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Hallfield School, Edgbaston

This co-ed Prep school for 3 month to 13-year-olds has a long-standing academic reputation. It's putting pastoral care front and centre and has excellent wraparound services to boot.

WHAT? WHERE?  

Hallfield School is more than 140 years old and sits among the leafy streets of Birmingham’s upmarket suburb, Edgbaston. At its heart sits an elegant Georgian building, and surrounding it, 20 acres – impressive! Hallfield is one of the largest Prep schools in the country offering co-ed education for children aged 3 months to 13 years. With four entry points: nursery, Pre-Prep, Prep and Seniors (Year 7 and 8), Hallfield has 590 pupils on roll and has never been busier. Though the school is quite large, class sizes are reasonably small at no more than 22. While the school has a long-held academic reputation, it has evolved with the appointment of the current Head Master Keith Morrow to put pastoral care at the top of the agenda. 

FACILITIES  

There’s been plenty of investment here over the past three years – about £3million- worth to be precise, including the opening of a new Food Tech room in Nov 21, with the ribbon cut by Andreas Antona, founder of Michelin-starred Simpsons in Birmingham and The Cross in Kenilworth. In a huge coup for the school, chefs from Simpsons have since returned to give cooking lessons, (though I’m assured it’s not all cauliflower foam… the kids favourite bake – flapjacks, are still on the menu).  

The Design and Tech room opened two years ago complete with laser cutter, heat press and pillar drill. Pupils start DT lessons in Year 3 and make crowd pleasers like medieval catapults before moving onto more technical builds. There are two new adventure playgrounds alongside a memorial garden dedicated to a late pupil. They include glass artwork, gazebo, slide and sensory footpath. Plus, there’s been a complete refurb to the IT suite, nursery, pre-school and reception. The most wow-y part of this is the ‘Creative Cottage’ Pre-Prep art studio and library, opened in Sept 2021. The whole thing looks straight off the pages of Beatrix Potter, with its cute exterior, bright colours and little nooks. Three extra pre-school classes are next on the agenda for this year – there’s certainly no stinting in investment lower down the school.  

Outdoor learning is, naturally, another popular endeavour here and there’s Forest School from age 3 to 13 including the biggest mud kitchen I’ve ever seen, unsurprisingly a huge hit with the youngsters.  

SPORT   

The school makes the most of its grounds. There are swathes of grass sports fields which make the city skyline feel far off in the distance. Then there’s a sports hall, gymnastics hall and two astros. Kids can expect three sports sessions a week in their timetable from Year 3 plus competitive games fixtures.   

In Games, it’s football, hockey and netball in Pre-Prep joined by rugby, gymnastics, squash, tennis, dance and gymnastics in Prep. While competitive sport is segregated, they get together for PE (one of the weekly sessions), and all kids are encouraged to ‘have a go’ at every sport on offer, which includes fencing, basketball and badminton. There’s after school clubs in golf, martial arts and yoga too. There’s no pool on site, but every child has a term of swimming lessons each at Birmingham University during Year 2 and 3. Other stellar facilities that the school has arranged the use of include Edgbaston Golf Club and the Priory Club for squash.  

THE ARTS   

Another area which has undergone transformation is the music department, opened by Julian Lloyd Weber (yes, brother of you know who) and Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, last year. It has two classrooms for lessons, informal concerts and ensembles, which include string, wind and brass. There’s a total of five ensembles, one orchestra and four choirs. For smaller groups or individuals there are a suite of five practice rooms. From Year 2 every pupil learns to play an instrument of their choice with a (gob-smacking) year of free lessons - a 40-minute session a week and opportunity to play in a ‘Tea Time’ concert every year, an initiative clearly loved by parents. Currently at the school around a third play an instrument or take vocal lessons. Music Tech is important here too – it’s part of the curriculum as enrichment but there’s also an after-school club based around composition using programs like GarageBand.  

Drama productions currently take place on the stage of the main hall, though there are plans over the next five years for a multi-million investment in a performing arts centre, complete with practice rooms and roof garden, which will also be opened up for community use.    

LITTLIES  

The nursery is in a separate building with its own outdoor spaces. There are two bright and airy rooms decked in wooden furniture and free from ‘glaring’ colours, the aim being to create a calming atmosphere. Toys are wooden, rather than plastic, from the building blocks to the play kitchen and jigsaws.   

A brand new, Foundation building was opened in June 2022 (can’t get much newer than that!) by children’s author and illustrator Hannah Shaw to support the increasing demand for pre-school places. It has three state-of-the-art classrooms leading onto a huge outdoor space. 

Pre-Prep kids get to use many of the school’s facilities but have their own trump card – the afore-mentioned Creative Cottage. It’s extraordinary to think this once old store room is now a kid’s paradise. It really does feel like a special space complete with little individual cubby holes where kids can daydream, think or read, from space to subterrain and the jungle, or even a hexagonal book nook in a bee hive.  

Also worth noting is the flock of hens for pupils to look after, the Forest School, and the Drama, Spanish and Music provision, all offered with specialist teachers from age 3 in pre-school. 

ACADEMIC  

Hallfield boasts a well-earned strong academic reputation with waiting lists in several years. There’s no assessment for its Pre-Prep pupils but Prep students have to pass an exam in Maths and English as part of a day visiting the school to ensure they won’t struggle with the curriculum. In Year 4 most lessons are taught to three mixed ability classes, though maths is streamed. From Pre-Prep specialists teach PE, Music and French.   

In Sept 2020 Hallfield signalled its intent to take its prestige up a notch by reinstating Years 7 and 8, creating HallfieldSeniors - resplendent in their bottle green ‘senior’ blazers and starting to feed into the prestigious national boarding schools as well as the regional independents such as Edgbaston High School, King Edward High School and King Edward School. A prudent move by all accounts. 

Last year an impressive 50 per cent of leavers were offered one or more scholarships across all the disciplines of academic, sports, drama, art and music.   

PASTORAL CARE  

There’s a Medical Officer and two of the deputies who are the core of the welfare team. Care is provided through individual, group or play-based therapies and if an issue is raised, parents are involved from the start. There are also pastoral assemblies, daily tutor time and digital tracking is used too. 

In Year 5 kids have wellbeing lessons and there are also enrichment sessions in mindfulness. The school is branching out to help parents by offering access to ‘Tooled Up’ an online platform that provides parents with evidence-based resources to support them in parenting. First sessions will include ‘How to establish bedtime routines’ (OMG, wouldn’t we all love to know that one?) and ‘How to keep kids safe online’. The school works closely with the community too, fundraising for local and national charities,  visiting local charities and then holding assemblies to raise awareness. Incentivised eco initiatives, such as the walking bus are in place to encourage the children to think more broadly about the environment. 

QUIRKS  

After caring for the hens in Pre-Prep, pupils move onto looking after the school’s guinea pigs as they reach Prep school. The Head Master’s two dogs – Labradoodle Ginny, and Jackapoo Molly, regularly come onsite with him and are understandably popular. Kids pop into the head’s office on their birthday’s too and get a pencil and a handful of sweets from the machine built into the wall (that’s them sold then!). All food is cooked onsite using local and caters to all allergies and dietary requirements. The kids told me they love the themed meals and actually look forward to Meat Free Mondays which says a lot about the cooking – no soggy veg here.  

And here’s something left field. Hallfield is home to three chess champions in the Under 9, 11 and 13 age categories, as well as weightlifting champs in the Under 11 English Weightlifting Championships (nope, not even joking), so I think we can conclude eclecticism is appreciated here!   

THE HEAD   

Keith Morrow is a charismatic, energetic and friendly character who has a great rapport with the kids. He has more than 20 years’ experience after taking up his first headship aged 30, so it’s fair to say he has his hand firmly on the tiller. When he first took over in 2018 he admits Hallfield was a little old fashioned and needed investment but under his leadership, the ambitious expansion and investment has bolstered the school’s reputation. It’s not all about shiny facilities though – Morrow has made some structural changes, putting in place a longer school day with shorter lessons and more focus on enrichment with sessions being held throughout the week including first aid, philosophy and animal care.  

WRAP AROUND CARE  

There’s good wraparound care at this day school with the option of an early drop off to Breakfast Club at 7.30am (one of the earliest start times we’ve come across) and aftercare until 6pm - kids can book a hot meal too so there’s no worries about rustling up dinner when you get home. Breakfast is an extra £3.75 a day for ages 0-4 and £2.75 from Year 6. Aftercare is £12.50 per day in Pre-Prep and £10.50 in Prep school.  

ISI REPORT  

Hallfield meets all the ISI’s educational standards with the ‘outstanding’ personal development behaviour, welfare and development of children of particular note. Read the most recent report from 2019.   

TRANSPORT  

Being near the centre of Birmingham, transport links are excellent. There’s a nearby bus stop with good connections. The train station is a 15-minute walk away and there are links to Lichfield and Redditch, and an option to change at Birmingham New Street. The school also has its own bus service which operates in the morning from the most popular routes in Harborne, Moseley and Sutton Coldfield. For those living nearby there’s also a ‘walking bus’ – where kids near the school meet up and walk in together, led by adults. Kids can have mobiles for the journey to school but they must be handed in at the front office where they are locked away until the end of the day.  

FEES  

Fees are slightly less expensive than other independent schools in the area. It’s £4,175 per term in Pre-Prep going up to £4,940 for the Prep school and £5,235 in Years 7 and 8.   

WORD ON THE GROUND  

Hallfield is a nurturing school where academic ambition is balanced with pastoral and extra-curricular and the kids enthuse about the quirks like the hen house, Head Master’s dogs and the masterstroke of engaging so many big names – dance lessons with Strictly alumni, cooking with Michelin-starred chefs or visits from authors.   

THE MUDDY VERDICT  

Good for: Curious, have-a-go kids who like the breadth of learning opportunities, fast pace and academic rigour on offer. Great for working parents who can make use of the excellent wraparound care. 

Not for: Kids who live and breathe for sport, and nothing else, may feel that their passions better serviced elsewhere.

Dare to disagree? Have a look for yourself – there’s an Open Morning on Sat 8 Oct.

Hallfield School, 48 Church Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3SJ. Tel: 0121 454 1496

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