It is a boys' school, although it shares the site, and is twinned, with King Edward VI High School for Girls (KEHS). Whilst the two schools are run completely separately, dramatic arts, societies, music and other events are often shared; the schools also share a couple of hockey pitches and several clubs. The shared area is called Winterbourne after the nearby Winterbourne Botanic Garden.
The Foundation was created on 2 January 1552 by Royal Charter of King Edward VI together with £20 per annum returned by The Crown for educational purposes. Five years earlier in 1547 the Act of Suppression, part of the wider Dissolution of the Monasteries, provided for the confiscation of all assets of religious guilds except an amount of land with an annual income of £21 (two thirds of the original lands) if the guild supported a school. The Guild of the Holy Cross in Birmingham had no school, but persuaded the Earl of Northumberland (also the lord of the manor of Birmingham) to release the land for the creation of a school. The charter of the free Grammer Schole of King Edward VI was issued on 2 January 1552, and the school came into being in the former guild building on New Street. By the 1680s there were neer 200 boys in the school and a Petty School (a feeder school) had been established by the foundation.
The affairs of the school in the early part of the 18th century were dominated by a quarrel between a governor and the headmaster, but this notwithstanding, a new Georgian inspired building was built on the New Street site between 1731 and 1734. In the latter part of the 18th Century four separate elementary schools and a girls' school were set up by the Foundation of the Schools of King Edward VI. The school remained relatively stagnant after this until Francis Jeune was appointed Headmaster in 1835. He erected a new building on the same site, in the Gothic Style of architecture. This was designed by Charles Barry, who employed Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin for aspects of the interior design, generally held to be Big School and, less certainly, the decorative battlements. (Barry, again employing Pugin, subsequently designed the present Palace of Westminster). From within this new landmark building came several changes in the curriculum and ethos of the school. Sports became an important feature, through games afternoons, and the dominance of Classics was lessened by the introduction of mathematics and science.
By 1936 the old building on New Street had become a fire risk, and plans were made by the Governors and the then Headmaster, Edwin Thirlwall England, to move to a new site at Edgbaston Park Road/Bristol Road, in Edgbaston, along with the girls' school. Ironically, the temporary buildings erected on the new site in 1936 burnt down. The school was forced to move, if only for a short time, to the University of Birmingham's Great Hall and surrounding buildings until new temporary buildings could be erected. The move was complicated by the outbreak of the Second World War, and the subsequent evacuation of the pupils to Repton School for a short period. By 1940 enough of the new buildings designed by Holland W. Hobbiss had been built for the school to begin lessons. In 1945 the schools became direct grant grammar schools, which meant that the Governors had to relinquish some control over the running of the school. The schools were finally completed around 1948, although the 1950s saw a period of expansion under the Chief Master Ronald G. Lunt, appointed 1952, including the construction of a swimming pool and the building of a Chapel from a specially salvaged portion of the upper corridor of the New Street building. In 1976 the two schools became, once again, independent schools, due to the termination of the Direct Grant scheme by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The school remains independent and is still on the Edgbaston site.
In 2010 the school replaced A levels with the International Baccalaureate diploma.