you’re not motivated by their destination school.
Dare to disagree? Cottesmore School’s next Open Morning will be held on Saturday 24 November, 10.00-12.00 call 01293 520648 or email email@example.com to book a place.
Cottesmore School, Buchan Hill, Pease Pottage, West Sussex, RH11 9AU, cottesmoreschool.com