Innovation at Bedales

By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation

Outdoor work at Bedales

Another way is possible. At Bedales we have long eschewed a narrow focus on preparing students for terminal exams. A nourishing educational experience must do much more than fill heads with knowledge for the sake of supervised regurgitation. We live out our Ruskin-inspired motto: “Head, Hand and Heart”. Every day at school should strike a balance between intellectual stimulation, creative work, and service to the community. We have recently re-structured our school day around this principle. There is choice about when to get up, since we know that autonomy is motivating, and that not all adolescents are designed for early mornings. Lots of students will opt to start the day with a co-curricular activity: meditation, feeding sheep, baking bread, a country walk; they might get into the kitchens to help serve and clear breakfast; others will choose a little more slumber before academic lessons and plan their activities for later. We know that an under-slept student is an inefficient one. Lessons start at 9.45. A full hour later than they used to be. We know that it’s refreshing for students to take breaks and to switch activity, so we have built a further blast of non-academic activity into the middle of the day. Music ensembles, drama rehearsals, service activities with local community partners, tending the vegetable garden, or a tennis lesson, for example. More lessons in the afternoon, followed by a final raft of optional activities in the evening. But, crucially, lots of choice about when to be active and when to rest. So, everyone chooses co-curricular activities, but by no means in every slot. It’s really important for young people to be able to opt for unstructured leisure, too, and they can choose when to get their homework done as long as they hit the deadline. No compulsory ‘prep’ times here.  

Alistair McConville and Bedales students

We have baked our “Head, Hand, Heart” principles into curriculum and assessment. For a dozen years Bedales has been issuing the now famous ‘Centre Assessed Grades’ for its own GCSE-equivalent courses, the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). We have trusted teachers to report reliably and constructively on the broad range of work that students do, and so have universities. And we have been able to assess in a much broader way than GCSEs permit. As part of our Outdoor Work BAC, for example, a student’s ability to work in a team whilst renovating a tractor is as much a part of their assessment as writing about the process. Their ability to explain and defend their project to an audience counts towards their grade. This is ‘work that matters’ to paraphrase Ron Berger. We’re rolling out a Level 3 equivalent course in Living With the Land this September to teach students how to live in a radically sustainable way. Watch out for a proliferation of cob houses and hemp-clad foragers in the Hampshire hills!

We’re adopting a rigorous project-based learning approach in year 9, inspired by the Expeditionary Learning Movement and our friends at the XP School in Doncaster. Students will work on real-life enquiry questions and study across disciplines in order to respond practically to real-world issues. For example, we will look at the contemporary refugee crisis through the lenses of history, geography, religious studies and literature at the same time as planning practical responses to support our partners at the Rural Refugee Network.

It’s an enviable experience for our students and they know it, but we don’t want to keep it all to ourselves. We are eager to share this kind of rounded, enriching approach to education with others, knowing that far too many languish in an unfulfilling exam-obsessed rut. We’re working with a small number of independent schools to build a partnership with our innovative colleagues and friends in the maintained sector at Bohunt School, Gosport’s Key Education Centre, School 21 and the XP School to make the case for significant national assessment reform. Watch this space, but the time has never felt more ripe for a thorough re-thinking of the drudgerous, purgatorial treadmill of an education system obsessed with terminal exam results…  

Old Bedalian Mila Fernandez inspires students in virtual Dance workshop

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By Charlotte Land, 6.1

On 4 June, A Level Dance students were fortunate enough to take part in an online workshop run by Old Bedalian Mila Fernandez. Mila studies dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance in London, The workshop focused on imagery and improvisation, merging the two concepts together to form a piece of dance.

We began the workshop by imagining a beach and its waves and, while working on our breathing, started moving around the space before adding arm gestures. We then proceeded to change the dynamics by making the movement more complex, using differing levels and the whole body. The second part of the workshop also included the use of imagery, but this time it was a piece of clothing. We began by moving only our backs, playing around with how expressive you can be using only your torso. We envisioned our garments and started to create movement for their different parts: colour, texture, how it felt to wear it, etc. It was an interesting approach we haven’t tried before, and it pushed us out of our comfort zones. One 6.1 student felt they had learned how to let loose and allow their body to flow without having to think about what was coming next.

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‘Beautifully nuanced’ A Level Scripted and Devised performances

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By Caitlin Nugent, 6.1

On Tuesday, the 6.2 A Level students performed two pieces across the course of the evening. Firstly, they performed scripted pieces in a naturalistic style, working in groups of two or three to perform short extracts from contemporary plays such as The One by Vicky Jones and After the End by Dennis Kelly.

Each of the extracts was performed in an intensely realistic manner and it was clear that the 6.2s had been working hard to prepare beautifully nuanced pieces. Later on that evening in the Theatre, we watched their devised pieces, which were created in the style of a variety of practitioners, including Grotowski and the Belarus Free Theatre.

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Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex – perspectives

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On Tuesday, 6.2 English Literature students went on a trip to Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Hardy’s 1841 novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, as well as some of his poetry.

The group visited Hardy’s Cottage in Higher Bockhampton, where Hardy was born, grew up and wrote his early novels, before going onto Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried with his first wife, Emma Lavinia, and walking across the River Frome, across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The group also visited Max Gate, the atmospheric Victorian home which was famously designed by the author and remained his home until his death in 1928, before hearing from two English Literature PhD students, Laura Cox and Sophie Welsh, about Hardy’s work. Here, some students share their perspectives from the trip.

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Oscar Clark: Sinking into Hardy’s armchair by the fireplace he designed, tiled by ceramics he found, surrounded on three sides by the privacy of a screen that has stood since he sat there and looking at a mirror upcycled by the man himself, I listened to Neill, the National Trust volunteer guiding us through our visit to Max Gate. A scholar on all aspects of Hardy, Neill showed us the humourous, sensitive and at times difficult man, as well as the nuances and foibles of his personality being reflected in the features of the home he designed.

Isabella Doyle: My favourite moment from the trip was seeing Hardy’s Cottage, where he grew up. I learned much information from the guide who showed us around Hardy’s former home. She explained how Hardy’s mother had strongly advised her five children not to marry, and Hardly was the only one who went against her advice – twice.

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Outdoor Work hosts Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’

By Iris Campbell-Lange, 6.1

Outdoor Work is unique in its ability to displace us from the normality of walled classrooms. It enables everyone, regardless of age, to become acquainted with the work that our hands can miraculously create.

On Saturday I, along with seven other keen blacksmiths (who are either learning blacksmithing as part of their Outdoor Work BAC, have chosen blacksmithing as an enrichment or regularly attend blacksmithing club with our visiting resident blacksmith, Lucille from Little Duck Forge), diverged from the routine of morning lessons and attended Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’. A forge-in is the term given to a group of blacksmiths working collaboratively on a project – and in our case, we spent the day making a decorative panel for a new wooden archway to be built at the entrance to Outdoor Work near Steephurst.

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Psychology Crime and Deviance Conference

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By Eliza Goodfellow, 6.2 and Psychology Don

Last Tuesday, the Psychology department welcomed Andrew Lewis and Allan Walker, a convicted murderer and fraudster, to talk about their experiences with the UK’s criminal justice system and life with a criminal record as part of our Psychology Crime and Deviance Conference. They were accompanied by a forensic psychologist who has worked with psychopaths. Her role plays a part in the process of assessing whether prisoners will be able to function adequately if integrated back into society, without posing a threat to the public.

The criminal justice system was outlined to us, and we were given a scenario to discuss whether we thought the man involved was guilty of murder. It came as a surprise to us that the murder we were discussing as a group was in fact the lecturer’s trial – it was at that point that he revealed he was a murderer. The majority of students believed that in the scenario described, Andrew was innocent of murder, guilty primarily of grevious bodily harm (GBH) in an act of self-defence.

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Belarus Free Theatre visit

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By Livi Grout-Smith, Oscar Clark and Amber Pearson, 6.2

Last Wednesday morning, we were lucky enough to be visited by Natalia Koliada (Director) and Sophie Robins (Head of Communications) from the world renowned theatre company Belarus Free Theatre (BFT).

Created in Belarus in 2005 as an underground theatre company and having to perform in secret locations so as to protect themselves from prosecution from the Russian and Belarusian governments, BFT’s directors, Nikolai Khalezinm and Natalia Koliada, were forced to move to London to escape further persecution and have since directed their actors in rehearsal via Skype calls between London and Minsk. Having chosen the company as the inspiration for our final 6.2 devised piece, we had never thought we would ever get to meet one of them, let alone have lunch with them, as we did during their visit.

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Recreating ‘The Eve of St Agnes’

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A Level English Literature students were transported back in time on Monday when they took part in a practical exercise designed to reinforce their understanding of one of the course’s key texts – The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats – following the success of last year’s experience day centred around the same poem. 

The Eve of St Agnes, which is set in the Middle Ages, was inspired by the legend that unmarried women could see their future husband in their dreams if they performed certain rituals on 20 January, the evening before the feast of St Agnes.

It follows the young maiden Madeline as she escapes a loud and festive family party to go to her bedroom and perform the rituals, hoping to see her lover Porphyro in her dreams, despite being from opposite sides of two rival families.

Madeline does see Porphyro that evening, but her dreams morph into reality as her lover – having snuck into her room while she was at the party – emerges from his hiding place in the closet and attempts to rouse her by laying out a feast and playing the lute.

To bring them closer to Keats’ poem, 6.2 English students were asked to work in groups across two classes to produce tableaux representative of the poem. They sought the help of the school’s costume department to find appropriate attire and recreated the scenes in various locations – including the Lupton Hall, the sand quarry and All Saints Church in Steep, with some venturing as far as Midhurst.

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English students exercise persuasion skills in homework debate

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This week, my Block 4 English set were given the chance to debate a subject close to the heart of every member of the school community: homework.

Having learnt about persuasive devices and studied speeches from speakers as diverse as Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg this half term, students have made their own speeches to their class on a wide and eye-opening range of topics. Kipp Bryan had researched fast fashion and advised us all to buy more from vintage clothes shops; Theo argued for a ‘back to basics’ approach to paying footballers; Stella Miller gave an illuminating account of what it has been like to be without a smart phone for the last month and how liberating it has been; and Masha Kulakova argued for more languages to be taught to primary school children. Having practised their skills as solo performers, the class moved on to a more tricky way to persuade an audience: team debates.

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Bedales sheep bring victory

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By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

On Saturday night at the Small Shepherd’s Club AGM, Kirsten Houser and I were the proud recipients of the McLellan Lambing Trophy (pictured above with Etty and Sasha). The trophy is awarded to the flock with the highest lambing percentage. Although we came second in 2018, in 2019 we were finally victorious!

Here in Outdoor Work, we have a long tradition of keeping sheep. We mostly have Jacobs, a breed prized for their piebald fleece and magnificent curly horns. Not only do they have a distinctive look, they are easy to handle and produce delicious meat. Because of the variation in their fleece, the wool is highly sought after by knitters and weavers.

We also have three smiley-faced South Down ewes. This is a local breed that has grazed the South Downs for centuries and is historically one of the most important British sheep breeds. Keeping them company are two Herdwicks, a breed native to the Lake District. We mostly keep them just because they look so awesome!

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