How the International Baccalaureate has made King Edward’s School in Birmingham global player

The Sunday Times, 05.06.16, record-breaking results in this year’s International Baccalaureate (IB) examinations at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, are the latest staging post on a mission to transform the fortunes of one of Britain’s ancient independent schools. HMC Head John Claughton, Chief Master of leading independent King Edward’s School, Birmingham is quoted.

The results, published last month, show boys at the school, founded in 1552, gained an average of 39 points out of 45, with three boys achieving a perfect score among just 160 candidates to do so worldwide.

“With results like these, I can tell prospective parents our competition is truly global,” says the school’s chief master, John Claughton. “There is no school within 50 miles that can shake a stick at our results.”

Such outstanding results, coupled with GCSE outcomes that have seen the proportion of top A* grades gained rise from 46.4% in 2009 to 69.5% last year, vindicate Claughton’s decision to switch from A-levels to IB in 2010.

Achieving better academic results was vital. King Edward’s School (KES) faces stiff competition locally, as our table shows, with a flourishing state grammar sector as a free alternative for Birmingham’s brightest. Some of those schools are part of the same King Edward VI foundation as KES, consisting of five state grammars, one state academy and two independent schools.

State grammars occupy seven of the top 10 places in our unique table comparing the performance of state and independent schools on an equal footing based on last summer’s A-level and GCSE outcomes — the only region of England where the state sector dominates the top 10.

Boys who apply to KES often apply also to King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, in fourth place in our West Midlands table, and other state grammars within and outside the foundation.

A decade ago KES was losing the battle with these schools — but no longer. Although a third (17) of the 50 highest achievers in the KES entrance examination elected to go elsewhere this year, that proportion is down from 50% 10 years ago.

“We have to outperform the selective grammar schools in the city,” Claughton says, “otherwise we just become a school for rich kids. Parents have to think this is the school where the bright kids go.”

Claughton, who became head in 2006, also wants parents of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds to consider KES, and has set about creating one of the most socially and ethnically diverse independent schools in the country.

One in five boys coming in is Muslim, three in five are from Asian backgrounds, and 200 of the 850 boys are on assisted places, half of them studying for free. The school attracts 800 applications a year from 300 junior schools, 550 of those applicants seeking an assisted place.

All this in the city of the Trojan Horse schools, which was further identified in July by the Demos think tank as one of the four local authorities in England with the greatest levels of segregation between white British and ethnic minority schoolchildren.

Concerned by this and the dangers of radicalisation in schools, David Cameron said last month: “It cannot be right that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths.”

KES could not be further from that depressing norm. And Claughton is in no doubt that KES’s academic achievements have come about not in spite of the school’s demographics, but because of them.

“Greater diversity has enhanced our performance while enabling us to enact our historical purpose,” he says. “There has always been a celebration of difference here; the school is largely colour-blind.”

And this is not an independent school where the children of ethnic and racially diverse backgrounds jump on a plane home at the end of term.

“The point about KES is we are ethnically diverse with local children, which is so important in terms of the future of this country. They are not going back to their own countries when they leave here. They will stay in this country, even if not in Birmingham itself.”

Claughton references indignantly the fear expressed last November by Andrew Halls, the Sunday Times’s education columnist, that as fees spiral, independent schools risk becoming the preserve of the offspring of oligarchs or the super-rich.

“We have not become the preserve of oligarchs because there aren’t any round here,” says Claughton. “We have parents who are taxi drivers, plenty of families where English is a second language.”

Even so, the school’s £12,132 annual fees are a push for many parents, despite being a snip by London standards. “It’s tough being an independent school north of Oxford at the moment; it’s a hell of a contrast [with London and the southeast]; £12,000 a year is a lot of money in Birmingham and without our alumni giving us money, we would be a very different school,” Claughton says.

In the past five years, the school has raised £8m for assisted places. Claughton aims to reach £10m in the next year before he retires: 100 boys would then be funded by alumni. Thirty alumni currently pay the full fees for 30 boys every year. This is in addition to those assisted places funded by the King Edward VI foundation.

Parents with incomes up to £70,000 receive financial support and those with an income of £50,000 can expect to pay £4,500 a year — roughly a third — of the standard fee rate. “We are able to help the children of office workers, police officers and nurses who are getting priced out of independent education elsewhere,” he says.

“Many of our sponsors got their education here for free [under the old direct grant system]. What they are now doing is paying the fees for other children that they didn’t have to pay themselves. Many of them will tell you King Edward’s was the making of them and they want to give another child the chance they had.”

With 200 children on assisted places (and a further 75 with scholarships), Claughton reckons KES is not far off being able to offer places needs-blind, widening the net for applications and competition for places still further. Once the pot of money can cope with giving assisted places to 40% of the intake, he believes this particular holy grail will have been attained.

Alumni have also contributed £8m of the £18m spent in recent years on new facilities. Donations include £5m towards the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre from Sir Paul Ruddock, who co-founded the Lansdowne Partners hedge fund, and a £2.5m gift from Andrew Brode, who runs the RWS patent translation business, towards the eponymous Andrew Brode Wing for modern languages and science.

Gifts such as these provide the facilities that help set KES apart. Yet Claughton insists coming to KES is about more than results: “It’s about the quality of the experience, the richness of school life.”

Walking around the school, in heady end-of-term mode post-exams — with talented musicians and actors rehearsing for their annual show, engaged boys willing to talk enthusiastically about the (often non-academic) opportunities the school has offered them, and dozens more strolling around in their cricket whites ahead of the house cricket competition — it was hard not to agree.

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