Meet the Head of Bedales Pre-prep School

Posted on 15th October 2015

Jo Webbern, Head of Bedales Pre-prep School Dunannie, is the subject of a profile in Baby Hampshire magazine (Meet the Head, July/Aug 2015, with thanks to Baby Hampshire for permission to publish).

Jo Webbern joined in the summer term of 2010, having known the school for many years and harboured the idea of one day becoming head. On taking up her post she was struck by the transparency, creativity and mutual respect that characterised life at Dunannie. She explains that the founder of Bedales, JH Badley, believed that children should be educated through ‘Head, Hand and Heart’. Accordingly, from an early age children are encouraged to develop inquisitive and enquiring minds, in an environment that fosters their imagination and creative abilities. She says: “We want pupils to acquire transferable skills for the future, and for them to learn through doing in an enriching and challenging curriculum.”  

Bedales was founded in 1893 as a humane alternative to late Victorian schools, with the school’s founding motto – ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’ – still highly relevant today.  The school became co-educational in 1899 when it moved from a rented house in Haywards Heath to its current location in Steep, Hampshire. Located in the South Downs National Park, the Bedales estate comprises 120 acres of farmland, woods, orchards, playing fields and a lake.

The Bedales Prep School (Dunhurst) was opened in 1905, with Dunannie opening in October 1953 in a handsome Georgian house close to the present site. Its first head, Miss Sophie Tatchell, was Froebel-trained and her philosophy lives on today. The school has changed considerably since it was built, with a new library and extended classrooms.

Jo Webbern describes teacher-pupil ratios as “excellent”, allowing the school to ensure the full development of each child. Parents are warmly welcomed at school, with staff able to develop strong relationships that form the basis for the emotional, physical and academic development of each child.

The children also play a part in how the school is run, with the oldest children ensuring that playtimes are happy for everyone with their ‘helping hands’ approach. Jo Webbern explains: “Groups of children come and talk to me about occasional concerns, but mostly initiatives and ideas. Our parent surveys are positive and encouraging, but the most useful feedback is that of the daily dialogue we have with our parents.”

Jo Webbern describes her time at Dunannie as the happiest and most fulfilling time of her teaching career. She concludes: “To be surrounded by dedicated, inspirational teachers is a privilege, and together with our parents we work hard to fulfil each child’s potential. Dunannie is a school where my beliefs in how best a young child should learn are demonstrated, and where the foundations of a child’s education are built.” 

Baby Hampshire magazine also features an article on the Dunannie philosophy. Profile of Jo Webbern.