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Bishop Cotton School & Harry Potter magic

The value of house points in boarding schools

Author: Simon D Weale, BCS Director, Shimla

Imagine a school in a distant mountaintop location. A magical place surrounded by a great forest and reached by a scenic railway journey. Excited new pupils with trunks and suitcases. A cauldron of adventures and sporting rivalries. Sumptuous feasts in a great dining room. A historic place dominated by four ancient and distinct houses with their own traditions and character. Remind you of somewhere?

One of the cornerstones of Bishop Cotton School is the House system. Four houses named Lefroy, Ibbetson, Rivaz and Curzon that excite tremendous loyalty from their members and provide not only a sense of identity as well as pastoral care but allow a conduit to experience teamwork and competition in academics, debating, performing arts and sport.

George Cotton’s formative years at two of the great public schools of England – Rugby and Marlborough meant that BCS became a pioneer of the House System in India. Initially these were rather unexcitedly called Dormitory 1-4, but they passed into BCS folklore in 1905 when a devastating fire almost closed the school permanently. After that, the four houses were rebuilt and named after the high-profile British colonialists who helped the school at this crucial time. Some of these are now controversial figures in the history of India, but their House members still honour their memory – they are in no immediate danger of being cancelled. For most OCs, loyalty to their House comes above everything else. The Lefroy overall victory in 2023 brought widespread joy to the boys in green.

Life at JK Rowling’s Hogwarts has influenced a generation of young readers about boarding schools in recent years and, the antics of Draco Malfoy apart, mostly in a very positive way. The Harry Potter Studios in London were a ‘must see’ for our boys on our recent UK tour.

Oxford University where Harry Potter scenes were filmed with excited Cottonians in June 2023

Many schools throughout the world, day and boarding, also recognize the value of a House system of some sort. In recent years, I have enjoyed mischievously asking pupils in a variety of schools to identify which House at Hogwarts is most like their own and almost universally they say Gryffindor, of course. It says much about the human condition that children identify with the House of the hero Harry Potter, a House known for courage and chivalry rather than those that stand for learning and wisdom (Ravenclaw), dedication and fair play (Hufflepuff) or cunning and ambition (Slytherin). 

JK Rowling is facing her own challenges at the moment for her forthright stance in the Trans debate. Regardless of what people think of her, she captured the essence of what the House system provides and reading the wonderful Harry Potter books with our children has been one of the most precious shared joys of family life. We should be very happy that the most popular childrens’ books of the last fifty years celebrate a group of young people for their friendship, teamwork and doing the right thing in adversity.

Lefroy House wins this year’s Cock House award 2023

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