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Academically the right buttons are being pressed, but although results across the board are strong, ‘it doesn’t feel like a hothouse,’ say parents. Fully co-ed for 40 years, there is a palpably studious atmosphere across the university-style campus, with its spacious, fuss-free classrooms, chilled library and many corners set up for independent study. Time wasting is frowned upon and every moment not in class is filled with sports and activities...

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What the school says...

The School is a caring and nurturing school, with a real sense of warmth and community. Woodbridge focuses on providing an education in which academic results are highly important, but ultimately can only be achieved by innovative approaches to teaching and learning, excellent extra-curricular provision, outstanding pastoral care, and a particular emphasis on the personal development of its pupils.

The central aim of a Woodbridge education is to help equip our students with the qualifications, personal attributes and characteristics that they will need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
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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.

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Since 2020, after a period as acting head, Shona Norman. Attended Wisbech Grammar School in Cambridgeshire, studied English lit at London University and PGCE at Cambridge before joining Woodbridge as a newly qualified English teacher in 2002, and has worked her way up through the ranks. Roles as housemistress, EPQ coordinator, mental health first aid instructor, deputy head (pastoral) and senior deputy have all been taken in her stride, as has the recent completion of a master's in educational leadership and school improvement at Cambridge. One of few 30-something women heads of HMC schools, her appointment was welcomed by ‘delighted’ parents and staff, satisfied that the role is well deserved. ‘She is experienced, well supported by the staff, kind and compassionate, while being firm in her decision making,’ says one parent. 'She really cares for her students and staff team,’ enthuses another. Students describe her as an inspirational leader and outstanding teacher.

Keen to get her teeth into the role, she has a very clearly prioritised agenda. Top is a review of the curriculum from reception to year 13 in order to ‘embed the skills that will enable pupils to be ready for future life’, she says. ‘The Seckford Foundation allows us to address privilege and how we give back – it’s why the school was founded and we mustn’t lose sight of that.’ This philanthropic theme has prompted an increased bursary provision. Teachers’ professional development is another focus, ‘to keep on top of the latest thinking and model life-long learning to the pupils’, as is keeping the facilities up to date and encouraging an evolution of boarding – ‘condensing, not expanding,’ emphasises head.

Under her guidance the school responded sensitively to the period of school closure, minimising disruption. ‘The usual timetable was delivered live via Teams at both the prep and the senior school and we also ensured that the co-curricular programme of music, drama, sport and chess continued – through the use of much imagination and ingenuity.’ Required to steer the ship through unprecedented choppy waters having only just been appointed as head, she is grateful to have been well established at Woodbridge already. ‘Knowing the community was essential,’ she says. ‘We all worked in our different areas to ensure that school, in its new form, could continue. As the world seemed so uncertain, I took great comfort and reassurance knowing that our school would get through it together.’

Married to Michael who is in the Royal Marines, she ‘devours’ books and loves going to the theatre when she is able. She is also passionate about wildlife and the environment and feels fortunate to have the River Deben on her doorstep.


All candidates invited to a taster day and private meeting with the head. Entrance test, together with a report from present school, and interview at 11+, 12+, 13+ or 14+. Half of intake at 11 transfer from the prep, the rest from local state and private schools. About three-quarters of those tested are accepted. Entry to the sixth form is based on an interview, test and GCSE predicted grades.


Few leave after GCSEs. Great majority head from sixth form to university – Warwick, Exeter, Durham and Nottingham currently popular, as are STEM, social sciences, modern languages, English and business and finance courses. Three to Oxbridge in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 61 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 49 per cent A*/A at A level (70 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 58 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 75 per cent A*-B at A level.

Teaching and learning

Academically the right buttons are being pressed, but although results across the board are strong, ‘it doesn’t feel like a hothouse,’ approve parents, and there is an inherent disregard for league tables. The arts, maths, sciences and languages stand out, but the results of middle-range ability pupils reflect solid achievement – always pleasing. Pupils are banded from year 7 and setted in certain subjects, including maths. Classes around 20. All take French in year 7, adding Latin and Spanish or Mandarin in year 8; at least one modern language to GCSE, with Mandarin and Japanese optional extras and classics including Greek available at GCSE and in the sixth form. Sciences popular, practical and taught separately from the start, a term for each, and choice of separate or combined for GCSE. At A level, two groups of around 10 for each science; nearly all continue to study science at university – medicine (thriving weekly MedSoc), vet med, natural sciences. Teachers are lauded by parents as ‘highly qualified and experienced’; ‘amazing and so helpful,’ say pupils.

Learning support and SEN

Around 80 pupils have mild learning difficulties; several full-time teachers offer support individually and in groups. The emphasis is on keeping pupils fully integrated into the mainstream classes. Strong EAL provision for overseas pupils. This is a school that works for all abilities.

The arts and extracurricular

Music regarded as mainstream. Half the school learns one or more instruments in a warren of practice rooms and rehearsal spaces in the music department, where classrooms hang with Apple Macs for composition. Symphony orchestra, samba band, strings, percussion, single reeds, choirs (from Chorum to Vocal Fellas), swing band, brass ensemble. Regular informal recitals for parents as well as more formal concerts. Recently school musicians performed at the Edinburgh Fringe; regular appearances at the atmospheric Snape Maltings.

Buzz around school when we visited was about who had landed the starring roles in the upcoming performance of Grease, to be staged at school’s own Seckford Theatre, a professional venue complete with interval bar and ice-creams, which hosts touring as well as school productions; community always welcome.

Dance increasingly popular. DofE and successful CCF, which has its own facilities in the grounds. Pupils spend periods of up to three weeks at linked schools and the school’s international programme provides visits and exchanges throughout Europe, Russia, China and Japan.


Impressive pitches, all on site – including a new floodlit Astro for hockey – and courts, plus a sports hall housed in an Eden Project-style Dome, which has plenty of space for several classes to be active together (cricket nets and video cameras out for training when we visited in the autumn). Indeed, sport is for all here and everyone has the opportunity to play competitively in the school teams, often trouncing the opposition (we heard that the girls’ hockey team had just won the regionals, under the guidance of double Olympian coach who used to play in goal for South Africa). The elite sports programme is devised to encourage the most talented pupils, many of whom catch the selector’s eye at county and international levels, and there are dedicated coaches for hockey (parents would welcome similar investment in rugby and athletics). Cross-country running is a real strength, with Woodbridge representing England at the world championships in 2020. The school also has its own equestrian team and reaches the national finals every year. Friday afternoon is timetabled for the Seckford Scheme, an extraordinary range of non-academic activities in which the whole school (staff included) joins. All interests and tastes are encouraged. School has its own chess international master. Running club is strong (the school is a key supporter of the Woodbridge 10K road race and also sponsors the youth and mini sections of Woodbridge Rugby Club). Rowing and sailing on the nearby River Deben.


Boarders, mainly international, live in one house in the middle of campus, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2020 and has spectacular views of the valley and chapel. ‘The single house is a strength,’ says head; ‘it’s small and feels like family.’ Looking to offer weekly boarding Monday to Thursday but no more houses planned. Boarders are free to visit the town after school and at weekends when excursions to London and Cambridge, for example, are laid on alongside outings to parties, paintballing, the cinema etc. English language top-ups available.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in the 17th century, the school is part of the Seckford Foundation and has occupied its current site in the town since the 19th century. The extensive grounds are on a hilly plot (unusual for Suffolk and great for sledging, point out our guides), dotted with a collection of buildings of various vintages, from the Victorian to the strikingly contemporary Seckford Theatre and glass-walled sixth form centre. Top-level all-weather Astro pitch recently installed, plus a new cardio and weights gym with Pilates studio. Fully co-ed for 40 years, there is a palpably studious atmosphere across the university-style campus, with its spacious, fuss-free classrooms, chilled library and many corners set up for independent study. Time wasting is frowned upon and every moment not in class is filled with sports and activities. ‘Pupils can have a crack at everything going – there is a niche for everyone,’ approves a parent. Pupils themselves are friendly and polite – teachers, if anything, even more so. Unstuffy relations all round, and the staff give praiseworthy loyal service and appear fully invested in the school (many having chosen it for their own children). Large governing body equally on board (chair is ex CEO of Pret).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘One of the school’s key values is “kindness to others and to self”, which permeates all that we do,’ says head. Students themselves reinforce this through societies and clubs, such as MUN and Pupil Support. This commitment does not go unnoticed and parents praise pastoral care as ‘excellent’. Says one, ‘Every member of the team seems happy and supportive of the pupils, including the catering team, admin support team and grounds staff.’ All pastoral staff are mental health first aid trained with a focus upon the individual as central to the pupil experience as their academic studies. ‘During the pandemic, tutors called pupils individually to check on them, as well as meeting as a tutor group,’ report appreciative parents.

Vertical tutoring system works well – years 7 and 8 are kept together and separate from the older years; after that, years 9 to 13 – day pupils and boarders – are mixed for tutor groups. ‘They get to know older and younger pupils and gain an appreciation of different stages of school life,’ say parents. Weekly house assemblies in the chapel, built by students in the 1920s.

Leadership opportunities for sixth formers, who are allowed to wander into the safe and pleasant town centre at lunchtimes (‘prepares them for university,’ says head). Few discipline problems.

Lunches are tasty – meat and vegetarian options (meatballs on the day we visited), pasta, salad, jacket potatoes and choice of puddings. Portions are ‘eco-friendly’ but seconds given freely. Fruit at break times. Breakfast and supper for boarders as well as day pupils involved in a school activity.

Communication with parents is taken very seriously. As well as the usual parents’ consultations, staff are available on a day-to-day basis via telephone or email.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are ‘bright, friendly and supportive of one another’, says a parent, who also notes that ‘all-rounders do well’. Drawn largely from professional East Anglian families, many have a media background (Aldeburgh, BT close by), but a fleet of buses brings pupils from as far afield as Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe and Colchester. School is very popular in the town and many parents have moved out from London to the Suffolk riverside – particularly prompted by the pandemic - to take advantage. New pupils and parents integrate well and are made to feel welcome. International students attend for long or short periods and ginger up what would otherwise be a very English school.

Money matters

Scholarships competitive - academic, as well as music, sport, chess, drama, art and all-round. More means-tested bursaries than ever before and up to the value of full fees; must be applied for as part of the school application and demonstrate how the pupil will make a contribution to the school community.

The last word

In a small, cosmopolitan riverside town, a country-style school with a culture of collaboration, community and kindness. Happy pupils of all abilities do well academically and throw themselves into an exceptionally wide-ranging co-curricular programme designed to bring out the best in every individual.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Pupils who have specific learning difficulties are given support both inside and outside lessons by qualified and experienced learning support teachers.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where

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