The Bedales alternative to GCSEs

As a group of educators, we wanted to introduce a curriculum that mirrored our ethos and suited our students. Looking at the experience of our students during the GCSE years, we decided we could do better. 

All too often, a large number of excessively prescriptive GCSE syllabuses squeezed out opportunity for appropriate, imaginative and challenging work with particular groups and individuals, and they placed too much emphasis on terminal written exams. Coursework, potentially such a rich tool for developing independent learning skills, was tied to laborious mark schemes.

As we explored possibilities, we consulted closely with parents and universities, as we were determined that our new courses should only enhance our students’ prospects in applying to university. We decided that the best course was to pursue reform in a measured way, retaining the ‘core’ GCSEs but supplementing them with a varied menu of internally and externally assessed courses.

Although Bedales students will, like their peers elsewhere, sit public exams at school, they will find themselves extended beyond the confines of GCSE, whilst not being pressed into the examinations treadmill. Instead, they will be working with material that is specifically designed to promote our central educational aim, “to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought”.

A Unique Curriculum

Our curriculum is built around a group of five compulsory subjects – GCSE in a Modern Language, plus IGCSEs (International GCSEs) in English Language, Mathematics and Science (Double or Triple Award).* This ensures both that the full range of core skills is covered and also that the minimum requirement for much of higher education is met. These five are the only GCSEs/IGCSEs required.

The only other compulsory courses are Sport and 'Block Time'. Students then choose from a considerable range of Bedales Assessed Courses and other GCSEs or externally examined subjects.

Since we aim to develop a broad range of skills through the delivery of BACs, internal assessment includes a mixture of written assignments, presentations, projects and performances, together with terminal examinations as appropriate. Each course is externally moderated.

More information on the structure of the curriculum

* The IGCSE curriculum is more demanding than the standard GCSE. The Double Award includes the three subjects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology and is a good foundation for any combination of them at A Level. A small number of students take Triple Award Science.

The University Perspective

Bedales students have a reputation with universities for their independence of mind and have frequently offered unusual academic and personal profiles in their applications for courses. In designing the new curriculum, we wanted to maintain and enhance these factors.

Now that several cohorts of Bedales leavers have received their offers from UK Universities, the universities' support for BACs is clear, and shows how successful communications have been by the school and UCAS.