Ukraine appeal update

By Marcin Adamski, Head Kitchen Porter & Assistant Chef

Thank you for the huge support for our recent appeal for clothes and other items to be sent to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the school community as we were inundated with donations – anyone who visited Reception will have seen the mountain of bags and boxes! We have so far made five deliveries of essential to my hometown of Ożarów, where items are being distributed.

While we have asked you to hold off further donations for now, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who donated. Every donation helps Ukrainians receive the support they urgently need. Particular thanks must go to to those who helped to coordinate the appeal, helped sort and pack donations and made the transport of items possible – Rob Reynolds, Richard Lushington, Helen McBrown, Ellie Thackrey, Spencer Leach, Patrick Tsang, Sarah Wright, Kinga Adamska and Matt Potts.

‘I See Red’ Day

By Bella Cutts, 6.1
Photos by Kipp Bryan, 6.1

On Tuesday I invited the Bedales community to wear red for my campaign, ‘I See Red’. I started the campaign this time last year, shortly after the tragic death of Sarah Everard. The campaign aims to raise awareness and encourage not only students but all people to stand in unity and speak up against sexual harassment, assault and violence. 

While statistics vary around how many people have experienced sexual assault in the UK, it’s a serious problem our society needs to face and it’s time we said “enough is enough”. Raising awareness is the first step in addressing this and ensuring victims do not feel shame but rather support from those around them. I chose the colour red for many reasons, the first being the official sexual assault colour is teal. Red, however, is a powerful, bold colour, representing anger, love and blood.

This is, of course, a sensitive issue and to many, a triggering topic. Therefore, I asked every school that officially participated this year – including Wellington, Emmanuel, Teddies and Marlborough – to ensure that support was available and their pastoral team was made aware, as well as teaching staff, just as we did at Bedales.

There was no pressure for staff to wear red, but many did, which was appreciated. Bedales is an amazing school and this year it has been so supportive in helping me prepare for ‘I See Red’ Day. Students should feel they can approach any trusted member of staff. Sexual assault is not an easy discussion for anyone. By wearing red and showing their support, staff showed students they are in a safe environment and students will find it easier to talk if they need to, in the belief that what they say will not be dismissed.

Our world is forever changing and developing. Although we have improved as a society, we probably believe it has changed more than it actually has. Sexual assault remains a serious challenge for all of us, however privileged we are.

I am happy to say Bedales has been a leading example of a community that is trying to address this issue. Thanks to social media, hundreds of schools participated in ‘I See Red’ Day last year, and many did again this year too. While this is not (yet!) an official international day, I believe Bedales should be proud that something that started by printing off posters in our Art department has not only spread to other schools around the UK, but also around the world.

My biggest fear this year was that momentum might have dropped since last March and people wouldn’t participate. I was proved wrong – the Bedales community stood together once again to stand up against sexual assault and harassment. The response from other schools and students has been amazing and I hope we continue to wear red for years to come.

Downland wildlife on the Powell Day walk

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

The wooded slopes and rolling hills of the South Downs are a very special landscape and provide a habitat for a wide and interesting variety of species, so Powell Day provided a perfect opportunity to see them at their best in the early spring sunshine.

Not far from the start point in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, as we climbed gradually along a valley between War and Holt Downs, the browns and greens of the landscape were punctuated by a large patch of bright yellow coltsfoot, one of a few plants with the unusual habit of flowering before any leaves emerge. It is the leaves from which its name derives – when they do eventually unfurl in April they are large and hoof shaped.

Along the track were also patches of Juniper, the berries of which are used for flavouring gin. Once common, it is now a rare sight, due to habitat loss.

The colourful bracket fungus, turkeytails, covered piles of logs besides the chalky tracks. Further along between Buriton and Ditcham, at Coulters Dean, the path turned off the South Downs Way and past a field and grassy bank which was dotted with huge mounds of yellow meadow ant nests. Each one will house between 8,000 and 40,000 ants, feeding their larvae on the roots of Downland plants such as wild thyme. From here the track wound uphill through beech woodland, carpeted with wild garlic, the smell of which became obvious as it was crushed beneath our feet.

On the open grassland of Ditcham Park, skylarks were singing, hovering effortlessly, high above the ground, then parachuting down onto the fields, before ascending again. A lone red admiral butterfly flew past – most red admirals are migratory but a few like this one, will have hibernated and emerged into the early spring warmth in search of nectar. In the more open landscape around Chalton, buzzards and a lone red kite flew overhead, watching as we re-entered the Queen Elizabeth Park and after three hours made our way past yew and pine trees down to the finish.

Block 3 Projects referendum – should we abolish the Royal Family?

Two Block 3 Projects classes are acting as the two opposing campaign groups in a school-wide referendum next Thursday, 24 March, on the question of whether the Royal Family should be abolished. Here, both sides of the campaign have set out their arguments as they each appeal to students and staff to vote in their favour.  

Yes, Revoke the Royals
By Lolo Gaio, Wulfie Smith Pink and Anthony Harvey, Block 3
We are campaigning to remove the Royal Family and revoke the Queen’s power as Head of State. We believe that the monarchy is not needed in our democracy, as it is exactly the opposite of democracy; you are born into power, which means achieving or gaining power is based on who you are or who you know or which family you were born into, rather than what you know and what you have done. Here are a few arguments for removing the Royal Family.

One of the main criticisms against the Royal Family is their cost. The Royal Family’s lifestyle is just too expensive to maintain. Staffing costs, catering, hospitality, executive management and any ceremonial functions cost £85.9m of taxpayer’s money. That could be spent on things like education, housing, policing and countless other things.

Monarchs can also be unfit to be heads of state. They shouldn’t be chosen by birth to have huge responsibilities over a country; it seems unfair for someone who could be an incredibly good leader to not have the chance to become a head of state, instead to be replaced by someone who was born into the job, who could be absolutely terrible at it.

Yet, despite the fact that the Queen is Head of State, she has no legal powers. Instead, most of her privileges are exercised by ministers acting on behalf of the Queen, who can act without parliamentary approval. The Prime Minister abuses the Crown’s entitlement, and Parliament has no jurisdiction to take away or limit these rights because they themselves are derived from the monarchy’s privilege!

A well-rehearsed argument from the monarchist’s side is that the Queen brings in tourists and promotes Britain abroad. If the Royal Family bring in tourists to visit the royal palaces, they wouldn’t be demolished if the Monarchy was abolished! And in Versailles, the palaces of the long-gone monarchy receive six million visitors per year, put against Buckingham Palace, which is only open for ten weeks during the summer. Neighbouring Paris in general also receives 35 million visitors per year, against 20 million for London. The argument just doesn’t make sense.

These are a few of the things that we believe should happen if we win the referendum, and a few reasons why keeping the monarchy is a bad idea. If you feel that you agree with any of these arguments, you should vote to revoke the royals in the referendum on 24 March.

No, Save the Queen
By Ella Foster-Hill, Miles Farmer and Owen Griffiths, Block 3
In our campaign, we are arguing for the Royal Family to stay, and in this article, we will put across our points as to why we believe this is so important.

The first and probably most crucial argument is simply the huge amount of tourism from overseas that the Royal Family bring to the UK each year. In a report from The Guardian, it was reported that they bring in over £500m every year from overseas tourism alone. Not to mention the fact that they add an overall £1.2bn to the British economy every year!

Another great thing that the Royal Family bring is their charity work. Without them, some huge charities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award and The Princes Trust wouldn’t exist at all. Two charities which both help so many young people all over the country today.

To take a look at the Queen specifically, she is such an important figure in this country. She is Head of the Commonwealth which makes such great strides towards global peace. In the UK, she provides a neutral status amongst politics in the largely divided government of today. She is the only person who can call a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss and even overrule decisions made by the government. She also provides hope and clarity to so many in all the small things she does – from her annual Christmas speech, to her messages of reassurance during the pandemic. And she is even on our currency! Getting rid of the Queen would be stripping us of a historic and greatly important figurehead of this country.

The Royal Family give us a sense of tradition but have also adapted to modern day society. We have no reason to dislike them or want them abolished. Support and enjoy the Royal Family because whether you think it or not, they do an awful lot for this country and the world around us.

Synthetic phonics – a plea for teacher autonomy

By Fiona Read, Head of Bedales Nursery & Pre-prep, Dunannie and Harriet Rhodes, Teaching Associate, University of Cambridge

All children deserve great teachers. This is something that no one can or will ever argue about, although what exactly that means in practice can be hard to pin down these days. In recent years, teachers have felt increasingly stifled by central prescription and ‘one size fits all’ approaches to teaching.

In January, researchers from the Institute of Education at UCL published the results of a study into the way that primary school children in England are taught to read, and concluded that an emphasis on synthetic phonics is inflexible, unfair and fails children. We were not surprised by this conclusion.

In synthetic phonics, children are first encouraged to pronounce the individual sounds in words, and then to blend them together to make words. Supporters claim benefits in terms of literacy, and particularly so for disadvantaged pupils. Government has been heavily invested in their use since their endorsement by (then) education minister Michael Gove, who introduced a phonics screening check for all children in year one (five or six year olds) to establish progress.

However, use of synthetic phonics, or at least the extent of their use, has been controversial. Critics have argued that phonics training only helps children to perform in tests, and that it does not develop understanding or encourage a love of reading. Research shows that teachers feel pressured by the compulsory screening check, with a survey of teachers finding that synthetic phonics was their main focus for teaching reading.

Importantly, the UCL researchers argue that claims for the effectiveness of synthetic phonics are not underpinned by the latest evidence. Their study was no light undertaking, involving analysis of multiple systematic reviews, experimental trials and data from international tests such as PISA (the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment). The results must be taken seriously, and not least the finding that the successful teaching of reading in England may have declined since the adoption of synthetic phonics.

In early years, establishing a literacy-rich play environment is a prerequisite to pre-literacy skills – young children develop literacy such as listening to others, representing their ideas, narrating their play and experiencing the pleasure of seeing their thoughts transformed into a structure populated by their imagination.  Phonics is a useful tool as a part of a greater whole, but limiting childrens’ experiences of learning to read to an adult-directed, dry and reductive approach is counter intuitive. 

Instead, the educationalist Helen Tovey says “Learning should be joyous, meaningful and relevant. It should inspire further learning, or it is nothing”. And this is particularly true of learning to read. Through the use of techniques such as Helicopter Stories (Trisha Lee’s interpretation of Vivian Gussin Paley’s Storytelling and Story Acting curriculum), young children become sensitive to narrative structures and develop new vocabulary, helping their reading development and comprehension skills.

We know that children learn best when something pricks their curiosity and is playful – using real children’s books that speak to their experiences and enable them to encounter different emotions, subjects, vocabulary, rhyme and rhythm will unlock a lifetime love of reading far more effectively than any reading scheme. Children are motivated to read if it is fun. Dr Seuss wrote The Cat in The Hat in response to concerns about children’s literacy. His imaginative and silly stories are still effective ways of teaching children how to play with language and learn to read. 

The report’s authors acknowledge that there are some strengths to England’s current approach, but they are concerned – as are we – by the demise of a balanced approach to the teaching of reading, and by the straitjacket government’s enthusiasm for phonics places upon teachers. Prof Dominic Wyse, one of the authors, explains: “Our view is that the system doesn’t give teachers enough flexibility to do what they think is best for their pupils, nor to encourage pupils to enjoy reading.” There are many studies suggesting that children who are taught to read through synthetic phonics can be turned off reading for pleasure and meaning.

No less worrying is that all of this is symptomatic of a wider trend. The profession as a whole is consistently excluded from policy making by a DfE which relies on consultation with very few educationalists. Meanwhile, teachers routinely report that they are disempowered, and unable to make decisions affecting their children. In this case, teachers are aware of the best reading strategy for each child, but as they feel compelled to replace broader English lessons with narrower phonics in order for children to meet the tests so they take another step towards becoming professionals without agency (and a far cry from the great teachers we all agree that children deserve).

The UCL report underlines the urgent need for those in the DfE to listen to the experts, and the open letter to the Education Secretary from educators and academics, urging a reassessment of the place of phonics based on the evidence and the greater autonomy of teachers, is one we wholeheartedly endorse. Teachers should be able to apply their own judgement as to whether phonics and other balanced reading approaches are best for their students. Pupils’ comprehension and enjoyment of texts, as well as phonics, should be the focus of our efforts in the classroom – a place where we, not politicians, should be making the calls.

Return of the Three Schools’ Concert

By Doug McIlwraith, Director of Music

One of the most difficult music events to organise during the pandemic was the Three Schools’ Concert. However, we managed to find time for musicians and singers from all three schools to meet and work together this week and the result was a very enjoyable concert with some wonderful music and a great feeling of community spirit.

Ben Harlan was inspirational in leading the orchestra in music by Purcell and Dvorak and this included many players form Dunhurst and Bedales. Dunhurst music scholars Tommy Hornsby and Eliot Santos (both Block 2) gave stunning solo performances on the cello and violin, demonstrating the musical ambition inherent in the artistic ethos at Bedales, and Bedales music scholar Leela Walton (6.1) gave a very mature and emotional rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Canzonettafrom his Violin Concerto. It was particularly wonderful to hear from Leela as she is one of our many musicians who joined in Dunannie and now lead the music in the senior school.

Music from our contemporary musicians demonstrated the variety of musical interests that we nurture at Bedales and Dunannie brought the house down with their song Baby Beluga which told the story of a little white whale. Singers form all schools then joined to sing Stand By Me by Ben E King with a solo from Joel Edgeworth and the concert ended with some rousing singing by everyone of the four gospel favourites.  

We thought it was important for the Bedalians to inspire the younger musicians but it was clear on this occasion that that influence worked from the bottom up and the talents and enthusiasms of the Dunhurst and Dunannie pupils had a miraculous and enervating effect on our older musicians. We look forward to more three schools events in the near future as they are a wonderful way of celebrating what the Bedales community has to offer.

Reflections on conflict

By Will Goldsmith, Head of Bedales

n Monday we held our first face-to-face Jaw since September and my first since becoming permanent Head. It was a very special moment for us as it marked, hopefully, a shift away from many of the restrictions we’ve had to put up with. It’s two years now since the pandemic started and, while it’s not over yet, we’re definitely moving into a different phase. I spoke to students about two things – why Jaws are so important here at Bedales and about how we as a community respond to conflict – which I will share with you here.
 
Jaw at Bedales is the equivalent to ‘chapel’ that happens in schools with a religious foundation. Our school was founded deliberately without one, not because the founders were not religious themselves (Badley was a very committed Christian) but because they did not believe anyone should be forced to attend a specific religious ceremony at school. However, that does not make us an amoral school – far from it. One of our founding principles, ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’, is not dissimilar to the Christian commandment: “thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself”. It reminds us that, in living as a community of learners, our collective endeavours should contribute to more than just our own individual advancement.
 
In talking of community, of being together, Jaw is a time when we regularly come together to reflect on specific ideas, moral dilemmas or powerful issues that impact on our lives. It is an important moment for us to reflect more carefully than we sometimes do, to find perhaps a stillness that we normally struggle to achieve. Doing so together is a sign of our solidarity with each other, the support we give to one another in response to some joyful experiences as human beings, as well as more challenging ones. We then finish with the famous handshake (or bow, namaste or fist bump), where we take a moment to properly acknowledge each other’s existence. To connect in a way that says we exist, we recognise each other as fellow travellers on the journey of life. All of these things hold us together and, as we’ve not been able to do this for the past two years, it has placed strains on our community. So now we can do it again, I am feeling very hopeful that we will all benefit from this.
 
This brings me on to my second topic which is, perhaps, the opposite of community – conflict. I’m sure all of you will be aware of the current conflict in Ukraine. I don’t want to dwell too much on what is a disturbing and fast-moving situation. I know that there are people in our community directly affected by this and it is upsetting to see horrific images of war in Europe once more.
 
Instead, I’d like to remind you more broadly of the way Bedales has responded to times of war in the past, but also what our approach to conflict on any level should be. 
 
Conflict is as much part of being human as community, so the idea that we can live our lives while avoiding any friction with those around us is naïve. A finite amount of resources, different levels of comfort and security, and comparisons we make between us will inevitably lead to times when we disagree, when we feel angry towards each other and when that might even spill over into a fight. War is the ultimate dividing force we humans have – where one group of people decide another is ‘the enemy’ and that we want to kill them or at least control them by force. As an act, it is one of the most horrific things we can do but should be avoided at all costs. You may have seen the hundreds of thousands of people across the world protesting against the war this weekend, you may even have been amongst them. 
 
Bedales has a strong tradition of being horrified by war, building a library as war memorial, choosing not to have a Combined Cadet Force like other schools and emphasising in both of the World Wars from the last century, our bonds with people on the other side, knowing that students of the school ended up fighting against each other because of accidents of birth and geography. In doing so, we make a strong statement about war and conflict, and it is one the endures today.
 
Whatever the outcome of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I’d like you to remember that we should always do everything in our power to resolve conflict wherever we find it, whether as national leaders or private individuals. You may not be making decisions about what this or other countries do in the face of conflict but at least some of you may well end up in that position later in life and the lessons you learn here, the habits you develop and the actions you take will shape who you are when you go out into the world. 
 
So I have two messages to finish with – firstly, remember conflict is inevitable for human beings. There will always be times in any community (including this one) where we won’t get on, where we might want to hurt someone or show our anger. Knowing and accepting that we have that capacity within us is an important lesson in life. Secondly, however, you should also know that there are ways to deal with that anger, that pain, that aggression which don’t lead to escalation that leads to war or fighting. While many leaders past and present have clearly not learned this or valued it, you should know that learning is at the core of peace – learning about each other so that we can empathise with how people feel; learning about history so that we can see what mistakes have been made in the past and how people have reacted in similar situations; learning about ourselves so that we can spot the signs of anger or even violence early enough to walk away; learning how to listen to others rather than just to say what we think.
 
So, as we start this second half of term, remember that in investing energy into your education, in and out of the classroom, you are hopefully on the path to making this world a more peaceful place. As you file past your teachers on your way out, see the handshake (literally or symbolically) as a sign of peace.

On the slopes in Soelden, Austria

By Doug McIlwraith, Director of Music

On the first Saturday of half term there was a truly awesome sight to behold at the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport: 37 Bedales families ready and waiting for the first Bedales ski trip for several years and the first major school trip since the start of the pandemic.

Staff, parents and Claire De Menezes from the Health Centre had worked incredibly hard to ensure all COVID requirements were met, which included 34 PCR tests, 37 slightly different COVID vaccination status reports to be checked and numerous letters from doctors proving recovery. It took a little longer than usual to get through the airport but we all relaxed a little more as we got through every checkpoint and finally arrived at our destination in Soelden, Austria.

The final COVID hurdle was surmounted when our COVID passes were used to activate the ski pass! Once on the slopes, we enjoyed a week of amazing snow and some very fine weather. The instructors were impressed with the level of skiing in the Bedales group and great progress was made throughout the week. Our guides from Snowtraxx stayed with us in the hotel and students got to know them very well, which helped with lessons and building confidence. The students were clearly quite taken with the awesome surroundings and the thrill of skiing with their friends. It almost felt like getting back to normal life and we look forward to more school trips and adventures! Watch this space for information on forthcoming ski trips which are generally advertised 10 months in advance.

My personal thanks must go to Ruth Austen, Ana Simmons, Clive Burch and Shaun Ritchie who accompanied the students and also to the parents who supported the trip and went the extra mile to ensure everyone was COVID compliant. Personally, I had a blast and was super impressed with the skiing from all groups.

Outdoor Work hosts Small Shepherds’ Club

By Kirsten Houser, Assistant Farm Manager

In the wake of Storm Eunice, we were very happy and surprised to welcome over 30 visitors, head-to-toe in waterproofs, to visit our lambing shed on a grey and rainy Saturday afternoon. ‘Preparation for Lambing’ is an annual event run by the Small Shepherds’ Club, a fantastic organisation providing practical help and advice for small scale sheep keepers in the southern counties. Each year a different shepherd hosts the members, some new to lambing and others with years of experience under their belts, and this year Bedales was asked. The aim of the event is to demonstrate our system for managing the lambing shed, equipment we have on standby, essential bits and bobs to make lambing life easier and lessons learnt from our years of birthing baby sheep!

The joy of an event like this is that knowledge is shared so generously between members, and it provided a great opportunity to reflect on how we lamb here at school, and also gave us a gentle nudge to get everything tidied up and organised ready for the first of our 20 ewes to give birth after half term. Outdoor Work students did a fantastic job clearing out the Black Barn and making up pens in the maternity suite, and we received many compliments on the farm and surrounding school estate – even in it’s post-storm raincloud.

We discussed lambing bag essentials (prolapse spoon anyone?!) and the importance of colostrum in the first few hours of a lamb’s life, heat lamps, ewe nutrition and the many many uses of baler twine. We showed off our ‘lambing board’ – a dizzying chart of numbers and notes on an old whiteboard – not high tech but indispensable for keeping note of progress with lambing, any sheep who have needed assistance or medication and anything else to keep an eye on. The afternoon was topped off with cake and tea in the Outdoor Work barnyard, and a display of student work, knitted and woven items from the flock’s wool, and a tour of the spinning room. 

Over the next couple of weeks Andrew and I, along with our students, will take turns to watch over the flock at night, during the day and at dawn, and we take great pride in sharing what we do with visitors inside and outside of the school community. Lambing is easily the most exciting time of year for us on the Bedales farm, and though it is undeniably stressful and tiring, it never fails to be magical as well. Look out for an article in next week’s Saturday Bulletin from our BAC students, with news of all the new arrivals, including baby goats and surprise quadruplet lambs!

Supporting refugees – we need your help

By Rob Reynolds, Director of External Relations

With many Ukrainian people fleeing the horror and danger caused by the Russian military invasion of their country this week, the Bedales community is coming together to offer practical help to them and other displaced people in two key ways – and we need your support with these:

  • A collection of essential items to deliver to Ukrainians arriving in Poland
  • A day dedicated to supporting refugees next Tuesday in partnership with the Rural Refugee Network

Collection of essential items

We are contributing to a collection being delivered to Ożarów, Poland near the Ukraine border. The following items are particularly needed:

  • Adult clothing, toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, sanitary wear, toilet rolls)
  • Children’s clothing, pants, socks, nappies, toys, baby wipes, talcum powder, dummies 
  • Blankets, towels, sleeping bags, roll mats 
  • First aid supplies such as paracetamol, plasters, bandages

Please drop off donated items to school receptions as soon as possible. Our first collection of goods will be this Sunday, which will enable delivery in the region 24 hours later. We will then arrange further regular collections as necessary. 

Bedales has links with the Ożarów community through our own staff. You can read more about how they are supporting refugees here.

A day of support for refugees – Tuesday 8 March

Bedales holds regular community days when members of the school community work together to make a tangible difference to other people’s lives. It is timely that next Tuesday’s Powell Day is dedicated to the Rural Refugee Network (RRN). The RRN has supported refugees arriving in the UK from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan, and it is currently calling for the government to offer a safe haven to people from Ukraine, whom they are poised to support. 

Our Powell day comprises:

  • Talk from Gulwali Passarlay about his year long journey from Afghanistan to the UK  
  • Syria to Steep walk in a day – students will walk a 12 km circuit in Queen Elizabeth Country Park with their tutor. Collectively we will cover the 4,000 km distance from Idlib to Steep – there’s still time to support the campaign by donating here.
  • Art Sale – A fundraising sale of artwork from established and emerging artists in the Quad from 6-9 pm. Please come along and buy on the night. Book your free ticket here.

Thank you for your support.