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King Edwards School, Birmingham

What says..

Results are a given – these are, as one parent pointed out, ‘abnormally smart boys’. But the approach to learning is far from rote or exam oriented, and it’s not about everyone getting A*s or excelling at everything. Rather, the school stands out for academic breadth, enrichment and breeding a culture of intellectual curiosity. The boys need no persuading to spend breaks and lunchtimes enhancing their learning, and they are highly aspirational. No wonder many teachers consider this...

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What the school says...

One of the key aims of King Edward's School is to ensure that it is accessible to all pupils of ability, whatever their background. We do all we can to ensure that we get the boys who have the greatest potential to succeed here. To that end, as well as our entrance examinations we make use of other information to choose pupils: school reports are very important and we interview a very high proportion of applicants. Also, the school makes an exceptionally large number of awards of means-tested Assisted Places, based on family income and academic performance, and Scholarships, based on academic performance alone. Around 40% of boys have some form of financial support and over 10% are here for free. Our long-term intention is to increase that proportion to an even higher level.

The school normally accepts boys at 11+, 13+ and 16+, although boys are admitted into other year groups in exceptional circumstances, for example when a family moves into the area.

11+ and 13+ entrance exam consists of English, Mathematics and verbal reasoning. 16+ offers are based on an interview, predicted GCSE grades and headteacher's report.
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Curricula

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

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Chief master

Since 2019, Katy Ricks. Educated at Camden School for Girls, English degree from Oxford. The school’s first female head, and not for the first time either – she was the first female head of Sevenoaks School before this. The big question on everyone’s lips was whether she’d still be called chief master, she laughs. ‘But why wouldn’t you? It’s the best title there is!’ Turned to teaching shortly after marrying her academic husband: ‘I decided one of us better get a job!’ she quips. Career choice clinched by first teaching role at St Paul’s School for Girls where ‘talking about literature turned out to be just as enjoyable as studying it.' Aspirations to be a head soon followed: ‘It was seeing Heather Brigstocke in action - I thought, “I want to do that!”’ Climbed the ladder via teaching at St Edward’s Oxford, Latymer Upper and Highgate (deputy head) – and even had a three-year stint teaching English at KES early on in her career.

First job was to do away with the gentleman’s drawing room feel of the head’s study and, thanks to her flair for vivid colours and an eye for detail, she now presides from an interior designer’s dream office. Sitting poised in one of her beautifully re-upholstered chairs (‘previously fake green leather’), it’s easy to see why she landed the job – she’s taught IB (as a head) for the last 20 years, she is a master of reinvigorating intellectual buzz and has proved herself a whizz at bottling up the school’s educational magic, most recently via The KE Core - a bespoke non-examined programme that helps prepare boys for the IB. It consists of three strands – thinking (‘asking the big questions like, Who am I?’), so-called soft skills (‘that are actually rather hard!’) and learning to learn (‘the skills you need to be a great student’).

Elegant, erudite and very smiley. Her mantra is to ‘do the really big things and the really small things and get the senior leadership team to do everything in the middle’. So assemblies, tick; tea with prefects, tick; attending every single event, cross. Might account for so many parents saying they have ‘no real sense of her’, though nobody seems to mind. Pupils say that when they do see her, she’s ‘friendly’ and doesn’t ‘parade her position of authority’ (and it doesn’t go amiss that she’s a World Cup football fan).

Home is on site – a bit of a goldfish bowl, by all accounts, but she embraces it with her signature enthusiasm, regularly inviting students for eg prefect suppers, ‘where they usually wind up playing table tennis in the garden!’ In keeping with her view that ‘it’s important for heads to have hinterland,’ she makes time for cooking, gardening and walking. Loves shopping too – ‘and I’m not afraid to admit it, retail therapy is real and it helps keep the economy afloat!’ Above all, a culture vulture – museums, concert, art, etc.

Retiring in July 2024, when Tom Quayle will become head of school. Currently deputy head (pastoral) at KES since April 2023, he has previously been assistant head (pastoral) and member of the senior team at Winchester College, having also been head of sixth form and director of higher education there. He started his teaching career as an English teacher at Magdalen College School, Oxford, later becoming deputy head of English and a head of year in the sixth form. Immediately after graduating, he spent some years working for asset management firm Ruffer LLP, looking after investments on behalf of institutions, charities and pension funds. He holds a masters’ degrees in English from both Oxford and Cambridge, having represented both rugby union blues teams. He also holds a postgraduate diploma in business administration and master’s in investment management, as well as the SACPA advanced certificate in safeguarding.

Also in September 2024, Kirsty von Malaisé will become chief master and principal designate of KES and KEHS. Currently principal of King Edward VI High School for Girls since September 2020, she was educated at music school, conservatoire and University of Cambridge, and began her career teaching English in London state schools before becoming deputy head at Putney High School. She has also been head of Norwich High School. Her interests include music and mountain-walking.

Entrance

Almost all at 11+, a handful at 13+. Own entrance exam in maths, English and verbal reasoning. Interviews for many. A 50/50 split coming in from state primaries and independents – includes some 30 from Blue Coat, Hallfield and West House. Parents warn against giving in to the evolving tutoring agency in Brum – to send a crammed struggler to KES may be reckoned child cruelty.

Growing numbers at 16+ – currently high single figures, ‘but with capacity to grow’. Candidates need ‘jolly good GCSEs and an appetite, and potential, for the fast-paced learning’, and they are asked to do exams in their subject options. All are interviewed and the headteacher’s report also counts.

Exit

Between 15-20 per cent leave after GCSEs. Vast majority to university, 95 per cent to Russell Group. The top London universities are most popular, along with Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham and Warwick. Four to Oxbridge in 2023, but there’s often double figures in other years. Always lots of medics (20 in 2023), with economics second most popular, then PPE, history and engineering. Increasing numbers to study overseas – one boy we lunched with, who had his sights firmly set on USA, was grateful for the specialist counsellor in this area.

Latest results

In 2023, 88 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; IB average 35. In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 84 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; IB average 37.

Teaching and learning

Results are a given – these are, as one parent pointed out, ‘abnormally smart boys’. But the approach to learning is far from rote or exam oriented, and it’s not about everyone getting A*s or excelling at everything. Rather, the school stands out for academic breadth, enrichment and breeding a culture of intellectual curiosity. The boys need no persuading to spend breaks and lunchtimes enhancing their learning, and they are highly aspirational. No wonder many teachers consider this their educational nirvana – where would you go to from here? In a maths class, boys weren’t just learning about algebra but why there was a need for algebra at all. ‘They don’t spoon feed you – they always want you to ask why,’ said a boy.

School sets realistic targets and is big on encouragement, according to parents. ‘If you do well, they give credits and certificates - it’s not like you slog away and nobody notices.’ ‘It helps that boys feel respected – it creates a safe space for asking anything.’ Less hierarchical than in other schools, agree all. Make no mistake, said one parent – ‘it is competitive and intense, and they are regularly tested, get lots of homework and it moves at a fast pace, and that won’t be a comfortable place for everyone. But the teaching is top quality and they are always willing to go over things.’

French and Latin from year 7, with Spanish or German added in year 8. Scarcely any setting – just a touch in maths. Nine or 10 GCSEs the norm – the school is not a believer in collecting qualifications. A levels were ditched in favour of the IB in 2012, the first school in the UK to do so in one fell swoop, at the time a breathtaking initiative leaving local schools muttering, ‘Are they nuts?’ The rationale is that the IB is better suited to bright students, develops independent thinking and calls for rigorous time management – all skills favoured by top unis and which make these boys ripe for the global marketplace. Boys we spoke to also praised the breadth, although one year 12 boy admitted he ‘initially stayed in spite of the IB’, later ‘realising it is the best thing ever!’

We were impressed by the interdisciplinary approach, eg boys told us how they’d recently been learning about civil rights ‘both on a philosophical level (what was going on inside Malcolm X’s head?) and historically (the facts)’. At IB level, boys can study literature and performance – an excellent solution for those who don’t want to study pure English; similarly, environmental systems straddles biology and geography.

Among the very minor niggles from parents is wanting more feedback. Younger boys would like separate sciences from the off, and felt some of the languages teachers could be more patient.

Learning support and SEN

Heavily staffed learning support department includes three teachers who focus on specific subjects, eg science and humanities for boys who struggle in these particular areas. Around 50 boys receive support at any one time – mainly for dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, but also those with no formal diagnosis. Self-esteem issues are also dealt with here – the school can be a pressured environment, the pressure often self-imposed, so there’s keen awareness of the perils of self-harm and burnout. Popular mentoring scheme whereby sixth formers help younger boys both academically and with wellbeing. One parent praised the department for its flexibility – ‘My son dropped a modern language so he could go to the department and concentrate on other stuff, it’s been great for him’; another said the school has picked up a processing problem as a result of her son’s ‘huge anxiety around exams’.

The arts and extracurricular

The school maintains that those who do the best academically are involved in the most activities. If they can have fun at the same time, so much the better. Hence, Friday afternoons are entirely given over to extracurricular, with plenty more clubs and societies besides. Over 50 to pick from – many of them intellectual: philosophy, literature, politics, debating, programming etc. There’s also outward-bounding, community service and CCF. Lots on offer for sporty types, including the opportunity to coach younger ones. Many boys start their own clubs – one we spoke to had done just that with Rubik’s Cube club. Trips start with the year 7 camping trip which gets the boys bonding and cooking.

Drama fizzes. Highly polished plays boast charm, panache and big casts, including from the girls’ high school. An ensemble, not star, mentality. ‘If the kids aren’t great on stage, they make use of their talents elsewhere – photography for the programmes, lighting, sound, etc – they are very keen to get people involved,’ said a parent. Performances take place in the £11m Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, shared with the high school. LAMDA exams big.

‘I could have shut my eyes and been in Wigmore Hall,’ said the head of a recent lunchtime music recital, and we believe her. The symphony orchestra, which includes girls from the high school, sometimes plays the Birmingham Symphony Hall. And who says boys don’t sing? – the choir here is 170-strong. Ensembles galore, plus a composers’ club, one of whose pieces was recently played on Radio 3. ‘There’s no bar to entry,’ said one boy, ‘loads of us pick up an instrument for the first time only to find ourselves in an ensemble two years later.’ But a couple of parents felt that if you learn an instrument out of school, it’s less recognised, if at all.

Art – so often sidelined in more academic schools – also blossoms, although you wouldn’t know it from the lack of art displayed around the school. One art lesson a week for the first three years, with decent numbers at GCSE and a few at IB. Good studios and tuition, and plenty of gallery visits, plus a link with Birmingham University’s Barber Institute. One boy was dying to tell us about a recent paper porcelain clay project which had them making intricate coral sculptures. DT in well-appointed suite – year 10s were making integrated circuits. Usually a couple of boys each year head off to study architecture.

Sport

‘Becoming more serious,’ according to our guides. There’s always been a busy sports programme with good facilities, but now there are more professional coaches (several have represented England/GB) and newer facilities including the £5m sports centre with sports hall, gym, dance studio and classroom. Sport on curriculum throughout – including for sixth formers – although no need for boys to endure freezing misery as they can choose from 22 sporting activities including table tennis (which the school does very well at competitively) and ultimate frisbee. ‘I’m not into team sports at all and mostly use the gym,’ shrugged one sixth former. Cricket is king, say the boys, with hockey and rugby hot on its heels. The fixture vs Bromsgrove has been contested since 1875, making it one of the oldest in the country. Rivalry with Solihull and Warwick go back almost as far. Water polo popular. One parent told us of her son who trains for a professional team – ‘The school has been so supportive with his commitments, they’re not uppity at all.’ In true King Edward’s style, boys don’t just ‘do’ sport, they also ‘think about it’ – team psychology, how it can improve confidence etc.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1552, moved to the leafy suburb of Edgbaston in 1936. Handsome red-brick buildings in true grammar style, with more recent additions over the years. The 50-acre site sits cheek by jowl with the girls’ high school (with which some parents and pupils wish there were ‘more links’ beyond the arts) and is a stone’s throw from the university. Shout out for the beautiful library, the modern sixth form common room and the performing arts and sports centres. Immaculate throughout, with noticeboards leaning towards the informative over the showing off students’ work, eg wonderful words worth learning (Simpatico! Logophile! Effervescent!).

Part of a unique multi-academy trust which incorporates 13 schools – six grammars, five comprehensive academies and two independents, with aims to increase the latter. The trust educates 11,000 of the brightest boys and girls across the city – that’s more than one in 10 children from Brum. ‘A sleeping giant of a charity,’ according to the head, who is proud of its aims to open up top-notch education to the most disadvantaged.

Also helping the cause are the school’s alumni. All stems from the fact that under the direct grant scheme (pre-1975), 80 per cent of King Edward’s pupils enjoyed free places and the school topped the league tables. After the abolition of the scheme the school declined. But those who had enjoyed these free places are now among the school’s richest, most successful and most grateful alumni – and they too are on a moral mission to help enable the school to educate the cleverest, not the richest. ‘The taxi driver who brought me here on my first day said, “Oh my son goes to that school,” and it’s happened several times since,’ says the head. Thirty-five per cent of pupils now receive some financial support, including 10 per cent to have free places. The school is now one of the most socially and ethnically diverse independent schools in the country, with more than 70 per cent of pupils non-white British. And once again, the school is a league table topper.

The school is secular, so chapel is mainly used for exhibitions these days, most recently GCSE art. Uniform matters – the right colour socks, no coats in corridors etc (genuine excitement in sixth form when you get to wear your own shirt). Houses important, with House Shout (where you perform your own song) among the more popular competitions (not to be confused with house music – ‘that’s more classical’). Scores are aggregated and the winner declared Cock House, a deliciously retro title. The boys also appreciate the bonkers school song. Overall vibe traditional but not stifled. Food good - it was sustainability week when we visited, so vegetarian options only. Our lunch companions answered our questions attentively, though with all that curiosity in the school, we’d have quite liked a few questions to have been thrown our way as part of the conversation.

The alumni makes for one of the most distinguished lists we’ve seen. Academics include a Fields Medallist, Richard Borcherds, and a brace of Nobel Prize scientists, John Vane and Maurice Wilkins. The cryptologist Hugh Alexander, Alan Turing’s deputy at Bletchley Park, was here. Polymath Francis Galton left at 16 (in 1838) because he reckoned the curriculum was too narrow. Writers include JRR Tolkein, novelist Jonathan Coe, whose Rotters’ Club includes a 1970s portrait of the school, and the crack cocaine of thriller writers, Lee Child. Pre-Raphaelite Ned Burne-Jones was here. As was Field-Marshal Slim. And Bill Oddie (capt of rugby). Politicos include Enoch Powell, David ‘Two-Brains’ Willetts and West Mids mayor Andy Street.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Several parents told us of having a quiet child who has ‘really come out of his shell’. Excellent transition includes a get-to-know-you afternoon in the summer term. Form tutors are nurturing, staff get to know the boys, and the pupils are friendly – ‘even competition is friendly here,’ laughed one boy. There are two mental health counsellors and younger boys rave about the mentoring support by sixth formers, as well the weekly form time given over to an older boy dropping in ‘to ask us how life is treating us and give us tips’. There’s a button on the intranet where you can report worries, and one boy was thrilled to bits that his head of year had phoned home ‘to make sure I had people to talk to’. School uses PSHE, form time and assemblies to explore mental health issues of the day proactively, and parents appreciate that ‘it never feels you’re up against this big entity – their approach is, “don’t worry, these are our boys and we will do whatever it takes to look after them.”’

Not a macho environment – boys we met were noticeably gentle. ‘This is a school full of intellectually curious pupils who just happen to be boys,’ says head, although parents believe part of the school’s success comes from the fact that ‘they get boys’ – boils down to ‘recognising they need exercise’ and a ‘firm, non-negotiable but friendly approach’, they reckon. One gave us the example of a bullying incident – ‘The school thanked me for bringing it to their attention and said they’d deal with it, which they did.’ No more than a few suspensions a year, and nobody has been asked to leave in recent history. ‘Everyone feels lucky to be here – why would you want to mess that up?’ said a boy.

Pupils and parents

Boys travel from far and wide, eg Derby. Most from Birmingham and the Black Country. Many are bussed in. No parent we spoke to chose to belong to the PA (‘too busy’) although we are assured it’s thriving. A comfortable place for tiger parents, we heard - ‘but although helicopter parenting is rife, we’re not all like that!’ Pupils we met were mild-mannered and deep thinkers; asked who the school wouldn’t suit, they said ‘someone without stamina’.

Money matters

Fees competitive for the area. Academic scholarships at 11+, worth between five and 50 per cent (means tested). Around £1 million spent on assisted places per year. Some boys are sponsored by former pupils.

The last word

A seriously brainly school where like-minded boys spark off each other and achieve extraordinary things. Parents know the school is an academic powerhouse, but they choose it because its spirit reaches far beyond, with untold riches when it comes to opportunities. ‘You can come here a rugby player and leave a hockey player,’ summed up one boy. It’s also meritocratic, socially inclusive, aspirational and actually, just really good fun. The focus on the individual is often the clincher too – ‘you know your son won’t get lost here.’

Please note: 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.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

By the definition of 'Gifted and Talented', virtually all pupils at King Edward's School would qualify. Therefore our curriculum provision incorporates teaching strategies to stimulate and stretch the most able as a matter of course. Within the school however, we take Special Educational Needs very seriously and to that end we employ both a SENCO and a part-time support teacher as well.

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

Who came from where


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