What does real-world, non-exam-based learning look like?

Academic & Curriculum, Bedales Senior

In an article for The Telegraph, Bedales Director of Learning and Innovation, Alistair McConville explains how a new academic experience at Bedales, built around global concerns, offers a way past the weaknesses of the prevailing ‘exam only’ approach.

Calls for systemic reform to the education system have proliferated since lockdown began, with MPs, educationalists and exam boards all questioning the status quo. Sceptics ask what the alternative might look like, and in response Alistair argues that it is entirely possible to construct learning experiences which are relevant, morally compelling, multi-faceted, knowledge rich, and which develop the sorts of skills pupils will need in the future.

Building on the work of pioneering schools like High Tech High in San Diego and the XP School in Doncaster in building learning around pressing local and global concerns, Bedales has introduced ‘real world’ project work for Block 3 (year 9) pupils.

One such project deepens an existing relationship with local charity the Rural Refugee Network (RRN), which supports arriving Syrian families in finding accommodation, education, and employment. Alistair says: “We have raised funds for them in the past, but I was struck by how little pupils knew about the very issues they were happy to devote time to. So we constructed a course exploring the origins of the refugee crisis, the process of seeking refugee status and the refugee experience in the UK – and always with the subtext ‘how might we respond?’ in mind.”  

This is no dry academic experience. Pupils produce conventional written work, and explore avenues of their choosing which they present to their peers. Constructively, they critique one another’s work. The project has benefitted from the involvement of the CEO and founder of the RRN, a Palestinian refugee who lives in the community, and the two directors of a short film about a Syrian refugee boy and his mother which has become the focus of the project’s culmination. Besides fundraising, students have written film reviews for publicity, contacted local radio for a promotional interview, set a ticket price and whipped up support.

Alistair concludes: “This is just one of the projects we are running this year as part of our attempt to deliver a more engaging, relevant experience for our young people, developing, we hope, not only a greater sense of moral purpose, but also skills of teamwork, presentation and project management. This is the sort of experience that all young people should have as they prepare to tackle the considerable global challenges they will inherit from our generation.”

The full article can be read on The Telegraph website here (subscription may be required).

Telegraph Education | Alistair McConville | Rural Refugee Network | Block 3 curriculum