Ipswich Prep School
This selective co-ed day school (for ages 3 - 11) in Ipswich strikes the perfect balance between impressive academics and a pastorally strong, nurturing vibe.
Ipswich Prep School is a co-ed day school in Ipswich for 275 pupils (almost 50/50 boys/girls) for children 0-11, with average class sizes of 19. The school is the junior part of the highly-regarded, historic Ipswich School (the leading academic independent school in Suffolk) and pupils in the Prep benefit from all the extra facilities on offer over the road in the Senior School (as well as a seamless progression into year 7).
The Prep might not look as classically pretty as the senior school (a huge red brick beauty with crenellated tower), but it’s certainly a striking modern design, having been purpose built in 2006. This means there are no compromises when it comes to space. All the classrooms are large, light and have really high ceilings, and there’s a real emphasis on displaying work here, so every inch of the modern walls are plastered with bright and beautiful art work. It makes the whole space feel connected, creative and inspiring.
The Upper Prep building is particularly impressive, as it was built during the Maritime Festival to look like a ship, reflecting Ipswich’s heritage and connecting the school to the city’s marina. The play deck on one of the upper levels of “the ship” is a unique space for the children to play, with fabulous views over Ipswich. Even though it’s a city school – so doesn’t have the hundreds of acres some rural schools do – students here are encouraged to spend a lot of time outside and so the space has been used really creatively to facilitate this.
An onsite Nursery, The Lodge, opened in 2016, to help parents with wraparound care and is an excellent addition to the Prep School, allowing children to start their Ipswich School journey from a much earlier age (from 3 months old).
Pastoral care is high on the agenda here, in fact the school cites “care” as THE most important of the school’s four core values (the others being communication, passion and potential). The belief here is that children learn best when they’re happy and even though the school is known for being academically strong, the focus isn’t on cramming for SATs and instead more of a creative approach to learning, instilling a lifelong love of learning in the students. The school also places a lot of importance in honing skills for the work place, with the understanding that many jobs that kids will do in the future haven’t even been invented yet.
During my tour the children looked like they were having a fabulous time (and were extremely studious and well-behaved), with no indication that lockdown had affected them adversely at all. All the children I saw and met were confident and happy to talk to me and the atmosphere was really vibrant.
Specialist learning starts from an early age at the school, with PE, Music, Dance, Drama and Library sessions introduced in Nursery; French added in Reception and then a carousel of German, Russian, Spanish and French later on. In Upper Prep the specialist teaching extends to include Art, DT and Science.
The facilities are very impressive for a city school where acreage is limited, and the staff are inventive with what they’ve got (plus, there are never any real compromises when they’ve got the Senior School to spill over into just across the road). Across the two sites there are 59.4 acres, 2.5 of these specifically belonging to the Prep site. The Prep School is home to great facilities like a new astroturf play area, science labs, music rooms, a large indoor gym hall and an art studio. As mentioned before, anything that can’t be found on the Prep site, can be in the Senior School, including an historic swimming pool (not huge, but big enough for youngsters to become confident swimmers), three astroturf hockey pitches, 6 tennis/ netball courts, football pitches and a state-of-the-art new music block.
Recent additions to the Prep facilities include new Year 6 classrooms to allow for more classes, while maintaining the small class sizes, and there are plans afoot to use some of the Senior School land to improve the forest-school offering for younger years.
A kitchen was recently added to the lower prep building too, so that the younger students can have their own chef and space to eat and socialise. Ensuring children are well-fed and primed to learn is important to the staff, so they go the extra mile with options like deconstructed chicken pie for fussier children to encourage them to try new dishes.
The major sports in the school are hockey, rugby, netball and mixed cricket but you don’t have to be elite to get a chance to shine – all pupils have the opportunity to represent the school in competitive matches (the school currently puts out five hockey teams in the Upper Prep and represents the school in a myriad other sports). In Year 5 and 6 the girls go on an annual hockey tour to North Norfolk and last year’s U11 boys’ hockey team were crowned Suffolk champions.
Rugby is becoming a standout sport in both Prep and Senior, and the Year 5 and 6 boys recently went on the school’s first rugby tour for this age group. You don’t have to worry about black eyes and broken noses at this tender age though. Ipswich Prep don’t progress onto the contact side of the sport too early, instead finely honing the motor skills needed for later on.
It’s not all about team sports though, during PE and Activities pupils can also have a go at gymnastics, dance, athletics, tennis, swimming, fencing, horse riding, skiing, squash, cross country and table tennis. Plus, there’s a fun fitness trail, which particularly helps any children who are struggling with co-ordination.
MUSIC, ART AND DRAMA
There’s a lot going on in the creative side of the school with a dedicated art, design and music floor. Food tech is taught from an early age, from Year 1 up, and the students get to design their own version of classics like scones “bake-off style”, with the winner’s recipe actually being served in a local cafe.
Music is a huge part of daily life at Ipswich School with all children learning an instrument as part of the music curriculum. This starts as early as Nursery, where percussion instruments are introduced; Year 2 pupils learn recorders and continue until Year 6; in Year 3 all children learn a stringed instrument (loaned to them for the academic year). From Year 2 onwards children can begin private piano, string, LAMDA and singing lessons too.
As you’d expect from this early exposure to music, participation at Senior School level (which almost the entire Year 6 cohort move up to) is very high at over 50%.
Art is another creative subject given plenty of time and attention (as the metre upon metre of art displays clearly show), both within the curriculum and at a co-curricular level, with a specialist art teacher employed and a dedicated space for creating art. Mini Monets can join a group for talented artists in Year 5 and 6 called Art Masters, and many of these students go on to become art scholars in Senior School.
Every year, the school has an artist in residence (2020’s was illustrator Bee Willey), who creates a personalised project for the children to work on with them. Year 4s regularly take part in the Young Art East Anglia competition, consistently achieving highly commended; while Year 6s work with Zara Chancellor every year to do life drawing sessions for a few weeks (organised age-appropriately).
Children also have DT lessons, and can use the large and impressive DT facilities at the Senior School for more complicated tasks like laser cutting.
The other area that is really strong here is reading. You’ll find shelf upon shelf of books in every classroom (on constant rotation) and there are two really well equipped libraries with a dedicated librarian.
In the Upper Prep pupils have a lesson of drama each week and have the chance to perform in class assemblies. The highlight of the Year 6 calendar is the end of year production that everyone takes part in and is performed on the big stage at the Senior School. Every child has a speaking part, so that everyone (or no-one depending on your opinion!) can shine.
Ipswich Prep is a selective school, but there aren’t any stringent assessments that you have to spend hours prepping for. Instead, there are fun taster and assessment sessions, which cover entrance tests in Maths, English and Non Verbal Reasoning. The school also asks for a reference from the child’s current school. The main assessment period is in January for the following September. Mid year entry is available on adhoc basis where places are available though.
The school isn’t just looking for little geniuses, and there’s not a “typical” student here. That said, the curriculum and co-curricular offering is extensive and fast-paced, so children need to be able to thrive in a busy, and energetic environment.
In terms of SEN, there’s a Learning Enhancement Co-ordinator that shows how seriously the school takes pastoral and academic care. Due to the fast-paced academic environment though, this isn’t the school for you if your child needs one-to-one SEN provision.
The proof of how well the Prep School does academically is that each year Prep pupils are awarded a huge raft of scholarships for the Senior School (last year’s cohort bagged an impressive 4 Queen’s scholarships, 3 Art scholarships, 3 Music scholarships, 1 Sport scholarship and 2 Headmasters Presentation Awards in Sport).
It’s not all about exam results and scholarships though. In 2020 the school as a whole decided on and introduced new learning dispositions (the characteristics that develop lifelong learning skills and a joy in learning). The dispositions – Calypso the Cat (Curiosity and Enthusiasm); Crump and Curly the Caterpillars (Co-operation and Collaboration); Luna the Lion (Courage and Self-belief); Onyx the Octopus (Independence and Initiative) and Ruffles the Raccoon (Resilience and Risk-taking) – can be found artistically represented in each classroom and staff are already noticing the pupils increasingly demonstrating these traits.
As in the Senior School, extra-curricular is a huge calling card here – there are an eye-watering amount of clubs offered during and after school every week, including den building, debating, orchestra, ballet, music production, calligraphy, puppets, and butterfly club. If a pupil has a specific interest that isn’t currently catered for they are invited to start a club. There’s no pressure to take part in these clubs though, and there’s even a quiet lunchtime “club” for pupils who need some down time.
WRAP AROUND CARE
There are school buses within an hour’s radius of the site and the school has buddy systems and tracking in place for younger pupils. If you’re looking for a school with a good morning care, you’ll be pleased to hear that breakfast clubs are available every day. Nursery & Reception from 7.30am – 8.30am (£5.20 per session). And Years 1 – 6 from 7.45am – 8.30am (£4.95 per session).
The after school provision ends on the early side of things compared to many other independent schools (up until 5.30pm), although I imagine this will be extended in the future as parents work longer and harder.
Amanda Childs has been head at Ipswich Prep School for 11 years now and clearly still loves every minute of the job. She comes from an academic background as Deputy Head at Alleyn’s in London and so was perfect for the job to take this already academically-strong prep school to even greater heights. Due to coronavirus, I only got the chance to meet her by video call, but even through a screen I could tell she’s a real hit with the children and has a caring and friendly personality that puts kids immediately at ease and fits with the pastorally strong ethos of the school.
Amanda has already made plenty of changes to the school and still has lots of ideas for further growth, including the possibility of opening more satellite nurseries around Ipswich following on from the success of The Lodge. She doesn’t change things for change’s sake though, and her approach is to sit back and evaluate before making big decisions. For example, when Singapore Maths was all the rage, the school waited to see how it was working before taking the best bits (like Mastery) from it and discarding any principles that didn’t work within their educational ethos.
The nursery classroom is purpose-built with it’s own secure outdoor area and is full of brilliant equipment. It’s clearly a very happy place to be, and the Early Years teacher is keen to make sure children here have a lot of fun and stay young before they get swallowed up into more serious education. That’s not to say they don’t get an educational head start here. As well as free-flow, unstructured play and sensory and creative activities, the children also get an introduction to numeracy and literacy and have subject specialist sessions in Programming, PE, Music, Dance and Drama and Library time.
Ipswich Prep School is a real success story when it comes to how they dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. As soon as the Easter holidays ended the school had a fully-operational digital schedule in place for the students, including a full timetabled day for every day of the week (no homeschooling for these lucky parents). Three quarters of lessons were delivered live, so students could ask for help from their teachers in real time, while new sites were built as learning resources for the younger children every day.
The result? The vast majority of children are at the same academic level as expected by the end of a normal term. Some are even higher than expected, having really responded to the digital learning. A few have struggled emotionally with the changes, so the school continued their Wishes & Feelings sessions with the Learning Enhancement Co-ordinator and the SEN provision was also continued throughout.
You wouldn’t really describe Ipswich Prep School as quirky. Although it’s a forward-thinking and academically progressive school, it is still quite traditional. A school therapy dog, Lola, was introduced in 2020 though, who has already delighted the children with her visits to the classrooms.
The school also uses its city location to its advantage rather than feeling constrained by it. Prep students regularly head into the town to make use of the nearby facilities like Christchurch Park, and have on-the-go lessons in places like the city museum.
Fees are in line with the other leading prep schools in the East from £68.62 per whole day session (inc lunch) in Nursery; £3,638 for Reception; £4,288 for Years 1 and 2; £4,712 for Year 3; and £4,470 for Years 4-6.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The huge extra-curricular programme offers plenty of opportunity beyond the classroom. Small class sizes allow for individual attention and a focus on each child’s specific strengths. Particularly good fo anyone wanting their kids to move up to the sought-after and academically strong Senior School – there’s direct entry into the Senior School as long as you’re a pupil from Year 5 or earlier (academics permitting).
Not for: Children who would struggle in a fast-paced academic environment or if you’re looking for acre upon acre of bucolic grounds for your kids to run free in.
Ipswich Preparatory School, 3 Ivry St, Ipswich IP1 3QW