Spring Term – a pastoral reflection

By Peter Thackrey, Deputy Head (Pastoral)

I am very proud of students and colleagues for having successfully navigated the Spring Term together. It is always the most intense term and this term had the added rollercoaster of ever changing goalposts around COVID restrictions both nationally and on a school level. Over this short second half of term, there has certainly been a sense of students re-finding their way with all restrictions lifted, enabling them to gather together as a community in assemblies and experience handshaking. This week, students have particularly enjoyed the beautiful environment in which we live and learn, thanks to the glorious spring weather.

I am very grateful to all colleagues, but especially the teachers, tutors, counsellors, the Sports and Outdoor work teams, the cleaners, catering team, Health Centre team, school GPs, House Assistants, Head of Wellbeing Kirsten McLintock and Houseparents for supporting each child pastorally through the past two terms. Much of the pandemic for everyone has been necessarily reactive, but this term it has felt good to get back to proactive pastoral care with talks for parents on how to support young people around self-harm, raising awareness and how to work with the school around drugs, and most recently, study and revision techniques.

Last week I was able to build rapports with our local police liaison officers who had not been able to visit for two years. We went round the school and the boarding houses saying hello to students as we walked, discussing some of the challenges young people faced at Bedales and how we approach these challenges as a school. It was reassuring to hear that the volume we faced was much lower that elsewhere and the way in which we approached our behaviour policy with dialogue and clear boundaries was effective.

School Council have continued to meet each week to discuss both day to day issues as well as having a voice in strategic planning. Students also have a key part to play in recruitment where they have been interviewing new teachers – often asking harder questions than the adults! Finally, the stand out day was the rural refugee walk on Powell Day when we were able to come together as a school to walk, have space and time to talk and reflect on the world beyond us. This was a turning point from being often necessarily inward looking during the pandemic to now looking beyond ourselves and our community once more as we move forward.

I hope everyone has a very restful, enjoyable and productive (especially for the exam years) Easter holiday.

Pastoral update: Safer Internet Day

By Ana Simmons, Head of Lower School and Acting Designated Safeguarding Lead

Over the last few years the UK’s internet use has surged as coronavirus saw a change in the way in which we all communicated; nationally Snapchat, Tiktok, Instagram, YouTube became key in how many people kept in touch and remained informed.

Using the internet safely and positively is a key message that we promote and actively work with the students on across all three schools at Bedales. This week many schools and youth organisations across the UK celebrated Safer Internet Day and for us the day gave us a chance to reflect upon how we emphasise the online safety messages and education we deliver throughout the year.

We all play a crucial role in empowering and supporting young people to use digital technologies responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. At school, we have released a newly issued Digital Safety Policy, now viewable on the Parent Portal, which captures how we ensure that all pupils are educated about and protected from potential harm online.

As ever, creating an open dialogue with students on how we use the internet is vital in supporting their online lives. Some resources which you may find helpful as parents in having these discussions with your child about their online usage are:

  • Advice for parents and carers from Childnet
  • Tips, advice and guides for parents and carers from the UK Safer Internet Centre
  • Guides on popular apps and games from NetAware
  • Reviews and information about games, apps, TV shows and websites from Common Sense Media
  • Help on using parental controls and privacy settings from Internet Matters
  • Information and reporting of online grooming or abuse from CEOP

And as ever, please do get in touch with Houseparents or myself, as the Designated Safeguarding Lead whilst Jen is on maternity leave, should you have any concerns or questions over how the internet is being used within the Bedales community.

We need to talk

By Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

As a headteacher with significant pastoral responsibilities, I read the findings from the recently published report from Edurio – Pupil Learning Experience and Wellbeing Review: Pupil Experience in Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts – with discomfort.

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 childrenThe 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.

Dialogue for Change

By the Bedales Pastoral Team

Following the publication of testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, harrowing reports in the media and student action in the Spring Term, Bedales students and staff began working on a process called ‘Dialogue for Change’.
As a school that prides itself on equality and on a strong student voice, it is so important that we ensure the many different opinions within the conversation of sexual violence and harassment are heard in a safe and honest space.
‘Dialogue for Change’ is our community response to the campaign. However, to ensure we move forward as a community with a clear direction – where all our voices are represented – we recognise that a slow, deliberate process of dialogue is required. Working on reconciliation and peace building, facilitating discussions of challenging and emotional topics, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak takes time, patience and bravery.
The process has been divided into four phases. We are currently in Phase 1, of sharing and listening to differing points of view with mutual acknowledgement. ‘Dialogue for Change’ has been discussed in assembly, students have received a questionnaire, with half of all students responding, and there have been opportunities for safe conversations in different groups and forums throughout this half of the term. Next week, students in Blocks 3 and 4 will have extended tutor times to explore two key topics – ‘just a joke’ and ‘the bystander effect’ – with similar sessions for Block 5 and 6.1 before half term.
This will lead us into Phase 2, where we will reflect on each other’s experience, and set up a working party to respond to the issues raised next academic year. In Phase 3, to be completed by the end of the Summer Term, we will consider what common goals and values we share and what immediate changes can be made. Finally, in Phase 4, we will work on building the confidence of each party so all feel they are being heard. This will be an exploratory phase of trying new things and building projects, ideas and solutions, and establishing how we take this forward into the next academic year.
We believe this is a unique opportunity for us to help facilitate genuine, open and honest dialogue amongst students, for them to find their voices and engage with such an important topic, and to help drive it forward into real positive change.