The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Herts Edition

Review: Aylesbury Grammar School Sixth Form

26 Jan 2017

In my day, back when mullets were the vogue and Simon Le Bon was plastered across the common room, it was rare to move schools for Sixth Form – it was never offered as an option to me. But parents these days are much more willing to chop and change schools to suit their children’s needs, and actually schools themselves are often eager to bring in some new blood for the Sixth Form.

So with this in mind this is the first in a series of Sixth Form reviews to help you make informed decisions about potential next steps. Hello Aylesbury Grammar School, are you ready for your close-up?

AYLESBURY GRAMMAR SCHOOL, AYLESBURY

What? Where?  An all-boys grammar school dating back to 1598, and a big one, with over 1300 kids from secondary 11+ entry to sixth form. Last year Aylesbury Grammar was placed in the top 100 in national league tables of schools and is regularly in the top 1% of all schools both state and independent. The school can be found amid the (*splutter*) glorious architectural beauty of Aylesbury and is central in the town (so good bus/train links). The present buildings date largely from the Victorian era, so there’s a mixture of grandeur, clean lines and outdated plumbing.

Important for prospective Sixth Formers is the recent £400k posh upgrading of the Sixth Form area – most students would agree that the former set up was way too pokey, but now it’s all shiny and new and glassy with two new study areas, a poshed up library, and a zhuzhed-up Sixth Form common and dining room.

The Sixth Form

The Sixth Form has an intake of 200 students per year, around 30 of whom come from other schools (including those in Milton Keynes, Herts and even Oxfordshire) and the school is keen to up that intake, seeing it as a positive to have a broad mix of children. The good news for parents is that, contrary to popular opinion, your child does not need to be an A star prodigy to get into Aylesbury Grammar School Sixth Form (*thud* – quick, pass the smelling salts). The average grades need to be Bs so, for example, a child with 4 As but also 4 Cs would be eligible to apply – exciting for those who perhaps thought AGS was just for the academic and sporty elite, and forever off-limits to normal local boys. Tis not true, people, rejoice!

Case in point, I talked to a Year 12 pupil (lower Sixth) at AGS who had come with fairly average GCSEs in September 2016, and he said the school had totally changed his relationship to learning – he was loving the school, made friends quickly, and was making real progress with his work. A big plus for AGS I think, as it clearly helps boys of different abilities and interests do the best they can.

Facilities:

Very good. The school has several sports fields, a swimming pool, a brand new gym, totally refurbished squash courts (unusual for a state school), a fully equipped drama studio, and a student/athlete partnership with superhot Halton Tennis Centre in place. Sport is a massive part of AGS, with most teams regularly playing against the big private schools. Cricket and rugby are the main sports, but football, handball, basketball, squash, tennis and athletics are also strong.

 

Music: Lest you think that only smelly jocks can get on well at AGS, let me tell you that the music provision here is phenomenal. The day I came to the school there was some improvised jazz being played in one of the practise rooms, and a brass group playing in the hall and both sounded amazing.

Results in A levels are whopper, and given the average B grade entry level into Sixth Form it goes to show how well the kids progress here. In 2016, 74% of entries were graded B or higher, with 44% of the entries achieving an A* or A grade. 13% of entries were graded A* with an overall pass rate of 99.8%. Over the last five years an average of 9 students per year have scored an Oxbridge place.

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The headmaster

Mark Sturgeon,  a former head of geography and head of Year 13 during his time at the school (from 1998 – 2005 fact fans) and into his third year in the hot seat and is a real doer, having pushed the £2.3 million completion of the science centre, updated the Sixth Form centre and the library.

Quirks: I’m not sure I’ve come across any all boys’ secondary schools that are big on quirkiness – boys need structure in my opinion (discuss!). However, rules are relaxed somewhat in the Sixth Form where the boys can wear a different colour shirt to the other kids, have more freedom with their study diaries, and their subject choices. Actually, the school offers some interesting subjects at A level that you might not expect from a traditional grammar school – the likes of Sports Science, Ancient History, Latin, and Computing.  Also worth noting that the head of Sixth Form is a woman, Lilla Venning – I’ve met her and she’s very impressive. Nurturing and caring but absolutely in control – I don’t think the boys would dare cross her! In a large Sixth Form at an all boys’ school I like the idea that there’s a strong female role model at its head.

Anything else worth mentioning?

If you’re slightly worried about your boys mingling with only their own sex, fear not, for there is the all-girls Aylesbury High School next door, so plenty of opportunity for ‘spin the bottle’ and arms reaching over the next Odeon cinema seat.

Actually there are very well established links between Aylesbury High School and AGS. At A-level, there’s a high level of academic collaboration so if there aren’t enough children wanting to take a subject at one school, they’ll double up with the other school’s pupils, meaning there’s a chance your son could have lessons with girls. Drama (above, a still from a joint Macbeth production) and music are two other areas where the schools combine, so in a way it’s the best of both worlds.

Word on the ground: I hear a lot about AGS as it’s the nearest boys grammar to where I live, and it’s almost universally positive. It has a great reputation academically, but a lot of parents that I’ve talked to also seem very pleased with the pastoral side of things and also the extra curricular, with rugby and music particularly strong. I spoke to quite a few boys who are already at the school and they were all desperate to stay for Sixth Form – it has a great reputation internally amongst the pupils (to me the most meaningful endorsement) and the pupils definitely have a massive sense of pride in AGS – I can’t think of a school I’ve reviewed where it’s been more apparent than here.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: I’m hard pushed to think of a Sixth Former who wouldn’t love it here. It’s very inclusive and friendly, and there’s a sense that children of ‘normal’ ability can thrive, whatever their interests. The single sex environment really suits some boys – those I talked to felt they could ‘be themselves’ in a way they couldn’t in their previous co-eds which I thought was interesting. AGS is known to handle LGBT issues with skill if that’s a concern for you or yours.

Not for: Boys who prefer a fully co-ed experience or who are after superposh everything – there are private schools if you’re looking for golf courses and clay pigeon shooting. It’s a healthily competitive environment, by which I mean the boys need to want to progress – average students are welcome, but totally disinterested slackers need not apply.

Dare to disagree? Check it out for yourself. The next intake for prospective pupils is September 2017, so call reception any time for a personal tour. If you make it, let me know what you think, or if your child already goes to the school, feel free to comment below.

Aylesbury Grammar School, Walton Road, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP21 7RP. Tel: 01296 484545. Tel: office@ags.bucks.sch.uk.

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