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

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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

Fashion Show – It’s a Jungle Out There!

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By Jake Scott

mg_6974The Bedales Sixth Form put on a fashion show in November, and I was invited to go along.  Even though I’ve been to a professional fashion show before, this was amazing to see it done at a school.  It inspired me to put on a fashion show at Dunhurst.  The question was, would I be allowed to do this?  How would I go about it….and would anyone be interested in being involved?

After I’d seen the sixth form show, I went back to school and asked Simon (my housemaster) if I could run a fashion show and he was enthusiastic and willing to help.  As he runs the school plays, this was a huge advantage – he knows how to put on a show!

I planned to announce it in assembly, but I had to work out what I was announcing and what I wanted from the students.  I had some clothes that I had designed and made from scratch, and so had a couple of other people.  However, I knew that this wasn’t enough so we needed to work out how to include more.  I thought of the textiles club and thought there may be some items from that, and lots of people were generally interested in fashion, so maybe we could create something.  I hoped there would be enough between all of us to pull something together.

So I worked out what areas I would need help with. In assembly I announced that I was going to be doing a fashion show and asked for helpers backstage, models, people who had made clothes and prop/set makers. I was amazed at how many people came to speak to me afterwards.  In my notebook, I wrote down their names in the areas they would help with.  It was wonderful that so many people were interested and even excited at this early stage – I felt that I could really do this!

The main challenge to begin with was getting the clothes that people had made – some people said they had made stuff but it never turned up.  It felt at the beginning that we wouldn’t have enough clothes to make a show, but then Simon came up with the idea of putting outfits together from our costume department (wardrobe).  This was a great idea, and wardrobe went one step further by giving us clothes that wouldn’t be used in the future and said we could do whatever we wanted with them, to give them a new life.  What was great was that there were people interested in doing this who had never done anything with clothes before, and it was fun to introduce them to up-cycling and help them with developing their sewing skills.

Once I knew that we were on track I had to work out a date and a venue. Luckily the week after half term was the year 4-6 play and so we had the idea to use their set and adapt it.  It was a Greek set with pillars and statues.  My idea was to turn it into an overgrown civilisation….this is where the theme of ‘the jungle’ came from.

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Our Australian Gap student, Mae, had experience of working at a fashion show so she was a great help, setting out various things I would need to consider.  She also helped create a mood board for me and the upcyclers to use for upcycling from wardrobe, and lots of other organisational things to think about…lighting…sound…staging…running order…etc!

As we got closer to the date, we needed to make sure parents were invited and students were aware it was happening – we needed an audience!  That involved sending out invites, putting up posters around the school (that Mae designed) and arranging catering for refreshments.  I also was keen to make it an event that would benefit a charity, and I have done fundraising for Christopher’s Smile before and I’m passionate about continuing to do this, so I nominated them as the charity.

We were really on a roll now!  And every day I had new ideas for the fashion show, so it was an on-going creative project.

In order to have as many garments as possible, the textiles club upcylcled men’s shirts by stencilling and embroidering on them, and generally adapting them.  Every Wednesday afternoon the upcyclers would meet in the textiles department to work on their creations from wardrobe – even the English teacher and art technician made garments! The other set of clothes we had were dresses that I had designed and made, and dresses that a year 7 student had designed and made – we have both been passionate about fashion for years and love to design and make clothes.  He and I have frequently met to discuss fashion, and he was very involved in the show, upcylcing from wardrobe and modelling too.  I hope that I’ve started a tradition in my final year of putting on a fashion show, and that he will carry it on.

What makes a fashion show successful?  Not only the clothes…music, lighting, models and the catwalk.

img_4924-cropIn my spare time, I would search music and listen to different genres to see what might go well with the Jungle theme.  I considered traditional club music that would normally go with a fashion show, I thought about rock (which I love), but in the end I decided to introduce African Drums (the jungle theme!) in between some modern club tracks.

You also need to have intro music whilst people are taking their seats.  Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and thought this would be welcoming without being overwhelming.

Once we had the foundations of the show in place, I had to think about the detail.  The first thing I had to do was assign garments to models and check they fitted.  Mae helped with this.  We had all the finished garments on a rack and we labelled up the hangers with the model’s name.  Each model had two or three outfits.

I then thought about how to present the clothes during the show, and worked out that having ‘collections’ would work the best.  So I grouped together the shirts from textiles club, the homemade garments, the dresses by me and the year 7 fashion designer, and finally the upcycled wardrobe garments.  I thought that during the show, between these sections, I would introduce the next lot of clothes to give context to the show and time for the models to get changed. One thing we had to keep in mind was that we had to order these so that it flowed nicely and the models had enough time to get changed backstage. Mae did this.

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The running order is crucial so this means making sure that all the garments are in the right section and labelled with their order, and that models will be on the catwalk at the right time having had enough time to change backstage. This is where the backstage crew come in.  They had to be extra organised in getting the models lined up backstage (there was a boys and girls changing room).  We had to have people by each door ready to send the next model on in the right order.  Quite a lot to think about!

img_4858I had been really organised, writing lists of things I had to do or ask for help with each week, ticking them off as I went.  I was surprised at generally how calm I was….until the week of the show, when I had a mini meltdown on the Monday night!  I guess this was to be expected, but in the end I knew that the show would go on, and if there were some blips, it wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things…

The week of the show! The years 4-6 play had finished and the set was eagerly waiting to be made into a jungle…I briefed the prop and set makers with what I needed them to do.  We went to the prop cupboard and got anything to do with jungles…camo nets, leaves, branches, ferns, flowers, etc, and set about transforming the area.  I had done a diagram of the catwalk, that I showed the set team. The idea was to put two pillars either side of the centre stage, near the audience, which created a space for the models to walk to and do a pose/twirl. We also got Facilities to hang up a HUGE camo net along the back wall to form a backdrop onto which we put up the wording ‘It’s a jungle out there’ in ransom-note-style multi coloured paper. This title was an homage to Alexander McQueen as his first show as head of Givenchy was named the same.

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The day before the show, during clubs time, I asked all the models and some of the back stage crew to come for an initial rehearsal.  We ran through the pace at which they would walk (slow pace to fast music) and the route on the catwalk.  There were complaints about the slow walk – the models thought it might not work, but I was insistent because I knew it would be powerful and graceful.  Some of the models weren’t there due to dance rehearsals which made it difficult because they had missed out on the instructions. Luckily it was easy for them to catch on to it the next day.

img_4928On the day of the show, which was to be at 6pm, we finalised the running order.  We added some last minute garments that we hadn’t had the day before. We had time in the afternoon for a tech run through, which included sorting out the lights and music.

And finally we had all the models together for a dress rehearsal, with lights and music.

At this point I had to look at the detail.  We fine-tuned the running order, and made sure models were aware that they had to go completely barefoot (no socks or leggings) unless instructed to.  We made sure that bra straps weren’t visible and that they made good poses. I got the models together at various times during the afternoon to remind them of various things like this.

makeupThe other thing that we had done was to make crowns, which I thought would look good with the hair and makeup that Mae had proposed.  However, during rehearsals the crowns weren’t working.

At the last minute, just before the show was to go on, I decided that they weren’t needed and might distract from or clash with the garments so I decided to call off the crowns.

The makeup was tricky to apply, and we had some panics backstage just before the show, getting lots of people to help!  And it didn’t help that we ran out of hairspray and hair gel….but now I’ve learnt that I will need to check these details next time!

Another theme that emerged – and I think we tackled it successfully – was gender neutral dressing.  We had boys in girls’ clothes and vice versa.  This didn’t raise an eyebrow amongst the young or the old in the audience, which I thought was wonderful.

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On the night, the show went really well and we all had lots of fun. It was great because we had time to do it twice.  I think that some people were surprised at the decision to do it again, but the models relaxed and enjoyed the second time more, and the audience were able to see the clothes again. I don’t think it would have been the same show if we hadn’t done that.

The sixth formers whose show had inspired me came and really enjoyed it, and I got lots of really positive feedback. There were over 40 students involved in pulling this together, which was great.  I think that people were impressed and surprised by what they saw, as they weren’t expecting it to be such a big event.  I was also delighted to raise £69.07 for Christopher’s Smile!

Dunhurst brings Norse myths to Steep stage

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Pupils at Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst brought the Norse myths to life last week in a dynamic and compelling refashioning of the ancient stories for the stage. Burning Ice, Biting Flame told the story of how the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil (the Great Ash Tree of Norse cosmology) are tricked into self-destruction by the god Loki. Desiring revenge for the maltreatment of his hideous family, Loki creates havoc and plays each world off against the other which culminates in Ragnarok – the end of the world.

Pupils in Blocks 1 and 2 (year 7 & 8) worked incredibly hard to bring this production to the stage with everyone working over the weekend to prepare for the final performances. They were set to work acting, rehearsing with the band, prop making, and organising back stage – the pupils were involved in every aspect of the production. They also had free reign to develop their on stage characters and add in lines they thought would work.

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Head of Drama at Dunhurst Simon Kingsley-Pallant, who wrote the play, said: “Following on from the success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we wanted to do something a little different and to make it more unusual. The stories are very potent, full of vitality and adventure. And really, they should be much better known than they are.  Essentially the gods are a highly dysfunctional extended family, always bickering and competing with one another, sometimes with lethal results, and the cast thoroughly enjoyed playing these powerful yet flawed beings.”

With a beautifully created set by Susan Macfarlane, Head of Art at Dunhurst, depicting the Nine Worlds, the production was soundscaped by Ben Harlan and the band. Much of the music was improvised with voice, harp, drums, synths, bottles, cans, and crackling plastic to create some wonderful sound effects.  Rosie Nash choreographed the dances, two of which were epic – the Creation of Yggdrasil and the Binding of Loki, all contributing to a memorable and enthralling production.

*Photos by John-Paul Bland; to view the full gallery on the photographer’s site, click here and enter the password which can be found in your emailed version of the Saturday Bulletin 1 October 2016. Any purchase of image downloads from this gallery will benefit the John Badley Foundation which offers financial support through bursaries, giving more young people a chance to benefit from the transformational opportunity a Bedales education can provide.

Bremen and its new visitors

By Ben Harlan, Director of Music, Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

This morning, in assembly, I read a letter to the children. This letter is from my good friend Alexander Baillie who played his cello for us here at Dunhurst last year, and is the Professor of Cello at Bremen’s University of the Arts. He is writing about his first hand experiences of the influx of Syrian refugees.  Here are some extracts from his letter…

“Our Legoland city has doubled in size suddenly; this is the effect of the arrival of thousands of refugees, it is really noticeably different. There is a busy throng of people everywhere, these are the newcomers.

Yes, I know…..we are all still trying to work out what to call them. Perhaps visitors, immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, Syrians? Let’s stick with ‘PEOPLE’ as a safe all round description of them! Remember “Je suis Charlie Hebdo?” That translates in Bremen to “I am a recently arrived Syrian“, surprise, surprise, they are just like us!

The conditions in Bremen are especially easy. There was a big university complex in the north of the city with lots of vacant rooms and easily (relatively easily adapted) facilities. Otherwise there are tent areas. These ‘tents’ are more like semi-permanent mobile homes.

Games and activities for the kids are fantastically well organised – and by kids, it is a group from aged 3-18! Toys and helpers are plenty. Food does not seem to be a problem.

The biggest issue is language. Any ideas how to make German easier to learn will be warmly appreciated? I am working on my own idea of learning it through singing. Two tasks at once, helping the words go in through musical shapes and pick up some famous tunes at the same time.

There were never crowds in downtown Bremen, but now, it looks like Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday afternoon. They are walking around in groups, a curious mixture of a little bit careful and slowly but at the same time relaxed, they stick quite closely together, and smile a lot. When one speaks to them they answer in fluent but basic English and it’s not long before one of the youngsters says “Thank you Deutschland!“ 

Well, the German government too is wondering exactly what is now promised. The basic gesture of welcoming them was a historic one and Frau Merkel (who must surely be due for a Nobel peace prize?) has opened up a side of Germany which I had not seen like this before: incredible unanimous public generosity of spirit and warmth, and there is a huge tax surplus to pay for it, so – no problem!

German bureaucratic efficiency is stretched now to the maximum, processing them all is hard work and they are short of officers to do it all up to acceptable legal standard – especially since the laws are being changed every few days, it seems.

For the moment everything is okay. The minister in charge I just heard on the radio in the ‘Interview of the Week’ and she is completely confident that the problems can all be solved. Worrying is the sound of the fences going up elsewhere in Europe.”