The Good Schools Guide Review of Bede's Senior School, Hailsham, BN27 3QH
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Since 2009, Dr Richard Maloney (30s); MA in theology, PhD in educational management. Previously deputy head at Sutton Valence. Married with two young children.
He looks very much younger than his years, an energetic, articulate and caring man who spent the first couple of terms anything but idle. He is putting his management studies into practice. Says he is 100 per cent committed to the aims of the St Bede's Trust, and the pupil population is inclusive and diverse, even if the door is not as wide open as it once was. He wants to actively address the middle ability range. VA scores revealed that this group in years 9 and 10 were below national average, some happy to coast - intention is to double scores within three years. This will appeal to parents who feel that, while their children were happy, they could achieve more. The head wasted no time in tightening the mesh by appointing a director of academic performance who oversees the setting of motivational targets and monitors pupils' work, with IT systems to track performance.
His aim is 'to maintain the energy, breadth and diversity of the curriculum whilst ensuring students exceed academic potential. I am also ensuring that systems are in place and no child slips through the net.' He feels now is the time to cap the intake. He believes in pupil involvement - during our visit students were involved with the tours and interviews for teaching posts for drama and PE. Can and will jump to action stations to rescue a pupil from elsewhere who needs a new home - and does so with immense humanity, warmth and common sense. Most parents feel this is a good appointment.
Academic deputy head is John Tuson, who has been here since 1993 but took a two-year gap to do voluntary teaching and zoo keeping abroad. He is worthy of mention as the pupils laud him as an excellent and inspirational teacher. Certainly he was enthusiastic as he told us of the work he is now doing under the head and occasionally came up for breath. New dedicated tutor time to underpin an already strong pastoral system so that staff can keep abreast with individuals' targets. Necessary focus but would be a shame if Bede's became yet another league table climber, given their remarkable success as a school open to all.
Vast range of subjects on offer at GCSE and A level. GCSEs achieve a spread of results across the grades, as you would expect of a school which proudly takes children of a far wider range of abilities than elsewhere. The number of D grades at GCSE - something less than half the number of As - often reflects the considerable achievement of both pupil and school. A high proportion of Cs. In 2014, 39 per cent A*/A and 66 per cent A*-B. At A level in 2014, 72 per cent A*-B and 43 per cent A*/A (including A level equivalents). Science department offers nine different courses for GCSE including land and environmental studies - they are perfectly positioned in the heart of East Sussex farmland. A pre-sixth form year is offered for international students to prepare them in English and for the maturity needed at sixth form. Pre-university courses in maths and English for clever clogs but no plans to introduce the IB. Individually tailored learning programmes are central to the success of the school and the flexible curriculum allows for the quirky and boffins to achieve at their own pace.
Well-established special needs dept - this is the school of choice for many children who have SEN: dyslexia, dyspraxia and children on the Asperger's spectrum. Drop-in area where everyone is welcome for help or a chat. As much time spent producing IEPs tailored to pupils who struggle as for the Oxbridge pupil who needs extension work. And they will see an SEN as an opportunity to give support rather than something to shy away from. Most refreshing.
Games, Options, the Arts
Facilities are nothing short of spectacular. Multi-hall would put most commercial leisure centres in the second league - huge sports hall, squash courts, national size swimming pool. Outside boasts tennis courts, Astroturf, nine rugby and football pitches, netball courts etc. Some serious sport here, especially soccer, where the team recently won the English schools' national trophy from a starting field of 2,400 schools. Also Old Pupils - Clare Wood, Julie Salmon (tennis) Rob Buchanan (rugby), Luke Wells (cricket).
An extraordinary range of choice for their activity programme ranging from the thrilling to the more cerebral, and all pupils are involved four afternoons a week. Elite sportsmen and women have top notch facilities and a tailored curriculum. The Harlequins use their indoor fitness centre for strength and conditioning.
We could be forgiven for running out of superlatives when viewing their art department - they consistently win our top gold award for best school in this category. A real productive buzz in the studios, awash with new quality light studios and outstanding student work. Everything done to the top of the game - ceramics, fine art, photography, graphics, textiles, design technology, sculpting, pottery. Recent new extensions provide a dedicated workplace for each discipline.
Music soon to be housed in a new extension. The musical diary is full of recitals and performances for the choir, jazz band, orchestras at various venues including the village fête, the mansion house etc, so that they share their talents with the community. A healthy mix of choirs, a samba band, rock and traditional bands. Music accessible for all, regardless of ability.
Drama also a vibrant part of each child's life, either as performers, stage crew or audience. Ten or more annual performances to very professional standard with exciting special effects. Department regularly places pupils with RADA, Central School of Speech and Drama, East 15 and the Guildhall.
Background and Atmosphere
In the heart of Sussex countryside and continuing to expand by buying more fields from surrounding farms. Has enjoyed healthy growth over the last 10 years and the infrastructure is expanding to accommodate this, the most recent addition being a new dining hall. Presents as a higgledy piggledy mix - the traditional main house extends to elongated, painted beach huts parallel to an impressive new science block with large labs, spreading to new dance and drama studios and finally to fabulous boarding houses. A strong multi-cultural mix with an open and tolerant attitude.
Pastoral Care and Discipline
Some of the most stylish boarding we know. The entrance is approached via an arched wooden bridge over a pond of carp. This is more like a three star hotel than a boarding house, with the relaxing sound of running water from an indoor feature, an open plan set up with no corridors, no noticeboards, all rooms coming off a large central lobby and upstairs housing flat-lets for the sixth form. Everyone passes matron's room on entry and plenty of smiling personnel around for a chat any time. A hint of the exotic with African lanterns, Tuscan coloured walls, lots of pouffes, all chosen by the pupils on their last African trip (as you do). Two new-ish boarding houses. Each house has three residential staff and one matron.
During the weekend, up to 50 to 75 per cent of full boarders stay, many of these from the international mix of German, Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian and Chinese, particularly in the sixth form. Students are obliged to attend a spiritual meeting of their choice on weekends. Pupils praise the relaxed and caring pastoral staff. Zero tolerance of boys in girls' rooms, although communal living area divides the girls' section from the boys'. Drugs would normally result in an expulsion and they will test if a pupil is suspected of drug abuse.
Pupils and Parents
An incredibly large fleet of green minibuses transport pupils across Kent, Surrey and East and West Sussex. Parents come from a range of backgrounds - theatrical, city, farming, popular with families from surrounding countryside. Lunch with a selection of sixth formers provoked a spirited debate about educational liberalism versus traditional education, leaving one in no doubt that this school fosters enquiring minds.
Does not describe itself as non-selective: 'Bede's does not top slice but as a mainstream school that offers demanding courses, we are not the right destination for all children...at 13+, pupils must display the potential to pass five or more GCSE examinations at grade C or above and to achieve grade C standard at A level or its equivalent'.
Admission by interview with the headmaster and reports from previous school. International students have to provide evidence of their English language ability. A large proportion from the prep school; others from schools across London and the south east. At sixth form, students are expected to have a minimum of five Bs at GCSE.
A handful to Oxbridge (one in 2014); UCL, Exeter and Durham all popular universities in 2014; others to eg Royal Holloway, Southampton and Brighton. Many leave for careers in media and the arts.
Bede’s invests in excess of 10 per cent of its annual income in scholarships and means-tested fee remission - academic, art, dance, drama, music and sports scholarships. Prospective students who wish to join outside of the scholarship process are able to apply for means-tested fee remission.
The head has a 'can and will do' approach that is infectious and is influencing the SMT to set more aspirational targets for all students, particularly the middle range. A very popular school with huge opportunities for pupils - both the quirky and the conventional. We said, 'Blissfully un-neurotic about where they sit in the league tables', but this is clearly becoming less true.