Discarded silk has been given a new lease of life by pupils at Bedales and Bedales Prep, Dunhurst this year. Off-cuts of silk from premium homeware designer Porta Romana have been recycled and used in pupils’ fashion creations, including garments created by A Level Fashion & Textiles students at Bedales Senior (like this bomber jacket by Gala Pearson) and Block 2 (Year 8) pupils at Dunhurst. The silk, which would otherwise be thrown away, is rescued from Porta Romana by my wife Sian, who has worked for the Farnham-based company for four years.
See photos of the garments created with the silk below.
At Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, pupils will mark Mental Health Awareness Week with a Pupil Voice Conference on the topic of this year’s theme – loneliness. Like Bedales Senior, where the School Council was one of the first in the country when it was established in 1916, Dunhurst has a long tradition of listening to pupils’ views. Today, empowering children to find their voice and put forward their views is just one of the school’s initiatives designed to support pupils’ wellbeing and mental health – but it is far from a tick-box exercise. At Dunhurst, the wellbeing of its pupils is at the heart of everything the school does.
It is especially noticeable at this time of year, when most prep school pupils around the country are preparing themselves to sit the Common Entrance exam. Head of Dunhurst Colin Baty considers Common Entrance “an antiquated way to select” and cites evidence around adolescent mental health as a reason to exercise caution when forcing prep school children to jump through such hoops in preparation for senior school. As such, Dunhurst pupils do not sit the Common Entrance exam – and instead use the time to head off on ‘Camps Week’, a whole school residential trip to different areas of the UK, where they take part in a plethora of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, moor walking, cycling, kayaking and horse riding. As Dunhurst’s Deputy Head (Pastoral) Graeme Thompson explains: “We give our pupils the space and time to grow. Each child experiences childhood at their own pace.”
Camps Week is an example of pupils’ access to green and blue spaces – such as parks, meadows, woods, rivers, lakes and sea – which, as studies show, have a positive, immediate and long-lasting effect on people’s health and wellbeing. At Dunhurst, however, pupils don’t need to leave the school grounds to access green spaces; the school, along with Bedales’ senior and pre-prep schools, is set in 120 acres of South Downs National Park, and pupils are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Uniquely, the school’s Outdoor Work curriculum – a core subject which incorporates nature and conservation, horticulture, animal husbandry, bushcraft and country crafts – enables pupils to develop an awareness, appreciation and knowledge of the natural environment in line with Bedales’ founder John Badley’s original aims, whilst developing self-confidence, passion, empathy and teamwork.
As part of the curriculum, Dunhurst pupils are actively involved in the care of the Outdoor Work department’s chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and bees, and there are opportunities to feed and care for other livestock on the Bedales estate, including pigs, sheep, goats and ponies. But interaction with animals – which is proven to have a calming and de-stressing effect – isn’t limited to the school farm. As a dog friendly school, staff dogs – or the ‘pastoral pups’ as they are affectionately known – are a familiar fixture. From Colin’s Goldendoodle to the boarding house’s resident Black Labrador, the dogs are an integral part of school life and provide pupils with an array of cognitive, social, emotional, physical and environmental benefits.
Fundamental to Dunhurst’s approach to wellbeing is relationships, which is ingrained in Bedales’ distinctive ethos. The school’s founding motto, ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’, may be over 100 years old, but it hasn’t faded in relevance. “The school motto underpins everything we do,” says Head of Wellbeing Debbie Baty. “Every pupil has the right to enjoy a childhood at school, but this right comes with a responsibility to be a positive influence within the Dunhurst jigsaw.” The ethos offers opportunities for pupils to support fellow pupils – for instance, peer to peer listeners, known at Dunhurst as ‘RAKtivators’, promote ‘Random Acts of Kindness’.
In contrast with other schools, staff and pupils address each other by first names, and pupils shake the hands of all staff after assemblies and talks – features of a culture that values the individual and celebrates relationships with one another and the school. Such an approach allows for a closer collaborative relationship between teachers and pupils, and this collegiate approach is extended to parents through three-way communication between teachers, parents and pupils known as the ‘Dunhurst triangle’. Debbie has recently launched a ‘Let’s talk about…’ series for parents, which will focus on teenagers’ development as well as sharing the content of pupils’ Wellbeing lessons, which supports and teaches skills to enable children to increase their awareness of emotional health and wellbeing.
Whilst wellbeing is at the heart of everything Dunhurst does, it isn’t at the expense of academic success. In fact, Deputy Head (Academic) Andy Wiggins says: “It’s always been borne out, year after year, when we look at how Dunhurstians perform when they take their GCSEs and A Levels, and compare them with students who have been academically ‘hot housed’. Time and time again, Dunhurstians prove that they get comparative or better results – and they’ve had a much richer, holistic experience.”
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.
The result of a sizeable survey of pupils from primary, secondary and all-through schools, the report covers topics from the learning environment and learning excellence to wellbeing and safeguarding, with a view to enabling school leaders to understand pupils’ needs and priorities and design strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
The finding with perhaps the greatest sting is that, although less than one half of pupils report feeling well (stress, overwork and sleep are issues for many), under one third will speak to a teacher about it when feeling sad or worried. This is deeply concerning, although perhaps not that surprising. The issue of wellbeing amongst young people has deep roots, and a previous study by Demos suggests that pupils become increasingly disaffected with their school as they get older, with a third of final year students believing their school is focused only on preparing them to succeed in exams, rather than in life. We should also factor into this the government’s enthusiasm for the idea that a ‘good education’ is one transmitted largely from the front of the class by authoritative teachers to quiet, attentive children. The recent appointment of Katherine Birbalsingh (Britain’s so-called strictest headteacher) as the government’s social mobility commissioner appears to confirm the idea of teacher as disciplinarian above all else.
Were I at school under such conditions, I’m not sure that I would want to share my worries with a teacher either, and that thought saddens me – not least because I know how keen my colleagues are to be a force for good in the lives of their pupils. I am fortunate to lead a school that makes central to everything it does not only the wellbeing of its pupils, but also the primacy of connection between pupils and adults as key to this being achieved.
Arguably, this has never been as important as it is right now as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. At Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, we have taken the view that above all else we must pay attention to our pupils, and get a sense of how they are – how they see the world, and themselves. They may well have spent a lot of time looking at screens indoors (itself associated with issues of wellbeing in normal times), and will need to get used to being with their peers once more. So, we have spent as much time outdoors with them as we possibly can – talking, and slowly getting used to being with each other again. Of course, there has been learning too – a carefully-planned cross-curricular programme that has hidden its light in a bushel of fun. However, our first and most important job has been to figure out where they are and help them get them back to land. Whatever the future may hold, we will bring everybody together when we can – and keep doing it. That academic excellence results from such an approach is no coincidence.
In concluding the Edurio report, former Head of Research at Ofsted Daniel Muijs writes, correctly, that we “must not make the mistake of seeing our schools as heartless places”, with pastoral support well established and wellbeing a key concern. Tellingly, he also concedes that overwork and sleeplessness are negative impacts of high stakes testing, but is wary of alternatives to exams such as teacher assessment. It is here that I must resist. Academic achievement must not come at the expense of pupils’ wellbeing, and it does not need to. Schools such as Dunhurst have shown that there are many ways in which learning can both take place and be assessed, and that the entire undertaking is enhanced rather than undermined by pedagogical relationships more ambitious in their scope than government seems willing to consider. If pupils do not trust teachers enough to talk to them it is, at least in part, a problem of government’s own making.
The John Badley Foundation (JBF) offers financial support through bursaries, giving more young people a chance to benefit from the transformational opportunity a Bedales education can provide. With Christmas fast approaching, there are several ways you can support the JBF.
Swap Christmas cards for a donation this year
Instead of sending Christmas cards, please support a bursary child by donating the money you would have spent on cards to the JBF. You can download a donation and gift aid form here.
Buy Bedales presents for friends and family
Visit our fundraising shop to see a range of Bedales merchandise, including Emma Bridgewater pottery (from £15), Bedales tea towels (£10), and bespoke Bedales jigsaws (£30), with all proceeds going to the JBF.
By Neil Hornsby, Head of Contemporary Music Photo by Abby Hilton, 6.1
The Thursday before half term saw a wonderful musical collaboration between Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie in the third annual Three Schools’ Concert. A packed Lupton Hall witnessed a night like no other with 83 students taking part, ranging in age from seven all the way up to 18.
There were performances featuring each school, including Head Girl Lara Rippinger’s take on Esperanza Spalding’s I Know You Know, Group 3 Dunhurst student Eliot Santos’ show-stopping performance of Karl Bohm’s Perpetual Motion and the Dunannie Year 3 choir’s wonderful performance of Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.
Photos by Abby Hilton and Henry Kingsley-Pallant, 6.1
International Day was celebrated across the three schools this year, and over more than one day. Celebrations kicked off last Monday when international 6.2 students led the assembly at Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie, where they taught the children some words in their native languages, and learnt about the children’s own cultures heritage. At Bedales’ assembly later that evening, we watched a video put together by 6.2 Dons, which included various students and teachers reading poetry and reciting proverbs in different languages.
On Thursday, which was officially International Day, the action started before lunch in the Quad, where Bedales students entertained Dunannie children by writing their names in foreign scripts and other activities, such as making Japanese ‘Kabuto’ Samurai helmets out of newspaper. Afterwards, students shared language and cuisine from around the world, which included everything from Arabic to Chinese, and Tibetan steamed dumplings to ancient Roman food. Mary Wang won the National Dress Competition with her beautiful Chinese dress and we had a Beastie Boys song performed in Arabic by our very own band, the Upstanding Gentlemen.