Hands-on week in Classics

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It’s been a hands-on week in Classics classes this week. Block 4 students have been putting the finishing touches to their miniature triumphal arch (pictured above), which they made last week from the same sand and cement mix that was made to use the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome. The class has been studying major monuments – from Stonehenge to the Romans – and this was an opportunity to try their hand at the Roman technique of making a mould and filling it. It seemed a fitting way of wrapping up this module of study before they produce their extended essays.

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Block 4 visit to Avebury, West Kennett and Stonehenge

By Chris Grocock, Teacher of Classics

To complement what we can learn in class and from books and the internet, the ‘Famous Five’ who make up this year’s Ancient Civilisations BAC cohort visited the neolithic – and now World Heritage – sites of Avebury Stone Circle, West Kennett Long Barrow and Stonehenge itself.

The weather held fair – well, mostly – but the opportunities to ‘connect’ with these extraordinary monuments constructed 4,500 years ago were seized to the full! All the sites provoked thought and deep reaction – one student commented “I found it interesting that people put the rocks there and we don’t know why”. Stonehenge itself provoked mixed reactions, from “smaller than I thought” to “bigger than I expected”!

At Avebury, there were several expressions of making a ‘spiritual connection’ with the place, especially at a tree marked with ribbons by New Age devotees. Perhaps the most memorable experience was ‘being spooked’ by going into a 5,000-year-old tomb at West Kennett, and then eating lunch on top of it, with vistas spreading all around and fine views of Silbury Hill.

 

Bedales competes at Alresford Show

 

By Gala Pearson, Block 5

For part of our Outdoor Work BAC, a group of four of us – Etty Bratley, Lila Levingston, Sasha Arney and me – are doing sheep husbandry. As part of this, we have been looking at a year in the life of a sheep, which includes worming, feeding, breeding and shearing them.

One of the highlights so far has been preparing for the Alresford Show, which was held on the first Saturday in September. In preparation for the show, we spent a lot of time halter training the sheep. We also had to bathe, trim, dag and brush them to get them ready for the ring.

On 7 September, we woke up early to load the sheep into the trailer and set off for Alresford. When we arrived, we herded them into their pens and did the final touch-ups, brushing off any excess dirt.

First up was Etty, who was entered in the ewe lamb class. Competitors were asked to line up and judges went round to each sheep to judge configuration, teeth and wool. After that, the judge wanted to see whether the sheep was tamed on a leash by walking it around the ring.

Following this, we also did a few more classes – shearling ewe, older ewe and a pair of shearling ewes. These didn’t go as well as they could have as the Southdown sheep were very stubborn. However, the pair of ewes (the Herdwicks) went very well, and Sasha and Gala came in fourth place. After all these classes, Etty entered the young handlers, which went really well – she came second!

By this point, we had been there for nearly ten hours, so decided to finish the day with the grand parade. This involved most cattle, cows, goats and sheep. We all got into one big line and walked around the main ring a couple of times, showing off to the public. This was everyone’s favourite part of the day because we led the parade. Even with all the ups and downs over the last year, the Alresford Show was a fantastic experience.

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.