Learning by doing: Bedales schools raise the bar with unique education
An article in Hampshire Life explores the origins of Bedales, and Jo Webbern explains how pre-prep school Dunnanie teaches vital life skills through the fostering of creativity, individuality and contact with the natural world.
Bedales was established in 1893 by founder John Haden Badley as a humane alternative to the authoritarian regimes of late-Victorian public schools. Badley believed that children should be encouraged to be curious and spontaneous, and be allowed to flourish independently and guided only when necessary. Learning should be an active, meaningful and purposeful experience.
Accordingly, Dunannie puts an emphasis on children making real, healthy, independent choices without being bound to a strict text. For instance, a lesson might involve children wandering the 120 acres of parkland at the Bedales estate, looking at vegetation, the farm, animals, seeing changes in the environment with their own eyes, and taking their own cameras and documenting what they have found.
Pupils are also encouraged to engage with the local community and wider national and international matters. At harvest time pupils support food banks and deliver goods to care homes. As children grow older and continue up the school, such involvement can continue and get deeper.
Dunannie sets a high bar when it comes to preparing its pupils for the real world – for example, the development of skills in English and Science . “We remember we are teaching children,” says Jo. “Of course their learning, development and subsequent progression is at the core of everything we do, but it is also crucial to maintain a sense of childhood.”
She continues: “We believe that minds – especially children’s minds – are inspired by more than just being told about things. They must experience things for themselves and engage the senses – the head, the hand and the heart.”