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The sense of a new belonging: the excitement sparked by the gift of a teddy bear (The Hallfield Bear) to all reception children. When pupils were asked to sum up their school in a single word the normal gushy ones such as 'fun' and 'amazing' featured. More revealing were the words 'changing' and 'trustworthy'. For a school so close to the centre of Birmingham, it is good to see that…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Interim Headmaster

Richard J Batchelor, previously director of studies, is holding the fort during the 2017/18 school year. The new head from September 2018 will be Keith Morrow, currently head of The Elms, junior school to Trent College. BA in geography and education from Hull and postgrad education qualification from Bishop Grosseteste College; leadership experience at several state primary schools before joining The Elms.

Entrance

This is a selective school with a current boy-girl ratio of 55:45, girls and boys being assessed for their suitability to learn from 2+ onwards, whilst more formalised tests in English, maths and reasoning are set for those who wish to enter from year 3 and above. A small number of bursaries is available on a means-tested basis.

Exit

As Disraeli observed, statistics can lie; but these ones don’t, for the fact that Hallfield pupils won 36 scholarships to schools such as King Edward’s School and King Edward's High in 2017, and achieved an 83 per cent pass rate for grammar school entry, constitutes the clearest evidence of the school’s academic power.

Our view

Unsurprisingly it all starts at the beginning and with the sense of a new belonging: the excitement sparked by the gift of a teddy bear (The Hallfield Bear) to all reception children…. And so, an unofficial competition starts as to where each bear can visit. We met one animated 4 year old who, having built some kind of rocket in the garden (assisted by his father), seemed convinced that his teddy had gone to the moon. The recent ISI report rates the school’s EYFS provision as outstanding in all areas.

This surge of excellence continues as pupils make their transition to the more senior years. Given the 11+ aspirations of parents the academic pace is a strong one, but the pupils are comfortable with it and benefit hugely from recent reforms such as the half-hour of reading-time that takes place in the post-lunch period. SEND organisation and tuition – as recognised by this year’s ISI inspection - is outstanding. The line between confidence and arrogance can be a thin one, especially for those academically blessed, but all those whom we met possessed the kind of humility and openness that would delight any parent. When they were asked to sum up their school in a single word the normal gushy ones such as 'fun' and 'amazing' featured. More revealing were the words 'changing' and 'trustworthy'. As in all high-ranking schools, Hallfield is unafraid of change; not because it clings to that odious phrase ‘going forward’, but because it knows the truth that only through change can things improve.

And reform is transparent. On an annual basis, a ‘further information’ brochure is published which sets out the ‘aims for the year’. These, for 2106-17, included integrating the newly-established forest school more fully into the curriculum and providing a splendid entrance area for the pre-prep to spruce up its current rather tired appearance. Use of tablet technology will be extended throughout the school.

If children have faith in the school’s flair for change, then so do the teachers. Longer-serving staff talked with great warmth about the more concise and efficient systems of management and tuition techniques that have been put in place, whilst new staff stressed to us how friendly and supportive everyone had been. Thus, an atmosphere has been created where, they reported, their pupils 'don’t want to go home'.

This is in great part due to the kaleidoscope of activity that the school provides. For a school so close to the centre of Birmingham, it is good to see that the playing fields are so extensive. This enables the school to run many teams in football, rugby and cricket for the boys (twice in the last three years the footballers have reached the national finals, played at St George’s, England’s headquarters) whilst the girls – known as The Vixens – form a similar number of teams for fixtures in hockey, netball and rounders. All children in the upper school take part in cross-country, gymnastics and swimming. Badminton is a special strength and nearly as many boys are in the dance club as girls. The school won the national championship in chess a few years ago.

Musically the pattern of quality is the same as specialist teachers lead choirs, orchestras and ensembles. Recently a senior girl won a place in the National Children’s Choir and an Old Hallfieldian reached the last eight of X Factor as part of the girl-group Four of Diamonds. Drama, too, is spectacular; arguably the highlight is the Shakespeare Week for year 6 where the Young Shakespeare Company come in and take the children from base-camp to a performance-peak in five days: recently Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

Externally, links are strong - not only with other independent schools but also with local primaries. Hallfield runs holiday courses and masterclasses.

As with any school, not everything in the garden is lovely: not least as a result of the current badger-invasion which has created an explosion of muddy pyramids outside the head’s study window. The gym will shortly be fitted out with new flooring and acoustic panelling that will soften the noise. The car park will soon benefit from more investment, designed to produce a more ordered flow. And soon, we hope, it could be sensible to amend the distinctly bizarre system of form nomenclature, which sees every new member of staff working under an irrelevant initial from a former master or mistress. A recent appointment took over the letter ‘u’.

These, however, are tiny blemishes. On our visit parents lauded the school, stating that they were 'so delighted with the pastoral care' as 'everyone is treated as an individual'. Another said that her girls 'had thrived so much', whilst a mother in the pre-prep remembered that her son’s 'tears at the start' had rapidly dried because 'all the staff are absolutely fantastic'.

All commented on the school’s ultra-slick emails and texts. Electronic communication actually seems to work here, and everyone benefits as parents are kept up to date with what has happened and are sent reminders regarding future events.

Consequently, a kind of golden triangle has been drawn: one that combines children, staff and parents in a triple quest for excellence. Of late, alumni relations have been developed and the fact that an Old Hallfieldian is, by custom, invited back to address the school at speech day gives a completeness and a vision to it all. Last summer the first girl at the school, who joined in 1995, was the guest of honour.

The Hallfield Pen has the words A World-Class Education on it. That, perhaps, is for some international panel to judge, but this school, for all that it does, is very much one to consider.

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