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


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

Reflections of a new teacher at Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

Dunhurst School

When I read an article in the Independent just before I started at Dunhurst – I was struck by how lucky I felt to have escaped a system of education that operated in this way. But ultimately it made me feel sad for the fantastic colleagues I was leaving in that environment, and the wonderful children I taught trapped in this game of numbers. It elevated the high hopes I already had for working here and put into words the feelings that had prompted the move I made.

My Dunhurst experience thus far has been everything I had hoped it would be and more. I came with the expectation that the hard work we dedicate to our profession would be invested much more wisely into benefitting the children in our charge. I have never minded working hard to do the job I love well, but I began to resent the wasted time spent testing, analysing, re testing, discussing, changing numbers to tick boxes, jumping through hoops, and endless bureaucracy that became inherent with teaching. Did it even mean anything if you were producing numbers to keep a faceless inspector happy that progress was being made? I still consider my previous school to be wonderful, and my head teacher was excellent, supported by a brilliant team. However they had to ‘play the game’ in order to keep the wolf from the door.

What has struck me most about this school is how much time is spent actually talking about and working for the children. I have never seen so much directed time set aside for discussing and communicating about the children in the school. It’s amazing and refreshing to be in a place where that is again the priority. Staff meetings feel purposeful as much of the time is spent reviewing children and the day book on a weekly basis. As a result I feel I know the children incredibly well and I know how to help them achieve. The culture of testing I have come from only ever gives you half a picture, and at Dunhurst we have a complete picture. Lessons are interesting here, so children are invested and care about what they learn. It is far healthier to approach learning in a real context then to embrace learning through the parameters of a test based knowledge. And it is apparent when you talk to the children, or see them stand up to do a last minute re-enactment of an opera in assembly with no warning, that they are the better for it.

Vive La Revolution!

Andy Wiggins

Head of Groups English, Dunhurst

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Have you ever wanted to be a detective?

Have you ever wanted to be a detective? Have you ever felt that your opinions could make a difference? Valuing children’s thoughts on their learning experiences can have a dramatic effect on the day to day workings of a school as well as the longer term strategic planning. At Dunhurst where, along with the other two Bedales Schools, the motto is ‘work of each for weal of all’ it seems absolutely natural to involve children in all parts of their education including teaching and learning.

We have ‘Learning Detectives’ at Dunhurst. A group of Year 8 and Year 6 children who meet to set weekly investigations for themselves and discuss feedback from their observations over the previous seven days. You might be surprised at the depth of their thoughts; their summaries of teaching techniques; their insightful comments about the structure of the day and their ability to compare and evaluate different experiences and draw conclusions for timetabling purposes, but at Dunhurst we teach them to discuss and share so the meetings are comfortable, informative and purposeful.

Staff come to the weekly meetings too – these are staff who enjoy being part of a Teaching and Learning Group which promotes innovation and excellence. How does it feel to work with spies in your classroom, pupils who, as part of their role of Learning Detectives, critically observe you doing your job? Staff in the Teaching and Learning Group relish this interaction and the chance to continue their own learning and professional development. Their dialogues with pupils have two-way honesty and respect at the heart of them.

What does it take to make Learning Detectives happen in a school? Give pupils a sense of community achievement and responsibility, treat them with maturity, activate their suggestions and of course, have a pile of chocolate biscuits for meeting times! But you need to look around your school first. Do you see an environment where individuals are valued, where listening is a key skill and where rapport between staff and pupils is second to none? If you do, then take the next step and get your own Learning Detectives on the case!

By Kathy Misson, Director of Teaching and Learning, Bedales Prep, Dunhurst