Future RAM Scholar, Luca, on Pre-U recitals

Gemma Klein Photography

By Luca Caruso, 6.2 

On Tuesday 21st March, I travelled up to London to complete what would be the first of three recitals for the performance section of Music Pre-U.

Throughout my two years in The Royal Academy of Music’s Junior Jazz program, I had the pleasure of meeting many musicians whom I now play with regularly, and as a result of these encounters I am fortunate enough to feel confident in calling for their services in musical situations like these. Two of the four musicians who joined me are already undergraduates at the RAM, whilst the other two are still attending the Junior Academy course.

Although this was a performance which was recorded on camera, there was also the opportunity for a live audience to attend. Most of these recitals take place in the Lupton Hall at School, and therefore it is a given that we, as a music class of 8, always go and support one another. Since my performance was held at The Royal Academy of Music, I deemed it appropriate to bring the rest of the class with me!

Their presence, along with my family’s, made the whole mood and atmosphere lighter and less formal. To tell the truth, this performance didn’t feel like an exam. It felt to be a thirty-minute set in which I could play the music I love with a quintet of fantastic musicians, with some of my close friends in attendance.

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In February it was announced that  many of our senior musicians had been awarded places at some of the country’s leading conservatoires.

Luca was awarded the drums scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, Caleb Curtis cello (Royal Academy of Music), George Butler  voice(Royal Northern College of Music), Antonia Richards voice (Trinity College), and Hope Cramsie guitar (Royal College of Music).

Below: George, Caleb, Antonia, Hope and Luca
George, Caleb, Antonia, Hope and Luca

Thoughts from an outgoing 6.2

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Over the past few weeks, 6.2 flat has grown increasingly quiet as more of us depart having finished the last of our exams. It has not been unusual to see those leaving become emotional when it hits them: when their bags are packed and they leave their friends still swamped in folders and practice papers. Having finished the last of my exams on Tuesday, l don’t believe it has quite hit me yet.

As an initial reflection on the past year and my time here as a whole, I can’t imagine another place I would have rather conducted and concluded my school education. It strikes me as a rarity to find a place that can offer the freedom this school does. The freedom and space to think, to exercise and to spend time with the people you have grown to love and care for- especially during the exam season – is often taken for granted.

I believe it is this freedom which truly motivates and sustains us. At this time, conversation does tend to turn to the future and the dreaded question: “and what will you be doing next year?”, but there is also a fond reflection on the past and “what more would you have done?” Discussing the latter with fellow 6.2s, we settled on one main thing we would have done if we relived our Bedales education. We decided we would have written a diary starting at Block 3, if not sooner, not just for comic-value but as a reminder and record of all our experiences. I think of this, what it would look like and how full it would be; I think Bedales encourages people to leave with a weighty volume, a full and well-used diary.

While the many empty pages ahead will always be daunting, I am immensely grateful for the freedom I have had so far to fill the pages with numerous and various experiences and to have shared them with such a supportive and special bunch of people.

Beyond Bedales – help to make the right choice

A recent survey of A level students conducted by Which? found that around three in ten wish they had chosen different A level subjects. Only half felt sufficiently informed about how their A levels might affect their choice of university or choice of course, and three in ten said that advice they were given when choosing their A levels failed to take into account how their subject options might affect their degree and university choices.

Careers advice in schools has long been criticised as patchy – not least by Ofsted, who in 2013 reported that only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all students were receiving the level of information they needed. On the surface of it, then, it sounds like this may be a fairly straightforward failing on the part of school careers guidance practitioners. However, it would be wise for us to pause before pulling the trigger.

I am fortunate to be part of the Bedales Professional Guidance Department which provides a well-resourced, highly-structured and regularly reviewed HE pathway for students. However, making good choices also requires an investment on the part of the student. To this end, we encourage them to make use of Unifrog – a wonderful resource that, amongst other things, is a comparison platform for university courses. It collates available data – subject requirements, typical grade offers, league table and student satisfaction scores, tuition and teaching provision, and much more. No less usefully, it allows students to calibrate their progress against what is available to them, and so make realistic choices.

Overall, the resources we are able to bring to bear on behalf of our students bear no relation to those I encountered as a sixth former. Does this guarantee that our students make decisions that are right for them? Well, for those who are clear about their direction and highly motivated it is a great help, but for others the picture can be less straightforward.

In my experience, around half of any 6.1 year group will know broadly what they want to do, with about 10%-20% of the cohort very clear about subjects and institutions, and how they plan to realise their goals. The remaining half will tend to be pretty vague in comparison – their direction might extend towards doing one of the humanities, but with little preference as to where. Around 10% of the cohort will have no clear idea.

It is tempting to assume that students will make best use of what we make available to them. However, whilst at key points some want a great deal of my time, others need lots of encouragement to come and see me and give resources a wide berth. Unifrog would seem obviously useful when deciding upon A level and other choices, but a recent audit suggested that only one third of Bedales Block 5 students had visited the site.

We must be wary, then, in assuming that students’ A level and university choices reflect the quality of careers and HE guidance available to them. And even when this is the case, things don’t always go to plan. For example, it is difficult to foresee that continuing a subject in which they had done well at GCSE may prove to be too much of a stretch for some, or that non-educational factors may change the picture for them. Working with such uncertainties is one of ways in which we careers guidance specialists must earn our corn.

There are various approaches we can take to helping the undecided to ensure that they make sound choices at A level and university destinations. For example, we might steer them towards facilitating subjects –  those that Russell Group universities have identified as having admissions currency across a range of courses. More specifically, for those who are less than firm in their preferences for university, we may encourage them to consider applying after they have received their A level results. This removes at least some of the uncertainty from the process for them, and we do it more and more.

For those who are struggling to identify a specialism, we might make a point of highlighting the availability of liberal arts degrees which, initially at least, see students pursue a wider range of subject options thus allowing extra time to settle on their passion. Such programmes are well-established in the US, Canada and Europe, and an interesting new development has been the rising enthusiasm in UK universities for this approach.

Sound advice from school careers staff is very important, of course, but I sometimes wonder whether we might be better advised to structure HE in a way that doesn’t require all young people to settle on specialism quite so early. Until such time, I would urge critics to pause before pointing the finger at schools – we careers and HE specialists do our best, but there are some things we simply can’t control.

On 18 June, Old Bedalians who are now studying at university will join the school’s Professional Guidance staff and a careers expert to talk to 6.1 students about their options. A broad range of courses and institutions will be represented, and it should prove to be a highly informative event.

By Vikki Alderson-Smart, Head of Professional Guidance

An Inspector Calls…

On Wednesday, Bedales held an education conference as part of its series of ‘leading independent thinking’ events. Two years ago the subject was innovative education, whilst this one focused on leadership. These are, arguably, the two most important facets that the ‘industry’ needs to address in the early 21st century, a time when traditional educational models seem to be breaking down and the respective authorities seem unwilling, too-slow or even incapable of making the changes required – a theme that very much came out of the day.

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Sir Michael Wilshaw

Kick-started by a keynote address from Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the title of this year’s conference was ‘Liberating Leaders’. The day was designed for people across both age ranges (student and teacher) and did what it said on the tin! At least that’s my experience given that, writing this the next day, I now find myself feeling a breeze of liberation which has seemingly put me on a track that I was struggling to find.  This article is the first of several, in it I will provide an introduction to the day, the speakers and the initial effect on me. In later articles I will discuss the messages of each speaker, my thoughts and inspired actions.

As you may have guessed, Bedales, a school with a long history of innovation, did not stick to the educational-conference norms, with one speaker pointing out that this was the first one she had been to that involved students as well as teachers. Later in the day, the conference split into two programmes, with the students splitting off to take part in leadership workshops. They later re-joined us for the educational debate. Below is a brief account of each adult session.

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That knighted rebel, Sir Michael Wilshaw, started the programme of events and called for more “Mavericks” in state education. He defined ‘Mavericks’ as being extraordinary, flamboyant, colourful and slightly strange characters. Characters have long been a traditional facet of the independent sector but largely lacking in the state sector. He went on to give examples of what sort of characters these Mavericks might be, giving several real life examples from his own experience (he’s a lucky Knight to have been exposed to such a rarity).  He then went on to talk about the ‘act’ that these Mavericks need to put on, to facilitate a good education.  However, I got the sense that Mike’s idea of a good education is different to mine. For him, it seems, a good education is about tradition, imperialism, discipline to authority, GCSEs and A-levels, and this is where the Mavericks in him and me vary. Mike is, what I would class, a pseudo-maverick, a traditionalist who uses un-orthodox measures to achieve orthodox aims, whereas the Maverick in me is less of an oxymoron. I am the type of Maverick who believes current education is inadequate and that we need major changes in-line with the modern world, instead of measures that attempt to hold on to imperialistic values of a once ‘great’ Britain. Thankfully the room was largely full of delegates who had a similar vision to mine, as final questions and Twitter revealed. Moving on we heard from some other Mavericks who are doing great things in schools.

Firstly, two scholars from the States (where education is much less restricted by government) gave two extremely inspiring talks about their Maverick journeys. Barbara Oakley talked about her inspirational story in education and ‘learning to learn’, turning academic research into tangible metaphors, thus delivering exemplary content. Danielle Harlan gave some entertaining anecdotes with strong and powerful underlying messages that have helped shape her into the Maverick leader she has become. In her second year of teaching, she was able to get her Special Educational Needs (SEN) class up to either the peer-group’s grade or above, simply by redesigning the curriculum in small but measurable increments.

Bill Lucas tweetAfter lunch, complete with Bedales sausages, focaccia, chilli chutney and onion jam – all produced by the Outdoor Work department – we heard from Bill Lucas -a Maverick, pioneer and founder of the Expansive Education Network. It seems to me that Bill’s contributions to education already surpasses the Knight’s, but whilst Bill was involved in British education during Labour’s tenure, the Conservatives have sent him to the ’naughty corner’. Nowadays, or rather nowayears and despite being based at Winchester University, the Welsh Government is the only political force in the UK that seems to value him; internationally, he is dealing with the Australian Government as well as many other schools around the world, including England! Bill gave his 14 top tips for improving future education that left me dreaming of a rational world in which our political leaders understood the needs of the people.

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Keith Budge and Geoff Barton welcome Mike Fairclough to the stage

Next, we heard from three Maverick Headmasters, two from the state sector: Geoff Barton and Mike Fairclough, as well as Bedales’ own, Keith Budge. Geoff, who bravely called Ofsted a “Monster”, took to the stage first. It was a shame that Sir Mike had already left the building, as I feel he needed to hear Geoff’s extremely good argument about the problems of Ofsted’s model of inspection and the bullish role it has in education. But I doubt Geoff would have had much of an impact, the Government does not always respect the opinion of stakeholders such as professional educators – as Gove proved with his A-level reforms. Moving on, Mike Fairclough’s story was my favourite, he is so Maverick he’s off the scale! With his innovative school, containing a farm and a Bronze Age site, where they make arrow heads, use paddle boats, learn country management skills and have a partnership with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that aims to dispel media health and safety myths (how ironic that HSE takes more of a supportive role than Ofsted). But what really brought a tear to my eye was the fact that this was done on a council estate, a demographic in which education is known to fail. Finally, and being left short of time, Keith concluded the talk by discussing the recent innovation that is the Bedales Assessed Course (BAC), giving the audience an insight into the history of the BACs, what they have taught Bedales, and our future aspirations for them.

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Education panel

To close, there was an educational panel debate involving Keith, Geoff and four students: Flora and Charlie from Bedales and two girls from King Edward VI School. I must say I was particularly impressed by the ability of all four students to talk intelligently and respond so well and quickly to questions they had only just heard. The debate was not only a nice close to the day but also highlighted to me just how lucky I am to be able to work in an institution that creates free, open-minded and independent adults – something we do here, we are certainly doing right.

View speaker’s biographies and presentations from the conference here.

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry

Why exam boards must keep theatre live

Try to imagine a performance of Hamlet in which the play within a play – staged by the Prince to establish Claudius’ culpability for the death of the King was delivered not live, but through a TV set hooked up to a DVD player. Would Claudius betray himself in the same way, and would it matter so much?

I ask because recently it was announced that the drama GCSE syllabus is to change so that teachers can show pupils recordings of theatre performances rather than taking them to see live shows. This is to ensure that all students get to experience live theatre, with Karen Latto of awarding body OCR telling the TES that geography and financial constraints need no longer be prohibitive as a consequence. I don’t think anybody would argue with the intention here – like Karen, I want to see every young person able to experience theatre. However, like many others, I am concerned that the legitimisation of the DVD option will mean that some drama departments – already too often at the back the queue when it comes to school resources – will find money for theatre trips even harder to come by.

Recordings used in the way proposed may well increase students’ exposure to theatre – but is it an acceptable substitute? If, like me and many other practitioners, you believe that the experience of theatre is more than the ostensible content, then the answer has to be no. Performances are heavily dependent on the audience – not a generic audience, but the audience in the theatre for each particular show. When Bedales students write about theatre they have attended, they are critiquing something of which they were an active part – a factor we encourage them to consider.

We must also be aware that through the use of recordings we risk heaping a whole different set of interpretations upon students. Here, they must take into account not only the direction of the play, but also that of the recording. It would be worryingly uncritical of us to assume recordings of live theatre to be benign representations – some streamings of performances from the National Theatre, the Barbican and other venues have been complex multi-camera presentations that, for all of their merits, must be considered different experiences. Each audience member at the live event has his or her unique perspective – they all occupy a different space, and are free to give their attention to whatever they please. For those watching the associated recording, much of this work is done for them. It is performance and it can be brilliant – but it is of a different order.

The direction of travel in terms of what constitutes meaningful exposure to theatre must be considered with care. If it is considered acceptable for students to make critical judgements on the basis of exposure only to facsimiles, then might we expect the same to become true for examiners? As things stand, examiners are partly reliant on DVDs or a weblink as the basis for their appraisals, and we might consider whether we would be comfortable with this becoming their exclusive basis of assessment. If the answer is no, then we must reflect carefully on the implications for doing the same with students.

Let’s do what it takes to get students into theatres rather than risk confining more and more of them to the classroom. Let’s fund national and regional centres to offer discounted access for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to go. I know from my own experience that theatres are more than happy to open their doors to this end. Awarding bodies would be excellent administrators of such programmes, and I believe it would be good for them – and for their relationships with both theatres and schools – to be advocates for live theatre in this way.

By way of an afterthought, it occurs to me that Claudius might prefer the DVD option, but then of course he has a vested interest.

By Phil Tattersall-King, Head of Drama

Professional guidance

As the academic year reaches its climax with the beginning of the examination period, the Professional Guidance department is looking ahead to the next cycle of Higher Education and Careers advice.

The 6.2 students who have applied to university this year are making their final choices from the offers received whilst concentrating on A2 exams.  On Friday the 6.1s had a lecture from the Admissions Officer from the University of Southampton about how to make an attractive and individual application via UCAS. This was followed by sessions with Vikki Alderson-Smart, Sarah Oakley and myself about setting up UCAS or Common Application accounts (for USA), and understanding the portfolio process surrounding Art College applications.  This Sunday evening (8 May), the information will be shared with 6.1 parents in the SLT at 7.30pm.

On 18 June, 6.1 and 6.2 students will be invited to the OB Fair – a hugely popular event – where OBs currently at university return to Bedales in order to share their experiences with the sixth form.  This interaction has proved very valuable to our students as it gives them an insight into undergraduate life.  Block 5 students are by no means forgotten at this time of year, and will have their own Careers Fair on 24 June where numerous professionals from a huge variety of specialisms come to discuss their own career paths and offer tips on how to get to where you want to be.

It is a very exciting time of year for us in the PG department and we hope the students enjoy the events as much as we do.

By Alison Mason, Careers and North American university liaison

What can we get out of doing exams?

“What can we get out of doing exams?” I asked the students at assembly on Monday.

This term is the most beautiful of the year at Bedales, yet it is a serious term, too, during which every student will sit exams of one sort or another by the end of term. We started addressing this question by looking at different motivations for doing something: extrinsic goals and intrinsic goals. Exams are generally thought to be good ONLY for extrinsic reasons: they are the ticket by which you access lots of other things you want, such as places at competitive universities, or jobs in industries where particular skills and qualifications are valued. There is a problem, though, in only going after extrinsic goals. Aristotle pointed this out in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he noted that if we only ever do something in order to achieve another goal, then we have no real reason for doing anything. To make this clearer, I used the example: if learning is for exams, and exams are to get you to university, and university is to get you to professional training, and the professional training is to get you to a job, what happens if, after all that, you don’t like the job you were aiming for? If we can find something intrinsically good about doing exams, all the better.

I was arguing that exams are good because they allow students to become the authors of their own learning. We talked about different philosophical/psychological theories of knowledge acquisition, including Locke (which we rejected), Piaget and Vygotsky. It was Vygotsky’s vision we settled on – that when students receive the right support (scaffolding) with their learning from peers and adults, they can progress much better, such that they develop the structures of mind to begin to learn independently. It is this that the revision period gives to students: the opportunity to make learning their own, to move from needing the structures, to taking the content on as theirs. This is part of the conceptual furniture of their mind, not simply some knowledge fed in by a teacher and received passively by the student.

I was arguing that the term ‘revision’ is misleading, because it suggests you are looking at something again; in fact, I think revision allows students to see the material for the first time through their own eyes, as opposed to through the eyes of their teacher. A student of mine in 6.1 proudly said to me the other day that she “owned Plato” now she had revised that material. Intentionally or not, she hit on something by saying this: in her process of independently working through the content, it has ceased to be my content, presented to her – her learning has become authentically her own. And this is something, I think, that we can say is intrinsically worthwhile, and in line with the school’s aim that we “cherish independent thought”.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge, and Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

Read an article in the TES by Clare Jarmy on the subject of revision (with a slightly different argument)

Watch a video about Vygotsky: