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Bedales School

What says..

Lots of opportunities for outdoor work, both within the curriculum and beyond. The school has its own farm and pupils plant trees, keep bees and learn about livestock management, blacksmithing, hedge laying, timber framing and wood whittling. We met a group of year 10 outdoor work BAC students preparing sheepskins, ready to send them to a tannery. Another lot were cooking pizzas to sell in the pizza shack at lunchtime...

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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

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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 2018, Magnus Bashaarat MA PGCE MBA (50s), previously head of Milton Abbey and before that deputy head of Stowe. Educated at the King’s School, Canterbury (he and Stowe head Anthony Wallersteiner were contemporaries), followed by the 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. He changed direction when he took a course in teaching English as a foreign language and 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.

Head is dynamic and forward-thinking – a good fit for Bedales, say parents. During his Eton days he took football teams to Bedales and liked the fact that it was ‘relaxed, friendly, democratic and non-hierarchical’. It still is. ‘There is a desire to approach education in a novel and creative way,’ he says. ‘Most schools are monolithic and don’t change but it’s important that education is continually evolving. There aren’t many schools that do that but Bedales has always done it.’ He’s adamant that a head shouldn’t be a remote figure and makes a point of seeing the pupils as much as possible, chatting at lunch and teaching year 12 English. ‘I really enjoy teaching and try and carve out time to do it,’ he says. In a recent article for The Times he stated that if the Labour Party ever opted to turn independent schools into state schools he would rather see Bedales close – because its entire purpose would be lost. ‘Were I to be given the ultimatum, tomorrow, that Bedales be made a state school, and that it should follow the national curriculum and policy-makers’ preoccupations with the transfer of knowledge and disregard for humanities and the arts, I would decline,’ he wrote. ‘I would rather we shut our doors.’

His wife Camilla used to work in communications for the NHS and is very involved in Bedales life. Her school role involves bringing the parent community together in a series of popular events, workshops and talks. They live in a house on-site and have three children – the elder two at university. In his spare time, he cycles across the South Downs, rows (he keeps his boat at Bryanston) and enjoys ‘serious drama’. If he can’t get to London he goes to the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Academic matters

Bedales prides itself on offering ‘a progressive, liberal education’, with the emphasis on developing inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought.

At A level, 21 per cent A*/A, 61.3 per cent A*-B in 2019, with English literature, art, history and maths the most popular subjects. In years 10 and 11 pupils study a mix of IGCSEs, GCSEs and Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). In 2019, 60.4 per cent A*-A/7-9. Most take five compulsory core IGCSE/GCSE subjects (maths, English, sciences and modern languages) and four BACs. BAC options include global awareness (very popular), English literature, philosophy, religion and ethics, outdoor work, digital game design, theatre studies and sports science. Designed by Bedales teachers, BACs are recognised by UCAS and well regarded by universities, with assessment by written assignments, presentations, projects and an exam at the end. ‘We find they are a better preparation for A level,’ says the head, adding that Bedales students receive as many university offers as those elsewhere. In another letter to The Times he urged fellow heads ‘who decry the lack of educational authenticity in GCSEs’ to ‘have the courage of their convictions and provide something else in their place’.

Uniquely, there is no ‘dead time’ after IGCSE/GCSE/BAC exams. Pupils start their A level courses as soon as they’ve finished their GCSEs. If they change their minds about their choices they can swap in September.

Vertical tutor system. Each pupil has a personal tutor to oversee their academic progress, either one-to-one or in small tutor group meetings. Half-termly review by teachers of each student’s effort and attainment. Students with specific learning difficulties get one-to-one support on a weekly basis with a specialist teacher (team of eight). Learning support usually takes place during study periods; students aren’t withdrawn from academic lessons. Homework generally fitted into free periods during the day. ‘I am very impressed by the academic side,’ a parent told us. ‘They look at each child individually and the courses are really exciting. I’d like to do them myself.’

Grade I listed Memorial Library, designed by Ernest Gimson to commemorate those who died in the First World War and considered to be one of the finest Arts and Crafts buildings in the country. Year 9s get two reading periods a week and the library, open from 7am till 10pm, is full during exam season. Favourite authors when we visited were Holly Bourne for younger pupils and Jean-Paul Sartre for older ones.

Games, options, the arts

The head says that sport isn’t ‘industrialised’ here but there are plenty of opportunities for keen sports players. ‘It’s driven by interest,’ he adds. ‘Pupils understand the importance of exercise and they want to be outside but it’s about choice rather than compulsion.’ Main sports are hockey, tennis, netball and football (school has strong links with Portsmouth Football Club) but activities like Pilates, yoga and boxing are on offer too. Excellent facilities – full-size Astroturf, swimming pool, floodlit tennis/netball courts, sports hall, fitness studio, gym and acres of playing fields, all used by the local community. Pupils told us it’s virtually impossible to try everything because there are so many opportunities at the school.

Bedales is renowned for its music, art and drama. One of the school’s founding aims was that it should ‘foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful’ in pupils – and it certainly does. Music is glorious, with a school choir and a plethora of orchestras, ensembles and groups. Elite musicians often have a bespoke timetable where they concentrate on honing their skills and take leading roles in instrumental and vocal ensembles. The annual rock show is a much-anticipated event, usually sold out on three consecutive nights. Drama is genuinely exciting. Students can opt to do the school’s BAC theatre course and theatre studies is offered at A level. Lots of opportunities for extracurricular drama, including a whole school show performed on three nights in the 320-seater Olivier Theatre. Art is taught in a stunning art and design building that won a national RIBA award. Around 30 to 40 students take A level art each year, getting the chance to do fine art, graphic design, printing, photography, ceramics, illustration, fashion design and much, much more.

Lots of opportunities for outdoor work, both within the curriculum and beyond. The school has its own farm and pupils plant trees, keep bees and learn about livestock management, blacksmithing, hedge laying, timber framing and wood whittling. We met a group of year 10 outdoor work BAC students preparing sheepskins, ready to send them to a tannery. Another lot were cooking pizzas to sell in the pizza shack at lunchtime. Pupils also make chutney, honey, blankets and Christmas puddings to sell. No CCF but many do DofE and take part in charity initiatives. The school has raised thousands for charities like FitzRoy, which supports people with learning disabilities and autism, and the Rural Refugee Network, which helps Syrian refugees settle in the UK. A Syrian student who attended Bedales is now studying biological sciences at university and another is a current pupil.

Boarders

Around two-thirds are boarders, many from London and the south east but others from Suffolk, Norfolk, Devon and Cornwall. Ten per cent from overseas – 18 countries, including China, Italy, Spain and France. Three boarding houses (known as ‘flats’) – one for girls, one for boys and a co-ed house for year 13s (boys and girls live on different floors). Steephurst, the boarding house for years 9 to 12 girls feels like home from home, with a stylish common room, kitchen, surgery and cosy, mixed-age dorms. Year 13 boarders do their own laundry – good preparation for university. The youngest aren’t allowed phones during the day and must hand them in at night. If older pupils use phones too much the devices are confiscated for 24 hours.

Background and atmosphere

Bedales has always been ahead of the curve. Founded in 1893 in Sussex by John Badley as ‘a humane alternative to the authoritarian regimes typical of late Victorian public schools’, it aims to educate ‘head, hand and heart’ – in other words, provide a broad education and focus on developing students’ personal qualities as well as their intellectual prowess. The school has been co-ed since 1898 (it was the first non-Quaker co-ed boarding school) and moved to its current 120-acre site in a pretty village two miles outside Petersfield in 1900.

The school famously has no uniform and fashion trends are far less of a thing here than at many schools, with most students clad in jeans and trainers. ‘They aren’t interested in high street fashion,’ says a parent. ‘There’s no designer clothing and no pressure.’ The school has started a ‘give and take’ scheme, where pupils can hand in clothes they don’t want and borrow other previously owned items. When we asked if there are any rules on clothes pupils said they have to wear shoes, pyjamas aren’t allowed and no excessive skin on show. Students call teachers by their first names, which adds to the informal, friendly ethos. ‘We see teachers more as equals – someone to help us rather than tell us what to do,’ a sixth former told us. Several said school rules tend to be around health and safety and that zero tolerance rules on drugs, alcohol and smoking are far stricter than at other schools. ‘I have never seen or heard of anyone taking drugs and smoking is no more of a problem here than anywhere else,’ a sixth former said. Bedales is currently consulting about starting the school day at 9.25am – research shows that teens learn better when they start later.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Bedales recognised the importance of pastoral care more than a century ago; founder John Badley was determined to shape the school around what was considered best for the individual’s educational welfare and happiness and his vision still holds true today.

Pupils can talk to their tutors, boarding staff, nurses at the health centre and the school counsellors. ‘The pastoral care is wonderful,’ a mother told us. ‘It’s a really inclusive school, a place where you can be what you want to be.’ When year 9 pupils join the school their induction incudes a series of Outward Bound activities with tutors and sixth form mentors, enabling everyone to get to know each other as a year group. Year 12 students get their own studies away from the boarding houses while year 13s work in their rooms. Busy student council, run by the four head students (two boys, two girls) and attended by the head, deputy heads and three reps per year.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are ‘diverse in terms of personality and nationality,’ says the head. Two-thirds of year 9s move up from Bedales Prep, Dunhurst; the rest come from a vast range of schools, including Beaudesert Park, Cheam, Newton Prep, Notting Hill Prep, Walhampton, Windlesham and Westbourne House. Day pupils tend to live within a 40-minute drive, arriving from places like Winchester, Chichester, West Wittering, Petworth and Midhurst (the schools runs a variety of minibuses). Parents spoke of the school’s ‘sense of community’ and told us that communication between school and home is good. One told us: ‘When Bedales started it was very visionary and radical and my experience is that it’s got better and better in recent years. The core ethos is still there and they have tightened up the academics.’

Former pupils include a galaxy of well-known names, including David Linley (the Earl of Snowdon), Kirstie Allsopp, Daniel Day Lewis, Gyles Brandreth, Lily Allen, Sophie Dahl, Arabella Weir, Julian Trevelyan and Alys Fowler. Parents tend to be open-minded, with a strong interest in education, many of them entrepreneurs, lawyers and creative types.

Entrance

School is ‘inclusive and non-selective’. Maths, English and general ability tests for 13+ entry 18 months before entry. Around 25 to 35 students join in the sixth form. At this stage they need a minimum average of grade 5 at GCSE/BAC or equivalent. External sixth form candidates also attend an interview day. Head’s view is that the school has a responsibility to let internal students continue into the sixth form, even if they haven’t got the required grades. ‘If you let them in at 13 I think it’s morally dishonest to kick them out at 16,’ he says. ‘If there’s a sixth form programme that’s right for them they can stay, although we obviously have a minimum threshold for subjects like maths.’

Exit

School loses a few pupils after GCSEs – mainly to sixth form colleges like Peter Symonds College and Bishop Luffa Sixth Form to do courses not offered by Bedales.

A parent told us that Bedales ‘is very good at helping young adults and kids work out what they want to do’. At 18, virtually all head to universities, music conservatoires, drama schools and art colleges. A small number to Oxbridge (three in 2019) and many to Russell Group universities (including Bristol, Edinburgh and King’s College London). Wide variety of courses – art foundation courses at the Royal Drawing School, physics at Manchester, medicine at Queen Mary University of London and French and Russian at Oxford.

Money matters

School is committed to broadening access by offering financial support (more than five per cent of its fee income is allocated to this). Means-tested bursaries range from part fee contributions to 100 per cent bursaries. Scholarships offered in art, music, drama, sport and academic subjects (scholars can access a research fund to support ‘scholarly projects’ but there’s no reduction in school fees).

Our view

Most children would thrive at this lovely, forward-thinking school. Bedales is the biggest it’s ever been and seems to be on a roll right now, with other schools taking a keen interest in its initiatives. For teens this is a wonderful place to develop a strong sense of self, stretch their minds, develop a love of learning and make lifelong friends.

Please note: 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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