Bedales has, since its inception, been driven by the need for reform – John Haden Badley set up the school in reaction to his own schooling in a conventional 19th century boys’ public school.
Drawing on the Fabian and Arts and Crafts movements, as well as looking to educational reformers like Froebel and Montessori, he helped create a school that dared to do things differently.
Now, many of those early reforms are mainstream — co-education, student councils, more facilitative approaches to teaching — and we are looking to move the school forward over the next decade. We will be taking into account evidence and best practice from around the world to ensure that our students benefit from the most up-to-date and relevant approaches to education.
Now is the time, however, for wider action if all our young people are to become lifelong learners, able to develop the skills needed to keep pace with technological change and to tackle wider societal issues such as inequality and climate change.
“Aspects of our model still draw gasps of incredulity (and sometimes envy) from colleagues in other schools.”
Aside from our own plans for the future, we have been working with colleagues recently from across sectors in England and beyond, to talk about much-needed reforms to the system. We are lucky to have full independence from the mandates of the Department for Education in Whitehall and aspects of our model still draw gasps of incredulity (and sometimes envy) from colleagues in other schools (both state and private). Of particular interest is our approach to curriculum and assessment for 14 to 16-year-old students.
Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs), with their multi-modal assessment and content free from political interference, continue to stand out even when other parts of our model have been adopted by others. Bedales students have shown that young people can successfully progress to A-level and university without the Progress 8 mandated suite of a minimum of eight GCSEs. In fact, we consider our students to be better prepared for further study and employment having followed this broader programme.
“Bedales students have shown that young people can progress to A-level and university without the Progress 8 mandated suite of GCSEs.”
For this reason, the recent announcement that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Schools Learning and Assessment is launching an inquiry into assessment reform is heartening to us. We hope that it signals political intent to engage with serious discussion about moving the whole educational sector forward.
We hear all the time from colleagues who would like the same freedom that we have to tailor courses to suit the needs of our students and model them on best practice in education, and it pains us that so few young people get the education they deserve.
Our work with campaigning organisations like Rethinking Assessment is one of the ways we can share our experience to assist, even in small ways, with a much broader reform movement. And it does feel that this momentum is building with more challenge to the education status quo.
However, we also intend to make a submission to the APPG, explaining what we are doing with BACs and how they have, for the last 17 years now, delivered an exciting and beneficial alternative to the current diet of exam-heavy, over-centralised and inequitable GCSE assessments.
“It does feel that momentum is building with more challenge to the education status quo.”
In her recent article in the School Management Plus magazine, Jane Lunnon, head of Alleyn’s School, wrote about how “this is a time for inquiry, for radical reflection and an opportunity for truly fresh thought” from the independent sector.
Reading her article, reflecting on the second edition of the book she co-authored, The State of Independence, I felt hope that we are getting close to a point when the momentum needed to drive through the necessary changes to education in this country is reached. Bedales is and will always strive to be at the heart of that debate and, when we launch our 10 year strategy in September of this year, I hope that you will see that writ large.