Common Entrance – an antiquated way to select

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By Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

Common Entrance, used by many independent schools as a basis for selection, will soon be no more. For some, this represents further evidence of educational dumbing down, with more arts, sports and drama in the school curriculum coming at the expense of rigour.  This will have little effect on what we do at Bedales Prep, Dunhurst: as well as encouraging academic rigour, we already give plenty of time to what are generally perceived as the more creative subjects, sport and working outdoors. However, I have also taught a curriculum designed to prepare pupils for the examination, so I speak from a fairly informed position when I say that the passing of Common Entrance may prove a great opportunity for prep schools.

Teaching for Common Entrance can mean a pretty prescriptive educational diet, and it is sometimes difficult to provide a balanced curriculum. It is hard to squeeze in everything that you need to which, despite one’s best intentions, can be at the expense of enquiry, inquisitiveness and debate – all of which we favour at Dunhurst. Education at that age should be about having fun and developing a love of learning, but at its worst, teaching to Common Entrance can feel more like preparation for GCSE.  I don’t believe that getting children of this age to jump through such hoops is good for them. Evidence around adolescent mental health suggests that we should exercise caution, and I am far from convinced that the prize is worth the tears that I have seen.

Of course, exam stress is mitigated to some extent by senior schools now offering unconditional places based on pupils’ performances in pre-tests. Nonetheless, Common Entrance still seems to me an antiquated way by which to select. I am more comfortable with an admissions process that helps us to learn about each child. In this way, we form a view on how they might contribute to the life of the school, and whether the school, in turn, can give them what they need. Available data and schools talking to each other can help parents and schools alike make good decisions for children’s futures.

I am optimistic about the move away from Common Entrance. It could, and should, encourage schools to depart from the subject/knowledge-based curriculum, and to embrace project and cross-curricular approaches that are much better attuned to modern working orthodoxies. And I hope it also gives schools licence to keep what happens in their classrooms current. In my school, our own Global Awareness programme gives us the scope to teach in a way that properly accommodates climate change and related activism such as that demonstrated by Greta Thunberg. We owe it to our pupils to allow them to discuss what is happening in their world now, so that their education feels vital and real, and so that they might become the active citizens of the future (as well as academic high achievers, of course). It is life, and not just exams, for which schools must prepare our children.

Pupil Power – Colin Baty reflects on recent US events

In a blog for the Independent Schools’ Council, Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, reflects on how teachers might make sense of their responsibilities to the young people in their care following the shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Were his staff required to carry guns, as has been proposed for teachers in the US, Colin says the game would be lost. Might it be the principal duty of educators, then, to help students to understand the political and institutional structures within which such issues are voiced and resolved?

The difficulty with this, he says, is that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students don’t appear to need anything much explaining to them by adults. He says: “The students’ organisation and mastery of media – both conventional and social – has been total, relentless and highly strategic. Is there is a politics teacher anywhere who would now presume to tell those students that he or she knows better when it comes to the exercise of power?”

Instead, he says, we need a school educational ethos and way of doing things that allows us to pick up on topics such as this one when they arise. Curricula must be flexible, adaptable, and high on student input. It must be mindful of the hopes, fears and interests of students, and it must never, ever presume to think that adults and institutions know best.

He concludes: “We must remember that the world is waiting for, and needs, our students at their very best. No less importantly, we must have our students’ backs – to protect them as they work out how to make their worlds, and not simply to maintain the one that we have handed to them”.

To read the full article, click here.

ISC | Colin Baty

Comparing the English education system

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An article in School House magazine discusses the pressures on British school children caused by competition for places and excessive tutoring, whilst recognising the ‘soft skills’ and abilities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) of independent school pupils. Comparisons are made with the gentler more holistic approaches of Scandinavia and Germany.

In the article, Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, expresses concern about the anxiety caused in young people as young as six from the 11-plus and Common Entrance exams. He also comments on a “national curriculum and associated qualification regime which is increasingly prescriptive, dull, narrow and inadequate for any education that seeks to help young people question, challenge and make mistakes as they become enthusiastic and independent learners.” He goes on to describe the approach at Bedales Prep, such as using first-name terms between teacher and pupil, and the lack of a school uniform: “These are symptoms of an ethos that values the individual.”

To read the full article, click here, with thanks to School House magazine.

School House | Colin Baty

Colin Baty goes behind the scenes

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In an article for Independent School Parent, Dunhurst Head Colin Baty recounts his experience of pupil shadowing in order to better understand the ethos of the school and the experience of his pupils.

Colin took up his appointment as Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst in the Autumn term of 2017, having previously been a teacher at the school. He says: “The school didn’t want a head who was content to simply occupy his or her office, and that was more than fine by me.”

In order to properly reacquaint himself with the school, Colin decided to shadow his pupils every Monday for a whole half term. Each week he would join a different year group as one of the pupils, attending all of their classes, enjoying break times and everything else that they did. He came away with a number of impressions – notably that the demands on the children are significant and they get a lot out of it, and that pupils are incredibly kind, thoughtful and accommodating.

Colin was also struck by how incredibly receptive are Dunhurst pupils to learning, and how extraordinary is the learning environment. He says: “The lessons are varied and fun, and the ways in which our teachers involve our pupils is exemplary. I like to think that I’m a good teacher, but I came away from my pupil shadowing experience in no doubt that I have plenty to learn from members of our staff. I also picked up plenty from my fellow pupils, who were generous in sharing their brilliant ideas.”

Pupil shadowing confirmed for Colin that any newcomer can expect to be very well looked after by both school and pupils. He says: “I’m delighted that the school that I lead is one that I would like to have attended as a child. The experience has been as instructive as it has been fun, and I’m going to do it again. Now that I think about it, I’d rather like to do it every day!”

The full article is available online here, with thanks to Independent School Parent magazine.

Independent School Parent | Colin Baty | Dunhurst Pupil Life | Distinctively Dunhurst film

Benefits of Prep School boarding – Colin Baty

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In an editorial piece for the Autumn/Winter 2017 edition of Absolutely Education Prep and Pre-prep magazine, Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, explains that boarding can be a daunting prospect to those who have not experienced it before, which is where boarding for prep school children really comes into its own.

Boarding at senior level brings with it routines and expectations. Boarders must be able to get along with others – both their peers and staff – and to learn to use the freedoms that boarding grants them with responsibility. This requires them to try things, to make mistakes, and to learn from their experiences.

_DSC4249Midres cropColin says: “At Bedales we are great advocates of the benefits of boarding – it helps young people to develop resilience and learn how to get along with others, and to take full advantage of what is available to them at school outside the classroom. It can also be great fun.”

Each school has its own ethos and personality, and Colin advises all parents to make this a major consideration in any choice they make with regard to boarding. He concludes: “Bedales’ aim in the way it approaches the pastoral care of pupils is to try to create a family – it is the relationships between staff and pupils, and between pupils themselves, which contribute to this atmosphere. It is my experience that boarding pupils grow into being very socially adept individuals, who look after each other and thrive academically.”

The full article can be read here, scrolling to page 63.

Absolutely Education | Colin Baty | Dunhurst boarding

Should parents help children with homework?

Lib-40 (Large)The Director of Teaching and Learning at Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, Andy Wiggins, is quoted extensively in an article on the subject of parental help with homework, published recently in The Telegraph. Is it best to let youngsters get on with it alone, asks the author, or should you sit on their shoulder, chipping in as necessary?

Andy observes that parents have a role to play – as the ‘warden’, providing subtle and not so subtle nudges, depending on the child, or as the ignorant questioner innocently probing for information to get the cogs of the brain whirring. However, he is adamant that parents must never be teacher. “That is what children go to school for”, he says. “Leave the teaching to us.” He explains that homework has three purposes – consolidating or extending the learning that has already taken place in class, giving learners the opportunity to explore or enhance their independence, and as an exercise in applying skills and mastering the discipline of managing workload and deadlines.

He explains: “There is a set limit to homework time, and if a child cannot complete their work in that time (give or take 10 minutes) then they should stop. I want to see an accurate reflection of the child’s work. If it is incomplete despite the best working conditions and optimal effort, then the failing is mine in the setting of the work.”

He concludes: “A parent over-teaching what the child supposedly knows in order to complete a homework task is a sign that the child has deep misunderstandings. As professionals, it is up to teachers to unpick this and explore new avenues for that learner – it is what we are trained to do, and the very core of our job.”

The full article can be read on the Telegraph website.

Telegraph | Andy Wiggins | Approach to learning at Dunhurst

Pupils inspired by Edward Thomas

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The centenary of the death of poet, Edward Thomas, who was killed in France at the Battle of Arras on April 9, 1917 is being marked by Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst and Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie.

Exhibitions showcasing pupils’ work and inspired by the poet’s life, are being held from 8-22 May at various locations throughout Petersfield.

25-04-2017 114717Collaboration between the two schools and departments within the schools has been key with art, ceramics and poetry being produced.

The Petersfield Museum and Petersfield Library will house poetry from Block 1 (Year 7, ages 11-12) – written responses to Thomas’ own works, as well as paintings, prints and ceramic tiles inspired by his words and the landscape he knew so well. The Fork Handles Kitchen will showcase work from the departments of Textiles and Outdoor Work as well as sculpture.

Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie will be exhibiting their work at One Tree Books. Teacher of Art at Dunannie, Jacqui Uttley said: “We will be hanging a selection of textured panels inspired by the words of Thomas’ poem The Lane.  The children have really enjoyed working together to create colourful, country scenes using a variety of crafts.”

IMG_2609Head of Art at Dunhurst, Susan McFarlane said: “As a school community, we are very lucky to have such talented artists and writers; pupils from age 3 up to 12 have contributed and it is an amazing opportunity to showcase their work. Each pupil has worked hard to really connect with the work of Edward Thomas and we’d encourage visitors to the town to come and have a look. ‘Art in shops’ is a relatively new phenomenon, and really helps create a sense of community and identity. I would like to invite shops and schools to help make this an annual exhibition in Petersfield.”

Pupils are hoping for a good turn-out to view their work, Eliza, 12 said “I’m really excited to see my work, it’s great to have an exhibition in Petersfield. I hope lots of people go and see it”

Find out more about ‘Art in Shops’ by contacting Susan McFarlane: smcfarlane@bedales.org.uk

There is a more permanent local commemoration to Edward Thomas, who lived in Steep before enlisting in the Army, at The Poet’s Stone on the hillside at Ashford Hangers.

View a sample of art from Dunhurst, below.

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