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A member of the school council was in our midst and, on passing a board featuring his own beaming face and those of fellow councillors, he explained that the school is on the face of it run by the head and the teaching staff but that the school council also in fact has quite a say in what goes on around there. He did, however, lament the veto of a recent request to reinstate crisps as a breaktime snack. ‘Worth a try,’ he shrugged, philosophically. A well-stocked and meticulously organised library is arranged with…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Mrs Katherine Jeffrey has overall responsibility for New Hall School, both preparatory and senior divisions.

Preparatory school headteacher since September 2015 is Mrs Carole Goodwin BEd MEd, previously vice principal and head of lower school at Colchester High.

Entrance

Earliest joining point is at 3+ into the pre-reception class. Assessment is by nursery reports, parent interviews and trial sessions, but the school also carries out home visits and nursery visits, ‘so that we can build strong relationships with our families and ensure that a child’s start at New Hall is as smooth as possible’.

Exit

Some 70 per cent move up from New Hall’s year 6 to the senior school; the rest waylaid by the chart-topping state selective schools in Chelmsford and Colchester, one or two to other independents, and a very few to other state secondaries. Even New Hall Prep children must take the year 7 entry exam in English, maths and verbal reasoning and give a three-minute presentation to members of the senior school SLT to secure their transfer.

Our view

Shares the sweeping mile-long avenue approach to the main school, with a quick swerve to the left to reveal the self-contained wing that is the preparatory school. A more functional building than its palatial neighbour, the prep school is an elongated brick-built edifice with a central corridor on both floors, with spacious classrooms leading off either side, all with large windows drinking in the surrounding acreage.

Although this may appear to be a bricks-and-mortar learning environment for boys and girls aged 3 to 11, it is in actuality a vertex of the much-vaunted New Hall diamond model – pupils are taught co-ed for the preparatory years, split for single-sex lessons from 11 to 16 and brought back together again for the mixed sixth form. New Hall has been a well-publicised pioneer in this arrangement and recent academic results are certainly testament to its success.

Indeed, no sooner had we stepped across the threshold of the prep school than a display case fairly brimming with gleaming cups drew our eye, and our young guides were more than happy to rattle off the most recent accomplishments – many county and national – of young New Hall academics and athletes. A member of the school council was in our midst and, on passing a board featuring his own beaming face and those of fellow councillors, he explained that the school is on the face of it run by the head and the teaching staff but that the school council also in fact has quite a say in what goes on around there. He did, however, lament the veto of a recent request to reinstate crisps as a breaktime snack. ‘Worth a try,’ he shrugged, philosophically. Yet more cups proved the point that the house system (houses Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) provides scope for countless annual competitions and opportunities to rack up hotly contested house points, including house singing, book week (poetry recitals etc), swimming galas, general knowledge quizzes and sports days. Every Friday, the week’s house points are awarded to the house captains during the whole prep school assembly. Annual house cup presented at prize giving. Serious stuff.

A large assembly-cum-sports hall is central to the school. Brand new St Francis Chapel in the grounds, in its own garden with rabbits and chickens. This is a Catholic school and although those of all faiths and none are welcome, Christian values are at its core. Support and care for others, both in school and outside it, are fundamental to life here for even the smallest New Hall pupils. New Good Hope café donates proceeds to For Jimmy charity.

Pre-reception, reception and infant classes – two-form intake all through the school – line the ground floor corridor, all spacious rooms with their own outdoor fenced play and learning space. Usual maximum class size from reception to year 2 is 20. In years 3 to 6, classes can increase to 21 or 22 pupils, primarily to allow for reserved places for 7+ boarders - up to 16 reserved places for junior (full and weekly) boarders from year 3 onwards in two recently refurbished junior boarding houses. Popular with London families.

All aspects of the curriculum start in PR - science, maths, English, music, PE, performing arts, ICT etc. All learn French from a specialist. At KS2 English and maths are divided into ability sets of around 13 pupils to allow the delivery of a more detailed and bespoke curriculum. Latin once a week in year 6; Latin club open to all in years 3 to 6. Educational visits, workshops, residential trip for year 6, bring classroom learning to life. ‘Consistent high quality teaching with a vibrant, engaging, relevant curriculum ensures that our children exceed all expectations, develop a wide range of knowledge, skills and understanding and build a firm foundation for future success.'

A well-stocked and meticulously organised library is arranged with corners for each age group – colourful stools for little ones to perch on while reading – and a suggestion book for titles the librarian said she would be happy to ‘investigate’ before stocking. No plans to move to e-readers as yet – ‘you can’t beat the feel of a book,’ says librarian, who has a band of year 6 volunteers to help scan in and out. Art rooms are cavernous and newly renovated and there is space for music practice – more than half of pupils learn an instrument and there’s a 35-strong, full prep school orchestra. Top musicians get to grade 5 with distinction by end of year 6. Lots of performance opportunities (recently at the O2 and the Royal Albert Hall) and three choirs - infant, junior and chamber (chamber choir has won the Stratford and East London Music Festival for nine years running; junior choir recently won its category too). Impressive.

Prep has its own games teachers but these are bolstered on games afternoons by specialists from the senior school who coach pupils in specific sports, with great success in local derbies.

‘At the preparatory school, we aim to prepare our pupils for the future world; to be independent learners, able to adapt to different situations and of course literate in ICT in order to prepare them for the technological age in which they live.’

Indeed, a thorough, academically focused preparatory school education, enhanced in depth and integrity by the Catholic ethos.

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