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Parents appreciate this attention to the individual. ‘No aspect of any child is ignored for the sake of academic success or league table positions,’ said one. Pupils we met were sparky, courteous and keen to be on their way to the next exciting lesson or activity. Two classes per year group, but often split to allow for the teaching of advanced techniques in practical subjects. Parents say they are ‘impressed by the breadth and depth of the teaching quality in every area of the curriculum’. Completely differentiated lessons in…

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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 before that 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.

Has boundless energy, a keen eye for detail and is committed to the idea of providing high quality opportunities for all her pupils. ‘Exams are the key in the door to the next step,’ she says, ‘but that’s no good if our pupils don’t know how to work with other people, understand their strengths and the areas they need to work on, and have an effervescence for life. We are not teaching them what they’ll need when they’re 30 but we’re trying to equip them with as many skills to scaffold the learning as they go along.’

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 a recent summer fete raising money and training before the 100-mile school cycle ride). Very parent-friendly and says she often puts on her ‘mummy hat’ to check that any innovations at the school will be welcomed. No surprise that parents are comfortable taking up her offer to approach her with any issues, concerns, comments or suggestions - they appreciate the fact that she always makes time for them and supports the parent rep conduit.

Children love her open style - she is very present throughout the school day and knows the name of every child which ‘goes a long way in making her a pivotal figure in the children’s lives and education,’ according to one parent. Often pitches in to teach a class - ‘My daughter loves her lessons,’ said a parent.

In terms of the curriculum, she is focused on embedding digital literacy and ensuring that the ‘global classroom’ is reflected in all areas. Big believer in the benefits of teamworking and collaboration – the message is to join forces and work together towards the best outcome. In fact, she says, ‘this is the only school I’ve ever worked in where there’s no kudos to being captain of rugby versus the person who’s good at chess or wins the verse-writing competition – everyone’s talents are appreciated equally.’ She encourages even the youngest to ‘take ownership of their learning attributes’ – independence, communication, resilience, initiative, collaboration etc. ‘This approach permeates the entire school day, within and beyond the classroom,’ she says.

This focus, as well as the usual academic rigour and co-curricular engagement, continued throughout the period of remote learning, we heard. Lessons, as well as assemblies and other activities, moved online - and mindfulness a strong theme. Many new enquiries since, as word spread.

Three children, who have all joined the prep or Woodbridge School. Keen on horse riding, swimming, skiing, cycling and exploring the beautiful Suffolk countryside with her family and dog.

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 (99 per cent in 2024) 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

Just off the high street in this pretty Suffolk waterside town is this impressive Grade II-listed Tudor building, all oak panelling and flagged floors, with small-paned windows the ideal height for dropping parachutes out of during science experiments. Around it is the 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. Very much a ‘muddy knees not bloody knees’ campus with barely a scrap of concrete to be seen among the 10.5 rolling green acres of lush, mature grounds. Ideally proportioned for the age of the children here – large enough for the most energetic to let off steam without getting lost, reassuringly self-contained and easy to supervise. Parents’ only gripe on the facilities front is the limited car parking.

Pupils we met were sparky, courteous and keen to be on their way to the next exciting lesson or activity. Specialist teaching from the word go means pupils move around the campus to take advantage of purpose-designed facilities – ‘doesn’t suit everyone’ concedes head, but the reward is measured in terms of pupils’ burgeoning independence, confidence and a sense of responsibility for their own learning.

Two classes per year group, but often split to allow for the teaching of advanced techniques in practical subjects. Parents say they are ‘impressed by the breadth and depth of the teaching quality in every area of the curriculum’. Completely differentiated lessons in maths and English, no setting by outcome. Spanish from reception with a teacher who goes up to A level. In addition, French, Italian and Mandarin conversation classes are laid on for children who already have the knowledge when they join. Progress is closely monitored using the same scale from years 1 to 6 and additional staff brought in to support cohorts where children are not accessing the expected scores. ‘We don’t want to put a ceiling on children or give them a label that will stay with them for life,’ says director of studies. ‘That way everybody has the opportunity to excel.’ Remote learning accelerated the improved consistency of academic resources.

Small number of children with SEN – general admissions procedure requires that they must access at least age-related expectations. Extra provision has been put in place for pupils in years 1 and 2 who have missed out on schooling, although remote learning universally lauded by parents. A scale of support, from additional assistance in the classroom to extraction for specific individual or group support work. In years 4 or 5 an additional member of staff may be put into the class to shore up English or maths where needed. Parents appreciate being kept informed at all times – termly reports list standardised scores, so no surprises. ‘Parents like the honest truth and to know what we are doing to help,’ says director of studies.

Year 3 pupils are issued with a school-owned touch-screen laptop, while years 4, 5 and 6 bring their own – model recommended by the school (although family’s existing devices are allowed) and consistent through prep and senior. Fully equipped IT room.

Staff – ‘a really close-knit, dedicated, passionate team’ of around 30, according to the head - collaborate on cross-curricular projects with impressive results on display around the school. Superb sculptures in the school foyer demonstrate the approach – a mix of artistic study, science and history. Engineering is hugely popular here and is introduced as part of topic work for younger years, building to discrete lessons in a well-resourced workshop for years 5 and 6 (a recent catapult project was still a hot topic of conversation). ‘It’s all about failure’, says head. ‘Children work from a design brief – they decide on the materials and the structure using maths, science and collaboration.’ We liked the alternative forces of power project – involves finding a way to generate electricity using a turbine (the vortex system was mind-boggling).

Food tech introduced to years 3 and 4 and covers cooking skills and recipe development, as well as an understanding of seasonal foods (backed up by a visit to the greengrocers), food packaging and transport. Healthy eating is promoted and there are plenty of foods to try (recent gherkin tasting session divided opinion).

The arts are taken seriously and every pupil has two music lessons per week to the tune of 80 minutes. Early musicianship skills are developed in pre-prep in delightfully noisy, hands-on sessions with enthusiastic specialist teacher. Every pupil in year 3 offered the chance to learn a string instrument, laying the foundations for ensembles in years 5 and 6 classes. Eighty per cent of pupils learn an instrument and 20 music teachers visit every week; if an instrument is requested by a pupil, a teacher will be found. Individual and shared lessons rotated weekly. Lunchtime club offers an introduction to string instruments – violins and cellos; wind version coming soon. Chamber string ensemble, wind band, choirs – auditioned plus an optional choir currently numbering 66. A full orchestra when talents allow. Each child has the chance to perform at least once a term in informal lunchtime recitals, plus a more formal music hall concert for year 6 at Christmas. Plenty of stretch for able musicians – includes opportunities in school (eg four year 6 pupils recently accompanied the pre-prep nativity, while others take part in senior school events) and outside in local concerts and events. Drama lessons from reception. Children enter verse-speaking and prose-speaking competitions and perform in assemblies. Summer production in the school’s atmospheric Seckford Theatre is a highlight.

Practical art room accommodates 10 pupils at a time, who work on projects linked to the curriculum, a period of history or creative writing (fairy-tale king models standing out to dry when we visited had particularly intricate long, curling beards).

Four-and-a-half hours of sport per week with PE taught in mixed groups. Most seasonal team games are open to all including hockey and cricket (both mixed), netball (boys welcome although none have so far taken up the offer), and rugby (including for girls who play for a club). Regular fixtures against other local independents, fielding as many teams as their opponents can offer. Focus on ‘winning or losing with grace’. Table tennis, golf also on the curriculum. Swimming lessons at local pools with squad training for the keen. Tennis club and individual lessons with a coach on offer too. Support and dispensations for elite swimmers (including the fastest year 4 in the country) and those attending sports academies outside of school. Recent introduction of street dance, with its emphasis on fun and performance, very popular.

More than 60 clubs at lunchtime and after school - sports, music, drama, Hama Beads, Minecraft, debating – ‘if the children come up with an idea, we try to facilitate it’ (request for a slide from the roof of the building into a swimming pool is still in the consideration phase). 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. Four houses and system of house points in place, with minus marks for rare incidences of unwelcome behaviour.

Ambition throughout the prep is for pupils to ‘understand themselves and their learning and to become 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. ‘Children 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.’ Forest school for years 1 and 2 in the outdoor classroom helps with this and mindfulness is interwoven into the curriculum, taught through whole school assemblies and as a discrete unit in year 3. Head advocates use of the Headspace app and says children regularly use the techniques independently at break times and before performances to calm themselves - ‘it’s not a gimmick’.

Attributes are developed in the pre-prep with the help of ‘learning creatures’ – children describe themselves as ‘curious crabs, teamwork turtles, busy bees and independent iguanas’ and are rewarded with house points. This theme transfers to the prep school as CLICK - collaboration leadership, communication kindness – all are cleverly and creatively promoted day-to-day and specifically through activities such as Crystal Maze, Round the World Number Challenge, and Election Day. Pupils demonstrating CLICK attributes – ‘perhaps by being the first person to help if someone who drops their lunch tray, or persistence through an academic struggle’ - are recognised in Friday morning assemblies with a unique and charming ‘beanbag cheer’ (applause breaks out as the head throws a beanbag in the air and falls silent the second it hits the floor).

Parents appreciate this attention to the individual. ‘No aspect of any child is ignored for the sake of academic success or league table positions,’ said one. 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.’ 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,’ said one.

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. Weekly e-newsletter ‘CLICK’ is a ‘window on the world of learning,’ as well as being a source of essential school information. Staff are available on a day-to-day basis via telephone or email.

Uniform has been refined in recent years and multipurpose items added - most can be bought anywhere though branded clothing (still a little pricey, grumble parents) only from local supplier. The charming, bright red and tartan combo somehow suits this sunny, Suffolk school with its 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.

Special Education Needs

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