The Good Schools Guide

New Hall School has earned a place in The Good Schools Guide. The Guide contains independent reviews which are relied upon by parents for their unbiased analysis of exceptional state and fee-paying schools.

New Hall School was visited by an independent reviewer in 2014 who provided the following review:

The Good Schools Guide Review of New Hall School

Principal

Since 2001, Mrs Katherine Jeffrey MA PGCE MA (EdMg) NPQH. Previously an RE teacher at St Mary’s School, Shaftesbury, head of RE at Woldingham School, deputy head at The Marist School, Ascot before coming to New Hall as its first ever lay principal and teacher of theology. Also a governor of St Mary’s School, Hampstead 2004-8. In 2005, Mrs Jeffrey was awarded the Institute of Directors’ East of England Businesswoman of the Year Award, followed by a national Independent Schools Award, in 2011, for Outstanding Strategic Initiative. Since 2010 she has been a committee member of the Catholic Independent Schools’ Conference (CISC). Mrs Jeffrey is married with four daughters – all educated at New Hall School.

Making the change from dyed-in-the-wool Catholic convent girls’ boarding school of variable academic results to one of the UK’s foremost successful pioneers of the ‘diamond model’ (co-educational prep school, single-sex teaching for ages 11 to 16, returning to co-education for the sixth form) took Mrs Jeffrey a speedy five years. Presumably also nerves of steel, which we don’t doubt pulse beneath her polished exterior. ‘She oozes confidence and enthusiasm,’ swooned one impressed parent, and many laud her ‘efficiency’. Indeed, in 2012 the school comfortably met all the targets it had set itself when adopting the ‘diamond model’, notably a student body of exactly half girls and half boys. When we visited, New Hall had recently trounced Harrow at rugby and Eton at tennis – to the transparent delight of Mrs Jeffrey. However, amid all this blatant success, at its heart – and its principal’s – New Hall remains a Catholic foundation Christian community with core moral values to impart. ‘My aim is to shape the adults of the future, form their characters as people of integrity and kindness,’ says Mrs Jeffrey. ‘We are a community – no-one is here in isolation.’

Academic Matters

In 2014, 16 per cent of all A level grades were A*, 51 per cent A*/A and 76 per cent A*-B. Similarly impressive results at GCSE – in 2014, 51 per cent A*-A and 80 per cent A*-B. Interestingly, the genders at New Hall are on a par results-wise at GCSE, bucking the national trend for boys to fall behind by 10 per cent. More grist to the mill of the ‘diamond model’, which has girls and boys taught in separate but parallel classes from 11 to 16, allowing the teaching to be tailored to gender-specific learning styles, before progressing to the mixed sixth form.

French and Spanish are taught from year 7. Theology is compulsory up to year 11. In year 9, classics, Latin and critical thinking are introduced. GCSE students have timetabled religious studies, English, maths, science and a choice of modern language. Head of science has the final say in who takes separate sciences and head of languages gives the ‘oui or non’ or ‘si or no’, to students opting for two languages. Most students take 10 or 11 subjects, a few more or a few less according to ability. Each student in years 10 and 11 follows a tutorial programme including ‘life skills’ and careers education. Games afternoon once a week, with team sports and individual options. Staff reputedly bend over backwards to make sure students shoehorn in their favourite subjects – one parent reported the head of PE giving up his lunch for individual lessons with her son whose GCSE timetable was already full to bursting.

Gifted and talented is taken seriously with accelerated and differentiated learning in lessons and encouragement to take part in enrichment opportunities. The DELTA club promotes scholarly habits (including ‘challenge’, ‘persistence and big picture thinking’, ‘intellectual courage’ and ‘metathinking’), and the OMEGA club is for the several each year with sights set on Oxbridge.

Games, Options, the Arts

‘Our co-curricular programme is not an add-on,’ emphasises principal. Sport in particular is taken very seriously. Income has been ploughed into facilities – sleek, purpose-built gymnasium block stuffed with cardio machines and weights overlooks a sweep of sports pitches, 10 courts for netball or tennis (full-time tennis pro nurtures future stars), 400-metre cinder running track and chlorine-free pool in its own block with changing room facilities (also used by the Essex swim squad). A former equestrian arena is now an indoor sports hall with state-of-the-art flooring, while the many horse-related activities take place off-site. County and national athletes in many disciplines, including UK independent school golf and equestrian champions, not to mention star swimmers, cricketers, tennis, hockey and rugby players. A New Hallian athlete competed in the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The first time we’ve come across a choir that’s compulsory – year 7 boys and girls enjoy or endure a year before being given the option to remain. ‘We have discovered some great voices that way – people who wouldn’t have put themselves forward,’ says head of music. Choice of choirs for those inclined, including ‘Voces’ for the broken-voiced, plus instrumental ensembles of all kinds and the occasional rock and pop band. Organ lessons on the restored Norman & Beard organ in the school chapel. Many informal as well as the formal performances. Despite a good take-up at GCSE, a small handful study A level music and the odd one or two each year progress to conservatoires.

There are regular - and by all accounts, spectacular - drama productions all year round and involving all ages, and the Walkfares Centre is the venue for all performing arts. Annual dance show is a highlight and dance A level popular. Own dance company takes students from year 10 upwards and crosses over with the local community. ESB and LAMDA thrive. Around 30 a year take art A level – working away in a warren of atelier-style studios - and about a third continue beyond, though architecture tends to win out over fine art.

In keeping with the school’s focus on community and charity, all pupils are heavily involved with the New Hall Voluntary Service, which for many becomes a way of life. One pupil recently received the Princess Diana award - for swimming the Channel to benefit Great Ormond Street Hospital – but all make a contribution of some kind. Eight houses – unrelated to the boarding houses - contest in competitions of all hues.

Background and Atmosphere

The original Palace of Beaulieu, ancestral home of the Boleyn family and thought to represent much of the attraction to King Henry VIII of his second wife (beheaded), perhaps with good reason. Henry expanded the existing building to create a most imposing and gargantuan edifice, with eight courtyards behind a 550-foot wide red-brick frontage and two enormous gatehouse towers. In 2009 Channel 4’s Time Team dug up evidence of the foundations of what appears to have been a nursery for Henry’s first-born, Princess Mary. Having passed through a few hands (including those of Oliver Cromwell) after Henry’s demise, in 1799 the palace became occupied by the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most ancient orders in the Catholic church, established in Europe long before the English Religious Community was founded in 1642. Forced out of their home in the Low Countries by the French Revolutionary Wars, the Canonesses brought their school to the Palace of Beaulieu with the intention of offering a Catholic education to girls denied this in England in the Post-Reformation period. Thus, New Hall is the oldest Catholic girls’ school in England.

Today’s New Hall is (in terms of footprint at least) but a fraction of Henry’s pile, but breathtaking nonetheless and approached via a mile-long avenue at the end of which one fully expects a National Trust ticket booth to appear. Perhaps one of the most impressive interiors is the chapel, with its original solid wood door and Henry VIII’s coat of arms over the main entrance.

Behind the long façade of the main building, which houses an impressive entrance hall with waiting room, the chapel, classrooms and a boarding house, there is a dedicated arts block incorporating two large studio spaces (which host the school’s popular Saturday dance and drama schools as well as lessons throughout the week). The Eaton Theatre seats 210 and is used for productions as well as lectures and year meetings. Large library with study area for all-comers and hanging with Apple Macs. Eight science labs. Spacious refectory opened in September 2013 and reminiscent of the restaurant in an upmarket London department store with a choice of three hot options (the traditional fish and chips on the Friday we visited), plus a salad bar and other cold choices.

Cream sofas? Cushions? Can this be a boys’ boarding house? Indeed it is at New Hall. Quite apart from Earle House’s jaw-droppingly ornate cornicing and mouldings worthy of a royal palace, the place is spotless in the face of a most unforgiving neutrally toned décor - not a muddy rugby sock nor a mouldering trainer to be seen. Either the staff deserve a medal or this is a new breed of boy. The usual entertainment - large-screen TV, Xbox etc - but arranged in such civilised, convivial surroundings that one could happily invite ones grandmother for a spot of GTA. The dorms too are a revelation – again tidy beyond belief with all belongings stowed neatly into storage compartments hiding behind the ladder treads of ingenious high-sleeper beds, designed by the former New Hallianand director of boarding and incorporating a study space underneath. Magdalen House for girls is more the usual fayre – though rooms for ones and twos rather than the multiples for boys (full boarders usually roomed with the flexi-boarders) – and a comfortable lived-in look with cheery décor chosen by the girls themselves. Four other houses – two for boys and two for girls as they progress through the year groups – accommodating the 33 per cent who board on a flexi, weekly or full-time basis.

Sixth form is a tight-knit community of 250, presided over by staff other than those that continuing pupils will have met in their junior years. Sixth formers have their own wing of the arts block, with study space and chill-out zone including snack kitchen.

New Hall hit the education sector headlines when it became the first independent school in the country to enter a partnership with a struggling state primary school. The school now lends its expertise and guidance to Messing Primary School, 15 miles away - management input, plus New Hall pupil-run events, such as an international day and community carol service.

On Mrs Jeffrey’s wishlist is a new science centre and a large auditorium with the capacity to seat the whole school together, but these she admits have fallen victim to the more pressing need to keep fees ‘reasonable’ for parents (minimal increases and none at all in one recent year; flexi-boarding rates have actually been reduced).

Pastoral Care and Discipline

‘Parents remark on the smiles here – on the faces of pupils and staff alike,’ says Mrs Jeffrey and this does appear to be a rather serene community. Personal qualities, kindness in particular, are recognised and drawn out, and pupils we met were certainly happy in their own skin.

Parents too are comfortable in the fold. ‘The school has always encouraged parents to give feedback and support the development of the site, by running parent forums and questionnaires,’ says one satisfied parent.

Pupils and Parents

One clearly in touch with her target market, Mrs Jeffrey appreciates the fact that her school is surrounded by a changing profile of local parents – from the traditional farmers and professionals to city commuters and the grammar school educated. ‘Some have attended the historic Catholic schools such as Stonyhurst and Worth themselves and are now looking to us for their children,’ she says. Being Catholic is not a pre-requisite, but engagement with the religious life of the school very much is. ‘If you come here you sign up to the whole package,’ says Mrs Jeffrey. ‘I would hope that our pupils would leave here well-informed on matters of faith, and that they would have absorbed our core moral and spiritual values.’

Buses zero in on the school from a myriad directions daily and boarders come from all over the south east, many in London thanks to the fast and frequent commuter train service – 35 minutes from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, four miles away. The rumour is of a proposed new mainline station right at the end of the New Hall drive (no prizes for guessing Mrs Jeffrey’s preferred name for it). Long a favourite with overseas pupils, some nine per cent of the current student body, who represent more than 30 countries.

Entrance

Year 7 has 120 places – usually three times over–subscribed. Around 40 pupils come up from New Hall’s own year 6, although they too must go through the same entry procedure as external applicants - papers in English, maths and verbal reasoning plus a three-minute presentation to members of the senior school SLT. Lengthy admissions preamble - families have usually visited for at least one open day as well as a group tour including the opportunity to ask questions of the senior leadership team before beginning the formal application. Lower sixth has 150 places, with new entrants needing two As and four Bs at GCSE to be in with a whiff. ‘Our A level classes are very fast-paced,’ says principal, ‘with pupils aiming for A* to B grades.’

Exit

Several each year to Oxbridge, others to their first choice of a range of universities to study subjects in all realms, including theology. Former pupils are automatic members of the Old Fishes’ Association (being rebranded as New Hallians) and this association numbers many notables, including international fashion designer Anya Hindmarch, CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, artist and novelist Leonora Carrington, opera singer Stefanie Kemball-Read and ‘Horrid Henry’ actor Theo Stevenson.

Our View

There is the feeling that New Hall is much more than the sum of its parts, with personal qualities and integrity as central to the ethos as an application to study and success.