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Care of the children is at the heart of such a cheery school. All new pupils and parents are allocated ‘buddy families’ to support a smooth transition and the warm and welcoming feel is noted by joiners of all ages, but particularly those who fill the odd space above the reception main entry point. The arts and culture thrive here. Music is very much encouraged – free small group strings tuition for pupils in year 3, many of whom…

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2017, Nicola Mitchell, previously deputy head and head of pre-prep at Orley Farm. Has also taught at Edge Grove where she was – variously – head of geography, head of girls' games and director of studies. Three children, who have all joined the prep or Woodbridge School; she is keen on horse riding, swimming, skiing, cycling and exploring the beautiful Suffolk countryside with her family and dog.

Has boundless energy, a keen eye for detail and is totally insistent on providing high quality opportunities for all of her pupils. Parents describe her as ‘calm, authoritative and decisive’ and ‘particularly good at handling parents’; treads the fine line between friendly and authoritative ‘unerringly well’. Leads from the front and is not afraid to throw herself in (spent four hours on a bike during the Summer Fete raising money and training before the 100-mile school cycle ride).

Children love her open style, and she is very present throughout every school day – this ‘goes a long way in making her a pivotal figure in the children’s lives and education,’ says a parent. Often pitches in to teach a class (‘My daughter loves her lessons,’ says an admiring parent). Parents say they are comfortable taking up her offer to approach her with any issues, concerns, comment or suggestions and appreciate the fact that she always makes time for them and supports the parent rep conduit.

The recognition of each child’s all-round development is the key strength of the school, says head. ‘Children here take ownership of their learning attributes – independence, communication, resilience, initiative and collaboration – from the beginning in EYFS,’ she says. ‘This approach permeates the entire school day, within and beyond the classroom.’

She has big plans to embed digital literacy and to ensure that the ‘global classroom’ is reflected in all areas of the curriculum.
This focus, as well as the usual academic rigour and co-curricular engagement, continued throughout the period of remote learning. Lessons, as well as assemblies and other activities, moved online; mindfulness a strong theme.

Entrance

Pre-prep at 4+, 30 reception places available in two parallel classes. Entry by positive completion of age appropriate activities focusing on physical, academic and social aspects of development. Prep at 7+, an additional 10 places available in year 3. Newcomers assessed using standardised cognitive ability tests and successful taster days before joining. Selective, but with scope for quite a range of ability – 'We are looking for those who can explore all that’s on offer’, says head. Ad hoc places occasionally available in other year groups – entry by academic assessment and successful taster days.

Exit

Pretty much all make the seamless transfer to the senior school; others tend to leave due to family relocations. In fact, it is a strength that pupils are not under unnecessary 11+ exam pressure. Parents of the rare child who school feels is not suited to the academic challenge of the senior school are given plenty of advance warning and supported with sensitivity to make a suitable move at 11.

Our view

Tudor main building (oak panelling, flagged floors) sits alongside much newer provision for science, art and engineering and recently refurbed classrooms, drama and food tech room. Purpose built pre-prep building and play area opened in 2020. Surrounding grounds are mature and delightful (though parents would welcome improved car parking). Pupils we met were courteous – opening doors and smiling – but keen to get back to the business of their day.
Wellbeing and educating each child for life, not just exams, is a priority here. Mindfulness is interwoven into the curriculum and taught through whole school assemblies and a discrete unit in year 3. Focus throughout the prep is on pupils ‘understanding themselves and their learning and becoming the best version of themselves that they can be’ says head. Two simple rules – try your best, and be kind – are the undercurrent to all activities. Developing individual character is key. ‘Wanting the best for each child, they are taught to reflect and understand what traits they need to develop from a young age,’ says head. ‘We want to develop pupils who know their self-worth, value others’ talents and can be superb team players now and in the future.’ Half termly enrichment days focus on ‘CLICK’ – Communication, Leadership, Initiative, Collaboration and Kindness – attributes that are cleverly and creatively promoted through activities such as Crystal Maze, Round the World Number Challenge, and Election Day.

Small class sizes, building up to around 20; pupils gradually move from class to specialist subject based learning. Teachers from the senior school teach languages and art to the higher prep forms. All pupils learn Spanish from reception. Forest schools, food tech and engineering all on the timetable, reflecting the importance of the all-round education, and parents appreciate the balance between study and activities – ‘The children are encouraged to spend time outdoors every day, rain or shine’, reports one, who is ‘impressed by the breadth and depth of the teaching quality in every area of the curriculum’.

Academic rigour and progress is carefully monitored – children score highly for value-added. The SEN specialist gives support throughout the school assisting children to reach their potential. Pupils' progress in maths and English is formally assessed on a termly basis. Classes are taught based on the requirements of each cohort. Communication with parents is taken very seriously and the weekly e-newsletter ‘CLICK’ is a ‘window on the world of learning’ as well as being a source of essential school information. As well as the biannual parents’ consultations and termly progress reports, staff are available on a day-to-day basis via telephone or email.

Care of the children is at the heart of such a cheery school. All new pupils and parents are allocated ‘buddy families’ to support a smooth transition and the warm and welcoming feel is noted by joiners of all ages, but particularly those who fill the odd space above the reception main entry point. School matron is well loved for her kind and caring nature and for helping children to pick themselves up and to carry on; teachers literally go the extra mile, say parents – ‘Whether they’re running alongside children to encourage them during cross country runs, or giving extra reading tuition, it really feels as if no child is left behind,’ beams a parent. ‘No aspect of any child is ignored for the sake of academic success or league table positions.’ Another told us, ‘My four children all have different strengths and weaknesses and the teachers have handled them all expertly, supporting where required and stretching where appropriate.’ Achievements appreciated weekly in assembly with the unique ‘beanbag cheer celebration’.

The arts and culture thrive here. Music is very much encouraged – free small group strings tuition for pupils in year 3, many of whom continue to play. Seventy per cent of pupils learn at least one instrument – percussion, brass and piano are popular. Visiting music teachers give individual and shared lessons. Range of prep choirs, orchestras and ensembles, including wind band and string groups, and regular opportunities to perform in school concerts. Lovely classical and modern composition club. Lots of support and encouragement for emerging young school bands.

Drama and dance also strong – recent introduction of street dance, with its emphasis on fun and performance, very popular. Summer production in the school’s atmospheric Seckford Theatre is a highlight for everyone connected with the school.
Sport is inclusive with everyone given the chance to represent the school. Seasonal hockey, cricket, netball, rugby, cross-country, athletics, tennis; year-round swimming lessons (plus before school training). Not a place for couch potatoes.

Huge choice of clubs – table tennis, running, gardening, jewellery making, pets and even skateboarding, to name but a few. School excels at chess and nurtures national champions, though there are plenty of interhouse competitions for all abilities. The aim is to develop the skills and strengths of character, which along with a sound academic basis, make for a happy and successful graduation to the next stage of education.
System of house points in place, with minus marks for rare incidences of unwelcome behaviour. Uniform list has been refined recently – parents grumble that it is still a little pricey, but the charming, bright red and tartan combo somehow suits this sunny, Suffolk school with strong moral values and a clear sense of purpose.

The last word

A treasure of a school where children are given the academic foundation and a toolkit to build a bridge to their own fulfilling future.


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