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26 January 2022
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

English Boarding Schools in Profile: Framlingham College, A Small School That Punches Above Its Weight

Hello and happy new year from a very chilly Oxfordshire!
Getting the year off to a good start, on a crisp winter day with bright blue skies, we travelled to the east of England to be your eyes and ears at Framlingham College in Suffolk. A warm and seriously ambitious school, it is always a pleasure to visit Framlingham and we hope you enjoy this profile. Do make sure you check out the podcast too, where you can hear Framlingham College’s headmistress, teachers, and pupils giving us an insider’s view of life at the beautiful Suffolk school. Enjoy!
View from the school - beautiful Framlingham Castle
The Setting
It’s pretty hard to compete with Framlingham College’s setting. The school sits on top of a hill that overlooks the market town of Framlingham, with picturesque views across the valley to the 12th century Framlingham Castle and its graceful parkland and lake.
Itself steeped in history, the school’s main building is a red brick Victorian beauty, with a grand statue of Prince Albert (in whose memory Framlingham was founded) standing in the smart gravel driveway. Newer outbuildings are all tasteful and spread around the school’s extensive and immaculate grounds, which could easily rival the Castle’s parkland across the valley!
View onto the school: Framlingham College in all its glory
The quaint town of Framlingham, just a ten minute walk down the road, has its own, more contemporary claim to fame, as the hometown of singer Ed Sheeran! But despite the fame, the charm is nonetheless retained — perhaps by the fact that Framlingham takes a while to get to. Winding through Suffolk’s narrow country lanes means the drive from London is between two and three hours. Trains aren’t a huge amount of help as you’ll need to change twice, but Stansted airport is only one hour away by car. And boy is the trip worth it!
Sports a key feature here - Framlingham's indoor pool
What (we think!) Framlingham College is all about
At only 400 pupils, Framlingham College’s vast grounds and buildings belie its size. But being a small school is partly what makes Framlingham College so special. Renowned for its pastoral care, Framlingham College is incredibly attentive to individual pupils, and teachers are proud to know each and every student in the school. (For example, despite having only 70 international boarders, there’s a full-time member of staff catering specifically to their needs, to ensure, as headmistress Louise North puts it on our podcast, “that we as the staff and student body know the cultural differences that they will experience in coming to a different country”.)
Amazing art - a pupil's photography project in action
While at some schools, warm family-friendliness comes naturally hand-in-hand with being a little worn and scruffy around the edges, what makes Framlingham College stand out is that its size doesn’t limit its ambitions. With super smart facilities, seriously competitive sports teams, and, in recent years, a new academic vigour, Framlingham College still has the best of what British boarding schools can offer. Again, in Louise’s words, “the mistake is thinking that to be aspirational and ambitious you can’t also be warm, kind and friendly”. Quite!
Design Technology - state of the art!
The Academics
In 2021, 46 per cent of pupils achieved between 9 and 7 at GCSE; and 56 per cent achieved A or A at A Level (80 per cent A to B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 31 per cent of pupils achieved between 9 and 7 at GCSE; and 23 per cent achieved A or A at A level (52 per cent A to B).
These are good results, but are likely to keep improving as in recent years there’s been a focus on upping academic standards, with a new “A team” of teachers brought in to help. Louise is careful to point out that this won’t happen at the expense of Framlingham College’s caring character, nor will the school ever become pushy. “We’ve long had a reputation for being kind, warm and caring, and that continues,” she says on our podcast. “But what we’re doing is making sure that every child knows what they’re capable of, and they’re always capable of more than they believe.”
Well stocked, cosy and well visited: Framlingham's library
International pupils are given an extra helping hand adjusting to the UK’s academic structure thanks to the specialist role filled by Jamie MacKenzie, Framlingham College’s overseas pupils’ coordinator and head of English as a second language. This dedicated provision is clearly appreciated by pupils — Anna Sofia, a German pupil we spoke to on the podcast hyperlink, who is currently undertaking five A Levels at Framlingham, described teachers as “really supportive”, while Dominic, another German pupil, was keen to point out how “motivated, skilled, and experienced” they are.
Music, media, podcasting - it's all happening here!
The Extracurriculars
When it comes to extracurriculars, Framlingham College is heavily influenced by its situation in Suffolk, which is well-known in the UK as a creative and entrepreneurial county.
Complementing the business studies GCSE on offer, Framlingham College runs “Dragons’ Den” days, entrepreneurship days, and “speed dating” with old pupils who now work in various fields of business. The entrepreneurial mindset runs so deep that Louise proudly points out the many pupils who already run their own small businesses, selling clothes or handmade items through online marketplaces such as Etsy.
Inside the spacious art department
In clubs and activities, there’s a real focus on our changing world: options include drone flying, robot building, sustainability, Chinese calligraphy, and computer science. As we heard on the podcast from Sue Wessels, the senior deputy head and hockey coach, Framlingham College’s forward-thinking technological mindset even spills over into sports: pupils are able to compete in “e-games”, which build team skills as well as technological acumen.
Sporty! The school's sports hall
However, Dominic and Anna Sofia told us that the most popular extracurricular activities are still the traditional sporting options: “hockey for the girls, and rugby for the boys”, they say. Golf, tennis, and cricket (which is played all year) are also popular, and the school competes at a far higher level than you would expect given the small number of students to draw teams from. But it's hockey that’s the real jewel in Framlingham College’s sporting crown. Sue attributes this not only to Framlingham College’s exceptional facilities, but also the school’s broader focus on the player — fitness and conditioning sessions are taken seriously, to ensure pupils’ have the necessary strength and foundations to develop high level skills.
Lots of amazing music here, too
Following in, or perhaps inspiring, Ed Sheeran’s footsteps, Framlingham College also has exceptional facilities for music and the arts. Music students benefit from a professional recording studio, while head of art Sue Townsley is incredibly inspiring, ensuring Framlingham College’s art department creates “self-led learning”, whereby pupils tailor courses around their own interests and skills, rather than the other way around. It’s no surprise then that half the students at Framlingham end up taking art at GCSE! Again, the school’s success in this department relates back to its pastoral attitude and focus on each individual pupil: “Art is an intensely personal subject,” Sue says.
Window to board
The Boarding
Around half of Framlingham College’s 400 pupils are full-time boarders, but many more flexi-board. The international cohort comprises around 70 pupils, from roughly 17 different nationalities. Smoothing international pupils into Framlingham life is where Jamie steps in: “I see them on a daily basis… We get them to meet other pupils from other countries to make sure they realise they aren’t alone in this,” he told us on the podcast.
The school's own cafe
From her previous experience at other English boarding schools, Louise is keen to ensure that the boarding experience at Framlingham College is not about “a child rattling around an empty boarding house”. Dominic and Anna Sofia confirmed this definitely isn’t the case — Anna Sofia had recently been on trips to London, Ipswich, Norwich, and Cambridge, while Dominic said that while it took him a while to find his way through all the options on offer, “there’s always so much to do” around school that he’s never been unwillingly unoccupied. Day pupils are also given a space in each house, so the community is fully integrated.
Both pupils described the food as “really good”, with Anna Sofia specifically mentioning that “you can really be vegan or vegetarian here”.
Pupils are allowed to visit Framlingham town once a week after lessons, and boarders are, of course, also allowed to go on weekends. The school is relaxed and trusts pupils with their freedom — they all have swipe cards and can go back to their (cosy and inviting) houses at certain times of the day.
Lots of space to be - the main area
Our view on a student suited to Framlingham College
Framlingham College is the perfect place for a pupil looking for the facilities, activities, and education that Britain’s top boarding schools can offer, but within a smaller, cosier environment. For those that do well within an intimate community, and perhaps need an extra level of attention, Framlingham is able to provide all this — as well as the grand, classic English setting — without sacrificing on the quantity and quality of opportunities available. Every teacher and pupil that we spoke to, when asked to sum up what makes Framlingham College tick, pointed in some way to the benefits of its small size. As Jamie said, “you make friends for life and I think that’s something that happens in a small community”. Sporty and generally active pupils, as well as those with minds that like to think out of the box, will perhaps be the most well-catered for and benefit most from the school’s individualistic approach, but only marginally so.
For us, Framlingham College flies a little bit under the radar due to its location away from the concentration of boarding schools in the south west, but those that spot it will find themselves incredibly glad that they did.

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