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This must be the only school in the country which has ‘appreciation of the beautiful’ as one of its aims. Outdoor work is a key part of the curriculum: from planting, to building a posh pig sty, to putting a new engine in an ancient Land Rover. Qualifications look different here too, to fit this more holistic vision of learning: ‘the wonderful BACs’ (as described by a parent) are a living alternative to GCSEs. ‘Education at its best’, said a parent, another describing her child’s delight at…

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What the school says...

Bedales was founded to be different from the schools of its time. Where others imposed conformity, Bedales nurtured individuality, initiative and an enquiring mind. True to its roots and founding principles the school places emphasis on collaboration and care for others.
Our students are naturally ambitious and competitive, and build strong relationships with each other and their teachers based on mutual respect; everyone, staff and students, is on first name terms. This approach enables students to concentrate on the complex business of learning, developing and becoming their own person. Bedales continues to be an onnovative school; we led the country in replacing many GCSEs with our own more interesting and demanding Bedales Assessed Courses. Our students move on comfortably to university and beyond, because they are self-disciplined, are already used to organising their own time, to studying in depth, and to mixing and debating with their elders. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking English Language & Lit at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2018, Magnus Bashaarat MA PGCE (early 50s), previously head of Milton Abbey School and before that deputy head of Stowe. Educated at The King’s School, Canterbury (he and Stowe head Anthony Wallersteiner were contemporaries there), followed by University of Edinburgh, where he read English. After work experience at the York Evening Press he decided to become a journalist and worked for the Observer and Evening Standard for a while. He changed direction after taking a course in teaching English as a foreign language - found he loved ‘standing up in front of a class and helping people to learn.’ PGCE at King’s College London, followed by two years at Sherborne and a 15-year stint at Eton, where he taught English and drama and was a housemaster for seven years. He also did a year at Sydney Grammar as part of a teaching exchange with Eton. Moved to Stowe in 2009 and spent five years as deputy head.

His wife Camilla used to work in communications for the NHS and they have three children. In his spare time, he cycles, rows and goes to the theatre as much as he can. He likes ‘serious drama’.

Academic matters

Education is different here, its value much more in itself than the end qualifications - the qualification hoops to be jumped to get to the university to reach the gold-plated job. It’s not that Bedales ignores these reasonable parental desires - most students end up at the same universities - but it tries as far as possible to make education of the individual the thing: ‘to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought’.

Qualifications look different here too, to fit this more holistic vision of learning: ‘the wonderful BACs’ (as described by a parent) are a living alternative to GCSEs. They focus on cross-curricular, independent thought, with a range of assessment methods from written assignments to presentations and performances: an organic process of learning over time, with few make or break final day assessments. And universities are happy with them too, though Bedales retains a compulsory core of five IGCSEs in English, maths, modern languages and sciences. Parents and pupils like the mixture of assessment methods in the BACs, and they’re done and dusted in time to leave a clear month to revise for IGCSEs.

At BACs/IGCSEs in 2018, 62 per cent 9-7 (equivalent to A*-A). It’s a classical looking curriculum, but global awareness and sports science BACs are new. Philosophy, religion and ethics (PRE) is one of the most popular BACs, with nearly half of the students taking this option. ‘It really makes pupils think, and they carry those skills and that knowledge with them. It’s evident in their thinking at A level…a really impressive linking of ideas’, said a parent. Classics was also particularly highlighted by parents, who said the quality of teaching is ‘superb’. ‘[students are] really stimulated and pushed to the limit’.

Uniquely at Bedales, there is no dead time after IGCSEs and BACs. Pupils start their A level courses immediately, so they have a two week A level taster before the summer holidays. If pupils don’t like what they have opted for, they can change courses before starting A levels properly in September.

At A level, 42 per cent A*-A, 69 per cent A*-B in 2018. Maximum class size is 14 but often significantly smaller. Enrichment, compulsory for those not taking four A levels, safeguards time to learn something just for the joy of it; it could include beginners' Russian, oak framed building, dance or astronomy. ‘Education at its best’, said a parent, another describing her child’s delight at doing art again, having given this up to concentrate on academic subjects.

The counter-side of all this educational roaming is a strong and structured guidance system: there’s a six weekly review by teachers of each student’s effort and attainment, and students have a fortnightly one-to-one tutorial. The tutor’s job is to get students to self-motivate and organise, and help them realise that what they put in to learning is what they get out. This ‘got it’ moment should happen earlier at Bedales because of the innate value placed on learning, but in the rare case that it hasn't clicked by the sixth form, they will put a military structure in place to try and help.

In this strong community, students are encouraged to help others academically: year 13s can be Badley seniors (from founder John Badley) and help year 9s with their work; others become dons - English dons, physics dons etc - and champion a subject to help others.

Homework is generally fitted into free periods during the day, one parent commenting on the different homework culture at traditional schools: her non-Bedales child swots all evening. A parent commented that his daughter feels the pressure a bit, but the Bedalian atmosphere helps: ‘If she was surrounded by little Miss Perfects it would be much worse’.

Students at Bedales are generally highly motivated, owing, a Harvard study suggests, to a love of learning, and the level of autonomy and choice enjoyed by students here. But ‘some don’t bother at all’, said a parent, who wondered whether a more pushy environment might galvanise the lazy. Here, the approach is to try to find out why children are not performing, and help them develop their full potential. And generally this works much better than an order from above: parents refer to the unusual mutual respect between teachers and pupils - ‘a powerful developmental thing’. ‘[They’re a] really gifted staff’, said another.

Learning support (LS) is staffed by one full-timer and six part-timers, two of whom are maths specialists, and is charged as an extra. A speech and language therapist comes in as necessary. Up to two sessions of support a week during free periods.

Around a third of students use LS at some point: the department is happy to provide spasmodic support for particular difficulties. LS generally supports mild learning difficulties (but can cope with severe dyslexia). Progress rates of dyslexic students are the same as others, with some doing exceptionally well.

Several parents described dyslexic children who suffered from self-esteem issues while attending high achieving, pressurised schools, and the difference in their children once they started at Bedales: ‘Bedales is outstanding in the support it offers pupils’; ‘they draw out the best in children’.

Games, options, the arts

This must be the only school in the country which has ‘appreciation of the beautiful’ as one of its aims. ‘There is an intense delight in seeing your work grow under your hand…It is the delight of creation, of shaping something that shall have use and beauty, the delight of an artist’ (John Badley, founder). Outdoor work is a key part of the curriculum: from planting, to building a posh pig sty, to putting a new engine in an ancient Land Rover.

Parents eulogise about the music, arts and drama here - ‘art is very, very good - they’re really pushed and well prepared for A level’. Music receives similar accolades: the BAC is much more demanding than GCSE, dismissed by the head of music as a ‘pub quiz’: students go from the BAC to music Pre-U. Performances take place in the lovely timber-framed Olivier Theatre and there is an award-winning new art and design building with arching roofs and skylights. Bedales arts feels a thoroughly professional affair, from a display of Matisse, visiting theatre, music and dance, to in-house productions.

‘Sport doesn’t dominate the extracurricular’, though Bedales competes in the usual rounds of county, regional and national competitions. But sport is just one option in the compulsory activities programme, allowing pupils to choose from a range of cerebral, social and physical activities (heads up for the boys - this is not a big rugby school).

Plenty of charity initiatives, D of E, no CCF. No noticeable community service either, which parents feel is an omission, and surprising since one of the school’s aims is engaging with the local community.

Boarders

Pastoral care for boarders is excellent, agree parents, one saying that the housemistress ‘did a better job than we would have done’ with his anxious daughter: she ‘knew instinctively’ what would work.

Comfortable, well-kept single sex boarding houses, with mixed aged dorms, which are a big plus, parents feel. Year 12 pupils take the responsibility of running dormitories and caring for younger pupils, although one parent said her daughter opted out of boarding to avoid being dorm mentor, which is a time-consuming post. No flexi-boarding, so those who aren’t interested in boarding full time may revert to day pupil status. Year 13 pupils live in a separate, co-ed boarding house as preparation for university. Dorm size varies from two to six beds. Dorms have a comfortable, homely feel even during the day, students returning during breaks to lounge happily on beds and chat or work. To clamp down on overuse of technology, school wifi is switched off at 10.30pm and the Block 3s (year 9s) hand in their phones at night.

Laundry is done for younger children; year 13s learn to do their own. Kitchens in boarding houses are open 8.30-9.30pm, with pasta, bread and butter, and fruit available. Students do kitchen duty twice a week - ‘a bit grim’ said a boarder.

Most students return home on Saturday afternoon until Sunday evening. Those left at school - overseas boarders (some eight per cent), or those who live further afield in the UK - can enjoy much-needed downtime. Non-compulsory Sunday activities range from bake-off and pizza making using the school's pizza oven in the barnyard ('anything to do with food is a winner,' says head of boarding), to visiting a steam fair, cinema or bowling. Some walk into town; ‘some just slump’, said a student.

‘It’s the ethos of boarding school with day pupils’, said one parent, who feels this is a boon - even day students have to do activities in the evening, so can be at school until around 9.30pm.

Background and atmosphere

Nonconformist. No Sir or Miss, no uniform - unless the prevalence of hoodies could be described as such. Emphasis on development of the individual, and collaboration between individuals.

This school is in many ways quite extraordinarily lovely: you can feel the life and energy in the wood when you enter the oak-framed arts and crafts memorial library. There is an integrity about the buildings, their construction and materials: a clear coherence with the school’s ethos. Bedales sits comfortably in the surrounding gentle countryside: a world apart in many ways - a ‘Bedales bubble,’ said a parent.

The school wants this to be a protected part of life, but says there ‘needs a breeze to come through from beyond’. This evident in the fortnightly Jaw, a more inclusive version of other schools’ assemblies, with student or visitor led debate on matters of moral or spiritual engagement. ‘It opens their horizons’, said a parent; ‘makes them feel they can do anything’. The breeze is also evident in careers advice, which aims to develop ambition and show horizons, old Bedalians playing their part by mentoring and networking.

‘Not pressurised’, said a parent, whose academic children benefit from being big fish in a small pond. ‘Work is not carried out in a competitive fashion’. She sometimes asks herself whether more pressure might make them do better (her son just failed to get into Oxford) - ‘[but] the ethos of the school is very attractive, and of more benefit than attending a school which would have helped achieve Oxford. And socially Bedales is the best’, the parent concluded. Another parent commented on this positive atmosphere: her daughter was lazy at her old school, but now never wants to be late, is really trying hard and working her best.

‘Bedales doesn’t do prizes’, said a parent, ‘it just doesn’t believe in them’. An egalitarian, no marks on the wall sort of establishment. This means if you’re not very good at something, no-one need know. Achievement is celebrated via a handwritten card, or email, with those doing really well being invited to a head’s feast.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care is the real strength of the school, said a parent - ‘if you’re vulnerable, if you've had a terrible time, it’s lovely’. Another said that ‘people are understanding, friendly, kind, and very open’. ‘They will find something good about you’. Understandably, in the light of this, Bedales does sometimes find itself receiving serial offenders from other schools. Sometimes it works; sometimes parents are not happy that these kids convince peers to follow them into ‘naughty projects’; worth perhaps bearing in mind the comment from a parent that this school suits best children who know their own minds.

‘Before we went to the school, we had the impression it was all about sex and drugs’, said a parent, who was very pleased to find it was zero tolerance in many areas. ’There are a fair number of pupils who smoke’, she added, but the school firmly tries and stop this amongst Block 3s (year 9); it is harder to control amongst sixth formers. ‘They try to keep an eye out, but the kids need some freedom’, she added. Parents are pleased that the school talks to them about its approach to drugs, taking into account their views. There are occasional incidents of bullying, said a parent, but they are dealt with appropriately - ‘it’s harder to get away with here because of the strong integration between the years’.

Many parents spoke of the strong relationships at this school: between pupils, and pupils and teachers - ‘[it’s] as close to family as possible to get’. ‘Pupils good at celebrating each other’, said another, describing the time when her child had to wear sunglasses for an eye problem, and was teased by a couple of classmates. The housemistress sent out a carefully crafted light email: some kids sent apologies, and the next day all the kids in class turned up in sunglasses in support. The day mistress called the parents and kept them informed. Several parents commented on the unusual level of involvement: at other schools, the doors are closed, school knows best. Not at Bedales. Parents are very involved here. ‘It’s almost like being at primary school’, said one, who said school is very welcoming to parents and ‘very, very patient’.

Food was delicious on the day of our visit, though no meat Thursdays, the brainchild of the vegan head boy a couple of years ago, is controversial with committed meat eaters, who don’t see why they should be forced to abstain.

Pupils and parents

Parents include media, actors, business, celebrities, professionals, scientists, a few bankers (‘with exceptional educational views’, said a parent), trust fund kids, and a few from overseas. A broader range than there used to be, says school, with more traditional parents reassured by good behaviour and academic records. ‘Good alumni’, said one parent practically - ‘you’re buying a network’.

Communication with parents is generally good, though there are occasional blips on the school website.

Entrance

Maths, English and general ability test for 13+ entry in the January 18 months before entry. Just over half from Dunhurst, and most of the rest from preps in London and the south east, in particular Westbourne House, Highfield and Amesbury. For sixth form entry, minimum average of grade 5 at GCSE.

Exit

Around 15-30 per cent leave after GCSEs, but these are more than replaced by a large sixth form intake which forms 30-40 per cent of the new year 12. Pupils depart for a variety of universities, music conservatoires and art colleges, a small number of Oxbridge (four in 2018), and many to Russell group (eg Edinburgh, Bristol, LSE), plus some overseas: three off to do liberal arts (at Yale, Washington and San Diego) and one to Amsterdam for European studies. Ten per cent of 2018 cohort are studying science-based degrees, including two medics and one nurse.

Money matters

Innovative approach to scholarships gives scholars access to an individual research fund. The school funds around 70 bursaries at a cost of over £1 million per annum, and offers fully funded bursaries through its John Badley Foundation from age 11 upwards.

Our view

Most children would thrive at this lovely school. Parents described the very clever, the quirky, the academic and those in the middle, all of whom are happy. Not perhaps for a child who needs lots of boundaries, or a large degree of privacy; and it wouldn’t, perhaps, suit all parents, who need to be broad-minded about the purpose of education. But for most children, this would be a wonderful place to grow a rooted sense of self, and joy in life and learning.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

At Bedales, students with specific learning difficulties receive one-to-one support on a weekly basis with an SEN teacher. Typically, these students will receive one learning support lesson per week, and most of them will go on to achieve high grades at GCSE and A level. All but a few enter higher education where they read a wide range of subjects, notably maths and sciences but also history and English.

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 Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
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 Y

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