The Spectator

School portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools

St Edward’s School, Oxford; Bablake School, Coventry; Torriano School, London; and Hurtwood House, Surrey

School portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools
St Edward’s School, Oxford
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St Edward’s School, Oxford

St Edward’s School has featured in these pages before, because of its North Wall performing arts centre which attracts (in ‘normal’ times) more than 20,000 public visitors a year to its exhibitions and performances.

St Edward’s sets great store by being part of Oxford as a whole. ‘Beyond Teddies’ is the school’s community outreach programme, encompassing a community farm on school grounds where young people with learning disabilities and autism explore basic outdoor skills, marshalling the Oxford Half Marathon and visiting local care homes.

Academically, the co-ed boarding and day school also thinks outside the box, with its pioneering ‘Pathways and Perspectives’ courses. These are continually assessed, rather than by final exams, and aim to develop pupils’ research, communication and self-management skills, as well as allowing them to focus on their own interests, not simply those prescribed by the GCSE curriculum.

Bablake School, Coventry

When news emerged that two ‘rival schools’ in Coventry — Bablake School (founded in 1344 by the widow of Edward II) and King Henry VIII School (known as KHVIII, and founded in 1545) — were to join forces, there was uproar. A former head of KHVIII went so far as to say that its most famous alumnus, Philip Larkin, would be ‘turning in his grave’.

But the decision to merge the schools seems sensible, when demand for independent schools has shrunk in the area and when the two schools, both run by the Coventry School Foundation charity, have worked closely together for a long time. The Foundation argues that the ‘original merger’ took place in December 1975 in response to the withdrawal of the Direct Grant Scheme.

As of September the new Bablake and King Henry VIII School (BKHS) will consist of a senior school, based on the former Bablake site, and the ‘BKHS’ prep school, on the former King Henry VIII site.

Torriano School, london

Torriano Primary School, in north London’s Kentish Town, was formed in 2015 from a merger of two local schools, Torriano Infants and Torriano Junior. Change is often resisted, and the creation of this new primary was no different, with hundreds signing a petition against it. The new school has, however, gone from strength to strength, gaining an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating in 2018.

In 2019, it opened a new science, technology, engineering and maths activity lab, which, with its double-height space, enables the teaching of Stem subjects through activities and projects, not just paper and pen. The school was also part of a year-long pilot study on gender equality, run by the non-profit Lifting Limits, across five Camden primary schools in 2018-19. The idea was to challenge gender stereotypes and bias and resulted in, among other things, an increased awareness of a more diverse range of roles and possibilities for both girls and boys.

Hurtwood House, Surrey

Historically, the USP of Hurtwood House school in Surrey has been a focus on the performing arts (alumni include actress Emily Blunt and composer Hans Zimmer). But while music and theatre studies still flourish at this sixth-form boarding school, the recent academic results speak for themselves. The school offers 22 A-level subjects and more than 150 of its 340 or so students study science or maths. This year, five Hurtwood students received Oxbridge offers.

With seven houses across its campus in the Surrey Hills, Hurtwood also focuses on preparing students for university life, encouraging independence alongside strong pastoral care. The location means sport, from cross-country running and mountain biking to horse riding and golf, is encouraged. All students take part in the school’s extracurricular programme, with choices ranging from knitting, costume making, wine appreciation and screen-writing to Model UN and pole fitness.