Bedales School is recognised as one of England’s top tier public schools, a reputation coming from its strong international profile, above average sector academic performance but above all class leading whole child development programs.
Occupying an eclectic mix of stately Grade 1 listed arts and crafts buildings designed by Gimson with more modern counterparts, Bedales nestles on a 120-acre estate in the village of Steep, near Petersfield.
The school was founded by John Haden Badley in 1893 to be a humane alternative to the authoritarian, single sex regimes characteristic of independent schools, with a philosophy of creating co-educational schooling for the “head, hand and heart”.
Whilst on first impressions, with its grand mix of buildings and sprawling grounds, the school shares much in common with its independent peers, and whilst co-educational educational has now become common in the sector, Bedales School continues to offer an alternative “progressive” model of education.
Bedales was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2022).
The school eschews uniform, staff and pupils are on first name terms, the school focuses on the individual rather than group, and learning is self-managed rather than imposed.
The school has, perhaps, become less progressive in recent years, leading to a concomitant increase in examination performance, although Bedales argues that is has achieved this whilst strengthening many of its core principles.
Alumni include Lily Allen, Kirstie Allsopp, David Armstrong-Jones (Viscount Linley), Gyles Brandreth, Sophie Dahl, Daniel Day-Lewis, Minnie Driver, Michael Wishart, Sir Peter Wright, Cara Delevingne, and John Wyndham. The school is favored by many celebrities to school their children, including Jeremy Paxman, Mick Jagger, Jude Law, and Boris Johnson.
Bedales head, hand and heart approach is delivered through meeting five aims:
• To develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought;
• To enable students’ talents to develop through doing and making;
• To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity, and the appreciation of the beautiful;
• To enable students, former students, parents, and staff to take pride in the community’s distinctiveness, and to feel valued and nourished by the community; and,
• To foster interest beyond the school by engaging with the local community and developing a national and international awareness.
Children have empowered rolls in all parts of school life, although this has moderated since the 70s when, according to Bedalian Gyles Brandreth: “I was free to do whatever I wanted. And I did it. And it was accepted you could do it. So I assumed, having been to Bedales, that everything was possible.”
Bedales introduced BACs, Bedales Assessed Courses, running parallel to I/GCSEs in subjects as diverse as digital game design and theatre, to provide an alternative to the exam focus of I/GCSEs. BACs are designed for open debate wherever it leads “without fear.” At A Level, the Bedales Extended Project runs in similar parallel fashion and sees tutors help pupils, in teams or individually, to study areas that they want to explore, away from the traditional A Level syllabus.
Historically projects have included writing and developing a “£2 a Day Cookbook”; writing and illustrating a Children’s story book, and analysing the decline in British fashion manufacturing. Unlike the traditional public school, “children are pulled, not pushed, into learning.”
The curriculum for examination at 16 is built around a compulsory group of five core IGCSE subjects and two non-examined courses, plus a choice of up to 5 Bedales Assessed Courses and other GCSEs or Pre-U. At A-Level, students can choose to take four A-Levels or three A-Levels with the Bedales Enrichment Diploma, the latter providing a choice of courses around 'Head, Hand and Heart’, ranging from public service to life drawing, oak frame making, and Philosophy of Science. The further Extended Project option is process orientated and better understood as a qualification in project management.
As well as the informality of no uniform and teachers and students communicating on a first name basis, other progressive features include communal dormitories with mixed years (eschewing the modern trend for single rooms), twice weekly handshaking between pupils and teachers, an emphasis on the creative and practical (including working on the school’s own farm and bread making), focusing on individual children and giving them, as much as practicable, the opportunity to develop the way they want to develop, and listening to student’s views through a dedicated Student Council as well as in all parts of day-to-day life.
In sport, children are “enthusiasts not conscripts”, and for non-sporty types there is a plethora of outdoor alternatives including hedge laying, animal husbandry, and other work on the farm.
The school’s liberalism has not been without controversy, including a spate of expulsions in 2011 for theft and sexual misconduct, and the writings against the school by Amanda Craig, played out in her novel and the pages of the Daily Mail, following her experience of Bedales in the 70s.
The consensus, however, is that, like all schools, Bedales will be the perfect school for some but not all pupils, and that parents need to look beyond exam league tables to really understand whether a school will be a good fit for their children.
Bedales will work best for pupils who have the capacity to be self-disciplined, able to self-manage, and whom work best within a generally non authoritarian environment where questions, freedom of thought, and to make mistakes is/are expected and respected. Bedales' greater freedoms, however, are not without structure, and made subject to explicit and detailed policies on acceptable behavior, discipline, and sanctions; sexual intercourse and drug use, for example, carry an absolute expectation of expulsion.
Whilst Bedales has day pupils, they are treated identically to boarders, and Bedales recognises itself to that end as fundamentally a Boarding School.
10% of pupils come from overseas.
Entry is at 13 or 16. At 13, admission is by interview and tests in mathematics, English, and verbal reasoning at the School, taken over a one to three day residential stay in January the year prior to entry. Sixth-form applicants at 16+ must be judged capable of attaining three A Level passes at Grade B or above.
However, whilst Bedales is selective, it will offer places to pupils who it believes will be a good fit for the school, and parents who believe that this will be the case are encouraged to apply. Results in internal examination are not the be-all and end-all: “the main focus of all our assessments is on understanding the whole person, and on determining how well they are likely to adapt to the mainstream educational experience at Bedales, to contribute to it and to benefit from it.” The same holds true for sixth form entry, when prospective pupils normally attend a day of interviews at the School in November of the year before entry. Bedales will make allowances where English is not the applicant’s first language. 5% of Bedales income is committed to generous means-tested bursaries which are available, subject to need, on entry at 13 or 16. Scholarships are offered with a non-means tested value up to £500.
Bedales has a significant 10% Oxbridge slipstream, and all remaining pupils are likely to attend top drama or arts schools, or further their academic study at Russel Group Universities or overseas.
Although Bedales School is non-denominational and does not have a Chapel, it has a weekly “Jaw”, a forum for the school to come together to be inspired, think, and debate. Jaw broadly follows the Christian calendar, even including Christmas carols, but mixes in philosophy, debate, visiting speakers, and twists and turns that come from school life. Like the school, it is open to and respectful of children from all religious faiths, or none.
A Level grades secured at A*/A/B: 72% (2022)
A Level grades A*/A: 45% (2022)
GCSE grades A*-A: 57% (2022)
Bedales is England’s most prestigious and respected of the progressive schools offering education to A-Level.
By any standards it is exceptional, but like all schools, it is a school that will not suit all children.
If you child is likely to excel in the highly disciplined, regimented environments characteristic of traditional English public schools, Bedales will certainly not be a good fit.
Bedales encourages self-management and those who are self-disciplined and driven are most likely to find a home.
Bedales encourages individualism, and children that naturally question and invent are more likely to be happy and excel than children who like the comfort of facts, definite answers, and authority.
Artistic children will have an environment that is a natural fit, although Bedales believes it is precisely the sort of creativity found in artistic environments that provides the best foundations for the most gifted academically.
Bedales will also follow as much as possible the natural journey your child wishes to follow on their own; if, as a parent, you want the best possible approximation to a guarantee of exam results, rather than taking the risk that your child may find his or her self in other spaces, a hot-house school will be the better, if probably less happy, option.
Nothing can take the place of visiting Bedales and enabling your son and daughter to speak with other pupils to take your decision. Whilst Bedales does provide an excellent academic education, this is only about 10% of its overall story. Ultimately, when the fit is right, there is not a better education, in its broadest and best sense, available. Bedales, for many, many children is genuinely, and certainly, that good.
• Perfect school for inquisitive, creative children who question everything
• A curriculum that allows children to feel as well as think
• Probably the best 13-18 progressive school in the world
• A risk for parents fixated on exam performance
• Not for children who cannot follow any rules – the school will expel children
• High fees
• For a co-educational, artistic environment focused on individual children
• Added value and getting the best from children who will not respond to authoritarian education
• Excellent SEND/EAL
• A single sex education
• An academic hot-house
• Those wanting a traditional public school education
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