New Hall School, Chelmsford
Enjoy the best of both worlds at this impressive Essex school with a hugely successful Diamond Model of education, and equal emphasis on academics, sports, pastoral care and performing arts.
Blissfully located in a glorious Tudor Palace surrounded by a huge 70 acres of grounds, just 10 minutes from central Chelmsford, New Hall is one of Essex’s oldest and most well-known independent schools.
Dating from 1642, New Hall started life in Liège (Belgium) and was founded by the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre with a view to providing a Catholic education to girls who were denied this in England at the time. In 1794, the French Revolutionary Wars forced the nuns out of the Low Countries and the school settled on its current site in 1799.
Now New Hall is a large co-ed boarding and day school (with 1,500 pupils from the ages of 1 to 18) and an even boy/girl split. Interestingly, the school adopted a ‘Diamond Method’ back in 2001, which means boys and girls are educated in a single-sex setting in the Senior School, but co-ed for Early Years, Prep and Sixth Form. The senior girls and boys still get to mix outside the classroom, but benefit from no distractions and a targeted education in their teenage years – we definitely like the sound of that.
Boarding is fairly popular (around 223 pupils from 27 nationalities call the school home) but the vast majority are day pupils coming from up to 30 miles away. And thanks to an extensive bus service, it’s not always up to Mum and Dad’s taxi service to get the kids in.
The school’s main building, The Palace of Beaulieu, is an absolute show-stopper and is reached by an equally idyllic cedar tree-lined drive. It’s steeped in history – Henry VIII’s Royal Arms are in the magnificent and ornate Chapel, and the palace was once home to Mary Tudor and Oliver Cromwell.
There’s also a mix of traditional and more modern, functional buildings, smart playing fields, woodland and a tranquil pond area. The divisional structure of the school and the collection of different buildings means New Hall feels like a collection of smaller schools on one brilliant campus, so no worries about younger or shy kids feeling lost or overwhelmed. Average class sizes are 18, which is impressively small considering the overall size of the student cohort, so your child will get plenty of attention here.
The school has a strong Catholic background and ethos. The Chaplaincy is a key part of school life and is open to every student of any or no faith.
Where to start? Grab yourself a cuppa because this may take a while… As well as a huge number of acres considering it’s only 30 minutes outside London, there’s a national standard athletics track, floodlit Astroturf pitch, fitness suite, 10 (yes 10!) floodlit tennis courts and eight netball courts, cricket and rugby pitches, golf nets, a 25-metre indoor swimming pool and large indoor sports hall. There are also modern changing facilities and a hospitality area for parents watching their kids play in matches. No shivering and stamping ice-block feet on the sidelines for these lucky New Hall parents.
Academically, there are facilities for all the specialist subjects, including the sciences, Photography and a Performing Arts Centre, with brilliant dedicated spaces for dance, drama and music. Talking of dance, your little movers and shakers can choose from all kinds – ballet, tap, modern, contemporary, street, hip hop… to name just a few. Saturdays are a hive of activity in the Performing Arts block where Lamda and Trinity are also big crowd pullers.
New investments have been the refurbishment of two boarding houses – the senior girls’ boarding house and the middle school boys’ house. In 2020, the school quickly added two large outdoor canopies to provide extended outdoor learning, play and performance space during the pandemic.
The purpose-built nursery opened in 2019 and is a seriously impressive space for the littlies. It is housed in a smart and light barn with floor to ceiling bi-folds and a safe and spacious walled garden. There’s a huge focus on sensory play here as well as outdoor learning that continues right through the school. Warning – once you’ve seen this nursery, anything else will pale in comparison.
Over the last decade the school has also restored the Eaton Theatre, created two multi-purpose halls, and built a new state-of-the-art 18-classroom teaching block, as well as a new Sixth Form centre.
The most recent investment has been a new access road that opened in 2020. Not particularly exciting as projects go you might think, although commuting parents will be delighted by the ease of pick up and drop off now.
The school even has its own farm (yes, you did hear that right!) and have recently welcomed new additions in the form of pot-bellied pigs, peacocks, sheep, goats, geese, ferrets and chickens. There’s also the requisite forest school area, which is a key part of the Early Years and Prep school weekly timetable.
The Good Hope Cafe is a nice addition to the facilities too. It’s a space for Sixth Formers to use during study breaks and feels like a little slice of the outside world in the middle of a school setting. In fact, there are plenty of ‘break out’ places for the kids to chill out and relax with their peers or staff, which makes the school feel more like a community or uni campus and is key to the school’s pastoral programme.
If you thought the Sixth Formers were spoiled with a cafe, how about the newly refurbished bar that they can go to from 4pm every day? It’s housed in one of the most historic parts of school and looks like a posh country pub – all wood panels, large fireplaces and cosy corners. Next year there are plans to turn the underground Tudor cellars into another bar space for the Sixth Formers. Oh to be 18 again!
With all the incredible sporting facilities on site and 1,500 pupils, it’s no surprise that New Hall is a sporting power house. You don’t have to be the next Johnny Wilkinson or Jessica Ennis-Hill to enjoy sport here though. The emphasis is on activity for all and so there are teams in most sports ranging from A-F, so everyone can have a go. Elite students aren’t held back though. There are also academies in the major sports for talented students to train outside school hours.
Rugby and cricket are probably the strongest sports for the school – for both boys and, we’re pleased to report, girls too. And, thanks to the shiny new golf facilities there’s now an increased focus on golf as a school sport, again for boys and girls.
MUSIC, ART, DRAMA AND DANCE
New Hall School has an impressive alumni list featuring the likes of West End dancers, actors and professional musicians. As I mentioned above, dance is particularly strong – I’ve not seen a school with such a brilliant offering in this area before. Many of the students are a really high standard in a lot of dance disciplines and have a lovely light studio space to practise in (and there are plans for three further dance studios in the pipeline). The department takes part in live performances at The Royal Albert Hall and Sadler’s Wells, and is clearly very successful – there’s a burgeoning dance trophy cabinet. Aside from sending your child to a specialist dance school, you can’t do better than this.
The Art, Design and Technology Department is just as impressive with lots of awards won each year, and a generous light space dedicated to the creative subjects. There’s also a large cookery room.
Music-wise, there are plenty of ensembles and groups for pupils to get involved in from Brass Ensemble and Chamber Choir to Saxtet and Symphony Orchestra. In Year 7 all boys and girls sing in a choir as part of their curriculum and perform as a group at school events and concerts.
New Hall is academically selective and so, as you’d expect, their academic results are very strong. It’s not exclusive though, and you won’t hear the words ‘hot house’ used to describe the school. The curriculum is wide, varied and fast-paced though, so kids need to be able to keep up. The school is particularly strong in some more unusual subjects too – it has both the largest Politics Department and the largest Theology Department in the country, and subjects like Classics, Latin, Greek, Psychology, Economics, Business Studies and Chinese are offered and are popular choices. Encouraging children to be politically-minded starts early here – with a Politics course introduced from Year 5. Every year, over 20 Year 6 children achieve a Level 1 GCSE qualification, five years early.
A Level results for 2020 saw 92% of grades at A*-B and 32% of grades were A*s, while 43 students achieved all A*s and As. The GSCE results were just as standout: 73% of GCSE grades were 7+ (A/A*), 46% of grades were at 8+ and 26 students achieved at least eight grade 8s.
If you’ve got a little genius in your midst there’s plenty to stretch their grey matter thanks to Omega, the school’s Able and Talented provision, which helps students with potential Oxbridge applications.
The vast majority of Sixth Form students go on to Russell Group Universities to study subjects like Law, Medicine, Engineering, Architecture, Nursing and Midwifery. Some students opt for Apprenticeship Degrees with Accountancy and Engineering firms. Students also go on to prestigious Art Colleges and Drama Schools. A handful go to Oxbridge each year.
You can board at New Hall from Year 3. There are four boarding houses, and they are all in charming old buildings. The junior boys’ house, Petre House, is extremely grand – think chandeliers, cornicing, pillars and super-high ceilings. They might be grand, but the boarding houses are much homelier than at a lot of schools I’ve seen, and you can tell effort has gone into the soft furnishings, games areas and the like to make the children feel happy and settled. Younger boys share rooms, but there’s enough space for all the girls as far down as Year 3 to have their own single rooms. At the weekends the boarders enjoy trips and activities like paint balling, trampolining, theatre and punting.
From this September, New Hall will be offering a fully flexible one to seven nights boarding, so you can chop and change as necessary – a real boon when it comes to making things easier for working parents or students with co-curricular commitments. Friday nights are likely to be particularly popular, as it means mums and dads don’t have to be up at crack of sparrows on Saturday mornings for match or thespian commitments. We like that!
Katherine Jeffrey has been Principal at New Hall since 2001 and holds the title of the longest-serving HMC Head, having been at the helm for 20 years. She’s certainly not resting on her laurels after so long as head though, and clearly adores the school and still has plenty of plans to keep New Hall ahead of the game. I don’t get to meet her in person because of the latest Covid lockdown, but if you want to get a sense of how personable and passionate she is, just watch the school’s virtual tour. She drives a real-life teddy bear around in a golf buggy to meet all the kids – you don’t get much more down to earth than that!
Jeffrey has made plenty of changes in her time, including the introduction of the successful diamond model and the farm, spending a total of £20m on facilities since she joined. But she has kept the original spirit of service to others at the heart of what the school is all about.
As a practising Catholic, Jeffrey really understands the value of the religious foundation of the school. “The word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’,” she says. “There is no place in a Catholic school for racism, unfair discrimination or cliques. The school takes positive action to ensure inclusion, most recently with the establishment of the student discussion and social group ‘Corpus’, which focusses on celebrating different cultures and traditions and developing initiatives to promote equality and respect for all.”
Although I don’t get to meet the children in person, in spite of all the incredible facilities and opportunities, New Hall pupils come across as a lovely grounded bunch during a virtual tour, thanks again in part to the school’s religious background. The founding community, rooted in the Augustinian tradition, has a special emphasis on the Resurrection, prayer, community life, hospitality and service to others. This is an ethos that is still very strong today and students are encouraged to take part in NHVS (New Hall Voluntary Service). In fact, there’s an entire barn dedicated the school’s voluntary and charity work.
There’s a sport for everyone here, including horse riding and skiing. The school’s ski team was set up by the Principal and is now one of the largest and most successful in the UK.
The biggest quirk of the school though has to be the Diamond Model of teaching. New Hall is one of just 16 co-ed independents in the country to adopt single-sex lessons for seniors. It’s a brilliant option for parents who aren’t entirely convinced by single-sex education. Kids get to focus completely in the classroom, but still have the chance for co-ed socialisation outside of lessons.
For both Prep and Senior schools, you can book your kids in from 8am and pick up after tea at 6pm if you need the flex. The school also runs a Holiday Activity Club for the Prep divisions in the school holidays from 8am – 6pm.
Thanks to its religious foundation New Hall is definitely a school that’s highly nurturing and pastoral care is high up on the agenda here. There are eight school houses, which provide an excellent social base for the children and help make New Hall a community. More structured pastoral care comes in the form of small tutor groups, a Student Support Manager, a School Counsellor and the school Chaplain. The school has adopted a Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education (SMSC) – four pillars that form the basis of the curriculum and co-curriculum.
Pretty punchy, but in line with other good schools in the area and if you need reminding of what you’re getting for your money just glance over the facilities and academics sections again… Nursery Division per term: £3,516-£3,354; Preparatory Divisions per term: £3,096-£4,272 for day pupils; £6,426 for boarding (ages 8-11). Senior Divisions per term: £6,093-£6,597 for day students, £8,076-£9,735 (Weekly Boarding) and £8,076-£10,233 (Full Boarding). Flexi boarding is also an option from Year 3 up.
There are plenty of scholarships and awards for your kids to get their hands on in all disciplines – Academic, Diocesan, Art, Music, Drama, Dance and Sport.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who want the best of both worlds. Not only do kids here get to experience both single-sex and co-ed education, but there’s an equal emphasis on academics and co-curricular activities, so whatever your child’s strength, they will find an outlet for it here. As school facilities go, they don’t get much shinier and extensive, so if you like the idea of your kids having everything they need to excel on the doorstep, this is the school for you.
Not for: New Hall is a large school with 1,500 pupils, so if you’re after a quaint, family-orientated school you might want to look elsewhere. That said, with its different divisions and buildings, New Hall manages to pull off being both big, but with a small-school feeling in each section.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest. New Hall’s next open day is on 1 May 2021 from 8:30am to 1pm. Or you can arrange an external tour subject to government guidelines.
New Hall School, The Avenue, Boreham, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 3HS