Absolutely Education visits Framlingham College, a place with a reputation for delivering a well-rounded education, and now with a fresh and exciting vision for the road ahead

When you arrive at Framlingham College you can’t but be impressed. The imposing Victorian-Gothic main building is set within 85-acre grounds overlooking the town’s medieval castle. There’s excellent boarding and day provision, an outstanding record for hockey, a forward-looking and nurturing co-ed culture – even a salt tang in the air from the famous beaches a few miles up the road. It has earned the reputation of a super-reliable choice in ‘sleepy Suffolk’. While Framlingham’s recently arrived Principal Louise North is happy to celebrate the College’s strengths, she is raising its game with Vision 2025 – along the way updating perceptions about what College and county offer. 

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Framlingham College has been co-ed for many years, and with a strong reputation as an all-rounder school

Suffolk’s image in popular imagination is slow-lane picturesque but there’s more, including a rich vein of independent mindedness. London is commutable, but so too are Cambridge and Norwich – this part of the world firmly resists becoming a satellite of the capital. International trade shaped the county’s architectural character, and lavish medieval buildings signal the prosperity that brought. Today, the county’s enterprise culture means a proliferation of small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. It has always been the haunt of creatives, from Constable to Maggi Hambling and Britten to thoroughly modern stadium-filler Ed Sheeran. 

Focus: Framlingham College, Suffolk
Principal Louise North was struck by the creativity of this part of the world – and this forms part of the College’s Vision 2025

The area’s – and the College’s – creative bent was the first thing that struck Louise North when she took up her post in September 2019, having moved down from Rutland, where she was Oakham’s Senior Deputy Head. She’d had a range of senior roles at other excellent rural independents, including Marlborough and Stonyhurst, before that. Nonetheless, Framlingham College and its locale feel different. “There is a creativity here that I’ve never picked up anywhere else that I’ve lived,” she says. “I don’t know whether it’s being near the sea – big skies, lots of green, Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh and Snape.” One key fact about the school jumped out: some 60% of the parent body are small business owners and entrepreneurs. “That is huge,” she says. “The influence they have on their children and our community is significant. They want to be involved – to help develop our children so they are ready for the world.” 

“Our vision is for a place where you look forward to your learning and where we celebrate overtly and equally achievement in any sort in learning”

Here then are two points covered off by Vision 2025. Creativity and entrepreneurship are central to Framlingham College’s mission for the years ahead. This is not blue-sky thinking – it’s big-sky thinking – maximising the existing school and regional strengths, and also focusing on areas where potential is there to be tapped. “It is about investing in people and in a culture – a vibrant learning culture I call it. Our vision is for a place where you look forward to your learning and where we celebrate overtly achievement in any sort in learning,” she says.

When she first arrived, her sense was that there was such a culture of kindness that this had led to an awkwardness around success. Achievements – be they academic, creative or sporting – were not marked in case anyone who hadn’t done so well (or tried so hard) felt left out. “There was little celebration of any sort, which I knew needed to change,” she says. “Expectations needed to be lifted. Aspiration and ambition were words that were never used.” 

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The chapel is home to a well-loved Steinway but the College also has a well-used suite of sophisticated music facilities

One way that mindset was shifted was through a wholesale review of pupil assessment. This included communication to parents about progress, goals and the rest. “Kindness is at the centre of everything we do – of course it is – but also we have high expectations of ourselves and our pupils. When we combine the two, it becomes a powerful thing. So, we’ve looked at how we report; what we say in our reports; how we manage parents’ evenings.” The reform of pupil assessment includes empowering teaching staff to speak up when they see that a pupil could do better, surpass their own expectations.

Other parent-teacher communication channels have been revitalised. A new Head of Careers has brought inspiring ideas and beefed-up valuable conduits such as the local parents’ Business Club. Entrepreneurial days and parent speakers are firmly in the mix of ideas presented to young people. The forward-thinking and business-savvy culture has also been reflected in the introduction of Business Studies as an option at GCSE (it’s already an A-level and BTEC choice). 

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Framlingham prep and pre-prep pupils have their own stunning location, just down the road at Brandeston Hall

This dovetails perfectly with the College’s individual pathways – another cornerstone of Vision 2025. Summer 2020’s Year 13 cohort – North’s first – included two students who went off to Oxford and they and other university-bound students were, quite rightly, celebrated. But so too were the students who headed off to pursue filmmaking, chose world-class Swiss hospitality training or landed a plum contract in the music business. Of this last student North notes: “A bright young man, but if he had gone down the university route it would have been square peg round hole”. She says her ideas on education have evolved. “In previous schools it’s been a more linear path – A levels or IB and then straight into university. This is an opportunity for me to develop a culture of education that I believe in completely, which is that every child has their own path. We are really lucky and privileged that we can nurture them and take them on that journey.” 

Framlingham has distinct advantages when it comes to individual care. It is small enough (just over 650 pupils) to feel personal and it is a through school. The Prep is located just down the road at Brandeston Hall, another wonderful building set in 23 acres. It is divided into Lower and Upper Prep and also includes a state-of-the-art Early Years building. Pupils at the Prep access Senior facilities regularly for lessons, events and specialist teaching. 

Focus: Framlingham College, Suffolk
Exceptional art and DT facilities – and student talent – are celebrated at Framlingham College

Strengthening the links between Prep and Senior teaching is another move since North’s arrival. Previously the two halves of the school operated fairly separately, but all that changed with the arrival of Jonathan Egan as Head of Framlingham College Prep. “We talk about seamless education from 3 to 18 and that is what it has to be,” says North. She says it is important for young people’s attainment and self-confidence, and it is increasingly important to parents seeking continuity. “Parents go and see the Prep and then they come to see me, even though their children are really quite young, because they want to know who’s going to be there to see their child through the rest of their education.”

“This is not blue-sky thinking – it’s big-sky thinking – maximising existing strengths and also focusing on areas where potential is there to be tapped”

Some 90% of Framlingham Prep pupils move on to Senior years. This brings benefits in familiarity and coherence. “We talk about a spine of skills, embedding that in everything we do from when they join the Prep school all the way through Senior years. So, they can collaborate when they’re 3, they can collaborate when they’re 17; they can problem solve when they’re 5, they can problem solve when they are 15. It’s making sure that in all the teaching we do, our young people are learning those skills.” North has confidence that these are the elements that make children truly career (and life) ready. “A computer is never going to be able to empathise or be creative in the way a human brain can, so we have got to develop good human beings who leave us ready to do all of that.” 

Focus: Framlingham College, Suffolk
The House system underpins pastoral care – all pupils have their own place for social time and support

The College has streamlined the path for students who progress from Prep to Senior – or join at Senior level – by dropping Common Entrance in favour of the WRAT assessment based on potential and learning style. That has the great benefit of refocusing learning in Prep years. “We’re overhauling our years 7, 8, 9. Those can be the lost years if you’re not careful. Schools and children can obsess with passing Common Entrance, then Year 9 becomes a something of a lost year before they get into GCSEs. For us, these three years are now all about linking the subjects through themes and getting our children to understand the context within which they’re learning.”

Whatever ignites Framlingham College pupils’ passions and sparks those connections, there’s space here to make it happen. The Gothic main building has been cleverly updated over the years. Prince Albert’s statue still stands sentinel opposite the entrance (originally the school was known as ‘Albert Memorial Middle Class College for Boys’), but inside there’s an ultra-modern and light-filled central atrium known as Paul’s Court. This is where everything from break time to exhibitions to school events happens and it links through to the beautiful original chapel and galleried dining room. Music of every variety is catered for here – with a Steinway Model B in the chapel and a modern suite of recording, production and practice facilities. Musicians have had notable successes nationally and internationally, and with Snape and Sheeran just down the road, enthusiasm and participation are high. 

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Framlingham College develops exceptional talent in a range of sports, but the focus here is on sport for all

Art and Design & Technology are both strong suits and the facilities and sophistication of work are impressive. Girls, along with boys, get stuck into DT, be it on the lathes, CAM or other specialist kit. Sports facilities are also exceptional by anyone’s lights (as is Framlingham’s reputation). It’s the girls who are current U18s National Champions in hockey. It helps that their coach and College Senior Deputy Head Susan Wessels is a former South Africa hockey captain and two-times Olympian. She is one of many role-model coaches and the school nurtures student talent in everything from tennis and golf to swimming. While there are sports Scholars (including a fair few who make it to US universities on scholarships), competitive matches happen here for every level of ability. The all-weather pitches have sophisticated video surveillance and live feed – perfect for parents who can’t make the sidelines, while students have access to analysis tools that can make all the difference to technique, teamwork and the next match-day result. 

“We talk about a spine of skills, In everything we do – so they can problem solve when they’re 5, they can problem solve when they are 15”

This is just one example of the smart use of technology throughout Framlingham. Pupils’ own devices are used extensively and it is a Microsoft Showcase School – that technology-enabled approach was tested in North’s first school year. She says Covid brought its own challenges, but no dimming of the Vision 2025 plan, even though her second term ended with a “crazy Easter Egg hunt” (a time-honoured College eccentricity) before virtual school kicked in. “Covid has been extraordinary for everybody, obviously, but it is what it is. We still had children who needed to be educated.” The pastoral care – the kindness – so often remarked upon here has been needed throughout this time and beyond. North remains acutely aware of the effects on pupils starved of peer-group company and the buzz of being in school. “The actual joy that you could sense when they came back to school was wonderful,” she says.

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Boarding is popular, and with modern flexi options alongside full boarding

One lynchpin of that pastoral care is the House system – seven in all (four for boys and three for girls) and safe, homely and nurturing spaces for day pupils and boarders alike. Every Wednesday is House Night (sporting, fun, creative) and the annual House Dinner is a dress-up event. Having boarders adds a 24/7 quality to benefit day pupils too. Many pupils take up the modern flexi and occasional boarding options offered alongside full boarding. International pupils represent some 15 per cent of the cohort, and with 19 nationalities in the mix. 

 Among the most striking things about Framlingham College is how very co-ed it feels. The school went mixed sex early (1976) and today is pretty much an even split. “This feels more co-ed than any other school I’ve worked in. Why that is I don’t know, but I’ve had new staff say the same thing,” says North. Perhaps it is notable that Framlingham College was the first HMC co-ed to have a female Principal in Gwen Randall. Whatever the reason, the culture feels balanced. “Your gender is not an issue. In everything that we do it’s completely equal.” 

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The Sixth Form Centre is an ultra-modern space focused on individual pathways and study and career guidance

Visit the Sixth Form Centre and once you get over the setting – a brilliant light-filled glass construction with communal workspaces, quiet study areas, comfy sofas and views down to the main school – you see preparation in action for students’ onward destinations. Calm and collegiate, it is precisely the kind of environment Sixth Formers might hope for at a hip modern workplace. And whether they aspire to university or another path, there’s no doubt that this is their space – with on-tap guidance and careers advice – and it’s empowering.

For those students who are on the Sixth Form Scholars programme (and this has been overhauled to provide more “stretch” with the arrival of Alex Boyd-Williams as Head of Sixth Form), there are routes in all curriculum areas. Be they Scholars or future entrepreneurs, Vision 2025 is all about recognising that success comes in many shapes in the 21st century. “All those traditional routes are still valid, but many young people are learning a lot earlier what it is they want to do. And they can see a way to go and get it much more quickly.”

For Louise North, the future is about shining a light on all those possibilities and equipping young people with the tools they need. She says that when you get a school culture right, great results follow. But, ultimately, Vision 2025 also recognises that there must be an education goal beyond exam certificates. “The end game for all of us at Framlingham College is producing young adults who are ready for their adult world – global citizens ready to take on whatever uncertainty is out there.”

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The College sits in 85-acre grounds in Framlingham, close to the Suffolk coast


Founded: 1864 by public subscription

Head: Louise North, since September 2019

Gender: Co-educational

Number of pupils: 668 (159 in Sixth Form)

Day or boarding: Day. Boarding Year 3 – Year 13 

Ages: 3-18

Points of entry: Nursery (3), Reception (4+), Year 3 (7+), 7 (11+), 9 (13+) and 12 (16+).

Admissions: Selection through entrance test, school references, interviews and reports. 

Religious affiliation: Church of England / Interdenominational

Fees: Prep: Day, per term – £3,165-£5,508; Boarding, per year – £16,524 (flexi/occasional available). Senior: Day, per term – from £7214; Boarding, per term – £9,267-11,226. 

Address: Framlingham College, College Road, Framlingham, Suffolk IP13 9EY;


Further reading: Gabbitas answers your education questions