Volunteer tutoring with less advantaged pupils

By Rob Reynolds, Action Tutoring Volunteer, and Director of External Relations, Bedales School

In my role overseeing partnerships at Bedales School (an independent coeducational boarding school), I was keen to explore additional ways we could respond to the COVID pandemic in supporting young people. The school already had in place successful partnerships: we worked with a local primary school, providing additional classroom space for them to keep their bubbles apart, and providing a willing workforce and materials to improve the outdoor landscape. We have an ongoing collaboration with a local state academy on a variety of academic projects including hosting a ‘Question Time’ event with our East Hampshire Member of Parliament, students and head teachers which was switched to online delivery this year, and collaborating on Teacher Assessed Grades. Early in the pandemic, our Catering Manager introduced a food delivery service for vulnerable people in the local community, sourcing and delivering essential food supplies. We even offered a library service to give people access to fresh reading material.

Having heard in November 2020 of the launch of the Government’s National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to support disadvantaged pupils to recover from the educational disruption caused by COVID, I decided to research tutoring options. Even before the crisis, disadvantaged pupils were, on average, already 18 months behind their non-disadvantaged peers by the end of secondary school. Projections suggest school closures will widen this gap further; many of the factors that feed into this inequality have been made much worse by the pandemic. For months while schools were closed, children and young people did not have equal access to learning and, for many, the structure and spaces that support their development and wellbeing suddenly disappeared.

I registered as a volunteer with Action Tutoring, selected as a Tuition Partner for the NTP. Action Tutoring is a national education charity supporting pupils to achieve a meaningful level of academic attainment, helping them to progress to further education, employment or training. Specifically, their focus is on improving the grades of individual pupils: for the first half of the 2019/20 school year, Action Tutoring pupils made an average of 12% progress from their initial assessment, sat at the start of their programme, to their progress assessment six months later.

Although I am not in a teaching role at Bedales with responsibility for communications, alumni relations, partnerships, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and oversight of marketing and fundraising, I was keen to put my maths degree to good use by making a contribution, and also testing out this method of online tutoring as a possible route for other members of the Bedales community to contribute. In my early working life I was a naval instructor officer teaching maths to trainee engineers. I subsequently completed the training provided by Action Tutoring where I met (online) a variety of other volunteers including undergraduates, accountants, and serving and retired teachers. Training included a familiarisation with Action Tutoring’s chosen virtual learning platform, Vedamo, safeguarding training and of course, undergoing the necessary Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks to work with young people.

Prior to the pandemic, Action Tutoring operated in specific geographical areas of the country where they had identified the greatest need for learning support and were well positioned to be able to pivot to online tutoring which enabled them to reach more schools and young people. Action Tutoring’s latest impact report which covers the period at the start of the pandemic highlights that in autumn 2020 it had over 80 online programmes underway, as well as delivering face to face. With the school closures in early 2021, the charity was able to quickly adapt its provision so that over 130 schools had online programmes up and running in a matter of weeks, providing tutoring support to pupils whilst they were at home.

Having completed all my checks, I was keen to get underway and was quickly allocated a state school in Chester supporting students taking GCSE Maths. Action Tutoring has developed the necessary resources to ensure a consistent quality of tutoring, which helped me familiarise myself with the curriculum and dust off any maths cobwebs. They also provided a local coordinator to act as the liaison point with the school and to work with the teachers to supervise the actual tutoring sessions which took place online at school, but after school had officially finished. In my case, that meant a weekly commitment tutoring two Year 11 students initially for an hour on Fridays from 3–4 pm, which was then increased to 1.5 hours.

Once the initial cohort of students had finished their GCSE Maths, I was then put to work with Year 10 pupils. The significant disruption for students and schools over the last 18 months encouraged Action Tutoring and the school to see how else they could support their pupils and a couple of catch-up Saturday morning virtual sessions were introduced from pupils’ homes, under the supervision of their parents.

I found the whole experience extremely rewarding. There were certainly challenges. It was difficult to establish rapport and really help the young people if they struggled with their own motivation to be doing extra maths outside lessons! The time seemed to fly by in sessions, and we also had to cope with connection difficulties, but I always took the view that these young people were going to benefit by actually doing maths during these periods rather than something else. We persevered, and by the time the programme finished for the Summer holidays, I felt the pupils were responding well and benefiting from the experience of this extra maths support. I think they appreciated that there were people out there who wanted to supplement their school work with their regular teachers to help them achieve their full potential. Seeing the young people benefit from this extra time and effort also gave me my own sense of achievement.

In terms of the funding of the NTP, Action Tutoring charges schools a fee for the cost of running its programmes, which is heavily subsidised by its own fundraising. Last academic year, the schools receiving the tutoring service contributed 25% of the cost of the programme, with the remainder covered by government funding through the NTP. Volunteers like myself are unpaid but Action Tutoring clearly has expenses such as developing teaching resources, running the virtual learning platform, staffing, and volunteer on-boarding.

Action Tutoring specialises in providing maths and English support at GCSE and primary levels. If you feel able to help, I thoroughly recommend it and you can find out more on their website here: https://actiontutoring.org.uk/. The whole process of volunteering is pretty smooth and you will soon be set to work helping hopefully keen young pupils. And for those of us who are not regular teachers, it gives us a taste of how rewarding and enjoyable educating others can be.

Spring is in the air in Outdoor Work

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

The change in the weather has really brought the farm to life, which is so wonderful to see. Last week our ‘spring’ flock of Southdown and Southdown X Jacob sheep started to lamb. As I write this we have 10 adorable little black lambs running around; we are just waiting on our three Southdowns (Sammi, Saoirse and Sophie), as well as our two Herdwicks, to deliver!

Our two sows, Little Pig and Bessie, didn’t want to miss out on the action either. They have been crossed with a British Saddleback (Basil). Between the two girls they farrowed 18 beautiful little black pigs, each with a white belt around their shoulders.

Running a school farm is a unique and rewarding job. Connecting students to the land and working with the animals is mostly a joy. Showing students across all three schools around the farm is one of my favourite things to do. Finding the balance between education and farming, whilst keeping animal welfare at the heart of everything we do, is a constant thing and something I believe we do very well here. We are not a petting farm nor do we want to be one. We want to educate students about food, farming and the environment, and how they are all linked.

Last weekend was a very strange one. It was probably the first time we felt that fine balance becoming a little unstable.  A combination of new arrivals, shining sun, schools reopening and the prospect of some return to normality, saw – to use a fashionable word – unprecedented numbers of visitors at the Black Barn.

When you have a large number of young, excited children, ramblers, dog walkers and picnickers, the tranquillity of giving birth very quickly disappears and the animals get stressed. This was very evident for a period of time. Everyone thinks their child and dog is safe, but to a sheep every dog is a wolf. Standing chatting beside a very pregnant sheep while dipping into some hummus may sound idyllic, but I’m confident the sheep wouldn’t agree. Likewise noisy children around little piglets and farrowing sows causes distress, resulting in squashed piglets and anxious mums.

So, although I don’t want to sound like a grumpy farmer, maybe this is a timely reminder about the countryside code. It is such a wonderful time of year and being able to experience nature so closely is so very special. Let’s try to remember the animals and their needs, alongside our own, human wants.

For all the latest updates from Bedales Outdoor Work, make sure you’re following us on Instagram and Twitter.

Product Design students collaborate with OB architect Patrick Lewis

By Alisia Leach, 6.1

This half term 6.1 Product Design students started a new architecture based project to design a new stand-alone learning space situated somewhere on the school site. In the first lesson of the project we were introduced to the OB architect Patrick Lewis, who has his own architecture practice in London under the same name. The project was kick started in collaboration with Patrick to offer an authentic, professional and objective perspective. Alex McNaughton launched our project alongside Patrick via an online video conference where they set out the constraints of the task and allocated each of us a prominent historical designer and two driving materials to focus our research on and to use as inspiration for our designs and concepts.

We then had a couple of weeks to research and build up a designer profile and a location and need analysis of our building. I personally have been allocated the Italian designer Aldo Rossi, so I built up a detailed profile of his him by looking at his most iconic works, his design philosophy and his influence upon others. My two driving materials are acrylic and fibre reinforced resin, so I spent a few lessons experimenting with my materials and working out possible ways of incorporating them into my building. I also concluded that I wanted my building to be located in the Dunannie orchard and for it to be a sensory room. Last week Patrick was able to come into school to have a one-to-one COVID-safe critique with each of us where we presented him with our research, showed him our initial material investigations and discussed some early design intentions.

In my one-to-one crit I expressed the fact that I wasn’t really sure how to incorporate the primary shapes of Aldo Rossi’s design style into my design as I didn’t want my building to simply be a cube. Patrick suggested that as I am pursuing a sensory room, I could create for example, five separate cylinders to each explore a different sense. He also helped me to come up with ways I could incorporate the senses into the design of the building such as for sight, peep holes at different levels focusing on prominent details of the surroundings, whereas otherwise I may have just used the furniture to turn it into a sensory space.

It was overall really beneficial to get someone else’s perspective and I think we can all agree that Patrick has helped us to begin to bring our projects together and we will all enjoy the final critique after Christmas where we will get to exhibit our final models and projects. We are looking forward to seeing where the project will take us for the next few weeks.

Long range sponsored cycle for FitzRoy

By Rob Reynolds, Director of External Relations, Bedales

In a light-headed moment at the Harrow pub in Steep last month, Al McConville (Director of Learning & Innovation) and I decided to cycle the King Alfred’s Way as a half-term cycling trip in support of FitzRoy’s ‘Around the World’ challenge.

A national charity based in Petersfield, FitzRoy is transforming lives every day by supporting people with learning disabilities and autism to do the simple things that make a real difference to their everyday life. Its vision is a society where people are treated as equals, regardless of their disability. Bedales has been supporting FitzRoy through fundraising and student volunteers at their Rural Skills project at the Sustainability Centre near East Meon. Members of FitzRoy’s ‘Love4Life’ programme (a dating and friendship project) have also enjoyed attending the Bedales Rock Show for the last two years.

So our decision was made and we signed up on the FitzRoy fundraising website. Thinking ‘rule of six’ we also reached out to some of our fellow enthusiasts to recruit some additional riders. Step forward Bedales parent Paul Cooper who brought a wealth of mountain biking knowledge and experience, plus my brother Tim, a teacher at Dauntsey’s, who agreed to join us for the first couple of days.

Detailed planning was then necessary to work out the route on this newly created off-road 350 km cycle. We decided to break up the journey into four full days of cycling and three nights. It being the end of October, we quickly decided to seek a roof over our heads rather than camp overnight, so maps were pored over to locate suitable hostelries with rooms.

With some final tweaks to bikes and bags (we were unsupported, carrying all our kit), the first day arrived. Fuelled by porridge, the four of us met outside Petersfield Station and set off in a broadly westerly direction. Paul kindly agreed to act as navigator, and was equipped with the appropriate technology. Cycling up Butser Hill was a rude awakening and a taste of things to come. Saving grace was the relative warmth and sunshine. We cycled along the South Downs Way to Winchester, passing Exton and its vineyard. Our initial target was a lunch stop in the precinct of Winchester Cathedral before heading onward to Salisbury.

We arrived at our first overnight stop after a hard full day of cycling – the very welcome Premier Inn in North Salisbury, with bath, all-inclusive meals and comfortable bed!

The subsequent days followed a similar pattern. Tim peeled off on day two after we crossed Salisbury Plain (chased by a very speedy tank), when we passed near to Dauntsey’s (near Devizes). Our northerly stint finished in the countryside close to Swindon at the Rose & Crown, Ashbury. By this stage, bodies were aching and the sun setting. Much of day three was spent on the Ridgeway trail, described as ‘Britain’s oldest road’, heading east, and included an abrupt end to the quiet and relative bleakness when we passed through the centre of Reading and then the Madejski (football) Stadium.

The New Inn in Heckfield provided a much needed overnight stop for more baths, bike washing and maintenance, and rest. With the clocks changing overnight, we had to leave before breakfast in the knowledge that bacon butties awaited us at a friend’s house en route in Farnham (thank you Kate).

As we headed south from the Devil’s Punchbowl back towards Steep, Paul called his friend Tim who quickly created a welcome committee of friendly Bedales parents (with Maike, James, and beer) as we pedalled into Steep.

During our trip, we coped with numerous falls (the ground was very muddy and slippery in places), punctures (approx eight between us), a broken chain (which we managed to fix with the assistance of two friendly members of the Oxford University Cycling Club), flooded paths, and typical October weather (the Saturday was particularly wet and windy with reports of fallen trees in the South). Al and I quickly realised that we would have been struggling without Paul keeping us literally on the right track. 

We passed many beautiful and historic sights. As Cycling UK’s website puts it: “Immerse yourself in 10,000 years of history by riding this 350 km loop around historic Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great. The route starts and ends in Winchester where Alfred is buried, and connects iconic monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals.”

So far we have raised £1,737 (including Gift Aid) – thank you to all our supporters. There is still an opportunity to sponsor our efforts and help FitzRoy (please click here). As FitzRoy explains: “It has never been more important for us to support people with learning disabilities and autism – whether it’s the iPad that helps someone connect with their loved ones, the sensory garden that provides a calming outdoor space, or our Love4Life dating and friendship programme that proves that everyone can find love – every penny you raise will make a difference and help us to transform lives.”

If you would like to join in and help by adding some miles of your own to the total – there are still 13 days to go and there is a massive 6,190 miles to cover. You can add your mileage by joining our Bedales team – there’s more information here.

Finally, if you are interested in finding our more about the King Alfred’s Way off-road cycle route, it featured in last Saturday’s Guardian (see here) and the route website is here.

Having now almost recovered from our endeavours, Al, Paul, Tim and I have tentatively started exploring (virtually) other off-road cycling routes ready for the next one….more about that anon.

Block 3 experiment with comparative poetry

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

My Block 3 students have been practising writing poems using extended metaphors.

In class, we read The Beach by William Hart-Smith, Winter Morning by Roger McGough and In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound to inspire us, observing that none of the poems used full rhyme or a particular rhythm; instead, they’re constructed using one long sentence.

Students then worked together in small teams groups, looking at a range of images – a skiing scene, traffic on a motorway, a mountain top and a red London bus – and coming up with a number of metaphors and similes to describe aspects of the picture (mountain tops as “Stegosaurus spines” in the skiing scene, for example).

Next, they were asked to turn their collective notes into a descriptive sentence that uses at least one metaphor, then turn that into a poem.

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‘Fascinating’ 6.2 Music bridging course

By Annia Grey, 6.2

Having studied the German late Romantic and Modernist movements outside of our exam curriculum, we have left the 6.2 bridging course feeling enriched by this introduction to some extremely poignant and beautiful works.

As Doug commented when talking about Strauss’ final trio and duet in Der Rosenkavalier, it has been a true ‘palette cleanse’ studying these composers, especially following the rather heavy curricular garlic bread of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

We were collectively moved by the gorgeous quintet in his Die Meistersinger and were left feeling surprised that Wagner could produce something so lyrical, cantabile and moving, having been exposed to his denser works as part of our Pre-U course. This was a highlight for me, Johnny and Bella.

For those whose interests lie more in more instrumental works, a favourite arose in the shape of Mahler’s 8th Symphony and Stravinski’s Firebird for Sampson, Jamie and Mary. The gradual build-up of the instrumentation in the Firebird made for an epic finale for a ballet.

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Historic Digital Rock Show closes unique term


By Neil Hornsby, Head of Contemporary Music

The Bedales Rock Show went digital yesterday as the 18th edition of this great Bedales event was streamed around the world on YouTube.

Whilst this Digital Rock Show was unlike any other, it still bore the same hallmarks that have made the show such a part of the fabric of Bedales in recent years – incredible songwriting, amazingly talented students and a LOT of painstaking hard work!

As well as all of the spectacular performances, a special mention must go to the amazing production team featuring the brilliant editing skills of Sam Coleman, August Janklow and Joe Wilson, along with the ridiculously professional mixing skills of Jake Scot and George Vaux.

The 17-song show was pulled together from more than 500 individual audio and video recordings sent in from students in three continents, and due to the time difference, was worked on literally 24 hours a day for the final four weeks of term.

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Block 4 Ancient Civilizations students make more than the best of lockdown!

by Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics


The summer term’s task for Ancient Civilisations students in Block 4 is to devise and produce a piece of project-based work – something which we have always regarded as a pioneering and progressive approach to exploring the ancient world(s) and one which gives students a free hand to show what they can do. This year our students have chosen some remarkably innovating and diverse topics never investigated before, and the assessment panel which had the privilege of seeing their interim work in on-line presentations last week was suitably impressed by their self-evident interest, enthusiasm, and pride in their work. Topics this year have been as diverse as midwifery in ancient Greece and Rome, tattoos, human sacrifice across the world in ancient times, Persian kings’ propaganda, doctors and medicine, and ancient astrology. The ‘personal research and project’ approach has fitted in very well with the current lockdown situation, and it has wonderful to see the ways in which our students have risen to the challenge – even with communication problems (one student is in northern Italy and one is in Switzerland.)

So much for the teacher’s ‘official’ view What did the students think? Olivia Cooper said ‘I wanted to find out how medicine started because it has come such a long way, and to find out how much the understanding of medicine was affected by religious views in ancient societies.’ Lula Goldring’s motive for choosing ancient Persia was sheer curiosity: ‘I never knew about it but I wanted to find out about it – I find discovering new things interesting.’ Theo Heining-Farmiloe chose to study tattoos ‘because it hadn’t been looked at and I wanted to explore it.’ Inigo Portman was inspired by ‘a family trip to Mexico when I was about 11 or 12. It sparked an interest in the Aztecs.’

How did the students find it? Lula said ‘I had lots of freedom to make choices. It was hard at the beginning because it was all new, but s I learned more it all came together. Not confusing the Persia kings called Darius was a challenge too!’ Inigo and Theo both agreed that doing the presentations of their work in the development stage to a panel of three assessors was the most fun part of the course. ‘I enjoyed researching the Carthaginians, too, because they were completely new to me. The editing process was the most difficult.’ Olivia said ‘I really enjoyed the process of discovery and being able to organize my own research at my own pace. But you have to take responsibility for getting it done. The biggest challenge was figuring out what to include and what to leave out.’ Theo summed the whole exercise up nicely – ‘the interesting part is looking at something which hasn’t been looked at very much, and I wanted to explore it. But writing the essay is the most challenging part!’

As their teacher I have been very impressed by all the work done – and the tenacity that the whole class has shown in doing this – and I’m not sure who has enjoyed seeing these projects take shape, the students, their teacher, or the two assessors who saw presentations of a really fine standard. Lockdown or not, some great things are being achieved!

(Picture: the founding father of medicine, Hippocrates – not Chris G, his beard isn’t so curly)

A pig’s life…on the Bedales farm

by Kirsten Houser, Assistant Farm Manager, Bedales

Pig June 2020

On 5 April our Oxford Sandy and Black sow ‘Little Pig’ gave birth to 13 piglets, immediately jostling and squealing to be fed around the clock. Piglets are born with a set of needle sharp teeth, slightly protruding from the sides of their mouths – which they use to defend their chosen teat (they pick one and they stick to it). In commercial pig rearing settings, piglets will have these teeth clipped or ground down to prevent them from injuring each other, which is something that we don’t do here on the Bedales farm, for obvious welfare reasons. We leave mum and babies to get on with things as nature intended. Likely because of the size of the litter, competition for teats was even higher than normal and after a week or so we noticed two of the piglets had some scratches to their faces and were beginning to look weaker and smaller than their siblings. Sadly we lost one of the two, it died at 10 days old, and it looked as though, without some help the second piglet would soon die too. The decision to bottle feed a baby animal is never an easy one – once humans step in that animal loses out on the perfectly tailored nutrition, warmth, and security that its parent provides, not to mention the playtime and social lessons of being part of a litter. Still, there are always exceptions, and having done some research I knew that the only thing this little piglet needed was some milk in her tummy and somewhere warm to sleep. The scratches on her face were causing her eyelids to become swollen, so she couldn’t find her way to mum’s teats for a feed. She was basically getting weaker and weaker, and not able to hold her head up anymore. At this point I decided to take her home.

My partner Lisa and I managed to make up some emergency piglet milk – full fat cows milk, egg yolks and honey, and we set about trying to get Bridget (as we named her) to drink. Bridget’s first feed was only 2 ml, but it was enough to get her through the next couple of hours. She was tiny, wobbly and weak, but we settled her onto a heat mat, made her a jumper from a sock and surrendered ourselves to two-hourly feeds, even through the night. I’m pleased to say that within a week, Bridget started to show signs of improvement and a feisty character emerged. She became firm friends with our collie, Fennel, and let us know when she was hungry with a bossy squeal and much determined nudging. Meanwhile, her brothers and sisters were moving from the pig sty into the Bedales woods and were almost twice her size. We worried she might never catch up.
Weeks passed, lockdown continued and the piglet in our living room grew out of the sock
jumpers and into a puppy crate under the table. She started playing with the dog and following us into the garden, running around and oinking enthusiastically. Pigs are very intelligent creatures, and Bridget learned to sit on command (with food encouragement) and even trotted beautifully to heel! I took her with me to feed the other Bedales animals and we met lots of the on-site community on our walks. It became clear, sadly, that Bridget would soon outgrow my small flat, and that a move outside was on the cards. Having been roughly the size of a guinea pig, Bridget was now the size of a small spaniel, and had worked out how to open the fridge door – oh dear.

Bridget’s siblings were all sold on to lovely new homes (some of whom are Bedales and
Dunhurst families) at the age of 8 weeks. We have our two sows here already, as well as two piglets kept on, so I began to research a new home for Bridget, somewhere she would be provided with the tubby rubs, cherry tomatoes and toast crusts to which she had become accustomed.

Manor Farm near Southampton is a council-run working historic farm open to the public who are able to see up-close their various native and rare breed livestock, in the Victorian farmyard. After a visit to the school to meet Bridget (who behaved very well) the staff at Manor Farm were sure that her clear star-quality (I might be biased) and friendliness with people would make her a great pig to take on. A week or so later, this Tuesday just passed, we loaded Bridget up and drove her over on a bright sunny afternoon to her new home. The farm there (like us) is still closed because of Coronavirus, but they hope to have Bridget well settled in by the time their visitors return this Summer. She will soon be joined by a pair of Tamworth piglets, who will be
closer to her in size than her own siblings, we hope she will enjoy some pig company. When she’s old enough she’ll have her own piglets to look after, and best of all – we’ll be able to visit whenever we like. Lockdown, even on the beautiful Bedales site, has been a confusing and anxious time for everybody, but taking care of this little pig has bought lightness and laughter into our lives, a reminder of the power that animals have to help us stay grounded through difficult times. Thank you Bridget.


Virtual visit to Sadler’s Wells for Chalayan’s ‘Gravity Fatigue’


By Lucy Albuquerque, Block 5

We recently took a virtual school trip to go and see Hussein Chalayan’s Gravity Fatigue at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Gravity Fatigue is a mixture of a dance and fashion show all in one, and this is what makes this show so unique.

As Chalayan is a fashion designer, not a choreographer himself, he worked with Damien Jalet to create the show. Chalayan wanted to show the connection between clothes and movement, and how they work together in space. He uses other ways as well as movement to portray the message to the audience; for example, he explores different floorwork and how the dancers engage with their costumes.

Throughout the show, the lighting stood out to me, as it was used to show a change of dancer or the emotion that Chalayan was trying to embody. Lighting was also used to highlight the direction that dancers moved in – for instance, when a circular spotlight lit up, the dancers turned in a circle as if in a trance, reflecting the shape of the lighting.

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