Oscar Wilde experience for 6.1 English students

Following last month’s John Keats experience day for 6.2 students, it was the turn of 6.1 English Literature students to be transported back in time on Monday as they marked the end of their study of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by taking part in an experience day designed to cement their understanding of the play.

One of Wilde’s most renowned comedies, The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of two bachelors and friends, John ‘Jack’ Worthing and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their everyday lives and win the hearts of two women who claim they are only able to love men called Ernest. As the play progresses and the pair struggle to keep up with their yarns, they become embroiled in a tale of duplicity that ridicules the sensibilities of the Victorian era in which it is set.

In preparation for the day, students were asked to research the costume of the era and enlist the help of Joanne Greenwood in the Drama department to find suitable clothing to wear for the experience. They then took part in a range of practical exercises, organised by Head of English David Anson and English teacher Julia Bevan to bring the play to life and add another dimension to their study.

Exercises included making cucumber sandwiches, which fans of the play will recall Algy devours throughout, as well as toasting and buttering tea cakes and bread; writing and leaving ‘calling cards’ from one character to another; identifying a selection of items from the Victorian era, including a fish knife and cake fork; and sitting down in their costumes, including gloves and hats, to drink from cups and saucers and tuck into the spread they had prepared and brought along.

In an exercise which met all three of the A Level assessment objectives, students were also asked to identify quotations from the play that relate to food and write them on cardboard slices of cucumber, which they placed on cardboard slices of bread along with the relevant context, before coming up with a line of argument to fit the quote and writing it on cardboard plates.

Finally, the group listened to a short lecture Julia delivered on Wilde’s use of food in The Importance of Being Earnest. Used as a symbol of excess or overindulgence, Julia and David agreed that food plays such an important role in the play because Wilde uses it to satirise the farcical nature of Victorian aristocratic society, which has excessively strict codes of conduct.

Julia said: “Wilde was affiliated with the aesthetic movement of the late Victorian era; a movement that rejected moralising in the name of beauty. One of his characters in The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolen, neatly captures some of his central ideas when she says ‘style, not sincerity is the vital thing’. It was with grace and style – and a great sense of humour – that our 6.1s dressed up, taking great care to produce and display sumptuous food. When they come to revise the play next year, the memory of our sunny garden tea party might also remind them of the importance the Victorians placed on mealtimes, and how Wilde gently satirises these restrictive codes of conduct without lecturing, making our experience of watching his play pleasurable.”

After the event, two students wrote a poem inspired by the experience:

Symphony in 6.1 English

An omnibus of students along Church Road
Crawls like the Victorian upper class
And, here and there a driver-by
Frowns like a confused Bedalian parent.

Big plates full of English muffins
Are placed quaintly in Mr. Anson’s abode,
And, like a Victorian tea party,
Guests nibble on cucumber quotes and context crusts.

The Wilde-ian group begins to fade
And ghostly gloves flutter from buttery fingers.
I look down at my exam desk, and for lack of content,
I remember this 6.1 symphony.

By Freya Leonard and Alexander Lunn


6.1 Politics students visit Westminster


By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government and Politics

On 4 March, Bedales 6.1 students were invited to take part in a livestream Question Time event at Westminster. We combined our visit with a tour of the House of Commons, which we were originally due to undertake in the summer, the House of Lords and the Lobby Hall, where ordinary citizens can go and lobby MPs.

We were fortunate to have the tour at a time when Parliament was in sitting, as usually school tours take place when Parliament is in recess. We saw David Davis, Hilary Benn, Diane Abbott, Dame Patricia Hodge and John Bercow, Speaker of the Commons, controlling the debate. The topic was initially on housing and communities, leading to urgent questions on weapon control.

The House of Lords was rather more a slow-moving affair, with bowing to the empty throne one of the quaint conventions we witnessed. Students may have also been surprised to see on the order paper that the morning and afternoon sessions began with prayers.

After our tour, we went to a lecture room where we and one other school were the student audience assembled to address a panel of MPs on two topics: ‘Are referendums good for democracy?’ and ‘Does the House of Commons exercise enough control over the executive arm of the government?’

The MPs on the panel were Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North who was on the BBC Question Time panel last week; Carol Monaghan, Scottish National Party member for Glasgow North West; Nigel Huddleston, Conservative member for Mid-Worcestershire; and Chris Matheson, Labour MP for Chester.

After a brief explanation of their positions on Brexit (they were all remainers), Bedales student Jonathan Greenfield asked the first question on referendums, which centred on the possibilities of tying referendums to specific constitutional points and making them more legally binding. The panel generally agreed this would be a good idea, with Carol Monaghan explaining that the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014 had been better prepared so issues were well understood by the time of the vote, and there was therefore less argument about the referendum afterwards.

The second question came from another Bedales student, Mack Cowling, who asked a question about the ‘shelf-life’ of referendums – a very good question in which he even cited the correct date of the previous referendum.

On Parliament’s control of the Executive, most argued that there is control, particularly with a minority government as at present, as well as Select Committees and Prime Minister’s Questions, where the incumbent does not know the questions beforehand. Barry Gardiner disagreed, however, seeing the control as limited even in current times. He pointed to the government’s use of ancient means (‘Henry VIII clauses’) to push things through.

The trip was an unparalleled opportunity for the students not only to see Parliament in action but also to be able to debate face-to-face with current politicians. Watch the live debate here.

Digital Game Design BAC to launch September 2019

By Ed Mason, Deputy Head (Staff), Head of Digital Learning

It seems that barely a day goes by without a public plea from business, government and educationalists for greater emphasis on coding, computing and future jobs, while others warn of the significant risks of the fourth industrial revolution to jobs, health and society.

The development of artificial intelligence, machine learning and ever greater automation, as well as increased global competition as barriers to entry diminish in an increasingly borderless online world, makes this a hugely dynamic and rapidly changing arena. A growing part of this sector is the Games industry: Newzoo Analytics estimates that there are currently 2.3 billion gamers across the world who will spend $137.9 billion this year. The UK is one of the leaders in computer game design, with significant software houses as well as 450 courses currently available at universities in the UK, ranging from specialisms in programming, concept art and interactive audio, to degrees studying the industry.

In September 2019, a new Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) in Digital Game Design is being introduced to inspire the next generation of programmers and designers. This unique course takes an interdisciplinary approach and our students will be writing and realising their own creations. It recognises that proficiency in technical skills such as a coding, debugging, and computational thinking is complemented by an understanding of the industry and development process.

Students will study six modules (The History of Games from Antiquity to VR; Thinking Like a Coder; Coding; Gaming as a Story; Digital Design, Photography and Video; the Business of Game Design) and then produce a mentored-project in Block 5 which could be individual or collaborative focusing on one of the strands previously studied. This course is suitable for any student with an enthusiasm and interest in thinking analytically and creatively.

Bedales mark Chinese New Year with themed Jaw

By Ellie Xi, 6.2

With the theme being Chinese New Year, in Jaw on Wednesday, a group of Chinese students and I talked about the traditions, stories and messages behind Chinese New Year.

There were two video clips playing in the background as people came in, portraying the Spring migration where millions of people travel back home for their reunion dinner. This event is also known as the Spring Festival travel rush.

Some of the traditional dishes were introduced and why we have them in the reunion dinner for good luck. There was also a slide of numbers which are closely linked with Chinese New Year – for example, “double six breaks the jinx” and “four is not to be mentioned as it sounds like death”. They show the superstitions people still have at New Year and the wish for luck for the year ahead.

As an Economics student, I am interested in the impact of Chinese New Year on the economy. The money flow during this period is huge, which encourages consumption, boosting the economy. This does not only occur domestically but also in foreign countries as companies release New Year limited editions to attract consumers.

A traditional poem and an extract of a Chinese New Year description were presented in Chinese by Aria, Maggie and Mike.

Comparisons were made about Chinese New Year and Christmas: the most important thing that they share in common is the reunion of families. They are both festivals designed to bring people together at least once a year.

In the end, five lucky winners who found red envelopes under their seats learned to say Happy New Year in Chinese. There were also chocolate coins at the end of handshaking and Chinese food for supper!

It was a special experience to talk about my traditions in front of the whole school and what Chinese people do to celebrate New Year. The festive period is a significant time to bond with family and relatives. Although none of us could be with our family, the school, teachers and our friends made us feel the warmth associated with Chinese New Year.

Economics and Business students visit Prague


By Ellie Xi, 6.2

Over Long Leave Weekend in January, a group of Economics and Business Studies students took a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, accompanied by Shaun Ritchie and Gabriela Vrbikova.

On the first day, we had a guided walking tour by Gabriela, which allowed us to see the main sights such as Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock. The city is both modern and traditional, with medieval architecture of castles and palaces. That evening, we watched a ballet in one of the national theatres – the Estates Theatre.

The following day, we took a train journey to Pilsen, where Pilsner Urquell Brewery is located. The group had a guided tour of the production process, travelling in the brewery bus to three brew houses. At the end of the tour, we had an opportunity to dine in the largest restaurant in the Czech Republic: Na Spilce.

On the third day, we visited the high-tech production facilities of car giant Skoda. The factory is located in the city of Mlada Boleslav and the area it occupies is greater in size than Monaco – around 2.7 square kilometres. This trip complemented our studies in Economics, such as economies and diseconomies of scale, rational behaviour, division of labour and other fascinating topics.

One thing I loved about the trip was the ballet The Little Mermaid. For me personally, I had never watched a ballet before and it was such a special experience to watch an exuberant performance in a foreign theatre with my teachers and friends.

Walking back to our hotel in the snow was definitely another highlight of this trip. I would like to thank Shaun and Gabriela again for giving us this wonderful experience.

The plague: medieval relic or still cause for concern?

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Biology

Plague! The very word is inclined to strike fear into the heart, but what is it, where did it come from and is it still about?

This was the subject of a talk by Dr Tim Mason, a retired lecturer in Microbiology from the University of Portsmouth, who visited Bedales as part of the Biology Lecture Series last week. His lecture covered the history of plague from the Bronze Age, through the mass deaths of medieval times to the atrocities of its use in germ warfare in the 20th century.

Archaeologists, digging deep into the skulls of Bronze Age skeletons, have shown us with their DNA analyses that it was only at about this stage that the plague bacteria, a new mass murderer of mankind arose.

Over the coming years, periodically remerging to cause global epidemics, the plague would hone its homicidal skills, bringing us the relentless killer The Black Death. Over the course of several centuries that pandemic raged across the land, killing about half the world’s population.

From then onward it has never completely gone away, returning in the middle of the 19th century to kill many millions more. But where is it today? Epidemics in areas such as Madagascar continue to occur, the most distressing of which was totally untreatable even with the impressive array of antibiotics that we have today.

Dr Mason told us that this is a disease for which no vaccine is available and which, when it cannot be treated with antibiotics, lends itself perfectly for use in germ warfare. The horrors that were seen in 1930s China using plague would be nothing compared with what could be achieved today, if for example, terrorists were to acquire the necessary resources.

The lecture, told with enthusiasm and humour, reminded all of us that we live in a world more fragile than most of us appreciate, and encompassed everything from science and history through to warfare and morality.

Insightful Keats’ lecture

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

After the trip to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset on Saturday 19 January, English teachers David Anson, Ed Mason and Lucy McIlwraith took a slightly different group of 6.2 English students to Chichester to attend a lecture delivered by distinguished academic Professor Nicholas Roe on John Keats’ narrative poem The Eve of St. Agnes.

The lecture was organised in celebration of the poem’s bicentennial anniversary and took place the day before the Eve itself, which falls on 20 January. The lecture contained a lot of insightful context to Keats’ life as well as that of the poem, evidencing the brutality and viciousness of the criticism the poet had to break through in order to a gain a place among the English poets, which indeed he did with much of his 1819 poetry and in no small measure in St. Agnes’ Eve.

The lecture was followed by a brief but curious bell, which preceded an assorted poetry interlude, and finally a dramatic reading of both Keats’ biography and the 42-stanza poem itself. Despite its impressive range of talent and voices, however, it left something wanting in its representation of dramatic setting and passionate young love, which only sparked in us a desire to recreate the scene for ourselves.