The Blue Coat School, Oldham

The Blue Coat School
Motto Semper Quaereamus Virtutem
(Let Us Always Seek Virtue)
Established 1834
Type Phase 2 Academy[1]
Religion Church of England
Headteacher Julie Hollis MA (Oxon)
Chair of Governors J. Lees
Founder Thomas Henshaw
Location Egerton Street
Greater Manchester
Coordinates: 53°32′46″N 2°06′30″W / 53.546°N 2.1083°W / 53.546; -2.1083
DfE URN 137133 Tables
Ofsted Reports
Students 1,400 (300 in sixth form)
Gender Co-educational
Ages 11–18
Houses Birley Hall
Lord Mothersill
Rountree Wrigley
Colours Navy Blue     
Publication The Blue Print

The Blue Coat School[2] is a mixed gender Church of England academy for 11- to 18-year-olds, located in the town of Oldham, Greater Manchester, England.

The school caters for pupils aged 11–18, offering A-level and GCSE courses. It is one of the few schools in the country to hold Leading Edge Partnership programme and science college status. Prior to becoming leading edge, Blue Coat had been a beacon school. This means the school has social responsibility to help develop other secondary schools in the area, as well as themselves.

The motto of the school is from the Latin: Semper Quaereamus Virtutem "Let us always seek virtue".


Thomas Henshaw, who died in 1810, left the sum of £40,000 (£2.6 million as of 2016)[3] for the endowment of the Blue Coat School.[4] The estate was tied up in litigation for many years but was eventually released. As no provision had been made for the cost of the building, a public meeting was held in Oldham in September 1825, when offers of land were received, and a public appeal was launched for funds to build the school. From the design of the architect Richard Lane, a start was made in 1829 when the foundation stone was laid, and the school was opened in 1834. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, the school continued to maintain and instruct between 100 and 130 boys.

In July 1952, the trustees decided that, as the number of boarders in residence was gradually decreasing, Blue Coat should be closed as a residential school and the building converted for use as a secondary modern day school. This plan was effected, and the school became co-educational accommodating approximately 400 students.

The Oldham Henshaw and Church of England Educational Trust, constituted in 1950, had as one of its aims the building and maintenance of new secondary schools, and one of its objectives was to provide a Special Agreement secondary school by extending and reorganising the Blue Coat into a comprehensive school. This plan was realised in September 1966 when the Blue Coat School became fully comprehensive. It is now a nine form entry voluntary aided comprehensive school admitting 218 boys and girls each year, with a sixth form, the majority of whom go on to Higher Education. Voluntary aided status means that the governors of the school are responsible for the upkeep of all buildings and have to rely on the financial support and generosity of parents and friends of the school.

Current information

Recent government grants[5] have enabled the school to venture into a multi-million pound building scheme. So far additions have been a wheelchair lift to increase disabled access; and the reconstruction and further reconstruction of the school's main entrance. In 1994 the school completed a major fund-raising campaign, enabling it to build a new science department building, which was completed in 1995. Completed in 2005, the new multi-million pound sports hall opened on the west side of the school grounds, and due to this increase in PE space, the school has converted the old girls' gym into the new whole-school restaurant, also this building was extended with more eating areas downstairs, and a second floor mezzanine for the 6th form students. With the whole school catered for in the restaurant, the house block which contained the old canteens was closed down. This has now been turned from a dated 1960s 6 classroom building into a 12 classroom 21st century building still housing the 3 houses on each floor. Also, the building near the entrance gates has been refurbished and had structural work done, forming a new building for more music activities, such as those who have music lessons (vocal, strings, brass and more) to improve musical abilities.

The Blue Coat school serves a broad catchment area, providing an education for those who live in the areas of Oldham, Manchester, Tameside and Rochdale. Physically, the school is located within easy walking distance of Oldham Town Centre. Currently, there are around 1100 pupils in the main school, with an additional 300 in the sixth form. There are also over 150 members of staff, teaching or otherwise.

During a school year, there are three communions (Christmas, Easter and end of year) and the assemblies during the school time have a strong Christian theme. Reflecting the strong Christian ethos of the school, Religious Studies continues to be compulsory taught subject for pupils at GCSE level.

As is the case in most English secondary schools, in years seven to nine, pupils study a broad range of subjects in Key Stage 3, before taking Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) in the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Science in year 9. These examinations test the competency of both the pupils' understanding of each subject as well as the standard of their teaching. Years ten and eleven Key Stage 4 involves work which leads to General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) qualifications. Pupils must take the core subjects of Mathematics, English (Language and Literature), Science (Double or Triple), and R.S (Religious Studies). In addition to these, pupils are given the option of four more subjects, one being a language and another being a Humanity, plus two extras which could be Drama Studies, Information Technology, Physical Education, Business Studies, or one of several Design and Technology courses. They will also choose a reserve subject, in case they cannot get in a class of one of the subjects or there isn't enough people to make a class. The reserve subject will then replace this subject.

After finishing GCSEs, further education is not compulsory. Pupils can choose to stay at the sixth form for years twelve and thirteen. Alternatively they could choose another sixth form college, such as Oldham Sixth Form College or Ashton Sixth Form College. However, some students look for work by this stage, for a variety of reasons. Should pupils stay on at Blue Coat in year 12, they will be required to choose four subjects to study for AS-level. The school currently offers around 30 different and diverse courses. In year 13, each student keeps at least three of these subjects for A2-level. Students will have the option of keeping all of their subjects through A2, doing three A2-levels and one new AS-level, or just three A2-levels in year 13. The intensity of sixth-form is high, with a large amount of coursework expected in each subject, as well as exams at the end of each year. This is in-line with the narrower and more focused nature of the AS and A2-level qualifications.

Having completed sixth form, students have several options. These include going to University, finding work or taking a gap year.

The most recent Ofsted inspection was in 2008.[6] The school received an outstanding report overall, receiving an excellent rating for teaching in several areas and for management and leadership. The Blue Coat School has the most successful state Sixth Form Centre in the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, from A/AS Level Results in 2007.[7][8] The school has traditionally excelled in the league tables under measures of absolute GCSE and A-Level attainment. However the achievement gap between Bluecoat and other local schools is less-stark under the new contextual value added measures of absolute educational progress, introduced by the UK government. In fact in 2008, Grange School in the town, achieved a higher level 2 CVA score than Blue Coat overall, despite having only a 28% GCSE pass rate compared with Bluecoat's 81%.[9] Although it is to be cautioned that small differences in overall CVA scores may not be statistically significant, it is still interesting that schools with such differing GCSE performance overall could have such similar CVA scores.

Pastoral care

Blue Coat School uses a house system; for all students within the school. When students join the school they are allocated to one of three houses - Birley Hall, Lord Mothersill and Rountree Wrigley - all named after former governors at the school. Students whose elder family members have studied at the school are usually put within the same houses as those relatives. In some cases both parents and children have studied at the Blue Coat School and have been in the same house as each other (in some more extreme cases, with the same head of house).

There are nine "forms" in the School between years seven and eleven, and each house looks after three. The names of the forms are Birley, Hall, Birley Hall, Lord, Mothersill, Lord Mothersill, Rountree, Wrigley, and Rountree Wrigley. They will then have their year number added onto the name of the form to get their exact form name e.g. Birley in year 7 is Birley 7, Rountree in year 11 is Rountree 11. In the sixth form, there are eight forms within each year.

Each house used to have a head and deputy, but despite still being allocated to houses, the students are now looked after in year groups. Each year group now has a Director of Learning. They look after pastoral care and discipline for students within that year. The school has House Coordinators to arrange and coordinate house events to ensure the school still retains its house system and to enable the students to retain their house identity.

The students have a twenty-minute break after two, one hour lessons and a 50 minute lunch break after a further two, one hour lessons then assembly then one more, one hour lesson.

The Year Eleven and Sixth Form students are expected to offer guidance and leadership to students in the lower years of the School. Older students are more likely to take an active part in the houses religious celebrations around Christmas and Easter.

The Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) has an Assistant Head Teacher in overall charge supported by separate Heads of year. These take over the main pastoral responsibilities from the house heads for students within that year group . They also take on greater responsibilities for that year group such as preparing the student for external exams and guiding students on their future after leaving the School. WIth the help of the sixth form form tutors, they also help to write the references for the students on application forms for higher education and jobs after leaving the school. The Sixth Form and year eleven and ten have their own social facilities.

Senior Students

Since 2008, at the end of their lower 6th year (year 12), student's in the sixth form are able to apply for a position as a senior student. These positions include the house captains as well as the head boy and head girl. They are responsible for taking a leading role in school life and representing the school at various community events. Senior students lead preparations for the Year 13 leavers prom, and also suggest charities the sixth form, subsequently decided through a ballet process, donate to. In 2008 this included the Head Boy Ryan Wan and Head Girl Olivia Price appearing on TV during The Royal British Legion's "Festival of Remembrance".

Annual events

Admissions policy and criticism

The area in Oldham where the school is based consists predominantly of the most deprived areas in the North West. However, despite this local deprivation it is unclear, to what extent local pupils benefit from the presence of the school. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the school's policy of religious selection - in many cases those who live closest to the school are denied access with their places assigned to students who live further away, but better meet the School's arbitrary religious selection criteria. For this reason the catchment area of the school is very broad, and extends over much of Rochdale, Oldham, Manchester and Tameside.

Both Blue Coat, and also sister school Crompton House Church of England School in Shaw, have a consistently excellent track record of high achievement at GCSE and A-Level, in an area of entrenched educational underachievement. However both schools, have received heavy criticism in the past for their Christian-only admissions policies. These used to ensure that the children of non-Anglican families were excluded from the two best schools in the Oldham area on entirely religious grounds. This faith-based admissions policy proved controversial, and led to accusations that the predominantly white, Christian school was wholly unrepresentative of the ethnic makeup of the local area. It should be noted that approximately 25% of Oldham's 250,000 strong population consists of Muslim families, the majority of which are originally of Pakistani and Bangladeshi extraction[10]

These policies caused the school to be thrust uncomfortably into the glare and scrutiny of the media spotlight in the aftermath of the Oldham Riots, and the schools attracted criticism. The Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis cited Blue Coat as an example of a school which has only a few non-white pupils despite being in a predominantly ethnic-minority area.[11] This erroneous statement was made even though he had never visited the area, which is in a predominantly white working class area. Consequently, both schools found themselves open to accusations of racism, and that they were helping to foster educational "apartheid"[12] by helping to further perpetuate the high-levels of racial segregation in the town.

However, the admissions policy has changed markedly in recent years. The 2008 school admissions policy [13] for Year 7 pupils welcomes applications from any religion that is part of the UK Inter-Faith Network [14] This includes the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish faiths, along with many others. This document states that applications from members of these faiths will be judged using the same criteria as for Christian applicants.

Even with this recent change in policy to broaden the basis of selection, the fact still remains that Blue Coat is still effectively a selective school albeit on religious rather than financial or academic grounds. As might be expected, church schools such as Blue Coat are keen to stress their egalitarian philosophy and principles, and the good work performed by school pupils in the local community. To the school's credit it is a regular supporter of many local good causes, with Rochdale Hospice in particular traditionally being a major benefactor.

As might be expected though, this central pillar of the school's admission policy has made it an easy target for critics of religious selection who have sought to criticise the school in the past. Such critics typically seek to argue that although selection exclusively on religious grounds might seem outwardly egalitarian, it actually does just as much to reinforce inequality as the academic selection practiced by grammar schools or the implicit financial selection inherent in independent schools. However, in terms of its admissions policies, Bluecoat is arguably no different from any number of similar faith schools across the UK who maintain similar admissions practices. Indeed, given the recent changes to the school's policies there is a good case to be made that is more equitable than most. Unfortunately, Blue Coat has had this misfortune of being located in an area that suffered from a race riot, which has inevitably led to a spotlight being focussed on the school's policies at a national level. Such attention has arguably made it an 'easy target' for such criticism.

Despite the change in admissions criteria to include those of other faiths, as of 2010 Blue Coat School has not admitted any pupils that are not regular attenders at Anglican churches for the past two years.[15] Extract from their Guidance to Parents on Admissions:

The following information is offered as an indication of patterns and trends.

Criteria 4 is defined by the school as, "Children whose parent (s) or legal guardian (s) show evidence[1] that the child and one parent/ legal guardian are active members of the Church of England, by a worship attendance of not less than fortnightly over a period of three years as of 31 August 2010. "Fortnightly" means attendance at least 24 weekly services per year."[16]

Criticisms of this are:

An example of this is the following parent's comment on Richard Dawkin's attack on Faith Schools: "I think you're mistaking parents who send their children to CofE or RCC church primaries for believers when many are not. All over the country determined and motivated parents attend "feeder" churches to ensure their children meet the entry requirements for the best primaries. These churches are packed with young families. Once the children are older, and the school places obtained, the family's church attendance drops off or ceases entirely, only to be replaced in the pew by the next ambitious young family."[20]


In 2014 the buildings of the Blue Coat school were renamed after notable people from Oldham. For example, Patrick Steptoe was the man who invented IVF and first used it in Oldham. They were voted for by staff and pupils.

Notable members of staff

Notable former pupils

Secondary modern school


  1. Oldham News | News Headlines | Blue Coat marches forward as academy - Chronicle Online
  2. "Welcome to Blue Coat School". 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
  3. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  4. "Welcome to Blue Coat School". 2007. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  5. 'Revolution' in the classroom | Oldham Advertiser -
  6. Winsley Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School
  7. "BBC News - Education - League Tables - Secondary Schools - Oldham". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
  8. "BBC News - Education - League Tables - Secondary Schools in Oldham - The Blue Coat CofE School". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
  9. "Secondary schools in Oldham". BBC News. 2009-01-15. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  10. Tough lessons in ending racial tension, Independent Education, February 15, 2007
  11. Church says its schools must be open to all, Independent January 15, 2002, Richard Gardner
  12. Lets Keep God Out of Class, Poly Tynbeee, The Guardian, Friday November 9, 2001,,590352,00.html
  13. The Blue Coat School, Oldham, Admissions Policy 2008 For Year 7 Entry in 2008
  14. The Inter Faith Network for the UK, promoting good interfaith relations
  17. The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion
  18. The Bishop of Portsmouth, chairman of the Board of Education, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, reaffirming the Church of England's commitment to ... inclusive schools, with places not only for practising Christian families but also for those of other faiths ... He said that all new Church of England schools should offer at least 25 per cent of places on a local priority basis, without faith-related criteria. Almost all recently opened secondary schools have admissions policies that either offer 50 per cent or 100 per cent of places on a local priority basis ... We hope that our commitment to inclusive schools will be better planted in the public mind ... Canon John Hall, Church of England's Chief Education Officer.
  19. The Church of England's Media Centre
  20. Faith School Menace? Richard Dawkins denounces religious education as 'wicked practice' | eChurch Blog
  21. "Celebrity guest confirmed for 'Our Oldham' launch party". Press Release Reference: LJ/PR/CYPF/101/08. Oldham Council. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
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