Commission on Religious Education

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics

The Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) recently reported its findings after a long period of consultation with stakeholders. CoRE was set up by the RE Council, but was run independently of it. As independent schools, we are unlikely to feel the full force of CoRE’s effect, but times are changing for Religious Education, and independent schools will surely find themselves influenced by the findings.

These key recommendations are likely to have the biggest effect on independent schools:

1. Religion & Worldviews

CoRE recommends that ‘Religious Education’ should be renamed ‘Religion & Worldviews’. Do not be fooled: this change of nomenclature is no mere windowdressing. The Commission recognises the huge change that has taken place in religious affiliation in the last fifty years, and argues that the subject must evolve to recognise this. Around 50% of adults in the UK have no religion. 41% identify as Christian. Focussing on ‘The Six World Religions’ does not reflect the religious (or increasingly nonreligious) nature of the UK. By introducing ‘worldviews’ to the subject, and requiring students to handle concepts such as secularism as well as religion, it is hoped that the subject will be useful in reflecting the conversations students will need to have in their lives as well as at work. Even though most schools in the Independent Sector tend to call this subject ‘Religious Studies’ and not ‘Religious Education’, this name change, and everything it implies, is causing controversy. The term ‘worldview’ is defined by the report, but not closely enough. Couldn’t a worldview mean any set of beliefs that are in some way foundational to the way someone sees the world? As Philip Robinson, the RE Advisor to the Catholic Education Service puts it, “communism, libertarianism, capitalism, nationalism and socialism are just a few nonreligious worldviews; should they be taught in RE too? It…seems hugely ironic that the answer to declining religious literacy should be to teach less religion.”

2. National Entitlement

Provision for RE has been found to be patchy in recent years, and increasing academisation of maintained sector schools has diminished the amount of RE being taught. 34.1% of academies with no religious character were not teaching any RE in KS3 in 2015; 43.7% at KS4. CoRE recommends that a National Entitlement is created to ensure that all students can access the subject. This might cause some independent schools to examine the provision they have in place themselves. Whilst there is no suggestion that independent schools will have to conform, the National Entitlement confirms the importance of the subject, and some independent schools might see fit to follow suit.

3. An ‘Academically Rich & Rigorous’ subject

A key aim that has come out of CoRE is a call for an “academically rich and rigorous” approach to the subject. Religious Education has historically served many goals: community cohesion; spiritual development; formation of world view; tolerance and understanding of others. Academic rigour has not always featured at the top of priorities in RE for successive governments. In the independent sector, there has been a longer history of an academic approach as the term ‘Religious Studies’ implies. The sector has a wealth of expertise amongst its teachers: expect to meet lots of textbook authors at the ISRSA Conference! Having argued that this is a challenging and academic subject, CoRE recommends that Religion and Worldviews is finally given the status that, as such, it deserves. For its whole history, RE has been a bit different, in its legal status, in its provision, in its locally agreed syllabuses, and, many would argue, this was for some good reasons. Yet, its unique place on the curriculum has also made it a bit of an outlier, difficult to categorise, and difficult, for some, to take seriously as an academic pursuit. Recent government decisions, namely the exclusion both of RE from the EBacc and of short-course RE from schools’ performance figures, have hugely undervalued the subject and led to a dramatic downturn in uptake nationally at GCSE. The Russell Group’s list of ‘facilitating’ subjects, where Religious Studies A Level is conspicuous by its absence, also hugely underestimates the usefulness of the subject for all sorts of areas of further study. CoRE requests that the Russell Group re-examines its list. Here, CoRE could have direct implications for the independent sector: some Heads of RS feel under an unfair amount of pressure to justify their subject, purely because of its seemingly arbitrary exclusion from that list. If CoRE’s recommendations are taken up, we can hope for better resourcing for teacher training, and hence higher quality applicants for jobs in both sectors. We can hope that students expect RS to be taught, and to be taught well, as it so often is by colleagues in the independent sector. More thanthis, we can hope, finally, to be understood for what we are. We are teachers of a valuable, viable, challenging and rigorous academic subject: so much more, but nothing less.

This article was originally published in Independent Schools Magazine

Remembrance Jaw

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religious Studies & Ethics

At Dunhurst and Bedales, students commemorated the centenary of the Armistice at a Remembrance Jaw. Jaw at the Bedales Schools takes the place of chapel in more traditional independent schools. It is the time during the week for reflecting on philosophical, spiritual, religious and moral ideas and views.

Remembrance Jaw is the most solemn event in our calendar. The Bedales Archives project creating profiles of those Old Bedalians who died provided the substance for our commemoration. Students heard in much more detail than before about three Bedalians who died in 1918.

We heard about Edmund ‘Gabriel’ Rice, nephew Mrs Badley the founder’s wife. We remembered Ellis ‘Lynn’ Doncaster, who was shot down on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, and hence the start of what was to be known as the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the war. Finally, we remembered Oswald Horsley, known universally as ‘Pump’, a gentle giant, a lot of fun, and a popular choice for Head Boy.

Oswald was clearly an extremely courageous man, injured three times at the Front. In the offensive where he suffered considerable abdominal wounds, he continued to command his troops from where he lay injured. He was the only Officer to survive that day, and was awarded the MC. The day before he died in a test flight, having refused to retire after his injuries made a continued career in the infantry impossible, he came back to Bedales. As he left, he said he’d be back in a week. Tragically, he was right, as his body was brought back to the village for burial.

Our Founder, Mr Badley, wrote this poem dedicated to Oswald, which was read at his burial.

To O.H.

At parting, five short days ago
“This time it’s not for long” you said;
“You’ll see me back within the week.” And lo,
Your comrades bring you dead.

Their task done, each in token how
They prized their sunniest, bravest, best,
Advancing, gives the last salute; and now
They leave you here, to rest,

Where, by the old grey church, the view
Of half a county, weald and hill —
Wide almost as your vision from the blue —
Lies round you silent, still.

Rest, then, where you so loved to be,
Living, and, dead, be with us yet.
You have come back to us again, and so
Like you, we’ll not forget.

— JH Badley

The student-led curriculum group gets organised

By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation

What springs to mind when you hear the word “Dons”? A candlelit high table crowded with kindly academics passing the port? Or a gathering of Mafioso types gathered in a back room, discussing the destination of the next horse’s head?

At our school, The Dons was the deliberately ambiguous name chosen for our latest venture in student leadership. The students struck on the name themselves, and were delighted by the way in which it hints both at academic ambition and rigour, yet retains overtones of anti-authoritarian subversion in the cause of “getting things done” a la Corleone…

As one of the pioneers of progressive education, Bedales has a long tradition of taking “student voice” very seriously indeed. Our school council, chaired by our head boy and girl, recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The Dons are the latest incarnation of this commitment to devolving meaningful responsibility to our students.

Essentially, the Dons are student leaders for each of the important elements of our school. Primarily, they are associated with academic departments – so the Don of biology or Spanish, for example – though other areas of school life also have a Don, such as our precious library.

The project was the students’ idea some four years ago. Above all, they wanted there to be students who could be approached for subject-specific help and advice by younger pupils, and who could become spokespeople for the subject, as well as representatives of the student body’s views to the relevant head of department (HoD). A consigliere of sorts, or perhaps something akin to a Roman tribune. Truth to power, but politely…

Respect the family

In the early days, the students were adamant that there should be no active oversight or management of this layer of student involvement from the adult leadership team. This was their baby, and they wanted it to operate in an entirely free-standing, organic way. Somewhat sceptically, we let them have their head.

This, frankly, led to a rather variable set of contributions across subject areas. A good number of Dons poured hours into supporting younger years, especially around GCSE time, and ran clubs and activities that related to the subject area. Others largely sat on their hands, revelling in the title and kudos, and boasting of it on their Ucas form, but were disappointingly unaccountable and inactive.

The students recognised the unfairness and ineffectiveness of this system, and soon sought to formalise the relationship between their network and the school’s more well-established structures.

The first big change for “Phase Two” was around the appointment process. We moved from a rather underground mechanism, whereby Dons more or less emerged from the shadows to be announced to HoDs by the students, to a rather more transparent process whereby aspirant Dons applied to the HoD, laying out their motivations and vision for the role. HoDs formally took on responsibility for managing their Don, and shared expectations were set. The head boy and girl attended a HoD meeting to negotiate the finer points.

The Don of teaching and learning is my sidekick in keeping some light reins on the whole project, which now feels distinctly more collaborative, embedded and effective than Dons 1.0, which now sleeps with the fishes.

What do they do? It’s delightfully disparate, with some students going across to our prep school to help lead activities or get involved in the science fair there.

Others organise external speakers and take responsibility for extracurricular societies. They pop up at the A-level choices fair to tell potential subscribers “what it’s really like”. No sugar-coating.

Flora, the religious-studies Don, is working on a student-sourced resource booklet for the new A level. Dons even attend departmental meetings from time to time to act as a sounding board on the issues of the day.

By far the most frequent offering is that of scheduled subject clinics for younger year groups, especially during our “quiet time” – Bedales’ light-touch version of old-school “prep” time. This proves especially popular in the run-up to exams and coursework deadlines – they’re literally being made an offer they can’t refuse.

Our most recent initiative was in response to a request from the governors that we make greater use of student feedback in shaping departmental development plans.

HoDs and Dons alike baulked at the idea of generating sheets of data from online questionnaires – both conscious of the dangers of headline metrics generated from tiny sample sizes – and negotiated a more qualitative way of identifying development areas.

So we planned a “feedback afternoon”, roughly following the model of a parents’ meeting, but with Dons behind the library desks instead of teachers, and students taking the place of parents. Students rolled through by year group to offer their unvarnished views on their experience, by subject, with Dons scribbling notes to translate (diplomatically and constructively, we trust) for their HoDs.

We’re mid-experiment, so how well this feedback will be converted into useful development priorities remains to be seen, but, nothing ventured…

An undoubted upside of all this is the inclusion of the students in the broader conversation about how teaching and learning happens. They have a voice.

There’s undoubtedly more work to do be done to refine the role of our motley, idealistic Dons, but it’s a stimulating dialogue with the students about how they can best be involved in the running of their community, and it can only be good for their general political and organisational awareness. Most hearteningly, it brings out their deep commitment to our very special school.

This article was originally published in TES magazine.

New cattle arrive at Bedales

Bedales-calf

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

Agnes and Audrey have joined us from Cowdray Farm Estate. Their mothers are Holstein Friesian cattle used for milking, their fathers are used for beef.

Agnes is a Holstein-Friesian cross Aberdeen-Angus. Aberdeen-Angus’s are a native breed, black in colour and known for their hardiness and the quality of their beef. They have a great temperament which we hope proves true as Agnes grows up!

Audrey is a Holstein-Friesian cross Hereford. Hereford cattle are very distinctive, with their white faces and markings, and auburn bodies.  Like the Aberdeen-Angus, Herefords fed on grass produce an excellent ‘marbled’ beef that is in great demand due to its distinctive flavour and quality.

Hereford cattle are another native breed famous for their good temperament. This should make Audrey and Agnes absolutely ideal for our school environment.

The calves are three weeks old, and fed on milk, barley straw and cereal. They will have the milk for roughly another six weeks, and then be weaned entirely onto cereals and barley straw for the winter. In the summer months they will only eat grass.

Very soon they will begin their halter training which is vital in order for us to move them around the site to fresh pastures (watch out for the cow pats!) Already we have three Block 4 students claiming the halter training as part of their Outdoor Work BAC project.

Once the cattle reach roughly 20 months they will be ready for either breeding or beef. What we decide to do with them depends on their behaviour, how our fields have coped with big animals and our appetite for either calves or beef!

Conference season

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

This year’s annual HMC Conference was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. The hotel was built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a bloody milestone along the treacherous road towards universal suffrage. It’s a stone’s throw away from what was the legendary club The Hacienda, now a block of luxury flats (sic transit gloria). But it’s most compelling claim to shaping history as opposed to having history happen on its doorstep was that Mr Rolls and Mr Royce had their first ever meeting in the hotel and decided that they would go into partnership: the engineer and the money man realising that each had something the other didn’t.

The theme of this year’s conference has been ‘Together to Learn’ – a title which is meant to work in all sorts of clever ways, of course, as we have all come together to learn from each other, from the long list of eminent speakers that have given presentations, and of course it’s a statement about how all teachers and all schools, whether independent or maintained sector, can learn from each other.

The 2018 HMC buzzword bingo was not particularly challenging. ‘Bursary provision’, ‘public benefit’ and ‘partnerships’ were the ‘go to’ mentions and proliferated the discourse whenever the lights were dimmed. Because of the political discourse in another conference going on in Birmingham, a conference even more important than a bunch of Heads of schools coming together to talk school stuff, much of the energy and talk in Manchester was about anticipating political change that might adversely affect the independent sector. The Labour Party conference that took place last week in Liverpool was a more important conference to watch from our school perspective because we can pretty safely assume that a Labour government taking office after the next general election would introduce legislation that would present real existential challenges to many schools in the independent sector.

So whilst we wait for the current Conservative administration to lead the country out of Europe into a post-Brexit world of complete uncertainty, we also have to plan for what Mr Corbyn might do when he gets the keys to No. 10. At Bedales we can speak loudly and proudly about what we do in terms of public benefit, bursary provision and partnership forming. The timing of Patrick Derham’s visit to Bedales last week when he spoke at Jaw about his own journey as a recipient of a bursary could not have been better timed as an example of what Bedales does through its John Badley Foundation to make a Bedales education available to aspiring students whose families just don’t have the means to meet the fees. We also have a range of exemplar partnerships with our local schools, and in particular a successful partnership with Bohunt School in Liphook. And last week the Outdoor Work department welcomed a group of young people from a pupil referral unit in Gosport who came to share our facilities. And there is so much more.

Patrick’s mantra about the ‘transformative power of education’ still resonates in my mind, and I have heard that phrase again this week in Manchester. Once we are through the conference season; Conservative, Labour and HMC, then teaching and learning comes centre stage again, and the classroom rather than the podium, rightly, is where the action is.

Transformative Education

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics

An education is a transformative thing, and a great education can lead to a great transformation. Every student at Bedales is fortunate to have so many opportunities. Being part of a school like this, someone has invested in that transformation. For many, parents make this investment. Sometimes, it is grandparents. I have even known students paying their own fees out of inherited money. Others, and I was one of them, get to come to a school like this with the support of others, through bursary programmes. I can speak as one who knows: bursaries transform lives.

Patrick Derham, OBE, the Headmaster of Westminster, and formerly Rugby, knows this better than most. We were so fortunate to have him speak at Jaw on Wednesday, and the impact his talk had on students was palpable. Having, like me, been to seven schools before the age of 12, he was an ‘Ari Boy’, educated aboard the permanently moored vessel Arethusa. One day, he was asked ‘Do you know what Public School is, Derham?’ ‘No, Sir’, he replied. The school aboard the Arethusa was disbanded overnight, and he was sent off to Pangbourne College, a beneficiary of a bursary from an anonymous donor. It changed his life, giving him opportunities beyond his wildest dreams.

He took advantage of every chance, getting to Pembroke College, Cambridge, and has spent his career determined to give back. He started the celebrated Arnold (bursary) Foundation at Rugby, and from that went on to found Springboard, a national charity linking young people to places at boarding schools. He is involved with numerous other projects, all concerned with providing excellent educational opportunities to young people in difficult circumstances.

I can see why he said this was what ‘gets him out of bed in the morning’. Last year, I was thrilled and deeply moved to be asked to be a trustee of our own John Badley Foundation. Through the work of the JBF, students with backgrounds more like mine, and those much less fortunate than I was, can get to come here, and just as happens with every child, experience the transformation that comes from a great education.

For more information about the John Badley Foundation, click here.

Engaging head and heart

Library interior

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

A report which ran in The Times on Monday was difficult reading for arts undergraduates sharpening their pencils and adding more memory to their smartphones ahead of the new university year about to start. Freshers will be worrying whether they have made the right choices, and those nearing the end of their degree courses might be facing even more than the standard amount of Brexit-tinged uncertainty laced with a thick layer of debt.

Figures previewed from The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019, which is published next weekend, found that the best-paid graduates were those who had studied computer science at Imperial College London, topping out at £50k six months after graduation. The course with the lowest average graduate salaries was drama, dance and cinematics at Liverpool Hope University, whose graduates earned a mean figure of £9,000 after six months. In this context I think ‘mean’ could mean more than average.

As an arts graduate myself (English Language and Literature, although the Language bit was scarily scientific and not what I had signed up for), I can sympathise with the frisson of doubt chilling bedsits of those undergraduates not doing the Milk Round, because there isn’t really one for actors, dancers and cameramen, when their suited and booted friends with computing, maths and physics degrees move into a world where they seem to have more choices about where to sign than Eden Hazard.

Both routes, of course, are equally valid and important to our nation’s economy. If you have a skill that is in short supply, and demand is great, then you have positive choices to make. But Polonius’s words to Laertes from Hamlet resonate at such a time, ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’. If you’re making a choice now, as so many students in their final year will be, putting the final touches to their UCAS application, then don’t opt for a degree course because you think you will be well paid when you come out at the end of it with a degree. If only life was that simple (it isn’t). Three or four year degree course study will only be rewarding, stimulating and worthwhile, if you are studying a subject about which you feel passionate and with which you have a visceral and intellectual connection. You only get one chance to do your first degree, and whilst it’s important to have an idea of what your next steps will be after university, money shouldn’t be the most important motivator. The statistic that will be most illuminating when the university guide is published, is that which shows what the completion rate for each degree course is, by subject, and by university. Drop-out rates are increasing, and there are complex social reasons why this is the case, but fundamentally there are more undergraduates on courses they don’t really want to do, and after the alcohol-fuelled enthusiasm of Freshers’ Week is over, the cold reality of study, sacrifice and cost dawns.

So make the choice with head and heart fully engaged, and leave the pound signs for later.