City of London School and Me

For me, the road to CLS began with my mum’s desire that my brother and I would have better educational possibilities than she’d had. Luckily for us, she heard about City through a colleague who had been there and knew there was a bursary scheme.

I worked hard for the City entrance exam, especially on Non-Verbal Reasoning which, at first, seemed like a foreign language. What struck me most at interview, however, was being told that they were mostly interested in candidates’ potential and character, rather than whether they could cram for exams! Even aged 10 I remember being impressed by that as a position, especially as I had been sitting there terrified my maths wasn’t good enough.

That ethos was borne out by my experience of the School. I loved my time there. City nurtured individuality and a culture of curiosity. People came in from all over London and beyond. There were pupils from families with more money than us and from families with less. None of that was ever an issue. I never felt out of place. It was a diverse community: there was a strong sense that everyone had a different experience and that all those experiences could inform how you looked at the world.  

City was a great opportunity for me but there was no pressure to achieve in a particular direction. There was no pre-set career path towards, say, management consultancy or medicine. City gave you the sense that anything was possible and encouraged everyone to find their niche. For me, this involved coming in early to have a swim most days, captaining the water polo team, and taking a relatively unconventional mix of subjects for A and AS levels: Maths, Physics, Art and English. Everyone was encouraged to find their own path.

There was a great sense of community and of a huge range of extra-curricular activities – clubs, societies etc., enough to satisfy all manner of curiosities and interests. There was a sense that teachers always had time to continue discussions or recommend new material, in the classroom or walking down the corridors. That mix of formal and informal teaching, and the degree of mutual respect that implied, left quite an impression looking back.

Of all the visiting speakers we had, I particularly remember the Crystal Palace manager Steve Coppell and some of his players coming in. To have professionals from all walks of life come to the School to speak seemed to reflect the School’s ethos that nothing was off-limits, careers-wise.

I had been encouraged in art at primary school but at City this interest was given the room and tools to grow. The teachers had the knowledge and attitude to push me on and, of course, the technical facilities were excellent. There was never a feeling that art – or cultural production more generally – were add-ons to the ‘proper’ curriculum. Working in education myself now, I see how that idea of a rounded education has, beyond City, become increasingly rare.

I’d never considered Oxbridge as an option at all but my teacher, Malcolm Dakin, mentioned in a casual chat in the corridor outside the Art office that the course at the Ruskin might suit me. He made it seem not that big a deal – that I had every right to apply to a highly selective course at a world-famous institution. He made Oxford seem part of my world.

For 20 years now I’ve been able to describe myself as a career artist. When things have not gone to plan, I’ve always felt confident in my ability to improvise and to find a way through. I think my time at CLS really nurtured both that sense of pragmatism and a sense of possibility. Looking back, my bursary to City gave me the chance to broaden my horizons and gave me the foundations to pursue a rewarding life and career.

Mike Cooter was talking to The Development and Alumni Relations Team.

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