We visit one of the hardest Birmingham secondary schools to get into & learned some valuable lessons

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BirminghamWorld pays a visit to one of Birmingham’s top-rated secondary schools where some valuable life lessons are being taught.

Stepping into Nishkam High School, I was immediately struck by a unique atmosphere flowing through its classrooms and communal areas.

The school, rated outstanding by Ofsted, is one of the toughest schools in Birmingham to gain admission into for pupils, and it’s not hard to see why.

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Opened as a free school in September 2012, it forms part of the multi-academy trust of schools known as the Nishkam Schools Multi-Academy Trust.

Upon entering, the first sight that greets visitors is the bright yellow spiritual space, bathed in the soft glow of open ceiling lights.

Nishkam High School’s spiritual spaceNishkam High School’s spiritual space
Nishkam High School’s spiritual space | Birmingham World

This space serves as the main attraction, symbolising the school’s ethos that is deeply rooted in the Sikh faith.

Yet, it embraces a multi-faith approach, encouraging pupils to practise their own faith while learning about major world religions.

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Guided by Co-Principal Mrs Emma Wilks, who has over 24 years of experience of teaching with four years at Nishkam, I began to understand what makes the school so special. “Unlike some single faith schools, Nishkam Schools invites and welcomes all faiths,” she explained.

“The school’s distinctive multi-faith, virtues-led approach positively nurtures children from diverse backgrounds, emphasising collective worship and learning from faith experiences.”

The walls of the central area, where the spiritual space is located, are adorned with plaques showcasing virtues of compassion, humility, service, contentment, optimism, truth, and forgiveness. These virtues are not just decorative elements, they are the names of the school houses teams for students.

Mrs Wilks explains, “We use virtues to empower our students with values that enable them to excel academically and spiritually, to better themselves.”

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As we walked through the corridors, she greeted each student by name — an impressive testament to her dedication and the school’s intimate environment.

Nishkam high school's hallwayNishkam high school's hallway
Nishkam high school's hallway | Birmingham World

With approximately 650 students and an average of 25-26 pupils per classroom, the school’s small size is a conscious choice, allowing for a more personalised and attentive educational experience.

Mrs Wilks champions the fact that all teachers at Nishkam are experts in their fields, continually offering opportunities for further education. “We encourage our staff to continually develop their expertise, which allows them to bring fresh perspectives and innovative teaching methods into the classroom,” she said.

This commitment to professional growth is one of the many factors that sets Nishkam High School apart, contributing to its ‘Outstanding’ rating by Ofsted and its reputation as one of the toughest schools in Birmingham to gain admission to.

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Nishkam high school principals’ Mrs Emma Wilks and Mr Chris Deeks Nishkam high school principals’ Mrs Emma Wilks and Mr Chris Deeks
Nishkam high school principals’ Mrs Emma Wilks and Mr Chris Deeks | Nishkam high school

I also spoke with Co-Principal Mr Chris Deeks who joined Nishkam High School in 2015 and oversees the day-to-day running of the school. He highlighted the school’s commitment to student wellbeing—a key factor contributing to its high admission standards.

This can be seen in the support they are offering students as GCSE exams get underway as the school provides comprehensive wellbeing advice to ensure students remain stress-free.

This includes a range of extracurricular activities designed to help students prepare for their exams beyond the classroom.

“Nishkam High School firmly believes that the wellbeing of our students is as crucial as their academic achievements,” Mr Deeks said. The school’s nurturing environment is crafted to make students feel supported and appreciated, fostering a passion for learning and a drive for excellence.

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The school also takes great pride in its Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support, with a dedicated team of five staff members offering unique learning experiences.

“These include accessibility across the school and practical activities like trips to the supermarket, which allow SEN students to engage with different learning environments and apply their knowledge in real-world settings.” adds Mr. Deeks.

Niskham High SchoolNiskham High School
Niskham High School | Birmingham World

Contrary to the belief that Nishkam High School’s focus is solely on faith, its ethos extends far beyond religious education. The school equips students for university, the workforce, and daily life, instilling essential skills and values for success in a multicultural society.

A testament to the school’s celebration of diversity is the vibrant Culture Day, an annual event where students dress up to represent their cultural heritage. Suggested by Year 13 students, it’s a day that celebrates the rich tapestry of cultures within the student body. “It’s one of my favourite days,” said Mrs Emma Wilks, “to see everyone’s culture on display.”

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The school’s walls are a canvas of student life, showcasing highlights from Year 7 to Sixth Form. Artworks, achievements, and snapshots of school visitors, all tell the story of an engaged, and diverse student community.

Artwork presented in Nishkam High SchoolArtwork presented in Nishkam High School
Artwork presented in Nishkam High School | Birmingham World

From classrooms buzzing with intellectual curiosity to quiet corners where students engage in reflection, the school acts its mission of nurturing their students to be compassionate and responsible human beings, which adds to its innovative teaching methods different from other schools.

When asked about what parents and prospective students should understand about the school, Mrs Wilks replied with passion, saying: “We open our doors and say, ‘Come and have a look.’ Nothing gives me greater pride than walking visitors around our building, inviting them to join us for collective worship in the morning. Within a very short period, they get it—they feel it and understand it. You don’t need to be here long to grasp who we are, our purpose, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

As for the admission process, Mr. Deeks dispelled misconceptions. “It’s really interesting that even now, some believe there’s a selection process. But there never has been; we’re not a selective school. Parents often ask how to secure a place.

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“Our advice? Just apply. Putting Nishkam as your first choice matters. Last year, during appeals, families who hadn’t secured a place had put us third or fourth. It’s about prioritising the school you truly want.”

As I left the school, I left with a sense of admiration for the school’s commitment to academic excellence, spiritual growth, and the development of virtues. Nishkam High School nurtures the holistic development of its students, preparing them not just for academic success, but also for a life of service and virtue.

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