Location, Location, Location. Kirsty and Phil were on to something when Channel 4 began airing the (now iconic) home-buying show, and we all know only too well the significant effect a postcode has on the value of a property. That being the case, ECS – with its super-des-res EX1 postcode – must be just about the hottest property on the market.
We are hugely fortunate to enjoy a fabulous location: we are a city-centre school, safety nestled in the lee of the Cathedral, with the most stunning natural beauty on tap just a few moments away in one of the School’s minibuses. There are schools which boast greater expanses of playing fields, certainly, and schools whose backdrop is rolling hills; but there are few which can claim to have the backdrop of a magnificent cathedral whilst simultaneously being able to tap in to all that a bustling city has to offer.
We’re not short of outside space, that said. Those of you who have been at Hall House recently (that’s our Pre-Prep; a 15th-century Cannonry which sits between the ancient city wall and the Bishop’s Palace Garden) will know that we have a Woodland Garden behind the Nursery building. This is a remarkable space for a city-centre school to have, and it’s where lots of the outdoor learning of our youngest pupils takes place: log circles, mud kitchens, outdoor classrooms, story circles, and of course the magnificent (and untouchable) tree that provides shelter for our outdoor learning environment. The Woodland Garden gives onto the terraced Flower Garden, a series of colourful flowerbeds and herb gardens, tended to by Dr Pam Booker, one of our School Governors. Our older pupils, too, enjoy plenty of green space: our outdoor classroom (the Old Deanery Garden) is a well-used and very tranquil space in the summer months, and the Cloister Garth (the grassed quad that leads to the Chapter House) is a newly-allocated relaxing space for our senior pupils (Years 7 and 8) to enjoy during morning break when the sun is shining.
One of things I like about ECS is that we are not a Prep School high up on a hill with nothing for miles around. We don’t shut ourselves away from the real world and exist in an ‘independent school bubble’. Rather, the city-centre location of our School brings with it a certain awareness of life beyond the school gates. Global outlook is perhaps too strong a term, but certainly our children are encouraged to have a strong sense of the surrounding community and of their part in it; an awareness of other and of others; and a gentle sense of ‘real world’ as they are escorted between the School’s buildings scattered around the Cathedral Green. This struck me very early on after my arrival at ECS, when I saw a group of Year 7s (I think) chatting on the pavement as they made their way to a lesson over at the Evans site: a member of the public was approaching in the opposite direction, and without thinking the children instinctively moved to single file to let the lady past, all the while continuing their conversations. The fact that an awareness of others and an awareness of their own social and community roles and responsibilities is second nature to ECS pupils struck me as a very positive thing indeed.
This sense of responsibility and of being part of a wider community comes down not only to our location but also to our ancient foundation as the Cathedral School. We’ve been educating Choristers since 1179, and 900 years of music, history, culture, worship and spirituality means that these values and traditions are in the walls and in the blood. Being part (originally) of a broader foundation lends itself to some very appealing characteristics and traits in a school’s culture: it means that pupils and staff are conscious that the School exists for something other than its own existence and its own purposes. Our ancient association with the Cathedral and its community, and our unique location in the heart of the city, helps us to be mindful of the fact that we are part of something greater and more timeless than ourselves. That’s where our strong pastoral instincts come from; that’s where our underpinning gentleness and spirituality comes from; that’s what gives rise to our sense of purpose, our commitment to community engagement, and our sense of wonder.
And in amongst all of that are the mod cons of the city which are right on the doorstep. It is a thing most wonderful to be a Cathedral School which is nestled and tucked away so safely, and yet to have all that an expanding city has to offer within a minute’s walk. Opportunities for trips and enrichment visits abound: Year 1 walk to Pizza Express to make their very own pizzas as part of their food topic; the museum is a 4-minute walk away; The Arts Picturehouse Cinema put on a special screening for our pupils of their set text; Wellbeing Walk Club spent this Wednesday soaking up the sounds of the water down at the Quay; our boarders can pop into town at the weekends to spend pocket money and meet friends; and the world-class university 7minutes away means that the facilities for ECS sport are absolutely the best in the business.
In a week which has seen Parisian singer-songwriter Hannah Featherstone take time out of her UK tour to perform for us in Morning Worship, Queen’s College Taunton visit us to lead Drama Workshops and perform A Comedy of Errors in 15 minutes, a Scholars’ concert with musicians from Wellington School, the FECS Spring Fayre in the Chapter House, a Year 2 trip to the Zoo, a Year 1 trip to Compton Castle, and a whole raft of Home sports fixtures, I am reminded just how fortunate we are to be located in EX1, and how much our location and our ancient foundations play a part in the family feel of ECS.