Manchester Grammar School review by University of Cambridge student. The school now offers an IB course to sixth-formers, but when I went there they only offered A Levels (which I gather most Manchester Grammar School, (MGS) students still take) so that's what I'll be basing my review on. The school encourages a competitive and focused ethos through its end-of-year internal testing for all years up to public examination years (i.e. GCSE, year 5), and through prizes. Although the latter can be awarded fairly arbitrarily, both do encourage an atmosphere in which people prioritise academic work. All through the school, teaching is primarily based on lecture-like classes with interspersions of peer-to-peer discussion, except in classes such as English, where the subject is not always intended to be 'taught'. The growing class sizes (and occasionally the teacher's lack of ability to control the class) make this perhaps more difficult although on the whole it is successful. The first 3 years of schooling are essentially intended to give a good grounding for GCSE work before it begins, and to give a broad range of skills and knowledge to the youngest boys before they specialise later on: hence certain subjects like CDT, Computer Skills etc. are compulsory. This didn't suit me personally as I much more enjoy a specialist course of study, but the benefits of a broad base for education, even for me, are undeniable. The decision to make all students take French GCSE in Year 4/10 as opposed to Year 5/11 may seem odd; but in fact it takes the pressure off the next year as French is one of the most formulaic (and therefore easy) GCSEs. However, the school does, I think, over-emphasise the importance of GCSE results as a whole as far as university admittance is concerned (although of course it is true that universities probably expect higher grades from pupils at such a privileged and high-flying school); and especially the importance of a language GCSE. Basically, the way all the Year 5 GCSEs are taught is generally through a two year course that begins in Year 10. Teaching is generally very good, although there is a notable unevenness in the teaching methods of staff, resulting in an unevenness of grades achieved across the year. There is usually very little uniformity in teaching and internal assessment methods (except in Biology and Religious Studies), and more of this would benefit the school greatly, as there are some very excellent teachers there whose ideas should be shared. The same is broadly true of the school's A Level programme, but uniformity is slightly greater here. As someone who took only Arts Side subjects, I cannot talk about the sciences; but the switch of gear at A Level is a good preparation for university (especially the best universities toward which MGS pupils are steered), where time constraints are rarely considered by teachers when setting work. The question of uniformity is more complex here, as student-autonomy and independent organisation of work is also a key part of preparation for university study; but it should probably be considered, as again, some teachers simply teach better than others and should share their methods. With regard to autonomy, the sixth-form is a disappointment to some. It is not like a college, and boys have to be in school until their last class of the day, even if their first period is free. While this generates a firm structure, some find it confining, and a poor preparation for the freedom which is inevitable at university. Time-management skills are essential in higher education, and arguably the sixth-form has a part to play in preparing students for this. The sixth-form is a period of broadening horizons, but in terms of freedom, it is not a place where boys are treated like adults, or as much like individuals as perhaps they should be. However, class sizes decrease in sixth-form (usually around 10 or so, as opposed to 25 previously), and teachers are generally more engaged and encouraging than previously. On the whole, the school's academic side is very good, especially in the sixth-form, but could do with some tweaking to make it excellent across the board.
The food is generally very good, with plenty of choice and the opportunity to take a meal in a bag (e.g., one or two sandwiches, one or two biscuits, a couple of drinks and fruit). The facilities are generally very good, and books are never a problem. The library is very well stocked, if perhaps underused slightly. There are plenty of computers for everyone's use, and if anybody wants to study at lunch-time they can generally use the library, although the school has an annoying tendency to sometimes use it for conferences or meetings because it's the nicest on-site venue for them. This doesn't happen all the time, so it's of little practical significance, but it sort of sends the message that private study time in school isn't that important. The school has a very good ethnic mix, and racism is rarely seen. It's a traditional school in terms of its approach to newness, generally speaking, and in its ethos and customs (new subjects are rarely added, boys should stand up when a teacher enters, it's one of only two schools in England with a 'Highmaster' not a 'Headmaster', etc). I think the school's approach to discipline is generally fine, and the boundaries are usually actually quite supportive rather than restraining; although sometimes they're too rigid. Boys should be allowed to spend free periods how they wish, so long as they are present for lessons. I think that wearing suits in sixth-form is good for the ethos, but the school's attitude to things like own-clothes days and the last school day should be much more relaxed: "own-clothes but no fancy-dress" should mean just that, rather than "...and no beach-shorts... or leavers' hoodies." I don't think being coerced into work per se helps everyone; I think the school should simply give a strong and realistic idea of what kind of work boys need to put in at school in order to succeed in life - and, on the whole, they do this.
There is a lot on offer in terms of extra-curricular activities at MGS: their drama (1 or 2 plays a term), and sport especially are very good. They could do with slightly better more facilities in music (such as a bigger building) but it's really excellent anyway, with countless bands, orchestras, groups and choirs. The sports teams stretch across all the most popular sports, but the main focus is on football, rugby, cricket and (slightly less) basketball, where training for teams is offered all the way through the school on a weekly basis. The school is as good as it can be at getting boys to participate in these things, taking account at the end of each term of what each boy's up to, and chasing this up if it's not enough to provide a balanced school experience. It's hard to say how much an 'average' student contributes each week, as several boys spend huge amounts of time on them while still performing extremely well academically. But if I had to guess, I'd say about 3-4hrs each week. Although of course you're ultimately only as well-rounded as you want to be, the school encourages and achieves a high level of well-roundedness in its pupils.