Visit to Cumnor House, Danehill

It was a real delight to arrive at Cumnor House on a dreary morning at the end of November and be immediately surrounded by the buzz of preparations for the annual Christmas Fair.  A wonderfully successful event, well known locally, it was clear from the activity that this is a team effort driven by the whole Cumnor community – and an excellent showcase for the school.  I was met by the Registrar, Cecilia Desmond, now enjoying her second year on the staff.  Moving from London, but a local girl, she seems to have comfortably followed on from her long serving predecessor and gave me a warm welcome.  We went into the new, fully glazed extension to the dining hall (also complemented by a splendid new lobby at the main entrance to the school) for coffee and then returned to the Headmaster’s Study to wait for the Head’s arrival following assembly.  Christian Heinrich has been in charge now for 16 years, but emphasised that he still has more to do – he ensures that Cumnor House continues to evolve and doesn’t stand still.  His ethos for the school came across passionately as we chatted – for a strong family community, offering a secure and supportive environment in which his charges may thrive and achieve in whatever they do.  And all the latest developments – to policies and facilities – are to this end.

Following my enlightening exchange with Christian, I then went on a short tour to see for myself, giving me a further chance to hear from Cecilia.  The new Nursery building is enormously impressive and is now offering its services 50 weeks of the year from 7am to 7pm – a key initiative aimed at the local community.  We moved on to the equally impressive STEM centre creating a wonderfully light and spacious learning environment with state-of-the-art facilities for this area of the curriculum.  There is no doubt that this 65 acre campus offers everything.  As well as the usual sports fields, sports hall, 2 swimming pools and all weather pitch, there is a dance studio, superb theatre, newly refurbished library, 2 art studios and a recently renovated music ‘barn’ – together with forest school, children’s allotments and play areas, including snooker and table tennis in one.  Indeed, on this latter note, I spied an ‘on the go’ jigsaw and a Lego table in the front hall adding to the feel of home.

Academics here are strong but achievement is not pressurised.  32 scholarships of all disciplines were attained in 2017, and more than 20 destination schools were joined by leavers.  Setting according to abilities is applied in Years 6, 7 and 8, with individual needs the highest priority.  The timetable is deliberately designed to blend academic with non-academic subjects in order to maintain a child’s stimulation throughout each day.  Learning Support is well resourced to meet all needs, and there is a higher than average teacher to pupil ratio across the school.  Boarding is optional from Year 7 – no earlier, as it is felt important that the students choose, not the parents – and flexibility is available.  Saturday school continues at present, but after much consideration will be phased out in 2019 to allow for more family time.  Games are all inclusive when it comes to representative teams and there are specialist staff in some sports, with the school divided into 3 sessions through the day to give all year groups access to this coaching.  Many extra curricular activities (‘occupations’) are on offer for all – and the traditional arts are given much visibility with the annual outdoor Shakespeare production in the summer being particularly popular.

Families are welcomed to an extensive programme of events every term, and there are activities and social invitations for parents on a regular basis.  Daily coffee and croissants available for all at drop off is very popular.  The local community is also extremely important to the school, with the Primary School having a particular arrangement for the use of facilities.  Christian Heinrich has also established a Cumnor Foundation offering 2 fully funded places at the school each year to particularly talented local children for whom this would otherwise be beyond reach.  Special relationships with a number of senior schools are now able to extend these arrangements to the end of the child’s education.    All in all, Cumnor House continues to thrive whilst evolving for the future.