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One parent whose son had initially shied away from activities which didn’t interest him was now ‘gung ho’ about trying most things and had developed a love of learning for its own sake. Another parent said lessons were made fun (geography was jolly-ography) and cross-curricular themes inspired (ancient Egyptian history became hieroglyphics in art, time pieces in IT). School encourages work outside; younger children sow plants, fruit and veg. Each year group does an outdoor course...

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What the school says...

At The Old Hall School, our commitment to providing high quality education has, at its very core, the understanding that each individual member of our school is unique.
Traditional values and a forward thinking approach combine to give our boys and girls an exceptional start to their educational career so that they can leave us at 11, well prepared for senior school, happy, confident and the best version of themselves. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2007, Martin Stott BEd, previously deputy head at Laxton Junior School, Oundle. Says he seeks to nurture intellectual curiosity in his pupils, posing philosophical questions to the older years, such as: if you read a newspaper in a newsagent, put it back and leave without paying, is it stealing? He wants to prepare children for the modern world they are facing; for them to try new things so they don’t pigeonhole themselves. He comes across as very tuned in to modernity generally, whether it be the use of technology or the sober sense that children are growing up in a world where they may have to pursue several different careers over their life span.

This is a head who really listens and refines his thinking in line with the evolving needs of the school. Any changes should be about benefiting the children, he says emphatically, not the staff. He refers to the fact they now set older children only for maths, not English. They found those who scored lower in the English assessments often turned out to be less afraid of making mistakes and were more creative. All pupils benefit from seeing each other work in different ways, he says. The children listen to each other, they question each other.

The deployment of technology is also well thought out; Mr Stott is keen to combine old fashioned standards with forward thinking technology. Every classroom uses not a whiteboard but a large interactive screen, like a giant iPad. The staff are trained on mobile technology so that it is fully embraced before cascading down to the children. There is a suite of iPads and a large open IT room but he is aware that mobile learning is becoming the future.

The school is a family team; his wife is a teacher here and his children at the senior school, Wrekin College (they both went through Old Hall). Parents say he is at the gate every morning, shouting out cheery questions to pupils, all of whom he knows well.

Entrance

Non selective, so at 4+, a visit to meet the head; a first come, first served, two form entry. Entry to year 1 and above is dependent on availability; children attend an assessment day to see how they would fit in. Two class entry is split; classes balanced by gender, ability – the latter gleaned on assessment day – and personality.

Exit

Around 60 per cent go to its partner senior school, Wrekin College. For others, the local selective state grammars are a big pull (Newport Girls' High or Adams’ Grammar School), as well as Thomas Telford School (where there is an assessment on entrance). The pupils clock up a healthy number of scholarships, especially for Wrekin.

Our view

Work is differentiated and pupils tracked to align work with ability. In house academic assessments in maths, spelling, reading and non-core subjects. CATS (cognitive ability tests) are used as a strong indicator of academic potential and shared openly with the parents.

For those needing some extra help, perhaps a child with an underlying issue like dyslexia, there is a learning support unit (high resource levels: one full time, three part time staff) which Martin Stott describes as one of the jewels in their crown. The school pays attention to the data; so a child with higher non-verbal reasoning (fluid intelligence) than verbal reasoning scores might have a learning difficulty and need extra support. Roughly 20 per cent receive extra support, some just needing a confidence boost, head says.

In lower school (reception to year 2), the focus is on literacy and maths. Head is aware that phrases like ‘I’m rubbish at maths’ all too easily trip off the tongue and wants to eliminate this negativity. Maths teaching seeks to ‘break down complicated calculations by chunking’; explaining to children how each stage of a sum works and why (little rote learning then - ‘death by worksheet’ - but intelligent understanding). In years 1 and 2 they make the teaching as practical as possible; at playtime, when children ‘buy’ their snack (grapes, French bread and butter), they take some money out of a pot and work out what they need. Problem solving on practical lines is interwoven everywhere. During these early stages, rather than stacks of homework there are more exercises to reinforce what is going on at school. Rote learning only kicks in across spellings, times tables and phonics.

In year 3, about 60 per cent of time is spent with the class teachers with an element of specialist teaching. From year 4, the children have specialist teaching in DT, IT, PE, games, swimming, French, art, music and drama (with specific classrooms for subjects like art, DT and science). In year 6, the curriculum also includes German, Spanish and philosophy.

DT projects looked impressive, such as the school hovercraft (invitation only to year 6 pupils); pupils clean, maintain and fly it. All upper school children work in wood, plastics and electronics, making bird boxes, robots, rockets, go karts. The school recently designed an entry system to count vehicles to a new hospital’s construction site.

Parents say that building confidence and a ‘having a go’ mentality within every child are achieved through nurturing. One parent said the school had been open with them about encouraging effort (not necessarily end results) and a growth mind set. Teachers had suggested parents take the same approach and use the same language. One parent whose son had initially shied away from activities which didn’t interest him was now ‘gung ho’ about trying most things and had developed a love of learning for its own sake. Another parent said lessons were made fun (geography was jolly-ography) and cross-curricular themes inspired (ancient Egyptian history became hieroglyphics in art, time pieces in IT). There was a slight question around whether really able children were stretched but parents were quick to say that if there was any sense that a child was becoming complacent, the school responded swiftly.

Extracurricular activities are abundant or, as a recent ISI said: ‘pupils attain conspicuously high standards in sport, choral music, art, speech and drama with sporting and other successes regularly achieved’.

Sport is important; the fabulous sports facilities at Wrekin College (they share the same site) must help. All the usual sports are played: football, rugby, cricket, hockey, netball, rounders and athletics, and a range of teams play competitively. Every child in years 5 and 6, says head, has played for the school at some level. Swimming, weekly from reception age, is a strength.

Music is part of the curriculum; concerts every term and informal lunchtime ones. Drama is also on the curriculum with many opportunities to perform (reading in assemblies, poetry competitions, LAMDA). Every year group does a play, the older ones doing more ambitious productions like Annie and Macbeth, the lower school The Wizard of Oz. Wonderful big hall which doubles as a drama space.

Wide range of frequent trips to museums, galleries, theatre. A nice range of clubs like archery and coding, chess, scrabble, cookery, art and clubs by invitation to stretch, like maths club.

School encourages work outside; younger children sow plants, fruit and veg. Each year group does an outdoor course; in the upper school this is residential for a few nights: when they hit year 6, they go to France for five days where they practise the language with visits to markets, a bakery and a snail farm. There is also a trip to World War I sites, as well as outdoor pursuits, kayaking and canoeing.

Numerous confidence building initiatives; the end of year celebration now thanks every pupil for their contribution with a personalised certificate (prizes only for academic achievements). Selected pupils speak in front of an audience of 600.

There is a merit card system for rewards and a ‘golden’ table in the dining room (every child gets to sit on it at some point) where a child’s achievement or contribution is recognised. There are treats at the table; instead of water, there’s fruit juice and the head comes along to chat to each pupil.

Behaviour is generally good but to help focus, days have themes: manners Monday, thoughtful Thursday etc. The head says bullying is rooted out before it takes off and parents need be involved; he recognises there is often an underlying reason for the bully’s behaviour which needs addressing. The school knows its pupils well; one parent said her daughter was going through a sensitive patch and was demoralised not to be selected for a school team. The teachers picked up on it, were proactive and found some really fantastic solutions to build her confidence which resulted in her being catapulted into that top team (but after the confidence boost of working hard).

A matron provides an extra layer of pupil welfare.

The school was founded in 1845, moving to its present site on the same campus as Wrekin College in 2006. A modern, open plan building flooded with light; completely uplifting. The first thing you see, through a glass wall, is the library, then through another glass wall the snazzy IT room and then on to the art room. It cheers the heart. Two-tiered building, so you can see pupils scurrying about on the gallery above. Great wall displays everywhere which danced with vibrancy, pictures of costumes from school plays, a huge model of a Harry Potter book, a montage of a school residential trip. Fantastic science lab, too – microscopes, Bunsen burners, very grown up.

Huge grounds with imaginative adventure playgrounds, a small climbing wall, cricket pitch (a sweet pavilion looking onto both the netball courts and the cricket pitch for fairness). There is a real outdoorsy vibe, a wooded area with bug hotel. A giant chess set in one place, a huge world map pinned to the wall in another, a wooden storyteller’s chair like a throne. Great stuff.

Parents are a blend of business backgrounds, farmers and professionals; it is typical to have both parents working. Great comms with parents; calendars are given well in advance, including what head calls the Christmas comic (a nod to the bonkers nature of the school pre-Christmas period, letting parents know exactly what they will need, anything from panto costumes to school fair items).

If parents have any issue, the school takes it very seriously and sees it as an opportunity to improve: ‘weakness in a member of staff is a weakness in the system’. This is actually backed-up by parents themselves: one went in to request more non-verbal and verbal reasoning practice for pupils – it was followed through.

Children smile, are polite and confident. Frankly, they all had a sparky look about them.

Fees are somewhat lower than similar schools further south. In a nod to today’s economic climate school offers means-tested bursaries and interest free monthly payment plans.

A delightful, vibrant, forward thinking prep which nurtures intellectual curiosity and gives the right level of support to help all children achieve their academic potential.

Special Education Needs

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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