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 The IB group loves the small, but growing, tightly knit IB community and tells us that they get all the very best teachers – but the other groups said the same. Teaching staff come from a range of educational backgrounds – Oxbridge as well as the old polys – and this gives a sense that the school is grounded in the realities of life. It certainly brings home the rugby silverware, winning the last two national finals, but then the girls’ netball team are national champions too...

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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Peter Clague, following a glittering career in New Zealand that embraced the state and independent sectors. Attracted by the school's sense of heritage and purpose, Peter says it was Bromsgrove’s challenge to the traditional public school image that clinched the deal for him. He is a huge supporter of IB and believes that its genuinely international spirit suffuses the whole school, bringing with it a progressive liberalism and excitement about modern educational developments. He has introduced more flexibility in the timetable, with longer lunch breaks for pupils to pursue co-curricular interests, and aligned the prep and senior school more closely, but perhaps the biggest changes are in the importance he is giving to the arts. There is more music and drama than ever before and a huge investment into the building of a new theatre at the prep school and concert hall at the senior school.

‘He is not as scary as he looks’, said one girl to us, which is more a comment on his height and presence than anything else because he is universally seen as charming and warm. The school is proud of its international leader and feel he mirrors the increasingly global outlook of the school. They like also the way in which he respects the traditions of the school but helps them all to look critically at what works and change what could be better. He is described as a visionary and also praised for being in touch with reality. ‘He’s not all idealism – he has his finger on the business pulse and is very data focused’, one senior member of staff told us. He is a skilled wood turner and works beside staff and students building stage sets. He is an ‘awesome’ public speaker, pupils told us: ‘we never know where his metaphors are taking us’.

His litmus test for everything is ‘Is it good for the pupils?’

Academic matters

This is a school that really does embrace and value the vocational and the academic. A Level, IB and BTec are all on offer in the sixth form and each has its strong supporters. The IB group loves the small, but growing, tightly knit IB community and tells us that they get all the very best teachers – but the other groups said the same, so we assume there are just a splendid lot of wonderful teachers. A level students assured us they get the breadth through all taking the EPQ. Geography is ‘amazing’, politics is ‘brilliant’ and both attract large A level groups. Science and maths flourish. There are usually some nine sets taking single maths and three further maths groups. Results are strong. At the end of the sixth form, virtually all BTec results are double distinctions, the average IB diploma score was 38 in 2018 and at A level or equivalent 75 per cent of grades were A*-B and 46 per cent A*/A. At gCSE, 41 per cent A*-A/9-7.

The only criticism on curriculum breadth came from parents who wanted the school to be offering much more on the home economics and cookery side of things, but apparently the school is taking this on, and other than that there is an impressive range of opportunities.

Saturday mornings are not compulsory but a large proportion of pupils are likely to be there, not least because that is when some of the additional academic classes take place – whether in the form of catch-up and support ‘surgeries’ or Oxbridge preparation. There are plenty of other academic interest groups running too for anyone not falling into those categories. For those who miss a Saturday, there are departmental tweets that keep you interested.

Learning support is highly rated, though one parent gave a word of caution that moderate learning difficulties were beyond the scope of the school. There is a very attractive and well-used learning resources centre on three levels and we were delighted to hear it is open till 10.00 in the evening and at weekends. This is the sort of opportunity that makes boarding so attractive to the serious student as well as those who want one long sleepover.

Games, options, the arts

Everyone was at pains to tell us that this is not just a rugby school. Well it certainly brings home the rugby silverware, winning the last two national finals, but then the girls’ netball team are national champions too. There is genuinely a big variety of sport on offer with D teams that inspire just as much enthusiasm as the A teams. The school was ranked fourth in the country recently in School Sports Magazine. The elite senior rugby players do have to make the sort of serious commitment you would expect at national level, so it is not really an option to be in the U18 squad and play the lead in the school play. Sports facilities are excellent as you would expect, with a particularly impressive new indoor arena with pull-out seating for 400 where the national indoor hockey finals take place. The pool and gym are open at weekends for boarders.

There is an exciting variety of clubs and societies and the school has invested heavily in staff on the co-curricular side to make a strong offering for all. Everyone was rightly proud of a girl who had entered an international competition to build an electric car and had ended up racing it at Rockingham. Drama is big and lots of departments - including art and DT - contribute to productions. Music is getting stronger all the time with smaller lunchtime concerts as well as the big school showpieces. New performing arts centre (opened in November 2017 by Julian Lloyd Webber) features a Vienna concert grand piano. There is Model United Nations and the school sends pupils to the European Youth Parliament. Pupils and parents were keen to tell us that the school looks for what every individual is good at and helps them find their niche and passion.

All year 10s do CCF. Some continue and others take up DofE awards separately. There are service projects running so everyone makes a community contribution at some stage.

Boarders

At first the size may be a little intimidating but it is that which ensures the wide opportunities and it is ameliorated by the house system. Each house has its own internal family structure with older pupils acting as mothers and fathers and the younger ones as children. At the end of year 11, students can move to a sixth form house, but some can’t bear to leave their first boarding house, home from home, at that stage. Apart from those in the sixth form house, everyone eats in a central dining room. There are separate day houses and one with day pupils and boarders.

House tutors have about eight in a group and, with a 50 minute weekly session timetabled, get to know their tutees well. Sixth formers say that if you act like an adult, tutors treat you like an adult. Houses are good at communicating with parents and pupils – there are house newsletters and blogs as well as balls that help create a strong house identity. House competitions are seen as big bonding experiences and we were urged to get onto the school website to enjoy the full splendour of house music competitions.

The medical centre is highly praised. The nurses visit each boarding house every night to check all is fine and the focus on well-being, which includes bringing in outside speakers, is welcomed. Boarders say it is a ‘full on’ school. If you want to spend your weekends and evenings on a couch, the Bromsgrove experience would be wasted on you.

Background and atmosphere

Teaching staff come from a range of educational backgrounds – Oxbridge as well as the old polys – and this gives a sense that the school is grounded in the realities of life outside. There is a drive to ensure an authentic connection with the local community, who use the sports facilities and will be enjoying the new performing arts additions. Senior pupils have links with local state schools through CCF, DofE and university preparation. There's a sense of energy and hard work. The days are long for boarders and day pupils but they are full of purposeful activities.

It is a large campus, 100 acres, in the middle of Bromsgrove, a medium sized Midlands town. Buildings vary in age and the overall impression is of a site loved, cherished and very well maintained. Teaching blocks are attractive with wide corridors and big classrooms, all well lit. There is a delightful little school museum in the old chapel which is just one of a number of reminders of the school’s heritage. There are 11 houses, all but one single sex, some in modern buildings, some in charming older ones; the only co-ed house, in a converted hotel a few minutes from the main campus that was once the home of A E Housman, is a real stunner. The ‘new’ chapel is very prominent on the school site and there are assemblies three times a week for everyone.

There is a popular café, open all day, for older pupils – but we were assured by sixth earnest formers ‘it is never a substitute for a proper lunch’.

We were impressed by the careers department where there has been a serious investment in staffing. Year 11 and sixth form pupils have a number of one-to-one interviews and these are supplemented by a Bromsgrove Futures programme of weekly visiting speakers. The contact with ex-pupils is also strong, so current pupils can get advice on careers and university choices and the chance to practise interview technique. There is a diverse intake and the careers department is well aware it is catering for wide range of needs – another example of how, despite its size, the school is interested in individuals.

Pupils clearly feel the school is good at listening. The head boy and girl lead regular school forums with no member of staff present and they told us the very positive results from these meetings. Pupil voice is increasingly bedded into all aspects and creates an atmosphere that pupils really are at the centre of this school.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The pupils do need a degree of self-discipline to flourish, parents told us. They need to manage themselves to some extent especially as they get older – which is seen as excellent preparation for life beyond Bromsgrove for those who succeed, but some parents knew pupils who had struggled with it. Discipline is seen as being robust and fair and pupils need to be prepared to accept it without arguing the toss. Uniform regulations are enforced strictly. Punishments for serious breaches of school rules (‘but it’s very rare,’ pupils assured us) are consistent and take sensible account of the culprit’s previous history, but there is very little debate round drugs or sex – you are out. The underpinning rule is that you must not stop others from learning.

Pupils and parents spoke very warmly and appreciatively about members of staff both on the academic and pastoral side. The overriding sense is that well-being and the whole person really do matter to staff.

Pupils and parents

The school sits somewhere between highly competitive Birmingham and posh boarding school clientele. Families typically have both parents working and are fairly diverse, but probably not a lot of old money and a quite a number of military families. It attracts English families who want an international community - there are boarders from all over the world - and a choice of routes post-16. Bucking national trends, there has been an increase in British boarders and prep boarding in recent years. The pupils we met were delightful and genuine. They were articulate and thoughtful and all quite different from each other, which was refreshing. The situation of the school is an asset – it is in a good central England location, easy to reach from all corners of the country.

Entrance

At 13+ tests in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and essay writing. The largest cohort from the school's own prep. No automatic entry, but parents seem to feel that plenty of warning and advice is given if a child is unlikely to be accepted to move through. At sixth form level, entry depends on GCSE results and an interview for UK candidates.

Exit

There is a seriously impressive range of courses, universities and countries in terms of pupil destination that reflects the wide sixth form clientele. In recent years, pupils have gone on to do catering, boat building, digital games study as well as maths at Cambridge, PPE at Oxford and mainstream academic subjects at strong UK and global universities, including lots of future doctors and engineers. Two to Cambridge in 2018 and three medics; UCL, Exeter, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Durham, Nottingham Trent, Loughborough, LSE and Nottingham all popular. Others to universities in several European countries, the US, Canada and Australia.

Money matters

You are paying for the excellent facilities and opportunities as a boarder or a day pupil. Learning support is included in the fees as is ESL tuition. The head is very conscious of the need to widen access and play a part in promoting social mobility. He is actively building a bursary fund and currently there are 98 children on significant fee reduction. He tells us that past pupils are very receptive to raising funds for bursary support. Scholarships are on offer for academic, sporting, artistic and musical talents.

Our view

Bromsgrove manages to combine the feel of a local family day school with an international boarding school, attracting pupils both for its sporting reputation and also its academic offer and results. It is a carefully crafted hybrid that works. There is a culture of hard work and hard play and an earnestness about the pupils that is beguiling, far from the arrogant outcome some parents fear in independent schools. The arts side of the school is definitely in ascendency, both in terms of the huge financial investment and in the mindset of the community. We want to be invited back for performances in the new theatre and concert hall - we expect them to be world class.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

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