by Tom Rogerson, Cottesmore School
Cottesmore School has more pupils starting in September 2020 than it has had in its 125 year history, providing additional challenges to the ongoing Covid-19 complexity.
While Prep Schools have weathered a number of storms recently, sheer diversity has been their saving grace over the last two years.
Just before Covid-19 hit the headlines Brexit loomed and Corbyn was keen to ‘restructure’ private education. One of the errors that this particular lobby movement made was to assume that all private schools are like Eton, including prep schools. They also underestimated how much parents, pupils and teachers love the tight knit communities and the support networks that they provide.
A few months on from a seemingly close call, this strong community ethos was to come in handy again, this time in the Covid-19-induced lockdown. The reason that the remote learning programmes worked so well within the prep school communities was that the teachers know the pupils so well: smaller class sizes meant that the teachers know each pupil that much better. The strong relationships had been forged already and a great deal of the hard graft had been completed before it all started.
Cottesmore provided 10 live sessions per day, cut its boarding fees by 50% and started its Remote Learning Programme on the first day of lockdown. We also created a series of webinars called ‘Cottesmore Connected’ in order to help parents through lockdown. Frankly the whole piece was a miracle, but the whole team and all of the children were ready to rock and roll on that first morning. We were all quietly surprised (I was at least) and certainly proud that the team had been able to completely rewire Cottesmore’s teaching paradigm in a matter of days.
But a school is only as good as its last term, and while we banked the good will earned by completing successfully our first ever term of remote learning, we were already onto the next phase: reopening fully – and here we are now.
Cottesmore has built three new classrooms to ease the pupil population within the school building. We have hired additional cleaning staff. We have procured a ‘fogger’ – a sci-fi inspired bazooka – with which we are busy fogging the school. A kind parent has sent us 10,000 masks – which is useful considering the latest news on the subject. Other parents have offered to fund testing for all.
For the first time in Cottesmore’s history, we are playing cricket and lawn tennis in the Winter Term (we missed the entire season last term). We have put together an athletics programme with track and field events – sport usually reserved for the summer term.
While football will go ahead this term, Cottesmore is also embracing golf, the perfect social distancing sport. We are diversifying by adding a “Footgolf” section to our nine hole golf course. “Disc golf” will also feature. This thirst for augmentation is a hedge against disruption to the match fixtures which are an integral part of ‘normal’ school life.
Another new addition includes paddle boarding and rowing on the school’s lake – although a world shortage of paddle boards could mean delays to this programme.
On a more serious note, Mental Health has been at the forefront of our planning. Cottesmore has constructed a wellbeing programme for the staff which includes sessions with a wellbeing professional, an adult team sport timetable and a ‘Wellbeing MOT’.
Extra ‘bonding’ sessions have been booked in for the pupils who have been away since March – year group challenge activities, bush craft and forest school are on the beginning of term programme. There are also more pastoral and wellbeing sessions timetabled for this and next term.
Mask and visors are being worn presently; there are one way systems in place and communications flying out by the dozen.
The school opened its doors historically early this term to accommodate quarantining children. Being a boarding school, this was a key decision in order for the academic year to start smoothly. They were welcomed with flowers in their individual rooms and treats to eat.
And so the Winter Term 2020 begins. Incidentally, this year we will be changing the name of our talent show from ‘Cottesmore’s Got Talent’ to ‘Cottesmore: The Masked Singer’.
About Cottesmore School
Cottesmore School is a boarding prep school for girls and boys on the border of Surrey and Sussex, founded in 1894. Tom Rogerson has been Headmaster of Cottesmore for 12 years. www.cottesmoreschool.com. Cottesmore School is Tatler’s ‘Prep School of the Year 2020’ and the 2019 Tes ‘Boarding School of the Year’.