Insightful visit to Brockwood Park

By Blossom Gottlieb, 6.2

A vegetarian school where the students choose whether to take exams or not? Sign me up!

On 13 March, a group of three students in 6.2 took a trip with Al McConville to Brockwood Park School, only 15 minutes away in Alresford, to join their Inquiry Time (described as their “weekly opportunity to look deeper at issues arising in life, living together, the intentions of the school and how we respond to them”) and get involved in their Human Ecology (aka Outdoor Work on steroids!)

I was struck not only by the beautiful surroundings of the school, but the sense of community that we experienced in the assembly as soon as we arrived. Sat in a circular formation around a few meditating people in the centre of this octagonal timber-roofed room, the atmosphere of peace was incomparable.

Inquiry Time is an hour and a half session where students and teachers discuss a topic of importance, without debating it, enabling them to share their opinions without fear of judgement.  The question for last Wednesday was How does education affect us and how do we affect education? This led our group to question what ‘education’ is, semantically; whether examinations serve a purpose; whether schools actually ‘educate’ their pupils; and the impact education has on society.

After this, we got involved in Outdoor Work-style jobs. For Al, this was repotting plants and digging; for me, it was watching a documentary on re-growing vegetation in land that has been deforested, then wiping leaves, a task which allowed me to time to reflect on the morning.

It was a delightful and enlightening experience and I really enjoyed getting to know a few of Brockwood’s lovely students and teachers – I only wish more Bedalians had taken the opportunity to visit such a wonderful school.

Encouraging lifelong interest in sport

Bedales-football

By Spencer Leach, Director of Sport

In 2017 a survey by Women in Sport found that only 56% of girls in secondary school enjoyed participating in sport compared with 71% of boys, and only 45% of girls saw the relevance of PE to their lives against 60% of boys. The gender split is worrying, but in truth none of these figures are good enough – at Bedales, we want all students to leave the school having enjoyed sport in some way, and minded to continue some kind of participation in their adult lives. Something I think we’ve done particularly well at Bedales is to help students who have arrived feeling that sport isn’t for them to find something they enjoy. No matter the student, they will always get a warm reception from us, and we will try to find something for them that is suited to their abilities and preferences – for various reasons.

For example, sport brings distinctive opportunities for students to learn about themselves and others, and to develop confidence – although this needs careful management. In a classroom you can make three errors in, say, maths, and it is not immediately obvious. However, if you commit three howlers in the context of a team sport, everybody sees them and it may prompt disappointment and frustration. This requires staff to be alert to the dangers when mistakes happen, and to help students deal with them in an appropriate way. This requires some emotional maturity. It is interesting that some of our best athletes can find this difficult. In such cases, the coaches will be aware of it, and we are prepared for when students’ thought patterns are less than constructive. We encourage them to see that they are still in the game, that they haven’t blown it, and even if they don’t prevail on that occasion the world won’t end.

Of course, in all of this there is sometimes a tension to be managed between competing and ensuring everybody is involved, which is particularly evident in team fixtures against other schools. There may be the temptation to pursue a win at all costs, but I’m pleased to say over the last 10 to 15 years a more sensible approach has come to prevail, not least because national governing bodies have played a big part in making the experience of young people more central. So, in setting up a fixture I will have a conversation with my opposite number about our relative strengths and what we can do to make the encounter meaningful. Will the students enjoy it? Will they be inspired to practise and get better? The results will take care of themselves – in a well-planned season we’ll win some and lose some, and have some thrillers along the way. We enjoy success, and try to learn from things that didn’t go quite so well. And if we win 10-0 there will be some reflection on how we can make the next encounter between the teams a more challenging affair for the sake of both teams.

Although we are keen to find something enjoyable for all of our students, I like to think that we can also give our excellent athletes what they need from us. We work hard to find ways of challenging them that are meaningful and which they will appreciate. If we think they can cope, we find them opportunities with older year groups, and if we feel students might benefit from moving up to another representative level, we can make that happen. Our links with local clubs and regional representative structures are very strong.

We are not a big school and it is unlikely that we will have sustained national sporting success, but if we’ve got lots of children who have a positive attitude to being physically active, and will keep that attitude in their adult lives, then we do the subject justice – just so long as we make sure that we also stretch those students who really do have the appetite and aptitude for great things.

Praise for Bedales teacher’s book

A book co-written by Bedales Director of Learning and Innovation Alistair McConville has been named as one of the top 10 education books of 2018.

Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski with Alistair McConville was included in a list of last year’s top books on education as selected by TES editor Ann Mroz.

The book, which is written for children, gives an accessible account of how our brains work along with activities that be put into practice immediately. TES describes the book as “a landmark”, noting that it goes beyond traditional teacher injunctions to communicate directly with the pupil.

No More Marking’s Director of Education Daisy Christodoulou, who reviewed the book in September, said: “This book explains in a pupil-friendly way why things such as practice and drill really do matter, and how in the long term they will make your life easier and save you the misery of late-night cramming and exam anxiety.”

Other books to have made the cut include The Teacher Gap by Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims, The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller and Inventing Ourselves: the Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. See the full list here.

Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex

Last Saturday, a group of 6.2 English students visited Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and some of his poetry. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

Thomas Hardy didn’t move far in his life; the distance from his birthplace in Lower Bockhampton to Max Gate, the house he built for himself on the outskirts of Dorchester once he had found success, is less than two miles.

First up was Hardy’s birthplace, a small cottage that has remained largely unchanged from when Hardy lived there with his parents and siblings. We were led there by National Trust volunteer Wendy, who led us through the woodland above the cottage and read to us some of the poems Hardy wrote inspired by the landscape.

The most ambitious part of the trip followed with our group walking through steady Dorset drizzle, following the River Frome across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried in the family tomb.

Further walking across boggy flood meadow took us to Max Gate, and a meeting with Andrew Leah, Vice President of the Thomas Hardy Society, who lived at Max Gate for 17 years before the National Trust opened it as a visitor attraction.

Andrew gave us a tour of each room and described movingly the creeping melancholy that coloured most of Hardy’s married life at Max Gate, followed by the guilt that consumed him after his wife’s death. We sat in the study room in which Hardy wrote Tess, and then moved next door to the room he took over when he turned his back on writing prose and wrote only poetry until his death.

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

By walking from one of Hardy’s homes to the other, we explored the landscape and the place Hardy was so tied to and served as a backdrop for so many of his works.

We were at times accompanied by a National Trust guide who read out some of Hardy’s poetry in the Dorset woodland, which clearly evidenced the sensibility and attachment to nature he had from a young age and emerged so prominently in some of his later novels, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Having studied the text as part of A Level English, we were able to draw comparisons between the then appropriately damp and evocative scenery we came across walking and that in the book, making us understand all the more the area’s impact on Hardy’s life as an author.

We were thus able to retrace his life’s journey as he moved from his family cottage to Max Gate, the house he built for himself and moved into with the first of two wives, following the rise of his wealth and fame.

The next chapter in the story of creation

By Alice McNeill, Head of Partnerships, Initial Teacher Training, Academic Tracking and EPQs

Too often, when we think of creativity, we think of coloured pencils or a mind-boggling array of Post-it notes; we mentally interchange creativity and originality, or creativity and innovation. But creativity should be better defined in education – because I do believe that it’s the missing ingredient. I also think a creative education is the remedy to a great number of problems with our system, but creativity’s proper definition, “the ability or power to create, to make something”, has to be at its heart.

The only way to futureproof education is to place more value on creativity. It is a truth almost universally acknowledged among educators, especially since educationalist Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk on the subject in 2006, that creativity should be as important as literacy and numeracy in schools. “It is education that is supposed to take us into this future which we cannot yet grasp,” he said.

Back in 2006, Sir Ken’s argument was fuelled by problems apparent at that time – most probably the stifling emphasis on assessment, especially literacy and numeracy targets in primary schools, and the explosion in global tertiary education graduation rates. But a seismic shift in the educational debate has taken place in the decade following his talk. Michael Gove, in his time as education secretary, transformed the curriculum; testing has reached unprecedented levels; EBacc, Progress 8 and GCSE and A-level reform has narrowed the curriculum; and academisation has led to schools becoming larger than ever, and hence heavily reliant on data generated in specific areas of school life.

There has also been an acceleration in the pace of technological change. University of Buckingham vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon, a former head of Wellington College, has made much of the problems that artificial intelligence will cause for the educational status quo in his book The Fourth Education Revolution. Creativity is becoming more important than ever if we are to avoid an educational cliff edge.

Many have written, myself included, in Tes about the urgent need for more creativity in education. After my latest article, many people approached me to ask: “So what next?” One colleague commented that the need to foster creativity was an oft-repeated mantra, but little advice existed about how the creativity gap could be filled. The comment led me to think more on the subject and to create something akin to a manifesto for creative education; this amounts to four main principles and 10 practical steps for school leaders and teachers to ensure creativity is given its place on the curriculum, both explicit and hidden.

So here is my take on what creative education should be:

  • Playful: We learn through play. Creative education must have intrinsic value – it should be fun – and we ought to learn it from the earliest years in education onward. Through play, we learn the importance of taking risks and making mistakes, as well as resilience and teamwork. Play is also the antithesis of the prevalent utilitarian, results-focused culture, which celebrates the tick above all else.
  • Problem-solving: We create to solve problems, to make things better. We do not create to destroy or diminish. So creativity should have a clear sense of purpose. If this begins at a very early age and continues all the way through school, it will equip learners to contribute positively to society in future.
  • Project-based: Working on long-term projects engenders commitment, collaboration and a more meaningful outcome than something shorter term. Where possible, people should be given the opportunity to work for a longer period of time on a project.
  • Future-focused: This involves ensuring there are clear pathways and opportunities to develop, to go forward. Links with industry are vital to demonstrate how one might take the learned skills, ideas and knowledge into a meaningful career.

Which brings me to my plan of action…

  1. Understand the importance of creativity and shout about it

Make it part of your mission statement; make sure educators understand its importance. There should be visual signs throughout the school suggesting the importance of creativity. Wherever possible, the school should be an ever-evolving display of creativity, from use of student voice to celebrations of work. It is always impressive to visit schools with a real sense of ownership of the environment that has come about through co-construction. For example, the student-led green initiatives at Ampleforth College, or the students’ input into the architectural design of London Oratory School and David Young Community Academy.

  1. Focus on building skills

Every subject can nurture and celebrate creativity if there is a good understanding of what creativity is. The word “creativity” has been used synonymously with innovation, but actually a better definition is “the power to make something, tangible or intangible”. In all subjects, we need to empower students to make things, whether it is a solution to a problem, a strategy for teamwork or an original piece of artwork, a project or an idea. It is only by doing this that students can find their inner motivation to succeed.

  1. Find creative role models and celebrate creative success

Every student wants to create something. And many do. We are often looking in the wrong places for things to celebrate. We should find time to praise creativity. A good way of doing this is to have a specific language to talk about creativity. For example, if there is a former student of the school who works in a creative industry, or someone of particular inspiration to the school, then their name can be given as shorthand for recognition of achievement in this area. A part of assembly each month could be given to recognise people in creative pursuits in the same way that sporting achievements is often be recognised.

  1. Imitate early years education

We have so much to learn from the joy, excitement and creativity that imbues the earliest years in education. Let’s find ever-more ways of getting back to the excitement of discovery and invention that is an everyday sight in Reception classes.

  1. Encourage invention

Much has been made of the four stages of investigative questioning: detective (what, when, who?); scientist (how? why?); judge (would you agree?); and inventor (what if?). By continually encouraging the fourth type of questioning, we can nurture lateral, outside-the-box thinking.

This approach is a brilliant remedy for the kind of thinking that is characterised by the refrain, “Is this in the exam?”

  1. Scan the horizon

Make sure the information that you have about how an industry is evolving is up to date. Students find it so much easier to be creative when they know why they are doing what they are doing. Are they writing about the latest antibiotic research for a medical application? Are they building a portfolio to showcase their fashion design? Are they researching a new genre in theatre to build a specific skill that they’re currently lacking? What will the working environment be like? It may be a single teacher’s responsibility to be aware of the market and the skills required for different pathways. But even better, make it every teacher’s responsibility.

  1. Build relationships

Many schools actively seek relationships with local companies to offer work experience or volunteering opportunities for students. It might take the form of a formal partnership or even sponsorship. These relationships can build slowly over time, but they can be immensely rewarding and give students a brilliant insight into how they might become agents for positive change in the future.

  1. Find opportunities for long-term projects

When a student works for a significant length of time on a project, they feel boredom, frustration, doubt, and often want to give up. These are all essential parts of the creative process that students must be facilitated to experience and to cope with. Nothing could be a better lesson to learn at school.

  1. Ensure students are able to leave school or university with a portfolio of projects

If you asked anyone which piece of work they were most proud of from their school days, it would most likely be a self-driven, creative project. In an ideal world, there should be an opportunity each year to do, and to showcase, a significant piece of work such as this. There are more and more opportunities to do this as part of the formal curriculum, from the International Baccalaureate to the Extended Project Qualification. Such tasks are demanding, time-consuming and challenging, but the effort and creative energy put in is directly proportional to the sense of pride and lasting effect that students will feel in their lives.

  1. Creativity should always be constructive

Obvious, perhaps, but it underpins everything a creative education should be. Ultimately, creative education builds, edifies, emboldens and serves others; students transform from passive recipients of information to active participants – a process that both shapes their futures and enriches society. The easiest way to ensure that education is creative is to continually ask ourselves the purpose of the curriculum. If we can be assured of the constructive nature of an activity, we can be assured that what we are doing is worthwhile.

Taken together, these ideas, I hope, will give readers something of a roadmap to building more creativity into the curriculum. Or at least a little optimism.

With thanks for their permission to publish on the Bedales School blog, this article originally featured in the TES magazine on 21 December 2018.

Questioning GCSE

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

In a recent article by Haroon Siddique in The Guardian, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner expressed concern that Tory education reforms are putting state school pupils at a disadvantage compared to those educated in independent schools. More specifically, the Labour party is demanding an inquiry on the basis that state school pupils are obliged to sit GCSEs whilst many independent schools favour IGCSEs. The former are harder, claims Labour, with MP Lucy Powell arguing that independent schools are gaming the system by offering their students easy options, and insulating them against the effects of reforms whilst they are bedding in.

Labour is quite right to want an inquiry, but not on this premise which is shaky to say the least and misses the mark by some distance. One key question concerns the relevance of GCSE level qualifications in an age when education to age 18 is compulsory. Another is about assessment orthodoxies and, in turn, the relationship between these and issues of wellbeing amongst young people that have caused such concern in recent times.

In 2016 former Education Secretary, Lord Baker decried the squeezing out of creative and technical subjects in our schools. I share Lord Baker’s views on the inadequacy of the GCSE curriculum in preparing young people for the 21st century labour market, and indeed would not be unhappy to see them go. If we must have them, however, an inquiry should then ask what the curriculum and assessment should look like. I would argue, and many in education and industry would agree, that GCSEs are narrow and dull, and do little to prepare students for what awaits them at A level, higher education and in the workplace.

When Education Secretary, Michael Gove introduced the ‘new’ GCSEs, he lit the fuse, then withdrew a safe distance, and ultimately reappeared at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. His ‘new’ GCSEs were all about ‘rigour’, which essentially meant doing away with coursework, and placing all the assessment in a terminal exam at the end of Year 11, with little or no scope for ‘re-takes’. But the acquisition of knowledge replaced the learning and application of skills, and inconsistent, unaccountable and sloppy marking remained the norm.

This is why so many schools, including Bedales, favour IGCSE as the richer option, whilst at Bedales we went one step further in also creating Bedales Assessed Courses (BAC) for 13 non-core subjects including Classical Music, Design, History, Philosophy, Religion & Ethics and Outdoor Work. In the summer of 2018 our first cohort completed the new BAC in Global Awareness, which requires students to conduct their own research on a global issue – eg. food poverty, housing, public health – and, through collaboration, to apply what they have learned to the problem in a local context, and then present it. We are immensely proud of what we consider to be a pioneering, demanding and highly relevant educational programme. Our reward for this? For BACs to be ignored in education league tables, a fate shared increasingly with the unduly maligned IGCSEs.

There is a long tradition of radical liberal thought informing the design and content of mainstream education in this country; rather than looking to score easy political points by bashing independent schools. Labour would do young people and schools alike a much greater service by working with us in finding alternatives to a curriculum and assessment regime that is dull, out of touch and frankly oppressive. With former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell warning that an addiction to exams for young people ramps up the risk of a mental health epidemic, the reformed GCSE system – built around a conviction that only end of course exams can truly assess learning – seems a dangerous horse to back.

Alumni Relations

By Philip Parsons, Alumni Officer

As part of Bedales’ efforts to support and stay connected with the network of Old Bedalians, every year the Alumni Relations division of the school’s External Relations team organise several reunions.

For recent leavers, these gatherings come in the form of university reunions, which are organised by Alumni Liaison Manager Leana Seriau, University Liaison Officer Sarah Oakley and Alumni Officer Philip Parsons and hosted in cities or towns where Old Bedalians have gone on to study at university.

Last Thursday, 29 November, the series of university reunions continued in Bristol, where eight Old Bedalians studying at Bristol and Cardiff met – joined by Sarah and Philip – at the Hotel du Vin to renew acquaintance and share their post-Bedales experiences.

Students from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 year groups were all represented and subjects studied include History of Art, French, Law, Classics, Medicine, Theology, Economics and Pharmacy.

As their first official reunion as Old Bedalians, it was a very enjoyable evening and, as with previous events, we find it a useful way of keeping in touch and maintaining the extended Bedales family.

Find out more about the work of the Alumni office and read the profiles of Old Bedalians, visit the Alumni page on the Bedales website.