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Sport has always been the lifeblood of Bedford. And while the trophy cabinets are bursting at the seams for all sports from rugby and cricket to rowing and golf, the overall ethos is far from elitist. ‘Academic without being pressurised,’ thought parent. Good to see chalk and talk widely replaced by more stimulating, interactive approaches eg we saw one class experimenting with guppies to see if they can recognise colour. Boys are a delight, their trademark being an ability to mix with any age group with an easy, understated confidence. Parents range from old money right through to...

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What the school says...

A Bedford School boy has the opportunity to excel at many things, from sport to culture, to the academic subjects. We believe that a complete and balanced education produces fully rounded boys. From age 7 to 18, its a continuity of education that enriches, and prepares them for a full and rewarding adult life.

Bedford School has an established reputation for academic excellence, and is known for its strength in music, the arts and sport. Boys join a lively community of day boys, weekly and full boarders, all of whom enjoy outstanding facilities and a full social life. Facilities are virtually unrivalled and our highly qualified teaching staff are selected on their ability to communicate and inspire.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

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.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since 2014, James Hodgson (50s), educated at Wellington College and Durham (classics) before being scooped up on the milk round by Ernst and Young and spending a couple of years as a trainee accountant. In his 20s, a cricketer hovering around the fringes of the professional game (and uninspired by the world of finance), he wrote to Cambridge on the off-chance of a late place on its PGCE course and turned up trumps, meaning he could pursue his long-term ambition of running a boarding house as well as playing regular top-class cricket, ultimately earning a blue.

Spent six years teaching in Sydney before joining Tonbridge School as boarding housemaster and director of admissions. Latterly senior deputy head of Magdalen College School, Oxford. Oft told story is how he fell for Bedford on the basis of rapport between pupils and staff – ‘completely at ease with other – wonderful to see,’ and was also impressed with ‘every boy shaking my hand and looking me in the eye’. At peace with Bedford not hitting the dizzy academic heights of Magdalen but has upped the ante for pastoral reasons (‘good for self-worth and opens up choice for the next step’), gaining best-ever A level results three years into his headship (the same year Oxbridge numbers hit double figures for the first time) and best-ever GCSE results four years in, though there have been blips too. While fiercely proud of vertical pastoral system across houses and tutor groups (‘so younger ones have plenty of time with older ones, an atmosphere that pervades the school’), he has recently introduced academic year heads ‘to ensure no boy gets missed’.

Gives impression of being younger than his years – boyish looks and demeanour help as much as dynamic approach. But a more measured, outward-looking and educationally savvy man you couldn’t find. Boys describe him as ‘warm and welcoming’ and ‘an instant leveller which was great for me because it’s easy to feel initially intimidated by the grandeur of the school.’ Genuine open-door policy, they told us – ‘you can go in and talk about anything’. ‘Very good with names and he remembers what you’re good at too,’ added another. Praised by parents for tightening up systems, lifting expectations and improving communications. ‘He exudes openness and kindness at the same time as upholding discipline,’ felt one, while another said he was the reason they chose the school.

Recent areas of focus include digital learning. Has brought in director of digital learning ‘to work out what 18-year-olds need and work backwards’ – paid off when school took a team to London to enter a competition about blockchain technology (a subject they knew nothing about until 48 hours before) and wound up coming third (two major banks came first and second). Also keen on entrepreneurial thinking, with many boys leaving already running businesses. Service is high on his agenda – ‘Every boy will have had a meaningful relationship with the local community by the time he leaves,’ he promises, with nearly 100 out of 140 volunteering in local primary schools, old people’s homes etc. Lovely story of one overstretched music teacher at a local primary now having a Bedford boy as pianist for the choir – ‘completely revolutionised her life’. Keen to learn from state sector too, which has led to some strong local partnerships.

Married to Rachel, with four children – oldest a theatre director, two at uni (Sydney and Oxford) and youngest at Oundle. Cricket still runs deep in his bones, although loves ‘all sport’ and now skis and sails more than ever, the latter in Chichester harbour and Isle of Wight, where he and his wife originally hail from.

Entrance

Around 60 per cent of the 140 boys who join year 9 come up from the prep. Feeder preps for the remaining 50 or so additional places include Aldwickbury, Beechwood Park, Kingshott and Lockers Park; others from the state sector. Optional ISEB pre-test in year 6 or 7 potentially leading to conditional offer, confirmed by school's own online entrance examination in year 8. A few extra places at 14+ then around 25 join in sixth form, when hopefuls will need six good GCSEs with at least 6s in the subjects to be studied at A level (7+ grades in maths and sciences). Not ferociously competitive for day boys, albeit more selective than in the past; same is true for boarding. Overseas pupils often offered places conditional to taking ESL, billed as an extra.

Exit

Up to 15 per cent head to pastures new post-GCSE. Handful to Oxbridge every year (four in 2019) and two-thirds to a wide range of Russell Group – Bristol, Warwick, Newcastle, Durham and Nottingham currently popular. Lots study sciences and a few to medicine each year (three medics in 2019). Others off to USA (Syracuse, New York on a rowing scholarship), Hong Kong, Netherlands and France. Three boys selected for degree apprenticeships: Airbus, law and hospitality (in Munich).

Latest results

In 2019, 66 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 43 per cent A*/A at A level (72 per cent A*-B), with an average IB score of 34.

Teaching and learning

Decent results, especially given the broad intake. ‘Academic without being pressurised,’ thought parent. Much looser setting than in the past – now only broadly at the very top and bottom for maths and English. Class sizes capped at 24, shrinking to a pleasing eight or nine for many A level subjects. Pretty much all take 10 GCSEs. Particularly good results in English; computer science and DT popular. In sixth form, around 15 per cent take IB (school would like it to be a third, but not overly fussed as ‘it is so important to match individual pupil strengths to courses’); rest start with four A levels, dropping to three at various stages of the sixth form (menu felt by some to be a bit too narrow and traditional, though – ‘would be nice if they offered something like psychology,’ said a parent). Maths and sciences get biggest take-up. Bedford School Independent Project (BSIP) taken by all boys in year 12, with about 20 per cent going on to do EPQ – one boy told us about his project on the physics behind Interstellar (‘I love physics and I love movies – couldn’t suit me more’). German, Spanish, French and Latin on offer in the languages department, with Mandarin available as a twilight option, but rather low take-up of these at A level. Some boys told us they’d like a get out of jail card around languages at GCSE – ‘I struggle even with English, so to take French too is really hard,’ said one. Head takes two Greek classes on Saturday mornings – ‘was originally requested by Latinists who I fully expected not to turn up after a few weeks but is still going strong two years on and I’m now taking their protégés,’ he says.

Good to see chalk and talk widely replaced by more stimulating, interactive approaches, eg we saw one class experimenting with guppies to see if fish can recognise colour. ‘The teachers really engage with their subjects – they go above and beyond,’ said a boy; goes for outside the classroom too, with pupils clearly appreciative of eg head of academics recently travelling to Stowe to watch them play rugby – ‘makes you feel he really cares’. A few grumbles around consistency of homework – ‘sometimes you get five pieces of prep in a day, other days none,’ said one boy.

Two careers specialists, with UCAS application process highly praised. Lots going on off-timetable – pretty much every day, one or other of the academic societies (many run by boys) has a meeting, speaker etc.

Learning support and SEN

Around 10 per cent SEN (mainly mild dyslexia or dyscalculia), all given bespoke care. Good at diagnosis too, felt parent – ‘and they’ve put everything in place to help my son while never making him feel different’. Strong ESOL team caters for overseas students, who are offered extra English language sessions in place of another language and about half of them take IGCSE ESL instead of English.

The arts and extracurricular

Super modern music centre designed by award-winning architect Eric Parry and word has it that it’s positioned opposite the pavilion so that the director of music can keep one eye on the cricket scoreboard whilst conducting the school orchestra. All the choirs (including a 50-strong chapel choir, which our guide described as ‘amazing, just amazing’), orchestras, bands and ensembles you’d expect and there’s a music technology suite, recording studio, rock room and recital hall where the grand piano was being tuned during our visit ready for the weekly performances by pupils and recitals from visiting professionals. Annual house singing a hugely anticipated event on the school calendar – expect raucous chanting and cheering from housemates. Music regularly released by boys onto Spotify. Inclusive approach means all are welcome – all the more surprising to find music just wasn’t on the radar of some families we spoke to.

Seriously wow factor theatre, built on the site of a former Moravian church, is architecturally stunning with own box office and reception complete with bar, seating area and grand piano. Shared with the town, and able to seat over 280, it is a hub of dramatic activity with at least two or three events a week ranging from BedFringe (mini Edinburgh festival that often sees participants move on up to the real deal) to a 10-day festival in July that celebrates everything from comedy to jazz. Drama available at both GCSE and A level, with good results. Many productions in conjunction with Bedford Girls’ School, while boarders get invited to all external productions by visiting companies. A full-time technical director takes care of special effects and shows boys the ropes with lighting and scenery.

Mind-blowing work on show in the art department and indeed all around the school; boys clearly very at home with the printing facilities. ‘A very calming place – a real haven for my son,’ said a parent. DT among the highest calibre we’ve seen – and imaginative too, with boys encouraged to think about solving real human needs with eg laptop cooler, bike work stand, thermo-kettle and self-heating baby bottle, plus our two favourites – a lamp designed for a children’s hospital and beautiful wooden box made by a boy for his grandfather with dementia containing sections for pills, notes, visual reminders of family members etc. No wonder so many move on to study engineering at university. History of art an extracurricular option; parents, have your paintbrushes at the ready as there are adult classes available in evenings.

A non-stop merry-go-round of extracurricular activities keeps boys busy – ‘my son’s only two terms in but already does CCF, shooting club, electric guitar, debating society plus sports clubs,’ said parent. Popular DofE; CCF in all three branches, run in conjunction with Bedford Girls’. There’s always some sort of trip or tour in the planning whether for sports or choir, along with academic excursions and some just for fun.

Introduction in recent years of colours for art, drama and academia in addition to sport – a welcome addition signified by a colourful array of scarves and pockets – and special striped blazers for those awarded cricket colours.

Sport

Sport has always been the lifeblood of Bedford. And while the trophy cabinets are bursting at the seams for all sports from rugby and cricket to rowing and golf, the overall ethos is far from elitist, including when it comes to training – the input and expertise from the directors of all major sports filtering down to even the lowliest teams. All get fixtures – they must surely one of very few schools who can lay claim to 35 rugby matches on a single Saturday (shortly before our visit), with 700 boys (includes prep boys) playing against other schools. Unusually, all major sports tours are non-selective, giving every boy the opportunity to go.

Rugby, hockey and cricket are the core sports, as is rowing (school has its own boat house on a beautiful stretch of the river Ouse). But there's plenty more besides: you name it and Bedford offers it, from archery or rifle shooting to pilates and fencing. National and international honours in all main sports plus golf and fencing, and boys have gone on to play for their universities and even their country; the main challenge for staff is finding competitor schools strong enough to give them a good game. Outstanding cricket – the CEO of Lord’s went to Bedford, as did most of the bigwigs at Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, both on and off the field.

Facilities unsurprisingly splendid, including a weights room that would give many private gyms a run for their money, plus 25-metre swimming pool, well kept sports hall and squash courts. Outside are vast fields, tennis courts and a cricket pavilion opened by England captain and Old Bedfordian, Alastair Cook.

Boarders

Six senior boarding houses – four on site and two just a short walk away – all adapted Victorian villas, each with own character and all bright and roomy. Home from home in every sense, all with a fraternity house feel. We were reassured rather than put off by the huge pile of muddy boots in the hallway and unmade beds and towels hanging here there and everywhere – boys must feel very relaxed to be quite so slovenly. Each house has between 32 and 54 boys, with dorms sleeping between one (for upper sixth) and six, and has a housemaster with family and assistant housemaster with family (‘couldn’t praise them more if I tried – you can call them about anything, no matter how minor,’ said a parent). Communal areas are attractive – no mean feat to manage such cosiness with 10+ sofas in a single room. Enough Xboxes, pinball machines, pool tables, chess tables etc to please the most discerning of young gamesmen. Plenty of roll calls to keep boys well informed and two hours of prep a night, divided into two slots. Many of the boys – all of whom have the freedom to come and go during the course of the day – are former day boys fed up with the daily commute. And around 65 per cent are full boarders (half of whom are local and half international – from 24 countries across Europe, Asia and Russia) so plenty of buzz at weekends although some feel ‘there could be more outings’. Compulsory Saturday school for all.

Ethos and heritage

If you can, get your satnav to take you to the school via the grand wide avenues of Victorian villas (two boarding houses among them) that lead down to the attractive river bank (the less-posh half of Bedford includes the somewhat run-down high street – definitely not the scenic route). Once through the gates, it’s impossible not to marvel at the manicured sports fields to your left and pleasing mix of old and new buildings mainly to your right. The main building is all turrets, spires and a bell tower, with a magnificent hall as the central point and classrooms on four levels.

Difficult to choose a stand-out feature or department as each and every addition to the school has been made with care and deliberation to fuse function and form effectively. From the professional-looking cricket pavilion to the super modern glazed music school (who could fail to be inspired in here?), stunning library full of gleaming new books – but with the antique ones carefully displayed – and the cottage-like art building, set in its own sculpture garden, the whole campus gives the aura of a school offering roundedness in the purest sense of the word. The word chapel doesn’t quite do justice to the glorious building where weekly services are held – ‘one of my favourite places in the school, which is not at all what I expected as a non-Christian, but the singing and the atmosphere is very special,’ said our guide.

No complaints on the food front (although several about the ‘chaotic lunch queues’), ‘and they go out of their way if you have a dietary requirement,’ said a boy. We were touched to see a boy call out to the dining staff as he walked past, ‘Smells good, as always.’

An enviable community where boys look out for each other across the year groups – a truly brotherly atmosphere. Made even more amiable by the good manners and open chattiness of the boys. All open doors and all have a ready smile.

Alumni, as you might expect, include some seriously influential Britons including Sir Alistair Cook (cricket), Budge Rogers (rugby), John Holland-Kaye (Heathrow CEO), Miles Young (master, New College, Oxford), Lord Naseby, Will Gompertz (BBC arts correspondent), Paddy Ashdown (politician), Al Murray (comedian), Archer Martin (Nobel prize winner in chemistry), John Fowles (author), Quentin Skinner (political theorist), Krishnan Srinivasan (Indian foreign secretary and deputy secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations) and Harold Abrahams (athlete).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Tutor is first port of call in moments of difficulty; teachers also available to parents via email. Timetable collapsed five times each year to focus on PSHCE with age-appropriate focus on drugs, internet safety etc. Tight on discipline – ‘I’m quite tough,’ says head. But there’s give where appropriate – school understands that this is a place for boys to grow up in and that some mistakes will be made along the way. No movement on eg haircuts and facial hair, though (except for Movember) – a ‘bit petty,’ thought boys until the debating society battled it out verbally against the ‘strictest teacher in the school’ who had such a plausible argument that in the end the pupil vote went to him. Usual zero tolerance when it comes to dealing with drugs, either inside or out of school – does crop up from time to time. Suspensions and exclusions? ‘Probably too many,’ admits head – wouldn’t be pinned down to number of former; around three to six a year of the latter, ‘the vast majority mutual removals by the time we get to that stage.’ Bullying rare and stamped on quickly, with school reassuringly uncomplacent.

Pupils and parents

Boys are a delight, their trademark being an ability to mix with any age group with easy, understated confidence. Buses from Luton, Milton Keynes and Hitchin and easy access from Harpenden by train makes for a broad catchment, with most living within a 40-mile radius, commuting for up to an hour. Parents range from old money right through to first-time buyers who have their own businesses or London-based professionals. Over 50 boys on lifetime bursaries help keep school from being a bubble. ‘Not much of a parent community, though,’ felt one. Good ethnic diversity, reflective of the area and topped up by the international contingent. Many OBs in parent cohort – it’s hard to exaggerate how proud these men are of their old school.

Money matters

Good clutch of scholarships and bursaries for entry into years 7, 9 and 12, with art and more recently drama added to the list and golf scholarships in conjunction with nearby Woburn Golf Club. Generous – up to 35 per cent of fees, non-means tested, up for grabs ‘for boys with exceptional talent’ – and buoyant reserves in the hardship fund. Just under 200 boys across the school currently hold awards, with around 10 per cent of these on 100 per cent.

Part of the Harpur Trust but financially independent and benefiting from an extremely active and benevolent OB network.

The last word

A solid option for a single-sex independent school where boys can reach their academic potential without undue pressure and kickstart their adult lives with a real love of sport and/or the arts. Boys are among the nicest and most outward looking we’ve met, helped by school’s (and particularly the current dynamic head’s) strong sense of service. Softer skills a real point of differentiation.

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

Academic Support Bedford School provides a range of academic support to students with specific learning difficulties.Specific classroom support strategies are devised for these students which teachers use in the classroom to help them. Specialist teachers are available to support students in supervised prep sessions after school in the library, and there are a range of academic clinics in different subjects available to students weekly. Some students may also be entitled to Access Arrangements like extra time and/or word processors in exams. The school can also provide specialist 1:1 tuition in study skills to students who want to improve their academic performance. This includes support for students with specific learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. These lessons are usually timetabled in a non-teaching period, during lunchtimes or before or after school. The lessons are charged for as disbursements and details of the current fees are on the school website. English as a Second Language (ESL) Students for whom English is not their first language often need additional support (and acceptance of this is usually a condition of entry to Bedford school). For these boys the Academic Support Department provides specialised help in English for academic purposes which includes: • reading and listening skills • improving grammatical accuracy and lexical range • developing the academic writing process • planning and proofreading techniques for coursework across all subjects • preparing and delivering presentations The number of lessons per week depends on each student’s ability in English in terms of his reading, writing, listening and speaking, and also according to his academic progress in his subjects. Boys receive up to four weekly lessons, depending on their individual needs. This is reviewed half-termly by the Academic Support Department and in consultation with their subject teachers. Lessons take place in dedicated classrooms, are taught by experienced ESL teachers, and the boys have access to a range of resources and multimedia to help them progress. Boys who receive English Language support are required to pay additional fees which are determined by the number of lessons per week, and whether they are one to one or small group sessions. Details of the current fees can be found on the school website. In addition to individual and small group ESL support as detailed above, we also provide the following: • an alternative language and literature curriculum in year 9, tailored to the needs of ESL boys whose academic language skills are still developing • preparation for IGCSE English as a Second Language in years 10 (Removes) and 11 (Fifth Form) • preparation for IELTS (International English Language Testing System), usually required for UK university entrance, in years 12 and 13 (Sixth Form)

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 Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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