"Why we created Bedales Assessed Courses" - Keith Budge in School House Magazine

Posted on 15th February 2016

In the recently published Spring/Summer issue of School House magazine, Bedales Headmaster Keith Budge explains why the school introduced Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) to replace some non-core GCSEs.

He points to increasing concern about wellbeing amongst young people, and a growing awareness that the provision of schools in this regard is crucial. Of particular importance, he suggests, is the finding in a recent report from think-tank Demos that as young people reach their final year of school they are increasingly likely to report exam stress, believing that their school is interested only in results at the expense of their wider education. Keith Budge says: “To its credit, the Government is alert to this issue. However, I am concerned that the wellbeing of students tends to be seen as a discrete part of school life, separate from the issues of curriculum, learning orthodoxies and assessment.”

At Bedales, the overriding objective is “to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought” and “to enable students’ talents to develop through doing and making”.

Inspired by this mission, Keith Budge explains that the school became increasingly frustrated with GCSEs as dull, narrow and counter-intuitive to its purpose and, in 2006, launched BACs to replace some non-core GCSEs. Designed by Bedales teachers, BACs give students a say over the books they study, mainly involve coursework as opposed to exams and focus on the arts and humanities. They offer increased depth, more stimulating material, more active learning, less prescriptive syllabuses and a wider range of assessment methods.

Keith Budge explains: “We have been more than pleased with the results. Universities have been keen to accept BACs and Bedales is the first school to be recognised by UCAS as offering its own GCSE-alternative qualification. No less importantly, a research programme conducted in partnership with Harvard researchers confirms that BACs serve our educational aims very well indeed. The collaborative approach to learning that underpins them, characterised by students exercising significant decision-making power, results in effective learning. It enhances motivation, independence and inquisitiveness, with choice over study linked to a sense of ownership, competence and engagement.”

Since 2013, students have been able to choose options that do not include any GCSEs, but instead a combination of BACs and IGCSEs. The school continues to innovate and, in 2016, will launch a new BAC in Global Awareness.

However, Keith Budge is less pleased with the government’s overhaul of GCSE league tables, which means that some qualifications and combinations of qualifications at Key Stage 4 are not included. Consequently, some high-achieving schools have seen their results drop, which he believes has made the tables nonsensical and confusing for parents. This, he suggests, sends out a worrying message about the value placed by the government on alternative educational arrangements, and must be revisited.

He says: “Ultimately, I feel conflicted – satisfied that at Bedales we jumped ship when we did, whilst sincerely wishing we had never come to feel it necessary. I would much prefer that we felt able to participate in a shared education system that could work for all. Schools must aim higher than simply preparing young people for the career-driven, stress-laden treadmill of a particular version of adult life. Giving young people the wherewithal to work out what it means for them to live well, whilst never forgetting that work is of course a hugely important component of this, seems to me to be a more suitable aim.”


With thanks to School House Magazine for permission to publish the pdf of this article, which was first published online on the School House Magazine website.

More information about Bedales Assessed Courses.