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


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

Thinking Higher (Education)

In November my family and I visited the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Bath.

Alex Ludwig Bath University blog

Dr Jos Darling and Alex

On arrival we met Dr Jos Darling, senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University. Jos informed us about the opportunities and courses the Engineering department had to offer. After a very interesting conversation with him, we were guided around the impressive facilities and labs. From a wind tunnel the size of a class room, to a metal cutting CNC machine, they had all the equipment necessary to create a diverse range of products. I was surprised to see how many opportunities the University had to offer as well as the sophistication of their equipment. Afterwards we had a look around the campus. The University consists of a campus on top of a hill and feels much like a village, which I found to be very communal.

At the end of the Mechanical Engineering course, 97% of their graduates gain employment. With approximately 185 spaces available each year it is not exactly easy to be accepted into the University, as their typical offer is A*AA for Engineering, but the university seems like an excellent place to aspire to study science and many other subjects.

By Alex Ludwig, 6.1

Bedales A Level success 2012

 Bedales students have achieved excellent A Level results for 2012 with 39% of all grades at A* – A. They have secured places at universities including Oxford, Exeter, Edinburgh, London, Bristol, the Royal Veterinary College, the Royal Agricultural College, art colleges such as Falmouth and Leeds, and international institutions including Bocconi (Milan), New York University, Davidson (North Carolina) and University of British Columbia.
Nine students achieved places at Oxbridge, including Jack Briggs (from Cirencester) who, with an impressive six grades at A* or A, has secured a place at Oxford to read Medicine (A* in Mathematics and five As in Biology, Chemistry, Further Mathematics, Physics and Religious Studies). He will be joined at Oxford by Luke Austen (from Emsworth) who will also study Medicine after achieving three A* grades in Biology, French and Mathematics, and an A in Chemistry. Cicely Robinson (from Petersfield) secured her place at Oxford to study Mathematics after achieving an A* in Mathematics, and three As in Further Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. Tegen Evans (from London) achieved three A* grades in English Literature, History and Religious Studies securing her place to read English Language and Literature at Oxford. Jamie Russell (from Miland) is to read French at Oxford after achieving two A* grades in French and History, and an A in Geography.
Head Girl, Rebecca Wilson (from Liss) achieved three A grades in English Literature, French and Religious Studies to secure her place at Bristol to read Philosophy and French, while Deputy Head Girl, Laura Stewart (from Winchester) will read Philosophy and Theology at Edinburgh after achieving an A* grade in Religious Studies and two As in English Literature and History. During their final year at Bedales both girls jointly received the Cecily Eastwood Award for their contributions to the school. Titus Buckworth, Head Boy (from London) achieved an A* grade in Mathematics, two As in Further Mathematics and Physics and a B in Religious Studies and will read Mathematics and Philosophy at Nottingham, while Deputy Head Boy, Richard Ward, achieved two B grades in Design and English Literature, and a Cambridge Pre-U M3 in Music.
Oliver Bradley (from Petersfield) achieved an A* grade in Mathematics, and three As in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and will read Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London.
Twin sisters Claudia and Sophia Turner (from London) are also celebrating: Sophia achieved three A grades in English Literature, History and Spanish, and will read History at King’s College, London. Claudia achieved two As in Religious Studies and Spanish, and a B in English Literature, and will read Spanish and Philosophy at Edinburgh.
Darren Siah (from Weybridge, Surrey) achieved an A* in Art and two B grades in English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies. While at Bedales, Darren was awarded the Gabriel Bruce Book Prize for his academic and creative excellence at AS and A2, as well as his contribution to successful school performances at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer and several notable internal productions. This annual prize is awarded to a member of 6.2 (Upper Sixth) who has achieved outstanding work in Theatre, Art, and in particular, general contribution to the school community.
An increasing number of Bedales students are choosing to study overseas. Maria Garfunkel (from Argentina) achieved three A grades in French, Italian and Spanish, and a B in Economics, and will read Economics and Finance at Bocconi University, Milan. Maddie Butcher (from Arundel) achieved three B grades in Classical Civilisation, Psychology and History and will attend the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Cormac McShane (from London) achieved an A in Religious Studies, and two Bs in Classical Civilisation and History, and progresses to Davidson, North Carolina. All will read Liberal Arts degrees.
Commenting on the results, Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales Schools, said:
“Congratulations to our students on their hard work and good results. Bedales students progress to an impressive range of universities and art colleges in the UK and overseas, with many choosing to continue on to postgraduate studies. This capable cohort, like its predecessors, will go on to make a significant contribution in a broad range of fields across the arts, sciences and business.”
Other Bedales student successes include:
  • Isabel Fitzgerald from Chichester achieved three A* grades in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics.
  • Joely Harris from Crockerwell, Devon achieved two A* grades in History and Religious Studies, and an A grade in English Literature; to study English at Exeter.
  • Christy Callaway-Gale from Liphook achieved two A* grades in English Literature and Spanish and a D3 in Cambridge Pre-U Music.
  • Sophia Burnell from Petersfield achieved an A* in Art, an A grade in English Literature and a D3 in Cambridge Pre-U Music; to study a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Falmouth.
  • Sarah Praetorius from Germany achieved an A* in German, an A in History and two B grades in English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies; to study Anthropology at University College London.
  • Lucy Duncan from Petersfield achieved an A* in Design, an A in Mathematics, and a B grade in Economics; to study Mathematics and Business Studies at Edinburgh.
  • Ralph Woollcombe from London achieved an A* grade in Mathematics, an A grade in Art and a B grade in Biology; to study Zoology at Bristol.
  • Florence Sandberg from Petersfield achieved an A* in Religious Studies and two B grades in English Literature and History; to study Law at Bristol.
  • Hugo Fell from London achieved three A grades in Classical Civilisation, Latin and Mathematics.
  • Henry Quekett from Petersfield achieved two A grades in Design and Economics, and two B grades in Physics and Mathematics.
  • Toby Goodger from Petersfield achieved two A grades in Biology and Design, and a B grade in Geography.
  • Olivia Yetman from Petersfield achieved two A grades in Biology and Mathematics, and a B grade in Chemistry; to study Veterinary Medicine at The Royal Veterinary College, London.
  • Claudia White from Petworth achieved three A grades in Physics, Geography and Mathematics; to study Law with Politics at the New College of the Humanities.
  • Henri Hamm from Totternhoe, Bedfordshire achieved two A grades in Economics and French, and a B in Biology; to study Banking Finance and Management at Loughborough.
  • Samuel McNeil from London achieved two A grades in Economics and History, and a B in Geography; to study History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
  • Claudia Miller from Upham achieved two A grades in Art and History, and a B in English Literature.
  • Alexandra Anholt from Scratby, Norfolk achieved an A in Italian and two B grades in Art and French; to study Art History and a language at Sussex.
  • Andrew Richards from Goudhurst, Kent achieved an A in Mathematics and two B grades in Design and Psychology; to study Product Design at Kingston.
  • Mathilda Reekie from Laurencekirk, Scotland achieved an A grade in Art, and two B grades in Classical Civilisation and History; to study Art History at Sussex.
  • Rosie Crawley from Petersfield achieved an A grade in Classical Civilisation and two B grades in Art and Dance; to study a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Falmouth.
  • George Eve from London achieved an A grade in Classical Civilisation and two B grades in English Literature and History.
  • Elliott Hills from London achieved an A grade in Classical Civilisation and two B grades in English Literature and Religious Studies; to study American Studies and English at Sussex.
  • George Vaughan-Barratt achieved an A grade in Economics and two B grades in Classical Civilisation and Religious Studies; to study Philosophy and Theology & Religious Studies at Leeds.
  • Fred Aspel from Windsor, Berkshire achieved three B grades in Physics, Psychology and Mathematics; to study Mathematics and Psychology at Newcastle University.
  • Katherine Horlick from London achieved three B grades in Classical Civilisation, History and Religious Studies.
  • Harriet Ivison from Midhurst achieved three B grades in Biology, English Literature and History; to study Rural Land Management at the Royal Agricultural College.
  • Victoria Markland from Jersey achieved three B grades in Classical Civilisation, Dance and Psychology; to read Psychology at Bath Spa. 
  • Jack Scullion from Petersfield achieved three B grades in Biology, Economics and Psychology; to study Sports Science with Management at Loughborough.
  • Kim Viljoen from Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex achieved three B grades in Physics, Mathematics and Religious Studies; to study Mathematical, Statistical and Actuarial Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

 The full A Level statistics were as follows:

A* – A passes: 39%
A* – B passes: 70%
A* – E passes: 99%


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.