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The pastoral care here is highly praised by parents - the clincher for this school. There’s much emphasis on well-being; down time, such as meditation, is incorporated into the school day. The whole idea of jaw (a weekly lively discussion forum with a speaker) seems made for the self-assured to fly, reflected in a  parent’s comment that this is a school which would best suit those who know their own minds, are self-motivated, and not easily influenced by their peers...

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What the school says...

Dunhurst is the prep school to Bedales, set within the same grounds a few minutes walk from the main school. Founded in 1905, Dunhurst remains a forward-thinking school where children are encouraged to work independently without the rigour of regular exams. The school has a strong reputation for sciences, drama and music and for producing well-rounded and confident children. Bedales Pre-prep School, Dunannie sits alongside the Prep School and caters from 2 years 9 months in the Nursery to age 8. Dunannie is the starting point of the Bedales approach to education. Described as “an outpost of heaven down the road”, Dunannie inspires children by learning through doing in a community based on mutual respect. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

At Dunhurst since September 2017, Colin Baty, who had previously taught at the prep, and his wife, Debbie, at the pre-prep. Degree in education from Waikato (New Zealand). His 21 years' teaching experience across primary and senior age range includes posts as deputy head (of Moreton Hall) and headmaster of Great Walstead Prep.

At Dunannie since September 2018, Victoria Homewood, previously head of pre-prep at Westbourne House School near Chichester. Degree in English with education from Goldsmiths; her 22 years of experience teaching across the primary age range has included posts as head of pre-prep at Cumnor House Sussex and director of studies at Kew Green Prep. She has also been a literacy consultant and a school inspector.

Entrance

They are looking for children and families who like and understand the Bedales ethos, and this, plus an intention to progress through the school, is all that is necessary for entrance into nursery and reception. For entrance to years 1-3, informal assessment of reading, writing and maths. For Dunhurst, English and maths assessments, reasoning papers and interview. Prospective pupils are considered in the round. Prospective pupils spend time with their peers to see how well they cooperate: three day assessments for 10+ and 11+ applicants. No waiting lists, but a new class in the Groups (years 4-6) due to demand, other classes very close to full. Eight plus and 11+ are natural points of entry.

Exit

Nearly all progress on to Bedales, after sitting a maths and English test. A small number to other senior schools, including Canford, Marlborough, Gordonstoun, ICS, St Swithun's, Cranleigh and Bryanston in recent years.

Our view

Pupils sitting on chairs, tables, leaning against radiators. Excited laughter, witty chat between teacher and pupils, the energy almost tangible. Were they perhaps discussing a forthcoming party? No: it was a lesson on longshore drift. Rare indeed that longshore drift generates such excitement; but this exchange of energy between teacher and pupils was replicated in other classrooms again and again. Pupils didn’t leap to silent feet when we appeared - they were engrossed in learning. The point here is not neat quiet rows, but the work you are doing; and the pupils were fully and busily engaged.

No carrot or stick approach to learning here: it’s not an awards assembly sort of place. Time is not wasted on the common entrance - years 7, 8 and 9 do a three year pre-GCSE curriculum. A parent commented that ‘children are expected to raise questions which require discussion and debate’; another that ‘lessons are rigorous and stretching’. Although one parent commented that a greater insistence on accurate spelling would be nice, most felt that high standards were expected, particularly of those with potential.

Parents agree that English, dance, music and art are outstanding, and that there has been a significant effort to raise the game in sciences and maths, which are now also strong - ‘pupils do now routinely learn things by rote, such as tables’. One parent commented happily on the cross fertilisation between subjects, giving the example of a school trip where everyone had to make a snack for everyone else: a happy blend of maths, domestic science and altruism.

Class size is a maximum of 18. Years 4, 5 and 6 have a double in intake, with three or four classes a year in years 7 and 8. Children are only set for maths - they're keen to avoid any labelling here. Saturday morning school starts at age 12 (year 7). Parents aren’t terribly keen on it, but the kids don’t seem to mind.

Homework is integrated into the day, pupils having a number of free periods called Greens for homework, and any LAMDA or music commitments. Parents say it’s great for those who are self-motivated and can organise themselves, and love the fact that prep gets done at school, so kids are free when they get home.

No competitive parenting here; one mum told us if people were heard talking about their child’s levels of achievement, other parents would raise eyebrows of horror: they were certainly at the wrong school.

Learning support both in and out of lessons - we spoke to a pupil who chose Dunhurst particularly for its SEN support, and to the happy parents of a dyslexic pupil who had regained lost confidence here.

The whole idea of jaw (a weekly lively discussion forum with a speaker) seems made for the self-assured to fly, reflected in a parent’s comment that this is a school which would best suit those who know their own minds, are self-motivated, and not easily influenced by their peers. But this caring environment could also suit those who are more tentative. Development of individual rather than the mass is a focus which pleases parents, and shy children can find their feet and their confidence at Dunhurst.

Those seeking a traditional prep school education might be disconcerted here. ‘If a parent has pigeonholed a child as just academic then it won’t suit them,' says school. As a parent told us, ‘It’s not so much which child the school wouldn’t suit, as which parents…’.

The pastoral care here is highly praised by parents - the clincher for this school. There’s much emphasis on well-being; down time, such as meditation, is incorporated into the school day. The Friday custom of staff shaking hands with pupils stems from the idea that knowing the nature of each pupil’s handshake means you can tell if something’s wrong; it connects you with every child and gets rid of any bad blood before the weekend. ‘It’s totally unique’, said a parent, describing his son’s happiness, and his development of social skills, self-confidence and worldliness at Dunhurst.

Bullying not tolerated here, confirmed a parent, who said that older children have a responsibility to look out for the younger ones, and blow the whistle on any bad behaviour. This is mentioned frequently, as is the Raktivators (new version of peer listening network) and the school counsellor. ‘[The children are] all very tuned in and look out for each other’, said a parent. The school says the approach will depend on the severity: if year 4s are getting a bit tetchy with each other, being a good friend might suddenly become a topic in PHSE.

In disciplinary terms, it’s not so much which punishment fits the crime, as what can you give back to the community. Offenders might be put on beauty duty cleaning out the greenhouses; but bring your friends along, some other teachers might join in, and someone brings a radio.

First names between teachers and pupils, and the lack of uniform, might seem strange to newcomers, but there is plenty of respect here - ‘when kids talk to adults, they’re not frightened’, said a parent. Most kids chose to dress very casually - jeans, leggings and hoodies are the norm.

Head, heart and hand are the guiding principles here, and the head part is not just academic; there needs to be something for the soul too: time for stillness and thinking; opportunities to appreciate beauty and contemplate life. So there’s lots of art, drama, and music; the divine smell of a room devoted to woodwork - ‘Dunhurst pupils wouldn’t go to B&Q to buy a shed’. An art room with views over the countryside; a colourful paper model village, with circuits underneath for night time lighting; a table of cupped pottery hands which look as though they are awaiting communion. All do outdoor work - a hand-painted gypsy caravan will become a small classroom. There’s an outdoor hut with pizza oven, rows of wellies on pegs, mud and clucking hens; tasks range from building to planting to clearing bracken. There was schoolwide participation in RSPB Birdwatch.

Wednesday afternoon is activity time, which includes outreach for years 7 and 8 (visiting the elderly or helping at local primary schools), outside work, shopping in Petersfield, cooking in Scoffs (the pupil run café) or sports. Sport is not something which is overemphasised, and you can opt out of matches. There is plenty of sport available, with excellent tennis provision, and access to all the Bedales facilities, including the lovely swimming pool, but ‘if you’re not strong at sports, it’s not a big deal’, said a parent.

Communication is good, with a Friday report reviewing the week’s events. Staff will contact parents by phone or by email if something is going wrong, and one parent described thorough and regular reporting of his child’s medical condition.

There are some 80 full and flexi boarders, the latter staying from one night a week. Most boarders are from years 7 and 8. Beds are singles, two to six per room. Comfortable clean facilities, showers and baths - the girls protested at the suggestion of segregating the triple bathrooms - apparently simultaneous bathing is a happy community activity (curtains can be drawn if the girls choose). Kitchen facilities are available at certain times, with cereal, toast and fruit on offer (but boarders must go to the dining hall for proper breakfast and supper). Very few overseas boarders, but pupils can stay at weekends, and trips are organised for those who do.

Dunhurst connects to Dunannie, the pre-prep, but the nursery is separately situated in an old barn, full of light and sunshine, a safe magical world. All the usual tiny person activities, with the addition of an area devoted to planting vegetables, which they subsequently enjoy making into soup.

Dunannie children take learning outside for around a quarter of each day - ‘it’s not just an add on here’; all-in-one rain gear and wellies hang neatly in a boot room - the children learn how to change very quickly so they can maximise their outside time.

Relaxed classrooms, children sitting happily on the floor, chatting with teachers. Lessons are practically based: year 3 are studying birds, and there are home-made willow bird feeders hung outside the large windows so the class can appreciate visitors.

Individualised learning plans for each pupil, with no expectation that they will all progress at the same rate. A child can do a year again if seems advisable for their happiness and development. Class sizes up to 18, split into two at year 3, where class sizes are up to 15.

Dunannie can cope with quite a profound level of special needs, but those with severe needs are unlikely to be able to progress to Dunhurst. Pastoral care is very strong. The golden rules at Dunannie are to listen and be respectful, and they talk about these rules a lot.

Special Education Needs

The Academic Support Department at Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, aims to ensure that every pupil achieves the highest standards possible through tailoring learning to individual need, interest and aptitude. Support is provided for pupils who, whilst able to access the school curriculum, may need extra help due to a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, or a lack of confidence in a particular aspect of their work. Teaching and learning strategies are matched closely to the individual’s needs and are designed to build confidence and self-esteem. Support can be given in a variety of ways including, on a one-to-one basis, in a small group and within the classroom. The department is staffed by experienced, specialist teachers who all hold additional qualifications to cater for pupils with a range of needs.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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