Bedales’ innovative curriculum

Posted on 27th March 2017

The Boarding Schools Association (BSA) has published a comprehensive Guide to UK Boarding Schools which includes an article by Keith Budge describing the innovative Bedales middle years’ curriculum.

In the guide’s foreword, Leo Winkley, former Bedales Deputy and now headmaster of St Peter’s School, York, describes the choice for parents and children as “broad and flexible as is the distinctive variety and nature of the boarding sector.” The guide covers all aspects of boarding education, including funding, selecting a school, academic success, co-curricular opportunities, specialist schools and sixth form choices. The full range of boarding options is also covered.

Keith’s article explains that a decade ago Bedales stopped offering non-core GCSEs and replaced them with Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) – written and assessed by teachers, with external moderation. Students choose from a wide range of courses including history, geography, drama, art, design, classical music, ancient civilisations, philosophy, religion and ethics and the more practical ‘outdoor work’. A new BAC in Global Awareness was also introduced this year.

Keith asks why government doesn’t celebrate and build upon such examples, given the apparent appetite for creativity and innovation in its support for academies and free schools. Instead Bedales finds its non-national curriculum qualification results omitted from league tables, despite support from universities and UCAS.

One possible reason for this is that the idea of an alternative curriculum is commonly conflated with education for young people who have rejected conventional schooling. Alternative programmes can successfully re-engage disaffected young people, with the creation of a supportive school context and encouragement and acknowledgement of student achievement key. Typically, young people will be given choice and responsibility, and their learning individualised.

The approach seems to work, and Keith doesn’t understand why policy makers turn to it only as a last resort. He says: “Most innovators in the independent sector will tell you that this is in line with their aspirations for all their students.”

A possible explanation is the time factor. Keith explains: “Whereas the grant-maintained school day is usually seven hours long and mainly limited to the academic curriculum, the independent sector day is typically around two hours longer, also with Saturday morning school and sports matches on Saturdays – overall, around an additional 40%. It is this additional time that allows us to take our foot off the formal academic gas – slowing things down a little is an educational essential, and this understanding perhaps makes unlikely bedfellows of the more innovative independent schools and those teaching ‘remedial’ version alternative curriculums in the state sector.

BSA Guide to UK Boarding Schools | Bedales Assessed Courses | Keith Budge  | Keith’s blog