Science at Bedales – A distinctive approach

CERN trip 3

Bedales – that’s the school for people who are into arts and humanities, right? Well, yes and no. It is true that Bedales offers a distinctive education in those areas, with plenty of notable careers made subsequently to prove it. However, Bedales also has a very successful Science Department whose courses are well subscribed, that gets excellent examination results, and whose students go on to pursue further academic study in the sciences and related subjects, and successful careers.

To a certain extent, Bedales’ reputation as a school devoted to the arts and humanities is justified – English, History, Religious Studies and Art are all very popular at A level. However, Mathematics (and Further Mathematics) is often the most popular A Level choice for Bedalians and amongst the current 6.2s (upper sixth) over half the block study at least one of Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Psychology, with an almost even uptake for each.

The study of sciences at A level, then, is an attractive option. For some, this is undertaken with an expectation of further study and a related career. Supported by extensive careers advice, these students will typically study traditional subject combinations – for example, linking Mathematics with Physics, or Biology with Chemistry. The Department has developed a particular expertise, thanks to Cheryl Osborne, in preparing students of natural sciences for further study in Medicine, and to this end has introduced a Sixth Form enrichment course in Medical Ethics. Of the students that have left Bedales for Oxford and Cambridge since 2009, over a third have gone on to study Mathematics or one of the sciences and last year three out of seven places went to the sciences: there is a proven and consistent track record for our Oxbridge applicants. The list below of degree subjects taken up by Bedales leavers over the last three years shows an impressive range and quantity of courses.

However, at Bedales science subjects are also successfully pursued alongside others beyond the traditional combinations – for example, over a third of 6.2 (upper sixth) Science students are also studying either Art or English and most students will choose a third or sometimes fourth A level from the arts, humanities and languages in the interests of subject diversity. At Bedales we take the view that these different areas of study, and their respective orthodoxies and methods, have much to offer in combination. There are powerful precedents for this approach: the late Steve Jobs saw artistic sensibilities as central to Apple’s business and, perhaps more dramatically, Albert Einstein was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. In addition, various researchers have found a positive relationship between participation in arts, crafts and music and success in scientific and technological careers. There are many Old Bedalians who have combined science with arts and humanities subjects, and who have brought to bear both scientific expertise and alternative literacies in service of innovation, and in communicating relevant ideas through policy advice to industry and government, or within companies.

“Art can be a way of capturing the essence of something while filtering out small details – a very useful skill in any kind of research, whether in the humanities or in the sciences.”

Alexei Yavlinsky, computer software engineer and entrepreneur (Bedales 1994-99)

Bedales Approach to the teaching and learning of Science

Bedales’ approach to the teaching and learning of Science is laudably distinctive. We encourage inquisitiveness and independent learning, for example, by making the room for students to exercise, experiment, innovate, reflect and discuss. In 2014, the school introduced a student-inspired initiative – the Dons – giving 6.2 (upper sixth) students the opportunity to represent subjects and mentor younger pupils. Last year, the Chemistry Don successfully promoted the subject to both parents and students, and helped with the science education of lower year groups. This year we have expanded the role of our Dons to organising science events for lower schools and developing and recruiting for scientific societies. Bedales has high expectations of students, and employs tried and trusted principles (such as Assessment for Learning) in seeking to ensure that each student knows where they are with their learning, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there.

The commitment of the Science Department to the school’s educational credo – specifically Aim 2’s ‘doing and making’ – is expressed significantly through a commitment to practical work. In teaching the natural sciences, we believe that students must experience events, substances and changes in order to properly understand them; that such work can help develop an understanding of both the value and problems associated with measurement; and that practical work can be the doorway to a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas that underpin scientific theory. No less importantly, students typically enjoy practical work, and for those who go on to further study the skills they develop in this way are a vital asset.

The Bedales Science Department prides itself on the quality of its staff, and of its collective practice. We draw upon doctoral-level expertise (with two PhDs in the Department), and every subject area is taught by specialists for whom it is their primary discipline. Science is taught in all three Bedales Schools with great attention paid to complementary curricula. The curriculum at our junior schools is an excellent foundation for subsequent study at Bedales, with the relationship strengthened by Science Department staff giving assemblies, talks and demonstrations to younger students.

Science provision at Bedales also benefits from excellent external input. The annual Eckersley Science Lecture is delivered by some of the world’s most prominent scientists. Speaker for the 2014-15 academic year was cosmologist Prof. Tony Readhead of Caltech, with Prof. Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey to speak (on 19 April 2016) on the developing discipline of Quantum Biology. Bedales science students also benefit from links with local universities and guest lectures. Recent events include a ‘Brain Day’ with Dr Guy Sutton, whilst an ‘Infra-Red Spectroscopy Day‘ gave sixth form students hands-on experience of the latest equipment. Field trips include regular visits to the CERN Large Hadron Collider for physicists.

We also encourage our students to take up opportunities beyond the confines of the classroom, and to exercise leadership in the area of science. Bedales Block 3 and 4 students (Years 9-10) compete in the Biology Challenge (Society of Biology), and are regularly awarded gold certificates. Older students represent the school in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Olympiad, and individual students give scientific presentations to external audiences. Bedales science students also help with lessons in our junior schools.

To conclude, Bedales is associated in the popular imagination with excellence in the arts and humanities. Whilst the Science Department may sometimes cede the spotlight to its more overtly glamorous cousins, its pursuit of excellence is treated with equal seriousness, is borne of the same educational ethos, and sees impressive returns. Indeed science at Bedales is rendered all the more distinctive for being pursued in an environment in which the arts and humanities are so important – a point that resonates with the many Old Bedalians who have gone on to become accomplished scientists and innovators.

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science, Bedales

Maths and Science related degree choices: 2013 – 2015

2015
Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Biochemistry, Oxford University (Sommerville)
Biological Anthropology, University of Kent
Chemistry, Oxford University (Worcester)
Chemistry, University of Warwick
Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
Economics, Kingston University
Economics and Economic History, London School of Economics
Environmental Management, Kingston University
Marine Biology, University of Southampton
Mechanical Engineering, University of Exeter
Medicine, Oxford University (New College)
Midwifery, Plymouth University
Natural Sciences, Durham University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies

2014
Automotive and Transport Design, Coventry University
Biological and Medical Sciences, University of Liverpool
Biological Sciences Foundation, Fanshawe College Ontario
Chemistry, University of Bristol
Economics and Finance, University of Exeter
Human, Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge
International Relations and Anthropology, University of Sussex
Medicine, University of Exeter
Nursing, University of Liverpool
Physics, University of Bristol
Physiotherapy, Oxford Brookes University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies
Zoology, University of Glasgow

2013
Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft – Netherlands
Agriculture, Royal Agricultural University Cirencester
Biochemistry, University of Sheffield
Biological Sciences, University of Exeter
Economics, University College London
Economics and Politics, University of Leeds
Materials Science & Engineering, Swansea University
Mathematics, Imperial College London
Mathematics, University of York
Mathematics, Loughborough University
Medicine, University of Cambridge (Murray Edwards)
Natural Sciences, University of Exeter
Physics, Oxford University (Oriel)
Product Design Engineering, Brunel University
Psychology, Newcastle University
Veterinary Nursing, Royal Veterinary College (University of London)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s