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Our history and the educational heritage of Birmingham

Ask people about Birmingham’s heritage and you will be greeted with a variety of answers but very few of them would include education.

Birmingham is in the heart of England and in the 18th Century was at the centre of the Industrial Revolution, which saw it at the forefront of worldwide developments in science and technology. By 1791 it was recognised as “The first manufacturing town in the world” and later became known as the “City of a thousand trades”.

Another phrase often attached to the City was “Workshop of the World” with thousands of artisans practising a variety of specialised and skilled trades, our Jewellery Quarter and Pen Museum providing evidence of our global importance.

Birmingham was the driving force behind Britain’s car manufacturing industry, and it was innovative with the creation of exhibition and conference centres. Innovation and creativity will be crucial as Birmingham now strives to meet the challenges of the modern era. With its “Forward” motto those challenges can be positively met in the knowledge that this City has a unique heritage when it comes to education.

Few people would acknowledge Birmingham as a City of Education – they would be wrong. Whilst Birmingham University is recognised as one of the country’s leading educational institutions it was not established until 1900 but King Edward’s School in Birmingham was founded as long ago as 1552.

Its history can be traced back as early as 1392 when gifts of land were made to found the Gild of the Holy Cross, which during the next 150 years provided support for the people of Birmingham. Whilst The Gild of the Holy Cross saw its properties confiscated by the advisers to the new King Edward VI in the wake of the Reformation, leading local parishioners successfully petitioned the King for the return of the Gild’s property assets in order to establish King Edward’s School on 2nd January 1552.

Fast forward to 1883 when the ambitious plans of the Governors of King Edward’s School known as a “High School” became a reality. 1883 saw the opening of six new King Edward VI schools: a sister “High School for Girls” for King Edward’s School and five “Grammar Schools.” The Governors were seeking to make an open path for every clever and industrious child in Birmingham from the public elementary schools of the borough, through the new “Grammar Schools” to “High School” and then to Universities. No town in England compared with Birmingham in terms of educational advantage.

Today, King Edward’s School and King Edward VI High School for Girls are extremely successful Independent Schools, with many free and assisted places making them widely accessible to all families. There are also five free Grammar Schools of Birmingham: Aston and Handsworth combining modern architecture with their original, historic buildings, the two Camp Hill Schools (for boys and for girls) sharing an extensive site in Kings Heath, and Five Ways School, a mixed school bordering Bartley Green Reservoir.

More recently the charity has sponsored a new school at Sheldon Heath. The King Edward VI Sheldon Heath Academy serves its local community and is now carving its own success stories for children from that area.

In September 2017 the King Edward VI Academy Trust was formed and it welcomed Handsworth Grammar School for Boys into the family. September 2018 saw the addition of Handsworth Wood Girls’ Academy, a multi-ability, non-selective school that admits girls from the age of eleven to nineteen. The academy is diverse and reflects the local community in Handsworth.

Today Birmingham is a major international commercial centre, and now boasts five universities, which make it one of the largest centres of higher education in the country outside London.

Education has been at the heart of this City for many generations and the excellence that The Schools of King Edward VI provide will undoubtedly help the City as it continues to move “Forward” through its next period of re-invention.