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

Benefits of Prep School boarding – Colin Baty

Gemma Klein Photography

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!

Gulwali Passarlay visits Dunhurst

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By Simon Kingsley-Pallant, Head of Drama

A young man is speaking to the pupils of Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst. He is 22 years old and his name is Gulwali. He is telling the story of how he came to England from Afghanistan and what happened on that year long journey and the life he has made for himself since.

The date he addresses the school is important too. It’s 20 January 2017, the same day that the most powerful nation on earth inaugurates her 45 President.  As a teacher I am struck by Gulwali’s immense sense of purpose as an advocate for the defenceless, for those displaced by war, and by his humility and humanity. He tells of his early boyhood as a hill shepherd, his extended family and his first time at school. We hear how the fighting began in 2001 and of how Gulwali’s relatives were killed; of how his adored mother sent Gulwali and his brother to Europe, to England, in search of a better, safer life.

The audience listen with rapt attention as Gulwali describes his odyssey through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and onward to Italy and the Jungle in Calais. He tells of the danger, the fear, the setbacks, the heartbreak, but also of his faith and his hope and the determination he has to find his brother. At one point he almost drowns in the Mediterranean, and he tells us five thousand people died that way in 2016.   Four thousand drowned in 2015. There is a pause, the scale of this human catastrophe is hard to comprehend.

Gulwali’s story is one of resilience and hope, of luck and success. He tells it eloquently in his soft spoken and accented English, the fifth of the five languages he speaks. He has co-written a book about his experiences, The Lightless Sky,  where the details are more harrowing, more troubling than he has let on for this younger audience. Rounding off his talk, in which he has stressed the importance of education and implored the pupils to make the most of what they have, he asks them to consider what legacy they would like to leave when they are adult citizens of the world.

As that question is briefly, yet deeply pondered in the silence of our school meeting place, I realise that not once has Gulwali resorted to bitterness, blame or hatred. In his matter-of-fact personal narrative he has only been decent and humane. He has known violence, war, and the extremes of human behaviour, but there is no rancour or revenge in his speech.  How different, how utterly different from the words heard at the same time in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth.

Drop Everything And Read… with dogs!

DEAR reading blog Dunhurst 1Each Monday and Friday the Groups children (and anyone else who wants to join in) have 30 minutes of reading time, known here at Dunhurst as DEAR Time: Drop Everything And Read.

Because of our busy lives, we sometimes forget how important and how lovely it is to find a few minutes in our day for some quiet reading. During the colder months we read in the library, but we are looking forward to when we can read outside in Cobb’s field.

While most children seem to enjoy this period of calm and quiet reading in their day, there are some who no doubt find DEAR Time absolute torture – either because they do not like reading, or perhaps just find it difficult to stay still and quiet for 30 minutes. Research reveals the worrying news that there are millions of children who simply don’t like to read and, more and more, are choosing not to. The challenge for us is to make the reading environment irresistible, and the experience itself delightful and satisfying.

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In the lead up to World Book Day we introduced a new reading programme, DEAR Time with Dogs, which we are very excited about. Research suggests children, especially those who struggle with reading, can be nervous and anxious when reading aloud in class.  Reading to dogs has been proven to help children develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect of the dog’s presence and the fact that the dog will listen to children read without being judgmental or critical. And, we all know what great listeners dogs are!

Here at Dunhurst we are fortunate to have our very own dogs to read to in the familiar surrounds of their owners’ (our teachers) classrooms, and this comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading. Reading is such an important skill which is used in every part of our lives, but reading aloud can be a scary thing if you are a reluctant reader. Like any skill, it needs practice, practice and practice, andDEAR reading blog Dunhurst 2 if reading to Gertie, Vinnie, and their friends Star, Stubbs, Jackson, Dozer and Frazzle can help develop children’s self- confidence and passion for reading while they are still finding their voice, who knows what else we will discover and where this journey will take us.  Aren’t we all lucky to be at a school where this can happen as part of our normal, everyday life?

By Tess Tamvakis, Dunhurst Librarian

Halloween inspires young musicians

Around fifty of our young string players from Dunannie and Dunhurst joined forces to produce a wonderfully creative and chilling Halloween inspired piece of music. Around 15 Dunannie violinists  sent shivers down our spines as they used their instruments to make ghoulishly realistic sounds of chattering teeth and skeleton bones. Dunhurst’s Maisy R and Hector W quickly picked up the melodious tunes of the main refrain, Maisy first on violin and then echoed by Hector on cello. Pupils plucked, scraped and manipulated the strings to make a wide variety of sounds to imitate the atmosphere of Halloween.

Ben Harlan, our Director of Music was ably supported by the peripatetic experts to ensure that all our young musicians were given tips on the best techniques to use, strong bow action and nifty finger work. We were all delighted to see the pupils’ confidence grow as the session progressed. The level of the pupils’ concentration was impressive as they looked to Ben for timing, expression and the right moment to bring the music to a disturbingly sudden halt. We hope very much to have more of these experiences for our pupils as there was clearly a great benefit for our youngest pupils to work alongside older and more experienced musicians. The Dunhurst pupils clearly enjoyed playing with the Dunannians and we look to bring the very best of Bedales student musical talent to these events in the future.

Some of Bedales’ music students are meeting with Dunhurst pupils to give our musicians inspiring additional music sessions. These highly talented Bedalian musicians (some now playing well beyond grade 8) have an innate ability to share their love of music and their skills with their chosen instrument. Over 90% of our Dunhurst pupils play a musical instrument and our orchestras and ensembles continue to grow in number – We can’t wait for the next end of term concert!

By Jane Grubb, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst