Manchester Grammar School review by University of Cambridge student. The academic excellence of the Manchester Grammar School is, I believe, due to the breadth of subjects taught. The dropping of subjects is delayed as late as possible, leading to a well rounded education, and allowing subjects to be taught for the understanding, rather than just to pass exams. The teachers themselves formed a well-balanced mix of young and old, male and female. For the lower sets in maths (the only subject at the school to be setted), there are teachers who excel at communicating the basics clearly and memorably. At the other end of the scale, are teachers so knowledgeable, that they can expand on topics for as long as you ask. The school has very high standards, and expects excellence in the core subjects such as maths, English, and the sciences, which are mandatory until after GCSE year. The three sciences (which are taught separately after year 9), are taught in large, well equipped laboratories every lesson, which allows the theory to be demonstrated easily. The range of subjects available for study is extremely broad. The facilities available for Art & Design are among the best in any school, with a well equipped pottery workshop, screen printing equipment, and a computer controlled Laser cutter, as well as fine art materials. The school also boast a newly refurbished theatre and many practice rooms for drama, and a highly practical electronics course. On the classics side, the school teaches a year of Latin and Classical Civilisations to all students before subject choices are made, introducing children to culture they may not otherwise have considered. The school is undergoing much change at the moment, but I am confident that it will live up to its reputation. The range of languages taught seems constantly to be expanding, and the school is now accepting children from younger ages than ever before. The most recent introduction was the optional uptake of the International Baccalaureate. This broad-based and challenging qualification aims to counter the perception that exams are getting easier. The school also enters students for iGCSE exams rather than GCSE in the sciences, to avoid the free marks from coursework diminishing the meaning of high grades. The class size starts at about 26 pupils per class in year 7, but gradually decreases as one moves up the school, and makes subject choices. By sixth form, the class sizes can be less than halved. A support system is available for those with special requirements to get the help they require, and students in wheelchairs are accommodated (although the arrangements are not ideal as yet). All in all, the academic performance of the school is what you would expect from such a selective institution.
The Manchester Grammar School sends around 30 students (from a year of <200) to Oxford and Cambridge every year. In order to help with preparation, special Oxbridge classes are timetabled in sixth form for those applying, in all the main subjects. Contrary than spoon-feeding information, these classes encourage thinking beyond the scope of the standard taught courses, as one may be required to do in interview, and introducing some possible first-year topics. Personally, I found these lessons very useful is preparing for interview, and even more useful once I started the course. The point was not to remember information, but to learn to think rather than coast through a restricting syllabus. The school has a dedicated careers service, who have contacts for work experience, and will offer advice to students in any year group. When making UCAS applications, mock interviews were arranged in order to practice technique, and feedback was given on personal statement drafts. Obviously, no amount of coaxing from the school can replace a genuine interest and intuition for the subject, but I believe that the support given by the school played a vital role in securing my university place.
MGS is a selective school, taking students based on academic ability alone. A bursary system is in place to enable students from any background to attend, and the funding available is continuously growing due to generous donation. Children applying to join the school in year 7 are subjected to two rounds of entrance examinations. Each round contains two papers, one mathematical, and one English paper. Although these examinations were very daunting (I remember turning up for them very vividly), an effort is made to help you relax after arrival, and get to know some of the other candidates. Entry for the junior section, a new addition, is conducted rather differently. From what I understand: Candidates attend a full day at the school, where they are taught something they will not have seen before, and examined on it at the end of the day. This is a much less formal day than the standard entrance exams, minimising stress, and tests the child's ability to learn, rather than how well a prep school has trained them to do entrance exams. I believe that students from the junior section will not be required to sit the entrance exams to progress to year 7, but will be subject to continuous examination and an interview. The school takes pupils from a wide variety of backgrounds, and does not have any official feeder schools. However a more than representative proportion of the students in my year had been to a private preparatory school.
MGS has a strong pastoral system, particularly in the first year. Every form has a form tutor, who is the first port of call for academic or pastoral issues. The head of year is usually quite approachable for more serious issues, particularly in the higher years, and the college nurse(s) are always available for students to discuss and concerns they may be having in confidence. Special counsellors are employed to help those with special educational requirements. In first year, each form is also allocated a number of form prefects, who help the new students to settle in and get used to the working of the school. One of the most useful pastoral support systems is the "MGS friends" scheme. Every new student is allocated to a volunteer from a higher year, who lives close by. Getting the school bus on the first day can be the most daunting thing for a new student, particularly if the bus looks full and rowdy. The job is also very rewarding for the volunteer, who is often only a year or two older. The school has a very large catchment area due to its selective intake, so has a very culturally diverse population. There are strong Jewish, Christian and Muslim presences in the school and people come from all ethnic backgrounds. On Fridays, all religions are catered for in separate religious assemblies (there is one for non-religious too). During my time at the school, I found the atmosphere to be very tolerant, and witnessed very little discrimination on any grounds. The school is boys only, which may put off some potential students, but MGS has strong ties with the girls schools Manchester High School for Girls across the road, and Withington Girls school slightly further away. The three schools share transport to and from school every day, as well as being involved with each other in societies. Going off-site during lunch break, however, is only allowed in sixth form. In terms of the work load - the amount of mandatory homework is highest in first year, and gradually decreases as one progresses up the school. This, I assume, is because the students are trusted to do enough work and reading out of their own interest to make up for the decrease in assignments. The average student probably spends about 1-2 hours each evening completing homework, although the school may like to say it was longer! The only main detriment to quality of life from attending MGS is the travel time that is involved. I spent about an hour each way travelling to school by a public bus, meaning that I did not get home until nearly 5pm. Although most students are able to get special school buses (it is school policy that all students should be able to reach the school by public transport), this experience would be true of the majority of students. Despite the inevitable moaning that always accompanies mass catering, the school dinners at MGS were really very good by the end of my time at MGS. Well balanced, healthy meals were provided, at a reasonable price, averaging about £2.50 per day in 2009. For those who did not wish to take out a dinner contract, a separate easting area was available to purchase fast-food meals. Many students however still brought packed lunches. In general, MGS is a very friendly, welcoming community, and I am proud to have been a part of it
The range of extra-curricular activities available is too large to list, but the school participates in many sports, including swimming and water polo in its own pool. The rugby, football, and cricket teams are very competitive, frequently winning trophies against other schools. More exotic sports such as scuba diving and climbing are even available at various ages through the school. A large focus of the extra curricular calendar are the school camps. These are a long-standing tradition at the school, and are week-long trips at the end of term. Depending on the camp, activities will include hiking, pony trekking, sailing, rafting, orienteering, and almost anything you could think of. During my time at the school, a dedicated "activities week" period was set aside at the end of term, to encourage people to broaden their horizons. In addition to the school camps, activities such as baking, photography, drama camp, and army training week and a residential powerboating course were available. Throughout the year, the school has many societies to join, ranging from the intellectual "pishop" and "philsoc" - giving weekly maths and science talks respectively, to community action and young enterprise. Community Action particularly is very much encouraged by the school, and students in the two years before university application are expected to do at least an hour of community action a week. This may be in their own time, or in free periods in the timetable. As an estimate, I would say the average student spends between 1-4 hours a week doing extra-curricular activities, with the larger time commitments being for those on the sports teams. Some of the societies meet during lunchtimes, but many require staying behind after school.