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What says..

Each topic has a Wow Day built into the curriculum to add to the fun and stimulate thinking. The STEM week project was very exciting, the children told us, with the launching of a helium balloon that could be tracked as it travelled. The chaplain’s assemblies are highly interactive and entertaining. The one we attended involved sumo wrestlers (two disguised members of the senior leadership team) – ideal material for entertaining family discussions...

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What the school says...

We are an independent preparatory day school offering an outstanding educational experience to boys and girls aged 2 to 11. Founded in 1722, the school occupies a beautiful site in Edgbaston, in 15 acres of playing fields and gardens. We are a thriving community where children achieve a great many things, with outstanding results. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2016, Noel Neeson BEd (Glasgow) NPQH. It is never easy taking over from a long serving and much loved head, but Noel has managed to take staff, parents and children with him on a journey of discovery, renewal and challenge. Everyone tells us Noel puts children at the centre of everything. He aims to be the champion of the ‘invisible’ child and sees Blue Coat as a school that fights for every child, not just the very bright or very weak, but all. The changes he has introduced are all about what will make an even better experience for the children while building on the distinguished legacy of Blue Coat. He is a very visible presence around school – parents feel he uses every opportunity to meet and talk to them. His wife, Juliet, has also become a familiar and approachable figure. ‘They are very much a team,’ parents tell us.

Although clearly a Glaswegian through and through, most of Noel’s teaching experience has been south of the border. He was a deputy in Kenilworth and a head in Leamington Spa - so knows the West Midlands pulse - before taking up his headship at St Peter’s in Devon. After seven years there, he says he loves the multicultural feel of Birmingham and the cultural richness of the city. He sees Blue Coat’s future as being at the forefront of educational initiatives. He is introducing cutting edge pedagogy and is keen to take the Blue Coat’s strengths out into the community, putting links with both secondary and other primary schools high on his list of early priorities.

Entrance

This is a school that fills up so it is sensible to make enquiries early. The main entry points are into Buttons Nursery, the pre-prep or the prep at 7+ when a further form is introduced – from three to four forms in a year group. There may be places at other points so it is always worth trying. The admissions process gets more formal the older the child, and for the scholarships and assisted places is rigorous. There are up to six academic and music scholarships offered at 7+ to both internal and external candidates.

Exit

The vast majority stay till 11, though if staff feel a child would really struggle with the academic pace of the prep department, they will discuss other options with parents. Broadly speaking, families are wanting the Birmingham selective schools, and that is where very many go, with some scholarships every year to the independent ones. The King Edward state grammar schools are popular as are the two independent King Edward schools and Edgbaston High. Blue Coat has strong relationships with other schools as well and encourages parents to make sure they are looking widely to find the best fit for their child. Some go to eg Solihull, St George’s, The Priory. In 2018, 15 scholarships/awards accepted.

Our view

Founded in 1722, the school moved to its present purpose-built premises in the 1930s. Set in a spacious site between Edgbaston and Harborne, the buildings present a pleasingly harmonious and gracious facade. Many developments have been added over the years, including a large sports hall and swimming pool, but these are behind the lovely frontage.

The school is considered one of the strongest academically in the area. Academic progress is taken very seriously right from the beginning with quite a traditional approach to the curriculum, while utilising all the modern technology possible – Google Classroom, for example. A focus on cross-curricular themes helps to maximise the children's learning experience. The Great Fire of London was the theme when we visited, and it was encouraging to see how this was being picked up across the humanities and sciences in all sorts of creative ways. Each topic has a Wow Day built into the curriculum to add to the fun and stimulate thinking. Another current focus is on making the links between the pre-prep and prep departments stronger so that there is a growing sense that this is all one school in practice as well as theory.

There are assessments each term and the head has introduced a tighter tracking structure to streamline recording and reporting. There are high expectations in all subjects, not just English and maths – all subjects must be making a visible impact on children’s learning. STEM subjects benefit from two science laboratories with lots of practical work going on and the STEM week project was very exciting, the children told us, with the launching of a helium balloon that could be tracked as it travelled.

Growth mindset is now well bedded into marking practice as well as in the informal setting of short term goals. Recognising effort is central to helping children develop a positive attitude to learning. The head is passionate about critical thinking, which threads through the curriculum.

The school is a Church of England foundation and while it welcomes children of all faiths and none, everyone is expected to attend the chapel services and participate fully in all aspects of the school. The traditional chapel services pass on to the children something of the English religious cultural heritage and parents of all faiths value it.

As with all good junior schools, Blue Coat encourages close involvement with parents. Friday chapel is a time for hearing the quality of the traditional church music, not only from the choir but the whole school. The chaplain’s assemblies are highly interactive and entertaining. The one we attended involved sumo wrestlers (two disguised members of the senior leadership team) – ideal material for entertaining family discussions round the kitchen table, we thought.

Parents are largely aspirational professional and business people who are looking for an established co-educational school close to the city and the more affluent housing areas. Parents also value the holistic approach of the school, with its a focus on developing well rounded, confident children, alongside its strong reputation for getting children places at the selective grammar schools and into the prestigious King Edward’s independent secondary schools, with scholarships won most years. Parents mention this rather sheepishly, but it is a huge selling point in the city.

Staff say that parents are very supportive, wanting to know how they can best aid their child’s progress. Not by intensive examination coaching, is the message, with which we completely concur, nor by demanding the school sets more and more homework. Parents are encouraged to listen to children, talk with them about the world and its wonders, work on the social skills that come from lots of verbal interchanges.

Parents warmly applauded the school's support of children’s learning needs. Small group tuition goes on from year 1, and a child who starts to struggle in one area is picked up very quickly, with intervention strategies introduced. These usually take the child out of class a few times a week on a short term basis. Intervention work in early years is normally done within the class using the teaching assistant. Each pre-prep class has its own teaching assistant.

Friday afternoons for year 5s and 6s are TED enrichment time – that’s Thinking, Exploring, Doing. When we visited, the options included journalism, business enterprise, media mania, debating, young engineers, paper crafts. There is a forest school for the younger ones. There's plenty on offer outside the classroom for all ages. After lessons, children go to their houses, where they can play (wonderful!), do homework, go off to clubs.

Music has been very strong for many years. Huge numbers of the children have instrumental lessons and the quality of the singing, with an exceptional chapel choir, is very high. The school is now looking at how to take its music to the masses – recently the choir performed in York.

The art room is vibrant and heavily used outside lessons for art clubs. Practising artists visit and graphic designers visit to show the links between art and business.

Sport looks set to have a fresh drive, with the enthusiasm of the head. There is an increasing focus on teaching sport skills and techniques lower down the school. Sports facilities are excellent, with a modern sports hall, pool, grassed sports fields and new Astroturf pitch and cricket nets. Parents and children spoke warmly about occasions when the school puts out A, B, C, D and E teams.

There are two big drama productions each year – one for years 3 and 4 and one for year 6. These are highly anticipated and everyone in the year group is involved. The year 6 one is given very serious attention by both children and staff as it comes after all the secondary school entrance exams, with the consequent release of academic pressure.

Staff are seen as very approachable by both the children and parents. They turn emails round very quickly and at the pre-prep stage see parents on a daily basis. But it is more than just being efficient – staff are seen as pivotal in putting the individual child at the heart of a very tangible community. The house system, a legacy of the days when Blue Coat had boarders, forms a base for the children. They join one of the two girls' and two boys' houses when they enter the prep, and are given an older buddy, helping to nurture cross-year friendships. They can go to their house from 8am until school starts and do homework or play games there after school. The teaching house staff ensure that the houses are absolutely distinct from day-to-day school life.

Pastoral care is praised by parents and staff see it as pervading all aspects of their work. When unkind behaviour occurs, it is dealt with quickly and parents feel they are kept well informed. There is a behaviour policy or consequences pathway, but this is not a school that needs to take a heavy handed approach. The school is currently working on emotional logic and staff are being trained in how to help children move on emotionally, particularly at times of unhappiness. The children we met were confident, open and highly engaged in school life.

There are means-tested bursary places from 7, part of the school’s original charitable mission. The school is keen to go out into disadvantaged communities in Birmingham actively looking for children who would benefit from this support. This will not, we imagine, be difficult. It is hard to think of a boy or girl who will not find something in this rich educational environment that will set them on a path of engagement, adventure and high aspiration.

Special Education Needs

SEN for senior school is as per the existing GSG entry. Pre-Prep, small group 'booster' sessions for English and Maths in years 1 and 2. Prep: 1-1 withdrawal for learning support for children with SN, eg those with dyslexia. The needs of gifted and talented children are provided for by a differentiated approach to teaching. The school's extensive programme of extra-curricular activities provides additional opportunities for the most able children. The school hosts specialist masterclasses for gifted and talented children within Blue Coat and the local community. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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