ITS unique approach to education and increasing academic success makes New Hall School one of the best in the country.

The school, in The Avenue, Boreham, won first prize at the 2011 Independent School Awards for outstanding strategic initiative.

Judges praised the leading independent Catholic boarding and day school for its "ambitious and pioneering move" to set up a diamond model approach to education.

It was one of only a handful of schools in the country to adopt this method and in 2006, the doors were opened to senior boys for the first time in its history.

The resounding success of the initiative - which sees three to 11-year-old boys and girls taught together in the preparatory school, single sex classes in the senior school and co-education again in the sixth form - enabled the school to double its roll to 1,150 students by September 2010, ahead of target.

Judges also commended principal, Katherine Jeffrey, for her work in advising other governing bodies of girls’ schools about the move to co-education and diamond-model structures.

Mrs Jeffrey said: "The Independent Schools Awards are the Oscars of the education world.

"For us to scoop the top prize shows that what we’ve been doing in a quiet corner of Chelmsford is giving children the best possible start in life.”

Joy Hopkinson, senior school headteacher, added: "We cannot praise our students enough, they are always keen to learn and are great ambassadors for New Hall and our unique and caring ethos.”

The awards ceremony was held at the National Motorcycle Museum, near Birmingham, on November 16. The school received a trophy and champagne from former Olympic 400m silver medallist, Roger Black MBE.

New Hall has recently been ranked the top performing independent school in Essex and the top performing Catholic co-educational boarding and day school in the UK for its outstanding performance at A Level.