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What says..

Knowledge-based curriculum is evolving to become one that also emphasises skills, creativity and the encouragement of curiosity. The school site is attractively spacious, particularly given its proximity to the centre of Birmingham.  There is lots of room outside for just sitting about as well as playing ping pong, exploring the forest school and enjoying the various ...

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What the school says...

In September 2020 we are launching Hallfield Seniors. To find out more about joining Year 7, please email [email protected]

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2018, Keith Morrow (40s). Studied geography at University of Hull, was a head by the age of 30, has turned round a failing state school, been an Ofsted inspector and is an ISI lead inspector. He started off teaching infants, then took over as head of infants, was a deputy head in a tough school in special measures before becoming a head in a small, rural Lincolnshire school. Becoming increasingly disillusioned with constant political meddling, he decided to move out of the state system and take over the headship of The Elms (junior school for Trent College), in 2007. Here he more than doubled the numbers thanks in no small part to his clear vision about what excellence should look like in an independent school.

He makes a strong impression - not just his considerable physical presence but also his energy and obvious versatility and enthusiasm. The changes he has instigated at Hallfield since he arrived are exhausting just to hear about. He has changed the school day (shorter lessons, longer day), restructured the staff, modified the uniform (bright red blazers for all and house ties), introduced prefects and revitalised the curriculum. Underlying all this is a drive to shift the culture of the school to one that meets the needs of families in the 2020s. ‘A breath of fresh air’, is how parents describe him.

Hallfield has a very strong academic reputation, bright children and very aspirational, hard-working, successful parents. Mr Morrow felt parents were being expected to pay too much for add-ons that are increasingly seen as essentials in independent education. Accordingly, he has extended pre-prep provision, offered free after-school care up to 4.30 and free morning care from 8am and introduced a breakfast club. He wants a school where the child-centred focus extends to parents and all staff are expected to have a customer care approach. Parents report that staff are very accessible and quick to pick up on any problems.

Determined to use every opportunity to inspire curiosity in children, Mr Morrow’s own room is a treasure trove of small delights. Children are warmly welcomed in - every child visits at least once a year on their birthday - to enjoy the telescope, huge globe, Harry Potter memorabilia, soft toys and even the headmaster’s dog who is often in residence.

Perhaps Mr Morrow’ boldest move has been to extend the school upwards to include years 7 and 8 (from September 2020). This seems counterintuitive considering that most prep schools, including Hallfield itself, closed their year 7 and 8 provision some years ago. But Mr Morrow is convinced parents are looking for wider choice and numbers for the new year 7 suggest his instinct is well placed. Recent changes to the Birmingham state grammar schools’ admissions policies also make it the right time for a fresh look at 11+ options. As with any radical change, opinion is divided. Some parents are enthused and positive; others worry that the school may lose sight of its core goal of getting children into top schools at 11+. It is generally regarded as a brave decision on Mr Morrow’s part and certainly evidence that he has the vision and confidence to push for changes that he sees as right, even if they are not universally popular.

Mr Morrow met his wife during their freshers’ week and learnt to drive a double decker bus to earn money so they could start their married living in their own home. They have two sons one at university studying cyber security and the other on a postgraduate law course.

Entrance

Nursery is first come, first served. Thereafter by assessments according to age. Informal assessments with younger children to ensure they will thrive in the Hallfield setting. Post 7+ assessment is more formal, looking at what the children have already learnt as well as potential. A small number of means-tested bursaries. In September 2020 the school is launching Hallfield Seniors.

Exit

Around 20 per cent to state grammar schools. The rest to local independents, lots to the two highly selective King Edward’s schools, with a regular handful of scholarships. Expansion up to year 8 indicates an ambition to send pupils to some of the big name public schools. Arrangements are already in place with Rugby, Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove, Repton, to offer boarding places in year 9 on the basis of testing in year 5.

Our view

Long regarded as a ‘proper’ academic prep that primes its pupils for entry to the excellent, highly selective Birmingham secondary schools, Hallfield's success in doing this is still a big draw for parents. But what constitutes an excellent prep school is evolving and Hallfield is too, exemplified by the change in its strap line from ‘outstanding 11+ results’ to ‘happy, secure, purposeful’. The heavily knowledge-based curriculum is developing to become one that also emphasises skills, creativity and the encouragement of curiosity. The head of science and computing promotes the STEM approach, ensuring the children can see the applications of scientific theory. There are also lots of practicals which the children love. Enrichment afternoons offer pupils the chance to find out more about philosophy, first aid, financial awareness, Latin, animal care, dance, drama, women in politics. It all sounds great, however, when we asked a group of year 5s what they were doing on the enrichment afternoon, they told us it was 11+ practice. Nothing changes! When we raised this with the school they said that it was better than doing 11+ practice five days a week, which may be true but it’s stretching the concept rather thin. The same year 5 group told us they were doing at least three extracurricular activities each, the implication being that they had their fill of enrichment at other times.

The change in approach may have led to one or two parents moving children because they don’t feel the school is doing enough to push their academic progress, but many others spoke very positively of teachers’ support for children with dyslexia and other learning needs and confirmed that it wasn’t just children who were in the top academic percentile who were happy here. Staff are very willing to work with parents on how best to support their children – one parent told us about being taught phonics by her daughter’s teacher so she could help more with reading at home.

Indicative of the innovations is the Creative Cottage, a newly-converted store house that is the pre-prep art studio. With murals, a glass kiln, an excellent library, large soft toy animals, old storage cupboards converted into sea, sky and forest dens and a flock of hens (outside), this is a truly magical space adored by the children and testament to the creative inspiration of the head of pre-prep art (who also happens to be the headmaster’s wife). Another strategic use of space has created a music school, opened by Julian Lloyd Webber no less. The director of music tells us music is going from strength to strength with numerous ensemble groups, an orchestra and choirs. Each year 3 pupil is given an instrument and receives instruction for the year. All parents to whom we spoke saw this renaissance of music as an excellent move, demonstrating the school’s wider aspirations for the children. DT too has been reinvigorated with a new space. Children spoke enthusiastically both about the clocks they were constructing and learning the science of curry making.

The nursery occupies a lovely self-contained building with its own outdoor spaces. Parents spoke positively about the level of pastoral care throughout the school, noting that children seem to be genuinely known by teaching and non-teaching staff. Staff drew attention to the fact that city living means some children have little contact with animals or opportunity to watch things grow so there is lots of teaching around animals, helped by a flock of hens, guinea pigs and various staff dogs, and growing and cooking vegetables.

The choice of extracurricular options has expanded. Chess is huge - one boy recently won an U18 competition. Plenty of sport and matches against nearby schools with Hallfield often fielding B and C teams, though one or two parents said they would like even more of a sports focus. Trips draw on the rich cultural Midlands offering - CBSO, BRB, Royal Shakespeare Company’s children’s workshops are all big draws. There are hugely popular residentials too as the children get older.

Birmingham is a multicultural city and Hallfield attracts a large number of Asian families as well as, increasingly, those from some of the city’s other ethnic groups. Regardless of religious affiliation, parents seem to love the school’s traditional services at the large local Anglican Church.

The pupil voice is taken seriously and children are told that teachers will listen to any comments about the school so long as they are expressed politely. A children’s charter outlines expectations and pupils can nominate each other for a children’s charter award. The approach to discipline is on the positive reinforcement end of the spectrum, rewards for good behaviour culminate in the ‘golden ticket’ where the kind, thoughtful, considerate child can have lunch with the headmaster, eat off a gold table cloth and drink from gold cups. A red and yellow card system comes into operation after a ‘stop and think’ warning. You might get a yellow card for failing to listen to a teacher and a red card for persistently forgetting sports kit. Parents commented favourably on the emphasis placed on good manners and were supportive of the new card system. The behaviour we observed was excellent - even in the nursery where everyone was fast asleep just when they should be.

The school site is attractively spacious, particularly given its proximity to the centre of Birmingham. There is lots of room outside for just sitting about as well as playing ping pong, exploring the forest school and enjoying the various adventure playgrounds. It is built on a slope and while the different levels add variety, they make it quite complicated for a visitor. A large and very clear map of the site in one of the central corridors certainly helps. Buildings range from the original 19th century villa to more modern additions. Sports facilities are very good, including two Astroturfs. But children, being children, would like a swimming pool of their own, rather than having to use the one owned by the independent school next door.

In a highly competitive area for outstanding schools, what makes this one special? It may once have been regarded (not necessarily unfavourably) as an 11+ crammer, but things have moved on. An excellent nursery, an exciting curriculum, great results and ambitious, forward looking leadership mean that Hallfield stands out from the crowd.

Special Education Needs


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