Edgbaston High School, Birmingham
An academically outstanding day school for girls aged 2½ to 18 on the outskirts of Birmingham.
In the leafy suburbs of Edgbaston, a couple of miles out of central Birmingham, stands this imposing glass-fronted school, set in a bijou 14 acres. The oldest independent day girls’ school in the city, Edgbaston High School, dating back to 1876, has its pre-school, prep and senior schools all in different buildings, mostly Sixties design with some modern additions. The selective senior school also houses a sixth form. Edgbaston High takes pupils from ages 2 ½ to 18 and currently has a cohort of 880, mostly from the local area. Non-denominational, and regarded as good all-round school, this review is focusing on the senior school and sixth form. Class sizes are small with around 15 girls in a GCSE lesson and anywhere between one and 12 for A Levels.
Aside from the usual netball and hockey pitches and tennis courts, Edgbaston’s boasts a 22 metre, 5-lane, 25-yard heated pool. Swimming is a major sport here, with girls taking Learn to Swim lessons and competitive swimming from prep to Year 7 which are held for an hour weekly. It has a nationally recognised swim team, ranked in the UK’s top 20 by the English Schools Swimming Association. Unusually, fencing is taught across the whole school (and there’s a cabinet of trophies to show for it). There’s a dance studio and gym where the likes of yoga, dodgeball and self-defence lessons are taught, and a fitness suite was opened in recent years by Dame Kelly Holmes.
The school has a Drama Studio and while there’s no dedicated arts centre the multi-use Octagon is more than capable of putting on a stage show or music performance. Modern, attractive and with seating for 600, it’s fully-teched up with sound and lighting. Drama is offered at GCSE and A Level, around 22% of girls from years 2 – 13 take LAMDA exams here and each year the Senior School holds a major production, with Year 7 currently working on an Alan Ayckbourn play.
Musically there’s a Steinway piano in the Octagon, and most ensemble and choir practises happen in the space. There’s a Senior school orchestra judged on ability to join, a swing band, flute group and guitar ensembles. Around 25% of the children here take a musical instrument but aside from classical instruments there is Sibelius, Logic Pro X and Main Stage among the software for Music tech or more modern composition. There are several choirs. There’s a Musician of the Year competition held biennially and the music department regularly plays host to professional musicians and artists to give free concerts and talks. Recent events included performances by internationally acclaimed pianists Victor Sangiorgio and Simon Trpčeski and talks from Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers. The department stages full-scale musicals with boys from local schools joining the production – recent productions have included ‘Les Mis’ and ‘Miss Saigon’.
With three separate art studios, a photography studio complete with green screen, a DT room complete with laser cutter and 3D printer, and a ceramics studio with kiln it’s safe to say arty types are covered here. Graphics, fine art and ceramics are all taught from Year 7 and it possible to take GSCES and A levels in Fine Art and, more unusually, Graphics.
There’s been investment to the tune of £1m in recent years used to refurb the sports pavilion, and food tech room along with creating new meeting and teaching space, the Hexagon. In 2011, a £3.5m building project resulted in an extension tothe main reception, the creation of a brand new, purpose-built Sixth Form Centre, and an upgrade to the science labs (now sleek and minimalist and better reflecting the school’s STEM focus). The 600 seat Octagon multi-use performance space was built in 2003, costing £4m.
There’s a broad menu of 28 subjects to choose from including Design and Tech, PE, Media Studies and A Level Dance– with Media and Dance only found locally at this school. New for this year there’s also an A Level in Politics. The Sixth Form centre includes an onsite careers and UCAS office, reflecting the focus here on getting students where they want to go. Also in the centre is the common room – in constant use by those relaxing and working on projects. Girls seeking a bit more peace and quiet had migrated to the library. There’s a Prefect system in Sixth Form along with a mentoring programme for younger students. Community service is part of the Enrichment timetable with Wednesday afternoons dedicated to enrichment opportunities for Sixth Formers. The girls helping in local schools, and residential homes or within school and there’s also plenty of charity work which goes on throughout Edgbaston.
High achieving. Entry requires assessments in English, Maths and NVR along with an interview before a place offer is made. The school also requests a report on achievement and progress from the current school. Pupils in years 7 to 10 then take exams every year to monitor progress with reports issued at the end of autumn, spring and summer terms. Girls often go on to more local unis like Birmingham, Warwick or Aston but some so further afield with some of last year’s cohort now attending Imperial College or Edinburgh. Exam results for 2021 haven’t been released in line with government guidance but in 2019, the last year when exams took place, 55 per cent achieved grades 9-7 at GCSE and 43 per cent A*/A at A level.
Pastorally strong. There’s a dedicated Pastoral Deputy Head at Edgbaston and 43 teachers with pastoral responsibility along with a full-time onsite counsellor. In Sixth Form there’s pastoral leaders who manage mentors. Termly pupil reviews with the head of year and form tutor and regular Pastoral clinics which parents are invited to attend. One-to-one pupil reviews with form tutors twice yearly and pupil review questionnaires to ensure all voices are being heard. There’s also digital wellbeing in place with concerns documented by staff. Extracurricular yoga sessions are held in the school gym and all girls are encouraged to take part in at least one extracurricular wellbeing club.
Younger pupils are also offered guidance by those in sixth form and all are encouraged to contribute to school decision making through the School Council (with meetings held every half term). From Year 6 upwards there’s a ‘Girls on Board’ programme designed to help girls resolve conflict between themselves. The head teacher has instigated ‘Mrs Macro’s Mindfulness Monday’ colouring sessions which are really popular with girls.
There’s a relatively low cohort of SEND students here – around 60 girls – and mostly the help needed is for dyslexia. Girls are supported in small classes and staff can access profiles for each student needing extra support which details needs and strategies. Additional literacy support is also given if needed outside lessons.
How many schools boast their own Nobel prize winner? Malala Yousafzai is an alumni of Edgbaston – gotta say, that’s pretty impressive! Also unusual is the energy put into school lunches – there’s a dedicated committee feeding back pupil likes and loathes to the chef, with a big thumbs up for the pupil-ran allotment which provides some of the fresh veg.
Clare Macro took the hotseat in 2019. Formerly the Deputy Head at all-girls senior school Tudor Hall near Banbury, Oxfordshire (a role she held for 8 years), Macro is well versed in single-sex education and is a warm and welcoming head with a can-do attitude. In the three years of her tenure, Edgbaston High School has made a real effort with promoting mindfulness and mental wellbeing which seems to have gone down well with students.
The ISI inspected the school in 2015 and gave it a big thumbs up with excellence ratings in every area except governance.
Being in Birmingham, transport links are excellent. There’s a bus stop just outside the school with good connections. The train station is a 15-minute walk away and there’s links to Lichfield and Redditch, there’s also option to change at busy nearby Birmingham New Street. For those out in the sticks there’s also private minibuses available covering three main routes.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Currently mobile phones are allowed in school but must be kept in lockers throughout the day. All Year 7 phones are kept in security boxes in the common room and returned following afternoon registration, something which the school is rolling out across all years.
Fees are slightly less expensive than other independent schools in the area. It’s £4,621 per term in senior school going up to £4,695 in sixth form.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Happy kids and parents here who all gave mention to the school being well run. Sixth formers especially are really close to head staff and like that their offices are just off the common room so they can pop in on a bad day. Students at Edgbaston High School enjoy almost 50 different co-curricular offerings – some of the most popular groups are Debate, Eco and Rookie Club – which is a lifesaving programme and always in demand. There’s also the likes of Dungeons & Dragons and board game workshops for those who are looking for something a little more zen.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Edgbaston’s a good all-rounder with a well-earned reputation for academic success. It also has a huge extracurricular programme offering plenty of opportunity beyond the classroom.
NOT FOR: It’s really close to the centre of Birmingham so if you’re expecting wafting acres of rolling grounds and a peaceful drive in you might want to look elsewhere. The location is great for lots of cool nearby school trips though!
Edgbaston High School for Girls, Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3TS. Tel: 0121 454 5831