The Independent has an in-depth report from Bedales which, it says, is recapturing its founding focus of ‘head, hand and heart’ with the innovative new assessment where the pupils learn by doing. This is an extract…
Naveed Khalessi is helping his fellow pupils reach for the stars. The 15-year-old and five classmates are building an observatory at Bedales School from which they will be able to view celestial bodies millions of light years away. They have micro-managed the project from the start, drawing up a business plan that they then used to persuade the parents’ association to give them £10,000 to cover the building work and the cost of a powerful telescope.
“If you have a shoddy telescope, you’re not going to see much with it,” explained Naveed quite reasonably.
The building of the observatory is just one of many enterprises being undertaken by pupils at the £24,000-a-year independent school in Petersfield, Hampshire, as part of the Bedales Assessed Courses that have been devised as an alternative to GCSEs. The pupils are marked for their work on their venture, given a grade from A* to E just as if it were a GCSE, and the work is moderated by external examiners.
Outdoor Work is just one of 10 Bedales Assessed Courses and appears to inspire a great deal of enthusiasm from the pupils. Other projects under way include the restoration of a traditional Romany caravan, the erection of a meditation hut, and the renovation of a dilapidated Land Rover.
As Peter Coates, the teacher in charge of Outdoor Work, observes: “It’s remarkable how enthusiastic they are and how much initiative they show – also how well they get on with other pupils.”
Mr Coates marks his pupils on a number of criteria, including their ability to get on with each other and creative thinking. Academic skills – ie writing about what they have done – does form part of the exercise, but he tends not to place much weight on that because written English can be measured in other subjects…
According to Keith Budge, Bedales’ headmaster, the idea for the school’s own assessment course stemmed from a desire “to recapture the historic role of the school”. It was founded in 1893 by J H Badley, who believed in the importance of involving “head, hand and heart” in education and encourage pupils to have an enquiring mind. “Yet we had a very, very bog-standard curriculum – to use a phrase that has often been used about education,” Mr Budge says. “We set about looking at what we could do – and the proviso was that it shouldn’t be anything that would damage students’ access to top universities.”
…Other independent schools are considering following the Bedales example, but Mr Budge confesses that he has heard many fellow heads mutter that: “Of course, I’d like to do it, but it’s the governing body and the parents – they won’t wear it.”
“Sometimes,” he says, “I think it may be the heads that are being too conservative.”
Do you like the sound of what Bedales is doing with its Assessed Courses? Could something this work in the state sector? Please let us know in the comments or on twitter…