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Wherever we went we were met with open friendliness, a willingness to chat and ready smiles.  There were plenty of moments of quick and enjoyable repartee A previous visitor remarked, ‘this is one of the few schools where enrichment is genuinely as important as the academic’. In fact there seem to be no barriers between enrichment and academic. They feed on each other and the energy generated by both creates a powerful, tangible warmth. The cookery classes, for instance, are stimulating...

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What the school says...

King Edward VI High School for Girls offers a number of means tested assisted places as well as academic and music scholarships. Entrance examinations consist of: At 11 - 2x English and 2x Maths, no interview. At 16 - interview. No past papers available. The exams are accessible to all those following National Curriculum work. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Computer Appreciation at an English Independent School (VRQ Level 2)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCSE)

2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Astronomy at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)
  • Best performance by Girls taking French at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since 2013, Mrs Ann Clark. Educated at Bradford Girls' Grammar School, where she won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge. Read modern languages, specifically German, French and Spanish. Now teaches German A level, and French to half of the new girls. ‘It’s good to see how they’re settling down socially and academically.’ They, for their part, enjoy being taught by her. ‘She’s very approachable and clear headed,’ seems the most common verdict. Attributes, incidentally, acknowledged by parents who like her a lot. She has more than 25 years' experience of teaching in state schools and university, and before becoming principal was deputy head of Heanor Gate Science College in Derbyshire.

One problem Mrs Clark had to face on appointment, not that it seemed to worry her, was the heroic and legendary qualities rightly attributed to her predecessor and the inevitable comparisons. Initially there were some curmudgeonly comments and eyeball rolling, but that was in anticipation. Now, even that educational organ, the Tatler, praises Mrs Clark. And so do we. Mrs Clark does not belong to the duchess style of head: she doesn’t sweep along corridors scattering staff and pupils. There is a gentle elegance and grace about her, a quick and ready sense of humour combined with strong inner strength. Very experienced and wholly lacking in pomposity. Mrs Clark has two children of her own. She understands the ethos of the school and is building on it. Confesses to loving it all. Parents we spoke to were full of admiration

Academic matters

This school makes no arrangement for separating groups of ‘gifted and talented’. Clearly there is no need, since the girls who have jumped the considerable academic and intellectual hurdles in order to arrive are, by definition, gifted and talented. One inspirational teacher – we didn’t meet any who were not obviously passionate and fired up about teaching and, noticeably, not just their own subject – told us there were no cohorts, no clipped wings, no shaping and conscious moulding into a ‘type’. What is required and encouraged is intellectual curiosity: ‘creative living and critical thinking’ - to reach for the stars with feet on the ground. Literally and metaphorically. There is the desire to investigate and discover through intelligent experiment, and the never-ending search for truth confirmed recently by the school’s animated involvement with the most recent eclipse. As for that search for truth, look around. ‘Trouthe schal delyvere’ (‘Truth will conquer’).Those words of Chaucer appear above an entrance to the school, intended as the foundation stone laid in 1938. The great man would have been pleased, as was a recent inspector who wrote of the search for truth in the school: ‘The school has established a practice of probing enquiry and clear investigation in lessons, rather than delivery and acceptance. This has been welcomed by the pupils, who consequently participate eagerly and successfully.’ This we can confirm and very refreshing it is.

It seems almost vile to talk about grades and exam results against such a background of learning and scholarship. This school is not driven by Ofsted’s occasional bullying and blackmailing techniques, the manic drive for grades and league table success. ‘We take it all in our stride,’ one girl told us without a trace of arrogance or smugness. Time after time KEHS Birmingham is up near the top of league tables and not merely because of the bright, hard-working pupils, the dedicated teachers and the excellent facilities though, of course, all that is important. It’s the ethos, the atmosphere, the energetic quest for knowledge and discovery. Anyone judging this school by its exam results alone would be the sort of person who might see potential in Michael Angelo’s pieta in Bruges as a useful door stop. Nevertheless, quite rightly, the school does publish its academic successes, but more as an offering than a drum roll. This is well summed up by a sentence on the school’s website: ‘The ethos of the school is one whereby we want all girls to develop a love of learning and respect for the life of the intellect that will continue throughout their lives as well as achieving highly in public examinations.’ Beautifully put and with the right emphasis. But for those now salivating at the prospect of feasting on delicious statistics, here are some: in 2016, of the 20 different subjects taken at A level, 74 per cent of grades were A*/A and 91 per cent A*/B. At GCSE in the same year 92 per cent of grades were A*/A. More important than any of this is the breadth: the academic syllabus stretches beyond the question of grades. About 30 percent of A level candidates do mixed arts and science subjects. The most popular subjects are maths, chemistry and biology followed by history and English. Good results; happy candidates.

As mentioned, the academic facilities are excellent. There are seemingly hundreds of science labs. Probably fewer than that, but all impressively kitted out. Wonderful library where books are taken out and read and the librarian recommends, introduces and discusses with the girls what they have read. Sounds obvious, but it isn’t universal practice. Yes, this school is wonderfully equipped, but there’s more to it than that. One area everyone can rejoice in is the blogs section on the school website. Pupils and staff blog tirelessly on a huge variety of subjects. Staff keep a gently tactful eye on pupils’ blogs, mostly out of interest as censorship ‘rarely required.’ In some ways the blogs act as a sort of drip feed for mind and spirit: uplifting blogs on how to keep happy; challenging blogs on matters of the intellect. Fascinating stuff from the academic staff; exciting topics from younger bloggers. A serious distraction for anyone with deadlines to meet. Everyone should read these blogs but you can’t hurry. One girl described the blogs as the beating heart of KEHS. Some heart!

Games, options, the arts

A previous visitor remarked, ‘this is one of the few schools where enrichment is genuinely as important as the academic’. In fact there seem to be no barriers between enrichment and academic. They feed on each other and the energy generated by both creates a powerful, tangible warmth. The cookery classes, for instance, are stimulating and rewarding, and not just in obvious ways. This is an option for third year pupils and they combine the joys of creating delicious food with scientific considerations involving different herbs and spices, temperatures and mixtures. When we visited, discussions were ranging from developing countries to healthy living, from farming to supermarkets. So many topics drawn from one activity. And that is what happens here.

Art is extraordinarily good right the way through the school in the bright, open studios from where KEHS has recently made a Big Hoot in Birmingham. Read all about it. Superb ceramics. Amazing drama, where we saw some wonderfully innovative work involving movement and dance, creativity and imagination, all run by a teacher whose energy and passion would have made a Catherine wheel seem like a jacket potato. The City of Birmingham has one of the finest concert halls in Europe; KEHS has one of the finest concert halls of any school we have visited: the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, shared with the boys of King Edward’s School next door. Bags of music, with a tremendous variety of concerts, from smaller intimate lunch times to large, sweepingly impressive symphony concerts. Parents spoke of them with much enthusiasm, even if they didn’t have a child of their own playing. Music studio recently upgraded, also have Mac music suite running Sibelius.

Sport is prolific with excellent results. Swimming, football, hockey, netball, badminton, fencing, tennis, indoor rowing, snorkelling, gymnastics, on and on goes the list. You name it, it’s available and KEHS girls, as one pupil told us, are up for anything. Tours abroad, including a memorable and all-conquering trip to the Caribbean, are a joyous part of the overall experience. Not just the matches. In this school of impressive academic prowess it’s good to observe the standard and, indeed, the significance of extracurricular activities.

Wonderfully bright and enthusiastic sports staff. These are not the weight-lifting, whistle-blasting, muscle-bound bone-heads of yesteryear. They are intelligent, thoughtful and genuinely involved in all round well-being. They are the ministers of well-being; something deeper and more significant even than sporting triumph. Moments of activity and physical involvement are balanced with moments of silence, of stillness, ‘de-stressing’: the effect spreads right through the school. The result is that everything - intellectual and academic activities, music and art, friendships and sporting rivalries - all seem to blend into one harmonious whole, blossoming in the amazing amount of extracurricular activities on offer and the pervading happiness.

Nor is the school exclusively self-involved. Far from it. The sums of money raised for local and international charities, the different workshops run for local primary schools, the visits and the hostings all confirm the responsible and generous position of the school reaching out to its surrounding community.

Background and atmosphere

‘What a lot of schools were founded during the brief reign of Edward V1,’ someone said to us the other day. It isn’t quite like that - only King Edward's School for boys was founded by Edward VI - but there are eight schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, six state and two - including this one - independent. All are part of the same foundation and all bursarial work is carried out jointly. The high school was founded in 1883; it followed King Edward’s School to its present site next door, in fact adjoining, in 1940. Thus, as is often said, both schools have the best of both worlds. The campus is delightful: pleasing red-brick (but not the aggressive shade), with a dignified sense of space, without any egocentric pomposity. The result is an atmosphere of happy, busy activity: intent but not too intense. Just as the girls felt they could take things in their stride, so the staff seemed happy to stride along with them. One mum told us of the excellent individual help girls could expect from their teachers, at almost any time. Most schools boast of the happy family atmosphere of their establishments. We heard no-one extolling happiness here. No need to: it just is. No one talks of breathing, either.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘It’s all built on trust’, we were told. As a result there is no obvious hierarchy amongst the girls, no prefectorial system, no head girl. But there is an unobtrusive structure of which everyone is aware. It’s based on an awareness of those around you, a shared endeavour and common sense. Girls who had recently arrived spoke appreciatively of the warmth of the welcome they had received and the friendliness of the older girls. Sixth form tutor groups are composed of a mixture of upper and lower sixth. This not only dilutes any stultifying sense of hierarchy, but makes it much easier for new sixth form girls to settle in. The sixth form council meets regularly with the director of sixth form to discuss any suggestions and ideas. When a new sixth form centre was being considered, there was much discussion about where it should go. In the end it was decided to adapt rooms within the main building so as to avoid any feeling of separateness or aloofness. Jolly nice it is, too. The cake looked delicious.

Pupils and parents

Wherever we went we were met with open friendliness, a willingness to chat and ready smiles. There were plenty of moments of quick and enjoyable repartee. They were amusing about the business of sharing buses and transport with the boys at King Edward’s. Both groups come from a wide catchment area: Lichfield, Bromsgrove, Wolverhampton, Solihull etc. A healthy and delightfully friendly ethnic mixture ('we love arguing in religious studies'). Parents, mostly from professional backgrounds, feel involved and ‘part of the community.’

Entrance

Everything you need to know about entering the school is clearly laid out on the school’s excellent website - note changed timings of entrance exam, now in October of previous year rather than January. The examinations are particular to KEHS. At 11+ three papers (two English, one maths) - no reasoning. Emphasis is on creativity and potential rather than what the candidate has been taught. Applicants might be faced with some creative writing or a poem to elucidate, but whatever is required, the school goes to great lengths to ensure they have selected the right girls. That is when the majority enter the school, but there are occasional places the following year and post-GCSE into the sixth form. Winning a place into the sixth form is, as with everything here, more than just a question of grades. There are exams in the relevant subjects, ‘tough but fair’ interviews and consideration of the previous school’s report.

Exit

Very few leave after GCSEs (about 10 per cent in 2016). An alarming amount of schools these days offload pupils who have not done very well at GCSEs and so probably won’t help their A level league tables. KEHS does not do that and remains faithful to its commitment. The school’s integrity is justly rewarded: very, very few drop below a C grade and most go on to a good spread of universities (Exeter, Durham, London (Imperial, KCL), Manchester and Bristol currently popular), generous helpings of Oxbridge and medicine (nine and 16 respectively in 2016), and thence to impressive jobs. The variety of university subjects chosen is impressive and a tribute to the school’s help and advice. It is never a sausage machine.

Money matters

Under the heading of Bursaries and Assisted Places on the school’s website there is a sentence of Boswellian longevity. There then follows a crisper sentence which will encourage many. ‘Currently almost a quarter of girls in the school receive some form of bursary support thanks to funding provided principally by the Foundation but also by alumnae through donations and bequests.’ There are energetic and determined efforts to make the school increasingly accessible financially to a wider range of parents. This is proving successful.

Our view

This is certainly a top academic school but it’s more than that. It’s a community where intellectual lessons are imbibed for life along with emotional and creative experiences; where disappointments are often confronted with courage and triumphs with modest pleasure. And lest this all sounds a bit earnest, it is worth emphasising that we were constantly made aware by lively, cheerful pupils – and staff - that for the most part life at KEHS, Birmingham is a lot of fun.

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