Educating character at Bedales

Posted on 26th November 2019

In an article for a special issue of the Eton Journal for Innovation and Research in Education, Alistair McConville, Bedales Director of Learning and Innovation, explores how the idea of character education has been understood at Bedales – from the school’s inception to the present day.

He explains that the school has a strong non-conformist heritage, which has influenced its attitude to character. The school’s founder, John Badley, encouraged in students an attitude of positive co-operation in contrast to the hierarchies and appetite for competition found in other schools at that time. One school motto – ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’ – codifies this impulse. The school’s other motto – ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ – implies a faith in holistic educational development, with physical, mental and ethical realms given equal priority.

The school grew up with close links to both the Fabian Society and the Arts and Crafts movement, with the attendant biases towards communitarianism and aesthetics. The school   continues to be known for the informality of relationships between teachers and students, and for its focus on the ’appreciation of the beautiful’ – once the only formal educational objective of the school, and still very important. More recent articulations of purpose speak of ‘independent thinkers’ with a ‘love of learning’ and who ‘cherish independent thought’.

In recent times, the school has paid attention to evidence-informed work around character and, tentatively, is aligning itself with the language of the Round Square network. This group of 200 schools from around the world has developed a shared framework for talking about character education. Besides articulating desirable skills and traits, the network has enshrined as ideals Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service. Alistair concludes: “These are very much about attitudes and dispositions of character, and as a framework for structuring our core activities as a school, we think they will crystallise and enhance the language and clarity of purpose around some of the work that we already do.”

The full article can be read here (scroll to page 40).

The Bedales Difference | Alistair McConville | Round Square | Eton Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning