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Any school in the shadow of a cathedral has a very special feel about it. The children have Monday assemblies in the cathedral and use it for other special occasions. For a small, non-academically selective school, the standard is unusually high. The choristers have a demanding timetable and wonderful musical opportunity. Parents like the fact that the school does encourage pupils to resolve minor difficulties themselves, so they grow up feeling empowered and confident without always having to run to an adult.  There is no longer boarding so…

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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.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head teacher

Since 2015, Sue Hannam. She already knew the school well, having arrived as deputy in 2009 and doing two stints as acting head before she finally took over. Sue studied at Innsbruck University and the College of Law and, following a degree in English language and literature at Birmingham, she taught in state schools and also qualified and worked as a solicitor, so LCS gained a wealth of educational and wider experience. She probably needs this experience, being the fourth head at LCS in five years.

Sue used to lecture in law at Reed College whilst in legal practice, and that legal ability to get quickly to the heart of a problem and sort it out has come in useful, with parents saying that over the last year there has been a sense of everything under firm control, and the school has rediscovered its sense of direction. ‘She is a doer’, said one parent. ‘A fantastic asset’, said another. She is dynamic, determined, thoughtful and much loved by staff and pupils. ‘Sue is fantastic. She cares massively about the school and that cascades right down. She has the support of the whole staff’, said one staff member.

Entrance

The school is non-selective, except for the choristers, who are auditioned by the cathedral and school directors of music. Pre-school children are informally observed during a series of visits. Beyond this, entrance is dependent on assessment, interview and reports from the present school. The assessments are to ensure the school can support the pupil in a way that will ensure all of them flourish. Entry into the sixth form depends on GCSE results.

Exit

A few leave at 11 and some choristers at 13, with some (around 20 per cent) moving at 16 to colleges that offer more vocational qualifications. Given the wide academic range in the sixth form, pupils go on to more diverse post-18 options than at many independent schools. Some go to good universities, and there are usually one or two off to read music, but the school is very clear that its role is to find out what is right for the individual and support that rather than feeling that everyone has to go off to university. Many do vocational subjects such as business and management. One medic in 2020. King’s College London, LSE, Birmingham, Manchester, St Andrew’s, Keele, Loughborough, Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham Trent, Bristol and Winchester currently popular. Apprenticeships and other forms of training on the job are encouraged. It is all about finding the inner passion and facilitating that.

Latest results

In 2020, 46 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 42 per cent A*/A at A level (78 per cent A*/B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 39 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 31per cent A*/A and 63 per cent A*-B at A level.

Teaching and learning

LCS is non-selective and its intake around the national average of ability. Results at GCSE and A level are generally good considering that. Also offers BTECs in criminology, applied law, enterprise and entrepreneurship, creative digital media production (digital game production) and sport and exercise science. Class sizes throughout the school are small – 16 to 20. There is a robust tracking system in place all the way through the school and the head, with her deputy who has a background in state school leadership, has got lesson observations and more staff training in place. The two of them have introduced line management for middle leaders and department reviews, all contributing to the rapid pace of progress in the school.

The school structure allows for careful transition at the various stages. The nursery up to year 4 classes are housed at Longdon, a glorious rural setting, about four and a half miles away from the Cathedral Close on the edge of Lichfield. Then years 5 and 6 move up to the main site, but in their own hub. They start to share a few of the senior school facilities – the year 6s were very excited about using the science labs - and have some specialist academic staff, but they have their own space and there is a very strong, secure, nurturing feel about it. When they move to the senior school in year 7, the transition is very easy for them both socially and academically, with enough that is new for it to feel exciting.

For a small school, academic options are wide. Pupils can study French, German, Spanish and Latin. Option blocks are based on the pupils’ free choice, and if the timetable can’t manage a particular subject or combination, the school has run twilight sessions. The expressive and performing arts are very strong throughout the school up to A level.

Learning support and SEN

There are learning support staff and teaching assistants in the junior school and learning support staff in the senior school who, parents tell us, pick up concerns quickly and set up six week intervention plans that are regularly reviewed. Sometimes intervention is shorter than that with the emphasis being on responding to individual needs as flexibly as possible.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is a huge part of school life. For a small, non-academically selective school, the standard is unusually high. The boy and girl choristers have a demanding timetable and wonderful musical opportunities. There is no longer boarding so they now have to live within travelling distance of the cathedral for the early start. The school emphasises that it nurtures all musical ability, not just those who sing in the cathedral choir. There are 18 weekly rehearsing groups with various aspirational ensembles that allow pupils to move on in time to the senior ensembles.

The school is very keen to take its music to other schools and co-leads the 'music share' initiative which aims to improve singing provision in local schools and beyond. The music diary is full and varied, with a lot of performance opportunities, both within the school and cathedral and also out in the community, which the school sees as part of its wider mission. Just before our visit, the senior school had put on Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène. Recent productions include Dido & Aeneas, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. The director of music is forging ever-closer links with the cathedral music team, which has oversight of life of the choristers, but she sees the school as a centre for musical excellence for far more than just the cathedral choirs, and believes that music should be something enjoyed and experienced by all.

Performing arts generally are very strong. There are drama clubs and performances going on all through the year and all through the school, in the school halls as well as other local venues. LAMDA lessons are especially popular. Particularly at the junior end, there is a big emphasis on getting everyone involved. Pupils can take English Speaking Board exams. Lots do and achieve highly.

The Longdon site has lovely outdoor play areas and allows for a forest school. There are tracksuit days twice a week so there is no restriction on getting muddy. There are kitchens in the classroom for the younger ones and some of the curriculum is taught through cooking. There are regular cross-curricular, cross-school enrichment projects going on, some of which engage with the local business community, something the school is seeking to develop further. An etiquette week, sponsored by a local cutlery maker who provided each child at Longdon with a cutlery set while the school talked about the gracious art of entertainment, culminated in a pupil-organised tea party.

Sport

The year 10 boys told us: ‘We are not being big-headed but we are all quite good at sport. There are lots of competitive people in our year’. The school is very conscious that small schools on restricted sites have to work hard to make sport high profile and LCS is trying its best, and pupils told us sport is now really on the up. There are some sports facilities on site, including a multi-use games area in the grounds, and great use is made of all the excellent local facilities – eg Lichfield hockey and cricket clubs. The sports department tries to put out as many teams as possible with the aim of getting every pupil playing in a school team a few times a term and encourages the gifted games players get involved with outside clubs as a way of beefing up what is on offer. They also encourage non-team sports – trampolining, orienteering, golf. At the juniors’ Longdon site, male sports coaches have been employed to run lunchtime sports activities.

Ethos and heritage

Any school in the shadow of a cathedral has a very special feel about it. The children have Monday and Wednesday assemblies in the cathedral and use it for other special occasions. The Palace that houses the sixth form, offices, dining facilities and other functional rooms was the 17th century Bishop’s Palace, a beautiful, classically-influenced stone building. ‘We are its custodians’, says the head.

There have been boy choristers educated here since the early 14th century. The prep school in the Close started in 1942, moving to its current location in 1953, and expanding ever since. Girls were admitted in 1974. The secondary school began to develop in 2004 and the sixth form opened in 2010. The school acquired another junior school at Longdon Green, moved year 4s and below out there, creating the additional space on the Close site for the expansion. Behind the Close frontage are more purpose-built classrooms, recreational and sports spaces.

But the school does not just enjoy the cathedral atmosphere as a decorative add-on. The pupils are aware that they belong to something special and that the wonderful location brings with it responsibility. The year 10s (not a year group usually renowned for social conscience) talked to us about being in the public eye as they walk along the Close between buildings and coming to and from school. ‘We have a responsibility towards all the tourists. We are part of the life of the Cathedral Close and tourists need to see how much we respect that’, they told us.

For the head, it is the cathedral and all that means that differentiates the school. Part must be the music, of course, but she understands this in a much wider sense. There is a strong charity arm where the whole school regularly comes together to raise money and awareness of the needs of the wider society, but in fairness, a lot of independent schools see that as part of their mission. What is unique is the accredited ethical leadership programme that runs right from EYFS through to the sixth form. It gives validity to and recognition of a whole range of activities and behaviours throughout the school, building up layers of ethical understanding as a child gets older through practical day-to-day choices. It is a tangible way of saying to the pupils: we are about a lot more than exam results. We have the highest expectation of you to live in an ethical way in all you do and to understand what we expect of you as an adult in the outside world. ‘This is what the world needs’, says the head. It is excellent to see a cathedral school stepping up like this. It is a powerful justification for such schools, and the community is incredibly lucky to have found a head with this vision. It also has the potential to be a meaningful outreach for the cathedral with each generation of pupils. The cathedral can be seen as another support system for the pupils and then, as they leave the school, for their families and friends too. The ethical values cascade out.

Parents and pupils talk about the family feel of the school. Both sites are small enough for everyone to know everyone else. The pupils are very protective of each other. There are strong, positive relationships between pupils and staff and communication between staff and parents is highly praised. ‘We all have the teachers’ emails,’ parents told us. ‘If we raise a concern, the school is onto it straight away and gets back to us really quickly’.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents say the standard of behaviour is high and any suggestion of deviation from this is stamped on immediately. They also like the fact that the school encourages pupils to resolve minor difficulties themselves, so they grow up feeling empowered and confident without always having to run to an adult. The school has high expectations of language use and the pupils rise to it. The worst things we heard about were ‘girls being difficult – I certainly wouldn’t call it bullying’ or the occasional bad manners. Pupils say the teachers are ‘quite strict’ but that there is much mutual respect.

Because of the school's small size and its structure, there are many roles of responsibility for pupils and the aim is that all children have a leadership role. Because the year 4s are the top year group at Longdon, they take lots of responsibility that they wouldn’t generally have until year 6. The children love it and really rise to the challenges. It is this stress on leadership that makes the new accredited ethical leadership course such a strong path for the school to cut.

There is a sense that excellent pastoral care must be at the heart of a school that defines one of its strengths as working with each child as an individual. Parents note that every member of staff, not just a form tutor, takes pastoral care as their responsibility, and there appears to be constant contact between teachers and parents when concerns are raised on either side. We thought this might get a bit much, but no-one at the school did. It is seen as part of the family atmosphere that is warmly embraced.

Pupils and parents

Pupils come from a wide area and now the school no longer offers boarding, some choristers are likely to have long journeys. There are a number of school minibuses that bring pupils in from areas not on a main rail or bus route. The train is a good option for older children, 10 minutes walk from the school and on a main line through Birmingham.

The Longdon pupils are engaging, bright and adore their school. A recent ISI inspector described the seniors as ’confident with lots of humility’ and we would endorse that. Parents compared LCS pupils favourably with the aura of ‘arrogance’ they perceive in pupils going to the well-known selective West Midlands schools. The school is encouraging pupils to understand multiple intelligences, and they don’t end up thinking that because they have an A*, they are the best. They understand they all have gifts to offer to a wider society.

Families live in Lichfield and around, with quite a number from the Sutton Coldfield area. This hidden gem of a school could be drawing from the populations around Stafford, Wolverhampton and Burton. Our impression is that there are a high number of families that are first time independent school users, who are attracted to the school because it does not conform to their prejudices about the fee-paying sector.

Money matters

Fees are roughly what you would expect for a small school out of London. There are a number of scholarships, music of course, but also sport, art, drama and academic, plus a small number of means-tested bursaries. Learning support is not charged as an extra. Wrap-around care at both sites is at extra cost.

The last word

The north of Birmingham destination for a musical child, particular one with singing talent. The West Midlands is a competitive area for secondary schools in particular, with very strong academic independent schools and free state grammar schools. LCS is a strong contender for families who don't want a highly charged academic powerhouse and exam factory but something with a very distinctive ethos.

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

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
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 Y
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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