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Framlingham College, near Woodbridge

A co-ed, boarding and day school for 3-18 years, where life skills and becoming a well-rounded human are placed on equal footing with the core subjects at this forward-thinking and friendly school.

What? Where?

Framlingham College is a non-selective, co-ed day and boarding school set in 110 acres of bucolic Suffolk countryside, so there’s plenty of space in which to roam if you’re one of the 630 pupils – 245 at the prep school, 228 at the senior school, and 157 in the sixth form.

The College was founded in 1864 in memory of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert, a statue of whom stands in the front of the majestic main college building, looking out over the stunning 12th Century Framlingham Castle.

The school is gothic style in handsome red brick with tasteful modern additions. The senior school and sixth form reside in the main Framlingham site, whilst you’ll find the prep school in an equally impressive building in a neo-Tudor Hall beside the River Deben, five miles down the road in the idyllic Brandeston village.

The College is within easy reach of London (2 hours) and Cambridge (1.5 hours), and just 14 miles from Aldeburgh if you want to combine school visits with foodie pleasures. Framlingham itself has oodles of charm and character as an ancient market town (like, proper ancient – it was in the Doomsday book!) with plenty of Medieval and Tudor architecture to admire.

Sport & Facilities

The senior school campus sprawls across 85 manicured acres and has replete facilities, even beyond what you would expect from such a long-standing independent.

There are six rugby pitches, three cricket pitches, and two flood-lit astros that have 360 camera technology for live playback for coaching purposes, and get this…. live-streaming of matches to parents who can’t make a game in person (erm – pretty handy when it’s raining, no?). There’s PGA professional coaching for the golfers and grass and indoor tennis courts. The tennis coaching team has some mini Andy Murrays and Johanna Konta’s on the way up, with students playing at the very top end of the county and country rankings.

Your child not into ball sports? No problem. There’s also a 20-metre indoor pool where all little ones have their swimming lessons and bigger ones do strength training and, and a sports hall with attached cardio-vascular suite, spin bike suite and weights room, plus an outward-bound centre, including a shooting range and a climbing wall. Phewph!

You’re probably not surprised to read at this point that team sports are particularly strong, and a number of pupils star in international, regional or county squads or train at national performance centres and academies. The current girls U18 hockey team are national champions – so quite literally it’s jolly hockey sticks at Framlingham (oh come on, that’s brilliant). The netball, rugby and cricket teams excel too, so any budding team players will have a ball here.

Music & More

It’s always a good sign for a music department if they can reel off a professional roll call, and Framingham College has turned out the likes of Charlie Simpson (of Busted fame, and solo singer/songwriter), Christina Johnston-Myachin (coloratura soprano with the Prague State Opera) and Henry Jackman (pianist, conductor, songwriter and composer) who has worked closely with Hans Zimmer and has created soundtracks for many major hit films such as Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Winnie the Pooh and Big Hero 6.

The music department has a dedicated recital hall for impromptu or planned performances and a fully equipped recording studio that is used almost constantly by the enthused music students. Ensembles include an orchestra, concert band, big band, percussion ensemble, chamber groups, jazz ensemble, ukulele orchestra, large non-audition choir, chamber choir and boys’ cambiata choir.

The Director of Music Lucy Bloore is a lively, switched on and nurturing teacher, and there’s clearly an openness in terms of musical range at the school – those studying Music in Year 12 are an eclectic bunch – a jazz singer, a composer, a budding producer, a classical singer, and a music therapist are all in the mix and catered for here

Drama facilities include the Headmaster Porter Theatre with its 248-seat space. LAMDA exam results are excellent and the school regularly takes performances to the Edinburgh Festival. If you’re in any doubt about the talent coming out of the school then check out the brilliant Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit which stars one of Framlingham College’s young actors in a major role.

Art & Technology

Artists can let their imagination run wild in any medium. Painting, drawing and printmaking, textiles and fashion design, animation, 3D modelling, videography, photography, sculpture and ceramics are all offered here. This year two Year 13 students were selected for a national exhibition featuring only 20 artists by the Royal Society of British Artists.

Walking into the DT centre there’s a range of traditional wood and metalwork machinery as well as more modern 3D printing and CAD suites, plus a jewellery workshop. During the tour, I met a few A Level students who proudly showed me their projects. One girl had designed and created a huge cylindrical fire pit in steel, welding and all.

Chapel

There is a beautiful chapel actually inside the school, a large peaceful space where the whole school attends services twice a week. The school is CofE and the friendly Chaplin, Rev B, is on hand to guide and advise all students, whatever their beliefs. 

Extra-Curricular

The extra-curricular programme is vast, compulsory up to Sixth Form (end of year 11) and the ‘carousel programme’ ensures that through Y9 – 11 (ages 13-15) the kids try a large range of activities. Along with the more regular clubs, Framlingham puts on Drone club, Lego robotics, Origami, Circus Skills, Film Appreciation, Visit the Elderly and Dragon’s Den.

Over at the Prep school, there are equally diverse activities on offer from Croquet and Scalectrix to Tom Gates Doodle Club to forest school. I particularly like the sound of the Chill Out Club but there you go, I’m lazy.

Years 7-9 also do Extended Project Work each term, choosing to study what interests them relating to a specific topic, such as Identity or Conflict in the World, then independently research an aspect of it which they present to their peers and teachers at the end of each term. Over three years they build up a digital portfolio of these projects, which are also meant to help them relate the core subjects they are studying to the bigger world and build up their confidence in their own opinions, as well as in their research, independent working and public speaking skills.

Academics

Academic results are strong for a non-selective school – 98.2% gaining 4-9 in their GSCES, and 69.9% achieving A*-B grades at A level.

There is a full range of subjects on offer at Framlingham, including BTecs in Music and Sports Science – the Principal is a big fan of BTecs, and it’s an embracing of vocational or practical qualifications that I’m seeing more and more at independent senior schools.

Planning for your child to stay at Framlingham from Prep to Senior?  Common Entrance exams have been phased out here over the last few years, in favour of tests that highlight bright minds and playful spirits. Clearly, the Prep school is doing something right – over 90% of prep pupils continue to the Senior school.   

ISI REPORT

The most recent full ISI inspection can be found here – 2015 is a full inspection; 2018 is a Regulatory Compliance inspection – basically, a check-up that standards are being maintained.

The reports rate Framlingham as an excellent school, with particular praise for the holistic education, strong pastoral care and co-curricular activities. The college is due another assessment anytime now.

SEN & PASTORAL

There’s huge focus on pastoral care for all pupils, boarders and day pupils. There’s real awareness of the challenges faced by this generation, and the Head has hired new leaders of pastoral care for both the Prep and the Senior schools who have created new initiatives and introduced broader training for all staff.

There is a team that supports every child’s wellbeing – this includes their tutor, housemasters and mistresses, heads of year, teachers, SENCO, medical team, the chaplain and the matrons. The heady promise is that nobody falls through the cracks at this school.

At both the Senior and Prep schools there’s good provision for SEN, with dedicated rooms, tutors, and regular assessments and progress checks. The approach is to provide support and to collaborate, whilst ensuring children feel they are in control of their learning overall. For emotional support there are two counsellors on-site for both Senior and Prep and pupils who can make appointments or come to drop-in sessions over at the medical centre.

A new programme called Flow Skills Programme focuses on well-being through teaching life skills and prepping children to meets life’s challenges Five areas are covered including– digital literacy and citizenship, safe-guarding skills, social & emotional skills and practical life skills (such as problem-solving or public speaking) and then these are all put to the test with skills challenges where a student can take on voluntary work, or create a mini business or perhaps be a mentor to a younger child using their new skills in a real-life situation.

SIXTH FORM

You’ll find the Sixth Form in the centre of the senior school, in the mezzanine area installed in 2014 offering a light, bright glass atrium with open plan common room and great views of the cricket pitches. The rest of the school quite literally looks up to the Sixth Formers. There is a new head of Sixth Form: Alex Boyd Williams is an energetic Welshman with a passion for English, Drama and rugby with a remit to shake things up and motivate these 16-18 year olds. Watch this space!

THE HEAD

Louise North took over as Principal in September 2019 and was previously the senior deputy head at Oakham School in Rutland. Joining at a challenging time just before the pandemic, she has nevertheless sorted a five-year plan with a key focus on re-invigorating the learning culture at Framlingham – she recognises the school is well known for sport but that she wants all students to strive for their best, and be celebrated for their effort and success, whether that’s an A or a C. There’s also a real emphasis on the ‘soft skills’ that we all know to be now essential for future work – teaching on empathy, teamwork, collaboration, resilience, are worked into each child’s timetable.

North has also introduced a new parent forum, which meets every half term – essential feedback as she sees it. She’s bringing in more pastoral training for tutors and as a parent of teenagers herself, seems very well equipped to support students in these tough times. She’s an impressive headteacher, no-nonsense but nurturing, and she has big plans for Framlingham and there’s a definite sense that she’ll get this school, and its students exactly where they need to be. 

PREP

From 3-13 years, the children are based at the Prep school site in Brandeston, with more than 95% of pupils continuing on to the Senior school. Idyllic doesn’t quite cover it. The main building dates back to 1550, there are acres of countryside, adjacent to a lovely church that’s used twice a week for school services. The Prep school has a fleet of mini buses too, so that all the children can easily take advantage of the facilities at the Senior School – they’re frequently bussed up the road to use the pool and the sports fields. However, the Prep school also has its own not insignificant facilities, including a drama suite and a ballet studio, music practice rooms, recital rooms (all prep school students are encouraged to try an instrument), art and design rooms and a woodwork studio. Outside there are playing fields, green play space and a low ropes course, plus woodland, where Forest School activities regularly take place. When I was there a science lesson was taking place on the vast lawn in front of the school.

Jonathan Egan, the new Head of the Prep comes fresh from the highly regarded Bedford School. A bit early to judge on how he’s doing, given I met him one day into the job! But he is full of enthusiasm and clearly excited to get his teeth into the role.

LITTLIES

There’s a charming purpose-built Early Years Centre, bright and light – with a safely gated outside space with sandpit, play area and amazing rural views.

BOARDERS

At the Senior school, there are seven boarding houses, four for boys and three for girls offering a mix of full time, weekly, flexi and adhoc boarding (55% of the pupils’ board in some form or other). The kids can board from age 9 in the Prep School, where the dorms are in the lovely old hall, with period features, and a very cosy feel. 

Unusually at Framlingham, parents can visit as often as they like – none of the rigid formalities that you get at some boarding schools. Worth noting that for both boarders and day pupils that Saturday school is compulsory from year 7 and for all at the Senior school. Saturday school seems to be going out of favour with some boarding schools but Framlingham is keen to maintain the tradition.  The Saturday programme at the Prep school is focused on fulfilling activities and Senior school have lessons in the morning and competitive matches in the afternoon.

QUIRKS

There’s an emotional support dog at Framlingham – Walter, a sandy coloured Lab – available for cuddles when needed as well as mentoring sessions where the teacher and pupil can go for a dog walk and chat as they go.

Kindness is king at this school, and a recent initiative of the new head is PHAB Club (part of a national programme in a few UK senior schools) is a good example. Students host mentally and physically disabled children at the school once a week, giving their carers a break and a cuppa, and carrying out fun activities like badge and collage making with the children.

If your child is the outdoor type they can join the Fram Rangers and bound around the grounds (and beyond) doing archery, mountain biking, survival skills stuff as well as leadership command tasks.

It’s worth mentioning that Easter Egg hunts are very big at this school, enjoyed by the Prep and Senior school alike – a lot of eggs can be hidden in 110 acres let me tell you.

Fees

Broadly average prices I’d say. Fees are £23,906 per year for Prep boarders, and £32,382 for senior boarders. Prep school day pupils £15,888 and Senior school day pupils £20,82.

Wrap around care

For non-boarders, occasional and flexi-boarding is on offer so that children can board if they need to on an ad hoc basis. Flexi boarding used to be bookable a few days in advance but in a post Covid world more notice is required and it is currently being booked at the beginning of each term.   

Kids can be dropped off at Prep school for breakfast at 7.30 am and stay until 6pm for prep club and dinner. Senior school kids can also join for breakfast and dinner but tend not to – you know those teens – they leave getting up for school until the last minute. Senior school pupils can also stay in houses until 10 pm hanging out with boarder mates/doing homework. Then, of course, there are plenty of sports clubs and activities that keep them busy after school too.  

Word on the ground

I spoke to three students (two in year 13 and one in year 9) about their overall experience at Framlingham, and they were happy campers – all talking about the warm, friendly atmosphere and the sports and extra-curricular activities. These are content and confident children who clearly love the environment and have good relationships with the staff. There wasn’t even any moaning about the classics like school dinners!

Muddy Verdict

GOOD FOR:  Great for sporty, musical, artistic or academic kids, this is a nurturing, school with high standards but a relaxed, nurturing vibe. You can be sure you’re child will find something to excel at, and be both busy and happy.

NOT FOR:  The more introverted student who isn’t keen on getting involved in multiple activities on top of their studies. It’s a relatively bijou school in terms of student numbers, so if your child wants to be in a bigger big pond, Framlingham might not be the place.  

DARE TO DISAGREE?! Don’t take my word for it. Check out the new website and virtual tour and book a visit here. You can also watch the brand new College film “Let’s See Who You Are” here.  

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