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The Blue Coat School Birmingham

What says..

Termly assessments, with results fed back to parents. High expectations in all subjects, with STEM taken particularly seriously – pupils made and floated their own boats in a recent project, then measured which ones went fastest. Younger ones told us of an experiment whereby Blue Coat Bear needed waterproof material to keep him dry, so they tried out different textiles. A focus on cross-curricular keeps things fresh (eg if they’re studying WWI in history, they’ll do portraits in art) and each topic has a Wow Day – we popped into a year 5 workshop by the Young Shakespeare Company. ‘Double double toil and trouble,’ chanted the children in their witchiest voices while...

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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

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, Noel Neeson BEd (Glasgow) NPQH. A Glaswegian through and through, though most of his 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 spending seven years at the helm of St Peter’s in Devon. Loves that his kids spent their earliest years by the coast but says he was ready for the more multicultural vibe of Birmingham. His son is at Blue Coat, his daughter at Solihull School.

We don’t meet too many headmasters with unruly long locks of curly black hair tucked under a bright blue beret. But Mr N’s weekly video is live screened to all classrooms and the theme was modern languages when we visited. ‘I’ve got the baguette ready in the cupboard,’ he grinned. Gives you a flavour of how he doesn’t take himself too seriously - a welcome surprise in one of the area’s most academic schools (although sadly he tells us he didn’t wind up wearing the wig and hat). ‘He’s really funny,’ confirmed pupils – and it’s no wonder they feel so at ease with him, given how much they see of him (assemblies, those videos, morning meet and greet, lunchtimes, sports fixtures, cover for lessons, etc). ‘How do your teachers make you feel secure and happy?’ he’ll regularly ask them, and ‘Who inspires you?’ Then he writes to staff to give them a lift. ‘We’re in this together, we’re a team,’ he maintains. Parents feel they know him well too, calling him ‘very enthusiastic’ and ‘involved’.

His wife, Juliet, very much part of the picture. She is on the pastoral team, currently doing a counselling course. The family live on site, where the alarm clock buzzes at the crack of dawn for Mr N’s 5.30am runs. He loves watching rugby (supports Exeter Chiefs), although nothing quite beats watching his own kids play sport, he says.


Fills up quickly; school advises parents to register within two months of birth. The two main entry points are nursery (when 120 applications for 60 places) and at 7+ when a further form is introduced – from three to four forms in a year group. Little ones attend a stay and play session where teachers observe ‘soft skills’. The family might also get a home visit. Assessments in English and maths on a Saturday morning for year 3 entry (with 80-100 applicants for the 20 places) – around 40 of the hopefuls are brought back for interview. It’s always worth asking about places at other points, not least because a third of parents are medics (who may move hospitals when promoted).


Vast majority stay the course till 11+ – the very few children who school can’t cater for will be called in to discuss other options. Head encourages parents to cast their net widely (‘It’s all about fit’) but most have their eye firmly on the Birmingham selective schools, with some scholarships every year to the independent ones (16 in 2023). The majority to King Edward's High School for Girls (KEHS) and King Edward's School (KES), followed by Edgbaston High School (EHS), Solihull School and Bromsgrove School.

Our view

Mature oak trees line the driveway that leads past a luscious green school field towards a wide expanse of architecturally pleasing red-brick buildings. Nothing too high and nothing too modern – they sensibly saved all newer developments including a large sports hall with swimming pool to sit behind the impressive façade. Founded in 1722, the school moved to this smart residential area between Edgbaston and Harborne in the 1930s.

‘Where do we start?’ asked our earnest year 6 tour guides. A fair question given the large campus. But this is a large prep – over 600 pupils. Could be an issue for some parents, although they excel at making the big seem small, with pupils seeming to know each other and their environment well.

And so to the tour, where we settled on starting at The Hub, home to year 6. In the four roomy classrooms, pupils worked silently on maths papers – ‘exam practice,’ whispered a teacher. The school is considered one of the most academic in the area, and the trad curriculum is taken seriously from the off. Termly assessments, with results fed back to parents. High expectations in all subjects, with STEM taken particularly seriously – pupils made and floated their own boats in a recent project, then measured which ones went fastest. Younger ones told us of an experiment whereby Blue Coat Bear needed waterproof material to keep him dry, so they tried out different textiles. Setting in maths from year 3, with English and extra maths sets from year 5. French taught throughout, with an optional Spanish club. Specialist teaching in PE, sport and music in pre-prep, then French, science, ICT, art added from year 3 – everything else taught by form teacher.

A focus on cross-curricular keeps things fresh (eg if they’re studying WWI in history, they’ll do portraits in art) and each topic has a Wow Day – we popped into a year 5 workshop by the Young Shakespeare Company. ‘Double double, toil and trouble,’ chanted the children in their witchiest voices while others made sounds of wolves, bears, thunder and rain. Stone Age Day was up next, for year 3. ‘Roman day, Victorian day – oh the costumes I’ve bought over the years!’ said a parent. Friday afternoons for year 5s and 6s are TED enrichment time – that’s Thinking, Exploring, Doing. Includes debating, yoga, water polo, forest school, science research etc.

In year 3 classrooms, children were learning about behaviour in chapel. We had hoped to see it in action on Friday chapel – a weekly morning service to which parents can also pop along. Alas, there was a problem with the organist, but we still got to see the recently renovated large building with new pupil-designed stained-glass window. ‘Some staff have got married here,’ announced our guide proudly. The school is a Church of England foundation and while it welcomes children of all faiths and none, chapel services are compulsory and seen as a big deal.

‘The SENCo does whatever it takes,’ lauded a parent, eg friendship workshops are put on for children if they’re struggling to make friends, and extra help is available from an OT. Parents appreciate the (free) one-to-ones and group sessions – school’s ethos is short, sharp and early interventions. Support for EAL costs extra but six weekly sessions are usually enough.

Year 4s were singing their little hearts out and concentrating hard on their rounds in a music class. Music has always been big here (‘It used to be all about music and the academics,’ said a parent), but it’s more inclusive these days, with an emphasis on role modelling to inspire younger ones. Singing a forte, with an exceptional chapel choir. Most learn an instrument, with several at grade 8.

‘My daughter loves art but it’s not one of the things that would jump out at me about Blue Coat.’ Projects range from Matisse figures to finger puppets. Pupils take part in local art festivals – school would like to host its own one day. Art room among the most colourful we’ve seen – even the floor tiles! But just a bit too neat and tidy – perhaps best explained by our guides who told us the room doubles up for food tech, ‘although you only get to make one dish a year, which is a shame’.

Two big drama productions every year – one for years 3 and 4 and another for year 6. Peter Pan and Bugsy Malone most recently. Head says drama ‘helped me come out of my shell at school – I’m a massive believer in how it builds confidence.’

Sport – once a bit of an afterthought – now on a roll, with teams confidently reaching national finals. Down to better staff and more partnerships, reckons head, though excellent facilities can’t hurt – Astros galore, the picture-perfect school field and large sports centre with pool and gymnastics area. But it’s not all about the A teams, say most (but not all) parents – ‘My boys are terrible at football but they have A-C teams, although they don’t call them that, with everyone getting fixtures,’ said one. Main sports are football and rugby for boys and netball and hockey for girls, with cricket for all.

Clubs include all the usual sports through to coding, art, STEM, chess, music makers etc. Breakfast club from 7.30am, then after-school club to 5.45pm, all included in fees. Residential trips from year 3, culminating in a much-anticipated year 6 trip to France.

Three libraries! All well-stocked and painstakingly sub-sectioned. All year groups in prep get their own ‘quiet room’ (though with telly and piano, we wonder how tranquil it really is – school says TV is for school info until 5pm, and piano only played at certain times), plus a game room with table tennis and snooker tables. And how many preps can boast their own museum? The Archive Room not only has an illustrated timeline wall, but exhibits of old uniform (the blue coats, of course) and ancient artefacts in glass cases. It was in here that we chatted to pupils in their individual year groups – a joyful lot, comfortable in their own skin, and polite too.

Infinite – or so it seems – playgrounds where children race about in 1930s style smocks. ‘Keeps their uniforms clean,’ explained our guide. We spotted a few girls falling out over this or that and hoped the huddles of staff on break duty were able to help smooth things over. Outside equipment to die for – table tennis table or adventure climbing apparatus at every turn. A secret green gate leads to forest school, complete with mud kitchen, campfire, wooden plant obstacle course and outside classroom - all set up for arts and crafts.

Robust pastoral system. Pupils are proud of the Lighthouse, a place they can go to offload, and they also told us about worry monsters (like worry boxes) and how easy their teachers are to talk to. ‘Pastoral care is tailored and embedded – you get whatever you need,’ said a parent.

Not a heavy-handed school. Values stickers, certificates and shout-outs keep all eyes on the merits, with warnings followed by tiered reflection/coaching time (aka detentions) for misdemeanours. Vertical house system under review – ‘Just that older ones can take over,’ says head. A few parent niggles about strictness of uniform (eg no patent shoes) and ‘far too much PE kit’. Pupils’ biggest complaint? ‘We can’t trade Pokémon cards.’

Food varied and tasty, with eg Freddy Flintstone and Harry Potter themed lunches. We opted for nutritious salads and were impressed that several of the children did too.

Reflects the area and its rich ethnic diversity. Parents mainly professionals, dual income and local. They can be quite competitive, we heard – ‘A lot get tutors and like to tell you how academic their child is!’ said one. Another told us there’s ‘definitely an element of “very posh” but you will also find very normal, grounded everyday people.’ School hot on bringing them together – ‘I’ve played football and cricket against teachers, and next week it’s touch rugby. They do coffee mornings, subject workshops – and send you videos if you can’t go. Just don’t tell them I haven’t watched it yet!’

Money matters

Means-tested bursary places at 7+, part of the school’s original charitable mission. The school is upping its visits to disadvantaged communities in Birmingham to seek out children who would benefit from this support. Up to six academic and music scholarships at 7+.

The last word

‘School should be the next best place to home,’ believes head, and we think he’s nailed it at this educationally rich environment that provides engagement, adventure and high aspiration. Not the only very academic school in the area, but ‘definitely the most balanced,’ say parents.

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
English as an additional language (EAL)
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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