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Parents wax lyrical about the arts provision. ‘So much value is given to it, it sets them apart from other schools.’ Parents prolific on pace of teaching. ‘It’s academically strong – I’d be lying if I said pupils don’t feel some pressure, but they’re not weighed down by it.’ Another warned, ‘Be prepared, the school day moves at speed – it teaches pupils to get organised and efficient.’ Pupils nonchalant about pressure, however. ‘We work hard but we’re all in it together, it’s no big deal.’ All comes down to...

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What the school says...

At Solihull School, we pride ourselves on ensuring that all pupils realise their full potential. We are a community providing co-educational continuity from 3 to18, with three main aims; ambition, opportunity and community.

Our staff and pupils are ambitious and seek to maximise potential in one another and extend themselves beyond their immediate interests and perceived capabilities. Learning takes place in and out of the classroom, at home and abroad, and new opportunities are welcomed and embraced.

We have a Christian foundation, and welcome boys and girls of all faiths into a supportive and caring environment. We aim to prepare them for adult life as happy, charitable, confident and intelligent people and teach them the importance of winning with humility and losing with dignity.

The teaching at Solihull School is excellent and our examination results speak volumes about the progress Silhillians make in their studies.

We have excellent facilities with a brand new, state-of-the-art Sixth Form Centre for September 2015. The School is situated on a 50-acre site, with various pitches for sport, an 800-seat theatre hall, swimming pool, and state-of-the-art music school.

There is something for everyone at Solihull; sport, music and drama are all strong and there are many more activities to keep pupils busy. Debating, Young Enterprise, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, photography, food technology, fencing and even skiing are all popular choices. The School also owns a cottage in Snowdonia and most pupils will visit the cottage at least once.

Our pupils achieve at the highest level in a caring and warm environment, where relationships between pupils and between pupils and staff are friendly, respectful and conducive to the fulfilment of every individuals potential.

In September 2019 Solihull School and Saint Martin’s School announced plans to merge bringing the two schools together to create a larger Solihull School, which will provide dedicated early years, infant, junior and senior facilities on two campuses. Solihull Senior School will be located on Warwick Road Campus and Solihull Preparatory School on Saint Martin’s Campus from September 2020. The merger legally completed on Monday 6 January 2020.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Executive head: Since 2023, Charles Fillingham, previously headmaster at Francis Holland School, London. Whilst but a fledging at Nailsea School in Somerset, this ambitious scholar considered his future career as either Prime Minister or a headmaster – the latter won. He studied French at the University of Wales, then a PGCE with French and German at Bristol University. Accrued a master’s from both King’s College London (education management) and Jesus College, Oxford (learning and teaching), as well as an NPQH (national professional qualification for headship) from UCL. Has taught across state and independent sectors and co-ed and single sex schools including Langley Park School for Boys, Grey Coat Hospital (head of languages), Archbishop Tenison’s CofE (director of studies) and City of London School (deputy head).

Referred to as ‘the headmaster’ by staff, pupils and parents, we met him in his study with swanky blue velvet sofas, large mahogany desk and striking ‘feature’ wall. But he is not the type to hide away. Still teaches (year 8), knows both senior and prep pupils (splitting time between sites) and is frequently at drop-offs and events. ‘A mixture of the best of tradition’ (eg introduced gowns for staff and prefects) with an ‘outward, inclusive perspective’, we heard. Sees academics as a given, though wants to raise standards.

On arrival, ‘took the temperature of the place’ with a survey for parents and staff (including grounds, caterers etc) to see ‘what needs to be done’. ‘It’s about widening perspective and pulling together – giving pupils great experiences, making them feel good about themselves and sharing resources with local and international communities.’ He cites recent Shakespeare and engineering festivals for local maintained and independents. Wants to promote Solihull ‘as one of the country’s outstanding schools’.

His wife supports young families at a local church. Their son is at university, previously Whitgift, and their daughter is at Solihull.

Head: Since 2020, Sean Morgan, joined the school in 1991 as PE teacher, rising through the ranks as director of sport, deputy head then senior deputy head. Born in Ripon and was one of the first cohort and eventually captain of school (head boy) at Yarm School (independent, founded by a group of parents: ‘My mum and dad literally painted the chemistry lab’). Studied sports science at Leeds Carnegie, extending to a postgrad PGCE with PE and geography. Offered Solihull post during teacher training and has ‘been here ever since’. Still teaches – ‘super important’ (year 7 Latin and upper fifth and upper sixth school wellbeing). Sport ‘and the positive values associated with it’, plays into all aspects of his approach, his study adorned with sporting affirmations. Proudest of ‘captaining staff who worked freakishly hard through the 2020 merger with Saint Martin’s – knitting together two schools with the additional pressures and constraints of Covid’.

Married to Rachel, form tutor and head of art at the prep, with two sons, schooled at Solihull, now in London.

Entrance

Academically selective. Around 500 applicants are assessed in English, maths, VR and NVR (with report from current school) for 144 year 7 places. Usually, half overall intake come from prep, then remainder from over 40 schools, a mix of independent sector (eg Ruckleigh and Eversfield) and state primaries (eg St Alphege’s, Tudor Grange and Arden Academy). Parents say the good state schools in the area mean the norm for many is to ‘go to primary, then independent for senior’.

Sixth form welcomes 35 - 50 new students to create year group of around 180. Minimum requirement two grade 7s and four grade 6s (including a 6 in maths and English). Several A level subjects require grade 7 or 8 (science, languages, maths/further maths).

Exit

All but 10 per cent stay on at sixth form, the rest going to independents or grammars. Over 90 per cent to university, 60 per cent to Russell Group. Exeter, Nottingham and Cardiff popular choices. Full-time director of futures offers support with Oxbridge, medics and applications, plus degree apprenticeships. Popular courses are business, economics, finance and accountancy. In 2023, six to Oxbridge and six medics.

Latest results

In 2023, 67 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 52 per cent A*/A at A level (77 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 66 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 47 per cent A*/A at A level (81 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Parents prolific on pace of teaching. ‘It’s academically strong – I’d be lying if I said pupils don’t feel some pressure, but they’re not weighed down by it.’ Another warned, ‘Be prepared, the school day moves at speed – it teaches pupils to get organised and efficient.’ Pupils nonchalant about pressure, however. ‘We work hard but we’re all in it together, it’s no big deal.’ All comes down to the unique relationship between teachers and pupils, we heard – which is felt to create ‘a relaxed, yet hard working environment’. Teachers build confidence and appreciate adaptation for different needs and styles of learning, say parents, particularly approving that pupils keep the same tutor between years 7 and 9. ‘They really know them, so any changes are spotted before they spiral.’

Classes of up to 24, with setting in maths and languages (French/Spanish and Latin) from year 7 and English from year 10. Year 8 option for German. Off-curriculum ancient Greek GCSE (invitational) for year 10. GCSE and sixth form classes average 10 pupils. ‘Maths is strong’, parents and pupils corroborate. ‘An unbelievable number take A level’.

At GCSE, 24 subjects include recent addition of PE (at pupil request), with majority taking 10 or 11. Around 30 per cent take further maths and there’s the option to study three MFL’s, although preponderance take just one (which is compulsory). Most popular subjects are geography and Spanish. English literature, computer science and maths are top performers.

At A level, 27 subjects include photography, computer science, psychology. Everyone takes three, with option to study fourth or the alternatives of either EPQ (usual uptake over 100) or Guardian Shield Award (first aid, mental health, dementia awareness etc). Sciences exceed other options (usually uptake of a third) along with further maths. RS also popular. Top performing subjects are economics, biology and English.

Amusingly, our chatty, engaging tour guides each totted up a different number of science labs, but we were eventually assured, ‘there are at least 12!’ In one, two scholars on CREST Award deciphered how much water and shampoo was needed to wash hair (without wastage). Teacher gamely agreed to be doused in place of a pupil reluctant to get hair wet before netball. Six well-equipped ICT suites.

Learning support and SEN

Three full- and three part-time curriculum and learning support staff include qualified SENCo with level 7 dyslexia assessor qualification, plus EAL co-ordinator, all of whom work across five dedicated classrooms. Most frequent assistance is with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Currently, 13 per cent on SEND register and approximately 15 per cent receive ad hoc support via workshops or group sessions, eg organisation, revision, maths intervention. Three pupils with EHCPs when we visited. ‘We particularly looked for a school that would support our son and at Solihull they pinpointed what was needed really quickly and set the wheels in motion.’ External professionals for training or emerging needs such as behavioural optometry. Parents say they can ‘call or email any time’, grateful that the department ‘help us understand how to support our son at home’. Open-door policy, with ‘drop-in’ sessions for all pupils. Gifted and talented pupils access a bespoke programme to challenge and stretch. Lifts available for majority of main buildings (reasonable adjustments can be made).

The arts and extracurricular

The mellifluous vocal harmonies of Pie Jesus waft from windows as we approach the light and bright music building, home to ‘countless’ ensembles including chamber choir, orchestra and rock band. We tap our feet to flute choir’s chirpy performance of ‘You’ve got a friend in me’ in the recital room, which sits alongside 10 practice rooms for group and individual tuition. ‘A significant number go beyond grade 8,’ head of music reports. But they are equally supportive of ‘having fun’, we are assured. ‘My children just want to jam, make a noise and play ACDC – school fully supports them.’ We happened upon a lively rehearsal of jazz improvisation in Bushell Hall, a 450-seat theatre/assembly space where large-scale cross-curricular productions are staged, most recently Les Mis. Currently 36 taking GCSE and eight at A level. No music tech.

‘Drama has helped my daughter develop her public speaking skills,’ a parent remarked. Students run technical, stage, sound, design etc – and year 10s direct a lower school production. Drama and theatre design clubs ever popular. Over 60 pupils undertake Trinity drama scheme. We were privy to an inspiring rehearsal at the dance studio (opened in 2022 to support GCSE and A level cohorts) then crept past a dynamic lower sixth drama performance in their blacked-out studio. By contrast, a gregarious group of upper sixth thespians were gathered for a spirited drama revision session. ‘How are we supposed to know that?’ a verbose pupil boomed with a dramatic sweep of the arm. ‘Cos you are supposed to have revised!’ retorted another in similarly dramatic style, to shrieks of laughter.

School House, the oldest and most characterful building on campus, is home to the sprawling, prolific and talented art department (as countless canvases across campus attest). Four art rooms, separate sixth form studio with individual stations, a kiln, two photography studios, two dark rooms and library/study area dominate the lofty eaves. Life drawing, mandatory at A level, has been ‘transformational to our development’, a student gushed. ‘They’re great at engaging everyone, even those who don’t have natural interest,’ say parents. Tons take GCSE and there are currently 20 art and 13 photography A level students. We passed half the year 8 cohort sculpting potato peelers from hard foam in DT, following our nose to food technology (offered from year 7 through to upper six enrichment), where the remainder assembled mouthwatering fajitas.

Head of senior school sees co-curricular and enrichment as a ‘rocket boost’ to the timetable and the ‘cornerstone to what we do here’. All year 7s undertake ‘Terriers’, with sixth form leadership, enjoying outdoor pursuits, eg craft camp and survival techniques. Year 8 visit Snowdon for residential outward bound at the school’s own David Fricke Mountain Cottage. Year 9 commence DofE and CCF.

Sixth form offered extensive options to ‘broaden horizons’, including finance, sports leadership, sign language, Industrial Cadet Scheme (with Jaguar Landrover and Dennis Eagle), green power racing, philosophy ethics and society, life skills. Careers ‘really strong’, with regular newsletters about options and apprenticeships (‘tons of support from alumni’).

Masses of clubs over ‘longer’ lunches. ‘If I could give a piece of advice – push yourself outside your comfort zone and choose an activity you have never tried before. I did that with debating and I love it,’ said a sixth former. Some introduced on the back of pupil voice, eg football, mock government, dungeons and dragons, Minecraft.

Trips include cricket to Sri Lanka, hockey to Amsterdam, geography to Iceland, history and politics to Washington DC/NYC. Upcoming music trip to Verona.

Sport

Pupils proud of the sporting tradition. ‘We are really up there across all sports,’ a first team cricketer declared, ‘and we literally have A to F teams.’ Director of sport adds, ‘Everyone who wants to compete can – from development through to elite. We don’t make pupils choose between sports – we adapt – for example, they can pursue both rugby and hockey.’ Parents like the approach, adding that ‘there’s no pressure to take part in teams, first and foremost they want you to enjoy it.’ Seven full-time staff, external coaches (some professionals) and countless academic staff support the department which boasts two artificial pitches, five rugby pitches, three netball/tennis courts, year-round outdoor cricket nets. Netball strong across age groups, with U18 reaching regional finals and U16 bronze medalists at national finals. Cricket U15 girls reached national finals at Lords. Rugby XV semi-finalists at Rosslyn Park tournament. Also on offer: clay pigeon, beach volleyball, paddle tennis, fencing, rowing. ‘Neither of my daughters are mad about sport but they are still challenged – they even get them out running in the rain.’ One parent would like to see ‘more football, perhaps an after-school club’ (school have advised they now run a lower school club).

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1560, making it one of the oldest schools in the country. The only co-ed independent in town, it moved to the current site in 1882, admitting girls to the sixth form in 1973 and throughout the school in 2005. In 2020, a merger with Saint Martin’s School saw juniors relocate to the 20-acre grounds of Malvern Hall, a stone’s throw away, creating ‘a more evenly balanced ratio of girls and boys’ (girls just tip the balance 51/49).

The imposing 1950s frontage and eye-catching chapel (Christianity still underpins the ‘day-to-day’ ethos here, with weekly services) sit behind towering blue gates, centrally located within this busy market town. Its situation belies the sprawling spaciousness of an immaculately maintained 40-acre campus. Buildings have been added to and renovated over time, creating a cohesive feel, though some are a little weary, eg pavilion and sports hall (about to undergo refurbishment with squash courts replaced by strength and conditioning suite and yoga studios). The ‘old-school’ library is also on the cusp of restoration and modernisation.

A striking refectory (completed in 2019) provides roomy, airy dining (but ‘echoes the lunchtime din’). Space for the whole school over several sittings with a tempting array of options to satisfy every dietary requirement or appetite. Our plate was piled high with pasta, followed by a scrumptious apple crumble with lashings of custard. ‘My son could use the sixth form café or go to town but has voted with his feet and eats in the refectory, which says it all.’

Shiny sixth form centre boasts teaching spaces, study areas and common room with coffee shop/café and roof top garden (commanding stunning campus views). ‘We are given much more freedom and responsibility.’ Parents appreciate the ‘shift in gear’, with teachers treating pupils ‘as adults’ and ‘relaxing a bit’.

Headmaster describes overall atmosphere as ‘happy, warm and inclusive’ and we were delighted to see countless examples of this across the day.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘The pastoral commitment shines through,’ said a parent. Another, whose son had struggled, told us, ‘He couldn’t strike up an affinity with anyone, but school addressed it really tactfully and worked with him on strategies to explore friendships. He’s got a little group of pals now and is so much happier, we can’t ask for more.’

Every year group is assigned five pastoral staff, and there’s a comprehensive wellbeing and personal development and PSHE curriculum delivered by passionate head of department who also spearheads a clutch of mindfulness and wellbeing schemes. Pupils querying gender identity are supported in partnership with parents. Anyone with worries, academic or pastoral can self-refer, directly or via pupil portal. All pupils can wear trousers – ‘that happened a long time ago’. Multi-faith room for lunchtime prayers. The one full- and two part-time counsellors, plus two full-time nurses, work in the medical centre, which has counselling rooms. Communication ‘excellent’, say parents, although they bemoan that it ‘switches higher up school when it becomes more directed to pupils’.

Lots of peer mentoring, both academically and pastorally – ‘I love it,’ a sixth former told us, ‘it’s fun to mix with the younger pupils and help them.’ Parents concur at the ‘general cordiality and sociability between years’. Pupil voice is strong and makes meaningful change, eg an LGTB ‘rainbow crossing’ on the playground, installation of a bus shelter – and one year 9 rejoiced ‘we now get ice creams in the summer term’. Separate food committee, as ‘food was an issue but it’s sorted’. Charity committee devolved to students, run by sixth form. ‘It’s not about just handing over a £10 note.’

Pupils look blank when we broach misdemeanours, although staff and parents acknowledge occasional ‘blips’. Parents say ‘generally no town and gown’ issues. ‘No tolerance for vaping, drugs, bullying or social media issues and everyone knows it.’ An eminently sensible ‘retrace and restore programme’ supports perpetrator and recipient in more serious cases. Academically, credits and demerits posted online so parents can check up and discuss.

We didn’t hear much talk of houses, but school on the case to inject more competition and ‘sense of belonging’.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are confident, articulate and good at putting their heads above the parapet. Most parents are professionals, ‘working our socks off to pay fees’. Draw is wide, with ‘huge contingent’ from Edgbaston and Sutton Coldfield. Usual PTA and WhatsApp groups. Parking is ‘as you would expect when 1,000 pupils arrive and leave', said a parent. Consequently, lots take the bus (which also covers after-school pursuits).

Money matters

Scholarship fee remission of 10 per cent, with 12 academic at year 7, plus art, music, performing art and sport. Up to 20 scholarships at sixth form (academic, sport, art, music, performing arts). Exhibitions offer access to the scholarship coaching programmes (no financial assistance).

Bursaries offered to 121 pupils in the year before our visit (equating to 73.5 full fees), plus addition of 10 Ukranian students on full bursaries. School open to ‘removing obstacles’ to brightest pupils ‘no matter what their financial circumstances’.

The last word

Academic, yes, but with a holistic approach to wellbeing, arts and enrichment to take some of the weight off pupils’ shoulders. One parent summed it up perfectly: ‘Wholesome, well balanced, but my god they work hard.'

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.

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