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The head writes welcome cards for each of the new arrivals during their first week. This, though, can hardly compare to the excitement sparked by the gift of a teddy bear (The Hallfield Bear) to all reception children… 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 ...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2012, Roger Outwin-Flinders – a sparkling 50-something. Intuitive and incisive, he grew up in Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the nation, where he 'could see the sunshine first in the morning.' Educated at Lowestoft Grammar and St Paul’s College in Cheltenham where he read geography and PE. Spent his early teaching career in north London, Sussex and Worcestershire before becoming, at the age of 33, one of the country’s youngest headmasters when he took up position at Wycliffe College Junior School. Still sporty (ask him about his paragliding adventures in Mauritius and his plans for his first parachute jump), after eight years at Wycliffe - in which roll-numbers nearly doubled - he moved to Fairfield School in Loughborough, a part of The Loughborough Endowed Schools Foundation. There he had a similar impact, being a driving force behind the establishment of their music school which is a hub of excellence for both junior and senior departments. Given this background, governors would not have had to mull long over their 2012 appointment, for here is a man who epitomises all that a head should be. For, as each member of staff and pupil whom we met testified, he has revolutionised his school.

Formerly it was, perhaps, overly-concerned with the detail of its balance-sheets. Now it quite clearly has a more concentrated educative focus and, most crucially of all, a soul. Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the recent introduction of Hallfield’s Children’s Charter. Many schools have tried to navigate this route but it so often stops with a wall-display or a few trite sentences in the back of a prep diary. Not at Hallfield; for here every child is given a fold-out aide-memoire of business card size which centres the school’s ethical heart. It explains the meaning of being good friends, good citizens and good learners. The card is with pupils at all times and is therefore a constant reminder of their school’s expectations and ambitions.

Like all five-star heads, Mr Outwin-Flinders works around the clock, and then some more, but somehow still has the time for everybody and everything. In a school of such magnitude (numbers are the best part of 600) he has a mastery of names and represents a blend of traditionalism and modernity that parents clearly find highly appealing. For instance, one of his mantras is the word ‘standards’, which he applies both to appearance (children are conspicuously smart; shirts are in) and to language. He does not tolerate ‘we was’.

But this is no tweedian figure from a past time-warp. In partnership with his equally admirable wife, Tania - Hallfield’s communications officer – he has instigated a series of communication and literary initiatives that have helped to promote the school and move it into the premier division. Surfing through their lucid website will make that clear, but it doesn’t end there as the range of supporting literature is of equal quality. Both an elegant termly magazine The Hallfield Focus - which incorporates a section for The Old Hallfieldian Society - and a weekly e-newsletter are produced. Borders are coloured by a Farrow & Ball type of lichen green, a subtle contrast to the rather deeper green of the uniform. This is a clever modern touch, complementing the shield, with its date of the school’s foundation, 1879, still at the top.

Over the past year both the level of enquiries and open morning attendance figures are up, further underlining the fact that this is a school which excites. That Mr Outwin-Flinders is proud of it all is obvious. So should he be, but there is no tint of self-aggrandisement about him: his staff and children are given the credit for Hallfield’s success. Like a would-be Olympic high-jump medallist, he talks about the need to keep 'raising the bar'. His major role, he states, is 'to open doors and let people go through them.'

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 have won 126 scholarships to schools such as King Edward’s Birmingham, Edgbaston High School for Girls, Priory School and Solihull over the last four years, and in 2016 achieved a 75 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 head writes welcome cards for each of the new arrivals during their first week. This, though, can hardly compare to 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, include integrating the newly-established forest school more fully into the curriculum and providing a splendid entrance area for the pre-prep which will, no doubt, 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 has just 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: last year Hamlet, this year Romeo and Juliet. Designs for a new performing arts centre are well advanced.

Externally, links are strong - not only with other independent schools but also with local primaries. Hallfield runs holiday courses and masterclasses, and the head’s recent appointment as a governor of St Catherine’s School in Athens will open up a series of exchange opportunities.

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 has just taken 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 - another stylish idea from Mrs Outwin-Flinders. 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 and for the new insights that are bound to spring from such a committed head and his team, is very much one to consider.

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