King Edward’s School, Birmingham – A ‘magnet school’ for aspiration and achievement across the West Midlands area

King Edward’s School, Birmingham works with over 180 state-funded schools, one of the widest independent-state school partnership networks in the country. This month alone, over ten state junior schools have contacted us to become part of our programme. Through our many different programmes, we will be raising the aspirations of over 12,000 children in Birmingham this year; and through the 400 teachers we will train, most of whom have classes of 30, we will reach just as many.

The model is simple. We are very fortunate in the facilities we have, a 50-acre site right within three miles of the centre of Birmingham so that there are hundreds of junior schools within reach, and the staff that populates them. The trick is to work out how we can optimise those assets for the benefit of the community without affecting our core business as a school. Our aim is to move from being reactive, delighted to share our facilities and ideas with the community, to being social entrepreneurs, where we package up those assets into forms that are of genuine benefit to the city around us.

Below are five examples of the partnerships we are involved with. There are more we could provide, please do get in touch if you would like further details.

Training provider for Birmingham’s primary schools

We have become an important training provider for Birmingham’s primary schools. Our new Ruddock Performing Arts Centre makes a wonderful conference space. We are, in common with most schools, also liberally endowed with classrooms! With a little bit of jiggery-pokery, it is easy to turn our school into a training venue for the day, even when running a full timetable for all 7 year groups. What this means is that we can commission training, share the costs between 56 participants by charging £50-65 per head, cover the overhead of an administrator who pulls the thing together and chases schools for money,  sweet talk the kitchens into providing 56 extra meals, some strong coffee, and the occasional biscuit, and thereby bring 56 state-sector teachers into our school. We have run this model, now, over sixteen times, in Maths, Reading, Writing, Science, Shakespeare and sport, building a lot of goodwill and understanding of what we are about as a school. It is even an asset running it alongside our normal timetable: visiting teachers from junior schools often bump into their former pupils, as we recruit boys from over 200 different junior schools in the West Midlands. We carefully assess impact each time: none of these training course has ever had anything less than ‘very good’ feedback.

City-wide ‘magnet’ competitions

We have established city-wide ‘magnet’ competitions, which raise the aspirations of the very brightest children across the city. We have run an internal ‘Maths Challenge’ house competition for years. An inspirational Maths teacher at our school, Laurence Rackham, worked out that the model, a crossnumber followed by a relay race, would work very well for Year 6 and Year 4 children, too. We are now running the third ‘Borcherds Shield’ competition, named after our alumnus Richard Borcherds, winner of the Fields Medal in 1998 and, formerly, a bright boy who came here on a free place. This has attracted 95 entries from across the city, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Solihull. On January 22 we will be crowning the top Maths team in Year 6; we will then launch the Year 4 competition. Kids love the challenge, and, increasingly, we are getting our boys to run the competition for themselves.

Summer school

We have set up a summer school which is closely targeted at bright children from poor backgrounds. Many independent schools open up their facilities to children from outside during the summer holidays. Working with primary-aged children, though, there is often a problem with logistics – it is easier to work with three or four schools because it makes transport possible. We organised our first summer school in July 2015, recruiting 93 children from 24 different schools across the city, some from the white working-class suburbs of Shard End and Castle Bromwich, others from multi-cultural Sparkbrook and Handsworth. In many of these cases, the teachers themselves brought the children to King Edward’s School and returned them at the end of the day, with dedicated staff keeping their schools open till 7pm so that parents could pick their children up locally. The strength of relationships built up through other initiatives made it possible. We raised £15,000 from two charitable funders, one a former pupil who was also here on a fee place, to cover the cash costs of the summer school.

Sports facilities providing free coaching and access

We have used our sports facilities to provide free coaching as well as free access. Our sports facilities have a complex timetable of use, dependent on time of year as well as the vagaries of the timetable. Some obvious ‘gaps’ are in place, such as our intermittent use of our swimming pool in the summer term. It takes an insider to know what is available when. We have recruited an outreach administrator to be that insider, as well as a year-round cricket coach who is available to coach state schools in the mornings. Children from all over Birmingham come to our sports facilities every Monday and Friday morning for free coaching, some travelling 45 minutes by coach from Walsall to get here.

Creative workshops

We have unleashed the creativity of staff and boys alike to devise and deliver workshops throughout the city. Pupils and staff are constantly coming up with projects that they can take out into the community. This year, pupils in Years 10-12 have devised debating and astronomy workshops for Year 6 children, and have assembled a ‘concert party’ that plays music in different schools every Friday. Teachers from our History and Drama departments have developed workshops too, and have timetabled time to support their efforts. Jonathan Davies, who runs our Living History group of re-enactors, gave 84 workshops last year in 62 schools, travelling over 3,000 miles and meeting over 3,000 children.

This is only a part of the outreach programme that we run – the rest of it can be explored on our website, Somehow, accidentally on purpose, we have turned ourselves into a magnet of aspiration for state school teachers and children across the West Midlands. We are now working with the seven other secondary schools in the King Edward’s Foundation, six of them state-funded, to spread the impact even more widely through the West Midlands – but that’s subject for another blog. We’d be delighted to help any other schools that want to explore getting something similar off the ground. We’ve learnt plenty of lessons on the way: just get in touch.

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