The Good Schools Guide Review of The Blue Coat School, Birmingham, B17 0HR
The school was founded in 1722 by the Reverend William Higgs as a co-educational charity school (making it one of the oldest co-ed schools in the country) and now occupies a truly beautiful site in 15 acres of playing fields and gardens. Moved here in 1930 and the buildings, nearly all of which were erected at that time, are clustered around well-manicured lawns, giving the impression of a cloistered antiquity that would not be out of place in a public school. This is a true oasis of peace and tranquillity just outside the bustling heart of inner city Birmingham.
One might suppose that the avowedly Anglican tone of the school might fit uneasily within the modern multi-ethnic West Midlands community. Yet it all seems to work remarkably well and the school has retained its Anglican tradition - with its own lay chaplain - and lovely collegiate-style school chapel. At the same time it has a school roll of which about 50 per cent are from an ethnic minority background, and only some of the rest are in any sense strictly Church of England. Whilst there is no doubt that the Anglican voice is the dominant one, the school has gone to great lengths to invite visiting speakers from other Christian denominations and to introduce discussion of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh traditions. This is a school where tolerance and mutual respect are taken very seriously indeed.
It has an innovative approach to language teaching, with all the children having the opportunity to taste Italian and Spanish before focusing on the main language, French. Science and art both flourish conspicuously, helped by some quite outstanding facilities. The success of so many pupils in the demanding King Edward VI entrance examinations says much for the quality of the teaching of the core academic subjects. As you would expect with a musical headmaster, music is especially strong, and the school has well-established links with Birmingham Cathedral and Birmingham Conservatoire, no doubt one reason why Sir Simon Rattle sent his children here. Chapel choir and four other choirs, numerous orchestral ensembles and 235 children learning at least one musical instrument. A notable recent addition is a Steinway concert grand piano. Lots of wonderful concerts, most notably special events at Symphony Hall (conducted by Rattle), St Paul's, Hockley and the CBSO Centre.
Boarding a thing of the recent past. The house system, originally designed for a predominantly boarding population, has been imaginatively reorganised to meet the needs of a day environment. Every prep school child is designated a house, uses its commonroom facilities and is under the care of a particular houseparent. This ensures that pastoral support is especially strong and each child has a very intense sense of belonging to a small, intimate unit. It also means that the school is able to offer very effective and well organised out-of-school care until 6pm - a great boon for working parents. Happy, well-motivated children.
A great deal of emphasis is placed on a wide range of games, and the hugely impressive sports centre (incorporating a 25 metre pool) enhances this sporting tradition. The school organises its own sporting tournaments, which are enthusiastically attended by preparatory schools from far and wide.
Blue Coat's enormous strengths make it the natural choice for parents looking for a traditional preparatory school education within this city.
Since 1998, Mr Alan Browning (mid-fifties). Married to Helen, who is very much involved in school life; three boys, one who has just left Cambridge, one at Durham, and one at King Edward's School, Birmingham. Educated Clifton, Trinity Cambridge and Oxford. A musician, started career as a lecturer at Leicester University, thence to Blue Coat as director of music in 1982 and then deputy head and director of studies in 1993. 'He is someone who has lived and breathed the school for most of his professional career,' remarks a parent. This is of course both a strength and a weakness. A devout evangelical Christian, sees his faith as central to his role as headmaster. A man who is deeply committed to the interests of the children. 'This is a school that really cares about its pupils,' says the parent – a reflection of the head's most important priority.
Usually at two into pre-prep or seven into prep. Test and interview at seven. Most children sign up at or near birth. The vast majority of the pupils enter the nursery (Buttons), then move through the school. Head keen to ensure that the girl/boy balance is maintained. Some places (dependent on natural wastage) at all levels but especially at seven. The vast majority of the children are recruited from the local Edgbaston and Harborne areas but the school is expanding its catchment area.
Blue Coat copes well and in many ways prospers in the demanding educational environment of Birmingham. The aspiration of most parents is to get their child into one of the super-academic King Edward VI schools or one of the many fine selective maintained schools in the area. Bearing in mind that the intake is an academically wide one, the school does well to get the largest single group into the King Edward schools. Others to schools such as Solihull, Edgbaston High, St George's School and Lichfield Cathedral School.