This city-based, selective co-ed school for ages 11-18 pulls off the near impossible - amazing results across the board while retaining a happy, non hothousey environment.
Ipswich School is a co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 close to the centre of Ipswich (there’s also a Prep School and Nursery over the road making this a brilliant all-through option). The school is long established, with evidence of its existence as far back as 1399 and has a claim to fame in the fact that it is the only school mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s plays. The school has an impressive list of distinguished alumni too, including Thomas Wolsey and a Nobel prize winner.
The school houses 841 senior children (517 boys and 324 girls), with small class sizes of around 20, and has 59 acres of outside space, which is brilliant for a city school. The main site is dominated by a grand red brick Victorian mansion, with more recent additions bolted on sympathetically over time, including a standout library that has been given listed status.
For a city school, where space is at a premium, the facilities are really good. It might be an historic school, but there are plenty of modern additions, including a smart, state-of-the-art Sixth Form Centre and a fabulous new Upper Sixth Boarding House – a modern, attractive space for Year 12 and 13 pupils, with ensuite facilities, providing an experience similar to a university hall of residence to make the transition easier.
There’s also a brilliant new music department, The Britten Faculty of Music – one of the smartest and most well-equipped music centres I’ve seen at a school and highlights how important this particular subject is here.
The school is also home to a 300 seater capacity main hall, the country’s oldest indoor school pool, multiple science labs, dedicated IT suites, an art studio with kiln, and a large DT workshop with all the mod cons.
In addition to the grounds on the main site, the school also has fields just a short minibus ride away, including Rushmere, a multi-million pound training venue that was opened in 2015, with three astroturf hockey pitches, as well as six tennis/netball courts, football pitches and an indoor sports hall. Notcutts has 32 acres of grass facilities and a recently updated pavilion for cricket, rugby snd football. There’s also hockey/ tennis pitches at Westwood, site of the boarding house.
These brilliant facilities, alongside excellent specialist teaching and a busy co-curricular sports programme mean over the last decade or so Ipswich School has really improved its national (and even international) reputation as a leading school for rugby and hockey.
Recently the school has changed its approach to sports lessons, and instead of separate Games and P.E classes has taken a more holistic view of things with combined sport lessons, allowing for more time actually playing the sport and learning the theory behind each skill.
The proof is in the results. Participation throughout the school has really increased and the elite teams are performing better than ever with the girl’s U15 cricket team ranked 1st in the country; three of the school’s teams becoming cricket county champions in 2020; the U13 girl’s hockey team 2nd in the country; many of the schools other hockey teams making it to the finals of major competitions; and the U15 boys Rugby team winning the Langley National Festival.
The school as a whole has recently been shortlisted for Independent School of the Year for Sporting Achievement 2020 too.
Outside of the “traditional” sports, students also get the chance to learn life skills through a whole host of activities. These include, but aren’t limited to, other sports and also encompass activities like cooking, financial planning, study skills and wellbeing. The Life Skills programme covers uncomfortable topics too – drugs, bullying, crime – and encourages a sense of debate.
MUSIC, ART & DRAMA
Both sporty types and musicians are well catered for at Ipswich School and participation levels in both are really impressive. Over half the students in the school participate in a musical ensemble (there are 28 to choose from!) and there are loads of chances for kids to shine throughout the year in one of the many musical performances that take place. The school makes the most of its location too, with strong links to the world-renowned Festival at Snape Maltings.
You don’t have to be the next Vanessa Mae or Lang Lang though to enjoy the musical side of things here. There’s a real ‘give it a go’ mentality and the programme provides something in all genres for the absolute beginners up to concert standard performers. Everyone can take part in an ensemble too, with different bands and orchestras depending on a student’s current grade, as well as relaxed choirs alongside the more formal audition-entry Chapel Choir.
A Festival of Music was launched in 2009 to give students the chance to perform with the pros, recently including one of their own alumni, Imogen Parry from The Swingles. Students also get the chance to perform outside of school with regular community concerts in the Cathedral, local churches, care homes and other schools.
After music, drama is the most popular co-curricular activity and it is also taught for all ages within the curriculum. The school puts on three drama productions a year (encompassing all year groups). In Year 8, talented actors are invited to take part in the Suffolk Festival. On top of this the Year 7, 8 and 9 drama clubs perform once a year.
A love of art is fostered early on in the Prep School, which probably accounts for the success and high levels of participation in the subject at senior school level. The school offers art, photography and textiles within the curriculum overseen by a passionate Director of Art. At Sixth Form the results are particularly impressive: A* 38%, A*-A 63%, A*-B 100%, A*-C 100%.
The Sixth Form Centre is housed in a separate building further along the road from the main school and has recently been refurbished to a really high standard, with the feel of an executive office that’ll help students make the transition from school to uni or work life. Sixth Formers have their own light and bright café too, as well as an IT Suite and individual work rooms.
In September 2019 the school launched a specific Sixth Form personal development programme – The Edge. This programme sees students complete a Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management, covering “soft skills” like positive mental health, presenting, digital responsibilities, health, cultural awareness, financial literacy, law and civic responsibility.
While Ipswich School is first and foremost a day school, there are brilliant boarding facilities for both overseas and UK students. The school has recently invested in the boarding side of things and now have a lot more capacity. Pupils can become boarders from Year 9 onwards and for parents there’s the very useful option of weekly and flexi boarding. With the introduction of the new Sixth Form boarding house in 2020, boarding at this end of the school is likely to become very popular.
Academically, you can’t really ask for more. Ipswich School is the top Independent School in Suffolk and every year students accept places at top Russell Group universities, including Oxbridge. In 2021, the percentage of A Level exams graded A*-C was 97% and over 70% of GCSE exams at Ipswich School in 2021 were graded 9-7.
These students are much more than just their impressive grades though. The school is known for turning out all-rounders and isn’t an academic hothouse, with a dizzying array of co-curricular options on offer from an early age, plus a strong emphasis on pastoral care. Many students manage to pull off top grades, as well as enjoying success in music, art, drama and sport.
This is an area that Ipswich Senior School delivers particularly well on. The school has four core values – Care, Passion, Communication and Potential, with Care cited as being the most important of these four and which underpins the entire ethos of the school. It’s one thing to say you’re caring, but this is backed up by the fact the school has a Deputy Head of Pastoral care, there’s a matron, counsellor and chaplain for pupils to talk to and there’s a well-organised system of houses and tutor groups to ensure pupils have support at every stage of their education and no-one slips through the net.
Mr Nicholas Weaver came across as friendly, kind, passionate and inspiring (even though we were only meeting via Covid-friendly video). He’s been headmaster since 2010 and is vastly experienced in the academic side of things, having been Deputy Head at The Portsmouth Grammar School, as well as holding other academic positions, and having studied engineering at Jesus College, Cambridge. He also has a real passion for the co-curriculum, as a tool in providing an all-round education.
He has overseen many of the school’s recent investments, including the amazing all-singing, all-dancing music school, the development of the vast astroturf complex at Rushmere and the 2019 purchase of a nearby historic building, which has been turned into new classrooms for Year 6, as well as a new Sixth From boarding house, with further plans yet to be revealed.
His secret to the school’s continuous improvement? Not making massive sweeping changes, but looking at the best elements of each subject, sport and department and translating them into other areas of the school.
Ipswich School proved themselves to be extremely quick to act and put pupils (and parents) first when it came to the coronavirus pandemic. They were one of the first schools to move their curriculum online and Senior School pupils enjoyed a full remote learning programme throughout the summer term. They also made the most of not doing exams with A Level sample lessons for Year 11 and more stretching, diverse content for Year 13.
It isn’t just the key academic classes that have been continued during the pandemic, but the school has even managed to keep its love of music and sport alive. The Friday drop-in concerts were videoed and uploaded so pupils could still participate, and sports-wise they became a flagship school for Hudl – performance analysis via video.
I wouldn’t describe Ipswich Senior School as particularly quirky, but it does have a a fabulous history…
- Journalism is a strong subject at Ipswich School. They are believed to have the country’s oldest school magazine on record, and have a weekly student run newsletter read by staff, students and parents, plus they count journalist Adam Rutherford, among their alumni.
- Stones for the new school that Wolsey was keen to refound as the “Eton of the East” were sent to build Whitehall Palace when Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII.
- Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the school in 1851.
- The Ganzoni Cup, presented to the school by Sir John Ganzoni MP in 1921 is so fiercely contested that in 1936 Headmaster Tanqueray wanted to abolish it.
- And then, there’s that mention in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.
FEES AND ADMISSIONS
As you’d expect for a school of this calibre I’d say. Years 7 – 8: £5,167 per term; Year 9 – 13: £5,641 per term; weekly boarding (Years 9 – 13): £10,365; and full boarding £11,419.
Ipswich is a selective school (although they’re keen to point out that many different personalities would thrive here), and all applicants sit entrance exams (November for Year 7, February for Year 9) and meet with the headmaster. Sixth Form applicants need to have at least six 6 grades with 7s in the subjects selected for A Level.
The school is really keen to raise more funds for bursaries and recently launched a campaign called Founding Futures, fundraising to help the school have a significant endowment in the future.
The kitchen opens at 8.15am for breakfast and the school day officially ends at 4.15pm, but pupils can then spend time in the library until 5.30pm or attend Study Support. Drama, music and sporting co-curricular activities run after school most days until 5.30/6pm.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: An all-rounder education and kids who are comfortable learning in a fast-paced environment. Parents who value good grades, but want to ensure their kids achieve them in a nurturing and positive environment. Sports-mad or musical kids will particularly benefit from the facilities here.
Not for: Anyone who wants to luxuriate in a long sweeping drive up to their child’s school and see acres of rolling grounds out the classroom windows. If co-curricular activities don’t interest your child they’ll probably not make the most of the opportunities at this school.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! There is a Senior School & Sixth Open Morning on 28 April. Click here for more information. Individual tours can also be booked with the Admissions Team. Email email@example.com or call 01473 408328. You can read my review of the Prep School here.
Ipswich School, 25 Henley Road, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3SG