Breaking: UK orchestra co-founds a high school

Breaking: UK orchestra co-founds a high school


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2019

In what appears to be a significant evolutionary advance for the struggling orchestral sector, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has joined with Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust to start a new school, which will have specialist music teaching.

This morning, the Department for Education approved funding for the Shireland CBSO School, a non-selective and non-fee paying specialist music school in Sandwell.

You can read the press release below. The implications for orchestral survival are immense. This could be a visionary breakthrough.


The Department for Education has today [Friday 14 June] approved funding for the Shireland CBSO School – a new non-selective and non-fee paying specialist music school in Sandwell to be run by the Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust in partnership with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO).

The school will draw students of all backgrounds from across Sandwell – one of the most deprived local authority areas in England – providing equality of access to a rounded academic secondary education with a strong musical focus. It will open for Year 7 and Year 12 pupils in 2021, growing to a maximum capacity of 870 students aged 11-18 by 2025.

The school will be the first in Britain to be established in partnership with an orchestra and marks a radical new approach to music education, innovatively addressing the much-publicised decline in the position of the creative arts in many schools.

As the CBSO looks towards its centenary year in 2020, this landmark project reflects the orchestra’s deep and ongoing commitment to enriching young people’s lives with music and to developing the musicians of the future. Music will be central to the school’s ethos and woven throughout the curriculum. The school will look for students of all backgrounds who have a genuine musical interest and aptitude, and will present the chance to explore classical music alongside jazz, pop and world music.

Every child will be given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, with tuition delivered in partnership with Sandwell Music Service, and to participate in choirs and ensembles as well as regularly attending CBSO concerts at Symphony Hall. The orchestra will also offer pre-concert presentations, ensemble performances, play-along sessions and creative workshops linked to curriculum themes. For aspiring young conductors there will be conducting workshops and masterclasses. There will be visits from international soloists and conductors performing with the CBSO who will provide inspirational talks, workshops, masterclasses. Students will also have the chance to learn about the administrative side of running an orchestra, with careers advice and presentations from CBSO staff.

Stephen Maddock OBE, Chief Executive of CBSO, says: “We are delighted and hugely excited to be able to move ahead with our plans for this new specialist music school, which will offer access to music education, regardless of background, in an area where such opportunities are so desperately needed. The CBSO has a long tradition of innovation in music education and community work – we were the first British symphony orchestra to present concerts for young people and the first to establish a specialist education department and to build a community facility – all of which have allowed us to make a real musical impact on young people and the wider community in the West Midlands. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our 100th anniversary next year than by launching an inclusive and nurturing school which will help create the musicians of the future.”

Sir Mark Grundy, Chief Executive of Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, adds: “As a Trust we are hugely proud to be asked to develop a new type of Free School and feel privileged to be creating a School with a curriculum focussed around Music in partnership with the CBSO. The Arts enrich our young peoples’ lives in so many ways and the opportunity to create a school which nurtures the musical ability of the students in our locality is an honour. The partnership that is emerging between our Trust, the CBSO and Sandwell Local Authority is unique.”

The announcement will be made by Education Secretary Damian Hinds on Friday 14 June 2019. The school will be funded by the Department for Education through the free school funding programme and will be run by Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, a rapidly-growing Trust in the West Midlands led by the Shireland Collegiate Academy (rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted).

CBSO music director Mirga Grazinte-Tyla


  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    That is brilliant. Sandwell is quite a deprived borough, and it’s great that the pupils there will be given proper musical education. Maybe this idea will spread.

  • BassOne says:

    What Manchester did yesterday –

    • Operafan says:

      My understanding is that the Hallé plan never got beyond this announcement – so the Birmingham school will indeed be the first.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Why would anyone believe that the CBSO had the skills to run a school (let alone one for deprived children). They are different skills.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      The CBSO won’t be running the school – that will be done by Shireland, a multi-academy trust with an excellent track record already running several other schools.

      The CBSO will provide the musical inspiration, regular concerts at the school as well as visits for the pupils to Symphony Hall, workshops, visits by guest artists and a host of other musical activities – things the orchestra is well placed to do as it has been doing these things spread across many schools for decades.

      The difference here is that the musical ethos will be central to the new school from the start, at a non-fee paying school in an area where such opportunities are few and far between. And we will commission research to understand the impact on these pupils’ exam results, employability and life skills. Some may become musicians, many will not but we hope that all will benefit from the performance and other musical opportunities they will enjoy. And we also hope they will develop a life-long love of classical music!