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Education in Birmingham
Plenty of choice
Illustrating Birmingham City Council’s recognition that enlightened education is essential to the city’s continuing development as a world-class centre of technology, services and knowledge, there are no fewer than 450 state schools in the metropolitan area. The total excludes universities and colleges of further education (CFEs).
In addition, and on the same calculation basis, there are over 50 private schools, including those that are faith-based.
State schools were first established in England and Wales in 1870 and became free of charge in 1918. Attendance is compulsory for all children from ages 5-16.
Except for the tertiary sector (universities and CFEs), the schools are owned and operated by the local government in each administrative area. They must follow the National Curriculum, set by the Department for Education that was last updated in 2014.
Private schools are not bound by the curriculum. However, they are required to adopt a “broad and balanced” programme that includes mathematics, English, science, and religious education. Parents may opt out of the religious education segment, as they can also do under the National Curriculum.
Public or private, all school staff that have contact with pupils must have been screened by the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service in order to certify they have no criminal record.
Additionally, all state schools, as well as some private establishments, are subject to detailed onsite inspections by Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Children’s Education, Services and Skills), approximately once every three years. The resulting reports are public on the Ofsted website.
Private schools not within Ofsted’s remit are subject to regular reviews by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, under the supervision of Ofsted.
For children aged 3-5, for whom attendance is voluntary, Birmingham offers nursery schools, also called pre-schools or kindergartens. The city council website lists 27 of them, with links to contact details, websites, location maps, and Ofsted reports.
Additionally, there are 272 nursery schools in Birmingham and its environs, both state and private.
Some nursery schools also cater for children aged 5-7, termed infants although they are old enough for compulsory education. The council website lists 21 of them.
The key distinction between nursery and infant schools is that the latter must follow the National Curriculum for all pupils aged five or older. At that age, they enter Key Stage 1, the first of four age-related classifications that determine the applicable parts of the curriculum.
Primary & Junior
Adding to the overlapping categories, there are also primary schools, intended for children aged 4-11. They follow Key Stages 1 (ages 4-7) and 2 (ages 7-11) of the National Curriculum. The Birmingham council website lists more than 250 of them.
Junior and primary schools may overlap. The former cover ages 7-11, but only offer Key Stage 2 of the curriculum. The council website lists 20 such schools. In the private sector, all four of the above categories are sometimes lumped together and called, collectively, pre-preparatory or ‘pre-prep’ schools.
According to the Birmingham Mail, here is the list of the top 10 junior and primary schools in the city (with distance from The Axium and Arden Gate):
- Christ Church CofE Controlled Primary School and Nursery (8 min.)
- St Mary’s Catholic Primary School (9 min.)
- Hill West Primary School (20 min.)
- Boldmere Junior School (15 min.)
- Heathfield Primary School (9 min.)
- St Mary’s Church of England Primary School (15 min.)
- Little Sutton Primary School (22 min.)
- Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School (11 min.)
- Nelson Mandela School (7 min.)
- Four Oaks Primary School (22 min.)
State secondary schools
Secondary schooling is the most intensive stage of education, with a variety of school types in the public sector. Most are comprehensive schools, which are open to all from ages 11-18, covering Key Stages 3, 4, and 5. However, Stage 5, for ages 16-18 and covering preparation for GCSE and ‘A’ Level national examinations, has no legal definition and is sometimes referred to as Sixth Form.
Some comprehensives are academies, established by law in 2000 and subject to Ofsted regulation and periodic onsite reviews. Most are secondary schools, but about a quarter of primary schools are also in this category. They are state schools funded directly by the Department for Education, not by a local authority.
Academies do not follow the National Curriculum, but offer the ‘broad and balanced’ programme prescribed for the private sector. Several have a focus on a particular area of studies, such as science, business, or the arts.
Birmingham lists 40 comprehensives on its website, including several academies.
The secondary sector also includes grammar schools, which only select pupils who have passed the ‘Eleven Plus’ examination at the end of their primary education. Such schools tend to have an academic focus, with most pupils going on to university.
Private secondary schools
In the private, or independent, sector, classifications cut across the state equivalents, with preparatory, or ‘prep’, schools catering for ages 8-13 and public schools for ages 13-18.
Do not be confused by the term, ‘public’, which merely reflects the fact that the schools are, supposedly, open to anyone who can pay the fees. They are, however, wholly private and usually established under law as charities. The most famous of them is probably Eton College, near Windsor in Berkshire.
There are about 2,000 private schools in the UK, or 7% of the total, so Birmingham’s tally of about 50 (out of a total of some 500 schools of all types) is above average, reflecting the city’s ambitious development goals.
According to the Birmingham Mail, the top 10 secondary schools in the Midlands are listed here (with distance from The Axium and Arden Gate):
- King Edward VI Aston School, Birmingham (10 min.)
- Queen Mary’s High School, Walsall (20 min.)
- Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Birmingham (19 min.)
- Lawrence Sheriff School, Warwickshire (45 min.)
- Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls Birmingham (16 min.)
- King Edward VI Five Ways School, Birmingham (15 min.)
- Stratford Girls’ Grammar School, Warwickshire (45 min.)
- King Edward VI School, Warwickshire (45 min.)
- King Edward VI Handsworth School, Birmingham (9 min.)
- King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, Birmingham (12 min.)
While all UK universities are independent, they are also government-subsidised, apart from five specialist institutions. In Birmingham, there are four universities, although some resources, taking a broader definition, list five. A further 13 or 14 lie within one hour’s drive from the city centre, making it the most concentrated area of tertiary education in the UK, outside London.
The University of Birmingham is the largest in Birmingham with over 32,000 students and 5,000 international students from 150 countries. It ranks among the world’s top 50 universities across several disciplines in the QS World University Rankings: Sports policy and administration (5th), Dentistry (19th), Education and training (25th), Development studies (32nd), Theology, divinity and religious studies (35th), English language and literature (41st), Social policy and administration (43rd), Linguistics (45th) and Mining and mineral engineering (50th). Its campus lies 1-2 train stops and 6 min. drive from The Axium and Arden Gate.
With 22,540 students from 80 countries, the second largest university is Birmingham City University. It is particularly sought-after for its comprehensive range of undergraduate programmes: students can choose among 335 First Degrees and 304 Bachelor’s Degrees. Its Business & Social Science, Medicine and Health and Engineering programmes offer full curriculums from certification to doctorate.
Third largest university, Aston University counts 10,985 students. It is notably renowned for its Masters in Management Programmes (Aston Business School) that are ranked 3rd in the UK and 18th worldwide.
Unlike UK state schools, universities charge for their services. However, tuition fees are capped by law at £9,250 annually for UK residents taking undergraduate courses. Overseas students typically pay from £10,000 to £35,000 p.a.
For UK students, finance is available on subsidised terms from the Student Loans Company, a non-profit organisation owned by the government. Depending on the applicant’s personal circumstances, such finance may also cover living expenses, or ‘maintenance’, as well as tuition.
For further research, there are a number of useful websites, such as those for the UK Department for Education (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education), the Headmasters’ Conference (the representative body for private schools: www.hmc.org.uk), and as already mentioned, Birmingham City Council (www.birmingham.gov.uk/education).
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