King Edward VI School, Southampton
One of the oldest schools in the city, this selective, co-ed senior and Sixth Form has strong academics and a progressive modern outlook.
King Edward VI School (KES) is a selective co-ed day school in the Upper Shirley area of Southampton. One of the oldest schools in the city, founded in 1553, it was originally based inside the city walls. After various relocations as a boy’s grammar, KES moved to its present site in 1938. It became independent in 1978 and, in 1983 welcomed girls into the Sixth Form. In 1994, KES became fully co-educational.
Today, KES has a roll call of 968 pupils –553 boys and 415 girls – taught in manageable class sizes averaging 20 – 24. The school is spread over 13 acres, with a further 33-acres at the Wellington Sports Site, around 10 minutes’ drive away in nearby Eastleigh.
From the outside, the main building’s iconic Bell Tower and façade remain much as they were in 1938. (Fun fact: After it has chimed the hour, the clock tower at the city’s Civic Centre plays the school hymn at 4, 8, and 12 o’clock).
Inside, it’s a much different story. Walking around the bright, modern extensions, refurbed interiors and classrooms grouped by department, if the students weren’t wearing uniforms you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a university campus.
Team sports at the main site make use of the sports hall, games fields, netball courts and full Astro pitch. A short drive from the main school site, the Wellington Sports ground has 35-acres of grass fields with six rugby pitches, six tennis courts, four netball courts and a water-based astro pitch – usually the preserve of elite and Olympic hockey competitions.
In a school this size, not everyone will be trying out for competitive sports but there are plenty of ways for pupils to keep active here. For the athletes and those who like to do their own thing, a well-equipped fitness suite opens at lunch times and after school, with individual advice from the Head of Strength and Conditioning and weekly fitness classes like yoga and spin. There are also dance clubs, basketball and volleyball clubs, among other activities. There’s no swimming pool but the school accesses to the University one, less than 10 minutes’ drive away.
One of the standout facilities, the 300-seater Dobson Theatre (above), opened in 2017 as part of a large extension at King Edward VI School. It’s used for all kinds of events, from lecture-style lessons to theatre, music, dance, and whole school productions. The keenest performers also take LAMDA exams and perform well: 86% got a merit or distinction in 2021, and 96% of GCSE candidates achieved A* – A.
Dance is taught at GCSE and popular as an extracurricular activity too, making the most of a dedicated dance studio space for workshops with the English National Ballet and West End and film industry professionals, as well as to train for the school’s own annual Dance Gala.
In the music department, there’s a sound-proof recording room and Mac Composition suite, part of 14 purpose-built rooms that are also used for individual lessons (taken up by just under half of the cohort who, handily, are allocated a second locker for their instruments). In 2021, 95% of Music GCSE candidates were awarded A* – A Grades, and 100% got A* C.
Top-flight musicians earn a place in the King Edward VI School Chamber Orchestra, a star in the strong music department. Following a recent performance by this ensemble of advanced string players, pupils made the most of the opportunity to get tips from London Mozart Players’ professional performance artists. There’s plenty for every taste with budding musicians and performers finding likeminded tribes in the Chamber Choir, Senior Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Big Band, Swing Band, Rock Academy and many chamber music ensembles.
Core sports at KES are hockey, netball, cricket and rugby, with frequent placings across all at county and regional level and strong boys’ sides in rugby, hockey and football. Girls’ hockey is popular too (the U14 Hockey team just won the Hampshire Cup) and the netball teams are regular regional qualifiers. In the Sixth Form, the KES football team competes in a local college’s league.
High achievers competing at a regional, national and, in some cases, international level have access to a dedicated mentoring scheme, while a close eye is kept on their academic attainment. Its helped turn out some real sporting superstars: one recent leaver just scored a contract to play in the Women’s Super League while also studying a chemistry degree at Birmingham City Uni. Another signed a full-time contract with Hampshire County Cricket Club.
Two thirds of KES pupils go on to the sixth form while the rest join from a mixture of maintained and independent schools. Entry is based on interviews with subject heads and predicted GCSE results. There are pretty decent 26 A Level subject choice, including more niche subjects like philosophy, photography, classical civilisation, and sports science.
Lessons, lunch and activities mean mixing with the rest of the school but Sixth Formers do have their own light, very well-used common room area for breaktimes, which has just been earmarked for extension. There’s no prescribed uniform for Sixth Formers but students are expected to wear smart office attire – and do so. Most leavers (92% in 2020) go on to Russell Group universities, the most popular being Bristol, Exeter, Durham, Cardiff and Nottingham. Others apply to specialist medical schools (78% of 2021 applicants got their first choice), while a smaller number (33% of candidates) successfully landed places at Oxford and Cambridge.
Strong. Pupils are selected through an interview, a report from the head of the previous school and the results of an entrance examination. The application process for 11+ and 13+, consists of three exam papers, evaluating pupils reasoning, English and Mathematics based on the national curriculum for each year group.
In 2021, 82% of KES pupils got A*- A grades at GCSE and a fraction under 100% achieved A – C. By far the most popular A Level subjects are mathematics, biology and chemistry, with 90 – 95% of 2021 leavers achieving A* – B grades in these subjects. Overall, in 2021, 69% of leavers left with A – A* grades, 93% A* – B and 98% A* – C.
Stroud School is the official feeder for KES, but children come here from up to 70 different prep and local primary schools in any given year group, often not knowing anyone. To avoid them getting lost (both pastorally and physically in the vast expanse of corridors and departments), Year 7 pupils are allocated a form group and tutor that meets with them every morning, working with the new Head of Wellbeing, and there’s a buddy system that pairs younger kids with older pupils they share an interest with.
A dedicated school councillor is on-hand for confidential consultations in a brand-new, shoes-off Wellbeing Centre featuring bean bags comfy benches and enclosed ‘chill-pods’. Pupils can drop in here when they like outside of lessons and do, both individually and in small groups for quiet, mindful activities like Lego and colouring.
Head Neal Parker joined KES in September 2019 from independent co-ed The Grammar School at Leeds where he was Vice Principal and Head of the Senior School. Previously, he was Director of Music and Head of Performing Arts at the Newcastle Royal Grammar School and read music at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. He also holds a Masters and an MBA in Educational Leadership and is a long-standing ISI inspector, making him very well qualified to steer a sizeable city senior school like KES.
Clearly a very focused character, he makes no bones about the fact he is committed to protecting the school’s long-standing reputation for academic performance, which continues to see demand outnumber availability for places at virtually all entry points here. In his relatively short time at KES, Neal Parker has, however, taken action to evolve pastoral care, including the creation of the new, Wellbeing centre, opened in 2021, and the appointment of a new Head of Wellbeing to work alongside existing pastoral staff.
KES is very student-led, with dedicated ‘Prepositors’ (senior prefects) that provide student leadership by working alongside the younger pupils, supporting community partnerships, charities and sustainability initiatives. A real feature of the school, especially at lunchtimes, pupils pick from a whopping 100 different clubs (typically two per child), from the usual dance, music and drama to the more unusual beekeeping club, feminist society, doodle club and Japanese club.
One of the best features of these clubs is that they often include the youngest pupils among their number and one or two Sixth Formers, too. Walking towards the bright, airy art rooms, there’s a big group of eager pupils selecting clothes and sizing them up as they put them on rails for the schools own Slow Fashion Week. The donated pre-loved items were subsequently adapted and sold on to raise funds for the student-selected No Sweat charity which campaigns against workplace exploitation and sweatshops.
The latest ISI report was a regulatory compliance report in September 2017, with another, full report expected in 2021/22. King Edward VI School was fully compliant in all areas.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Children are allowed to bring phones to school as the majority travel by school bus and need to communicate with parents. Younger children (Years 7 – 9) are not allowed their phones out during the school day.
Pupils come in from a catchment area of around 20 miles radius of Southampton, mostly using the school bus network from Romsey, Winchester, Southampton, the New Forest and Bournemouth.
FEES + SCHOLARSHIPS
Fees are higher or comparative with other local independents – though the continued influx of applications shows this doesn’t deter most prospective parents. Fees for 2020/2021 are £17,136 per annum, three termly payments of £5,712. KES offers a small number of academic, creative arts (including music, drama and dance) and sports scholarships.
WORD ON THE GROUND
King Edward VI School’s longstanding academic reputation is undoubtedly the big draw. That said, pupils rave about the co-curricular clubs and parents talk about the “creative” drama department and “confidence-building” sport. In 2021, four former pupils (known as ‘Old Edwardians’) returned to the school to take up teaching posts – a positive signal if ever there was one.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Conscientious, highly motivated kids will do well here. KES pupils frequently go on to careers in medicine, engineering and scientific fields, but with strong music, drama and sport provision and every club under the sun, there’s a tribe for everyone.
Not for: This is a busy city school with full days. It’s by no means an academic hothouse but does have very high academic expectations, which won’t suit every child. The large university campus-style feel will be a plus for some but those from small village schools or more nurturing, bucolic independent settings might struggle to adapt.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Prospective families can take a virtual 360 tour or visit for a private tour with a senior member of staff. For September 2023 applicants, there are Taster Mornings on Thurs 5 May 2022 for those entering in Year 9 in 2023 and Tues 10 May 2022 and Tues 17 May 2022 for Year 7 (2023) applicants.
King Edward VI School, Wilton Road, Southampton, SO15 5UQ. Tel. 023 8070 4561. email@example.com.