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:

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A day enthralled in monastic life

A small group of 6.1 students travelled to Worth Abbey, a community of 25 Roman Catholic monks who follow the rule of St. Benedict, on 5 June for a spiritual retreat. Courtesy of Clare Jarmy, we were introduced to one of the monks, David, who showed us to our humble but comfortable accommodation. That evening he took us to the chapel where we spent 30 minutes in utter silence- a rare and special experience for people who go to a boarding school! The church itself looked like a spaceship from the outside, owing to its 1960’s design; inside it’s round shape ascends towards a window in its roof which illuminates the chapel and creates a beam of light at its heart. It was interesting to experience the transition between the arduous journey there and the peace of the chapel at night compared to that of the first 6.20am service the next morning. Despite the early start, the service was made up of psalms focused on nature and the beauty of our world which set us up for a day enthralled in monastic life. After, we walked to their quiet garden filled with flowers, trees and bird song, it also provided a beautiful view of the monastery. The second morning service ‘matins’ began just past eight back in the chapel- another psalm filled service with readings from the Old Testament.

Then, David joined us for breakfast where we had the chance to ask him about his faith and life as a Benedictine monk. David presented the very human side of being a monk which enlightened our perception of this way of Roman Catholic living. Mass followed; the third service of the day which brought a greater number of the public. Here, we were able to witness the breaking of bread and blessings- it is obligatory for the monks to partake in this daily Mass service and was special for us to join this essential part of their lives. After a brief visit to the chapel library we made lunch, thanks to a welcome Tesco’s delivery, and were able to discuss thoughts on our experience of monastic life so far. The last service we attended lasted for ten minutes and was a perfect end to what had been a thoroughly thought provoking and enriching experience. Thank you Clare and Benedict for taking us!

By Becky Grubb and Esther Palmer, 6.1

Examining theories of truth

On Wednesday before half term, Jaw was set to be given by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, but with the Human Rights Act called into question by the new government, she had to postpone until next year, when we really look forward to hearing about human rights from her. As happens on these occasions, I summoned together some disparate thoughts, made a powerpoint, and stepped in.

That Wednesday was the 1690th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, a really significant moment in defining Christian doctrine. When Constantine overturned Emperor Diocletian’s edicts about the treatment of Christians, eventually converting to Christianity himself, he hoped to unite the Roman Empire under a common religion and one God. It was not as easy as that, however, because there were huge debates and infighting going on amongst Christians about the nature of God, and whether Jesus was God, or man. We used this as an example in examining some theories of truth. Is truth correspondence with the facts, or is pragmaticism right, the view that truth is something where we have to ‘wait and see’, gathering evidence and forming a picture. Truth, on this view, emerges over time. There is a lot of merit in looking at truth this way, especially when looking at court cases, history or developments in science. I think it’s also a helpful way perhaps to view the Council of Nicaea. The Council took place around 329 years after the birth of Christ, and it takes that long to decide what direction Christianity would take. From a correspondence view, it looks like the Church is confused about the facts. From an pragmaticist view, perhaps the truth took a long time to emerge.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy

Bedales boarders enjoy architectural walk of London

Boarders weekend trip to London

For the boarders’ weekend activity Clare Jarmy organised a trip to London. Simon Sharp took three of us on an architectural walk in London. We visited some of the most spectacular buildings and Simon taught us a lot about the history of London. We started off from Waterloo station at around 11am and walked along the South Bank looking at the National Theatre and the various bridges and sights. We went all the way to the top floor on to the Tate Modern, where we sketched the panoramic view of the City and St Paul’s Cathedral. Later on we crossed London Bridge and made our way into the City of London. We saw the tallest building in Europe, “The Shard” which was designed by Renzo Piano, and we saw the Lloyds building, designed by Richard Rogers, who described it as a “machine for making money”. We even talked about how the Millennium bridge was made less wobbly. The contrast between the old buildings and the new was extraordinary. We learned a lot from Simon on how these buildings were designed and constructed and enjoyed our long walk.

By Hector Chen, Block 4


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.

Inspiration drawn from Florence and Siena

This term, Block 5 Philosophy, Religion & Ethics students begin their Utopia Projects, where they create a vision for a perfect society. So before Christmas, some of them visited Florence and Siena, to draw inspiration from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Florence provided an ambivalent view of power: The Medici were de facto rulers in Florence far before they were de jure in charge. The story of the Medici family is punctuated by violent episodes, exiles, and challenges from rival families. Yet, they are, without a doubt, responsible for commissioning people at the forefront in their fields, including Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Galileo and Michelangelo, all of whom we came across. In the Palazzo Vecchio, we stood in the infamous Machiavelli’s office, listening to passages from The Prince that claim you should ‘crush your enemies’ so they can’t retaliate. Unsurprisingly, many found it hard to swallow Machiavelli’s political realism! In Siena, we saw frescos of Good and Bad government, and the consequences they have for a society. Tragically, they remain unfinished as the city fell to the Black Death before they could be completed. The trip culminated in a ‘draw your favourite thing from the Uffizi’ competition over supper on the last night, all completed in the medium of ‘biro on paper placemat’, which I am sure that Michelangelo would have used, if only they had been available to him!

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy

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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.

Scholarly RS lectures

Last week was a busy one for 6.2 RS students. On Tuesday some went to Churcher’s College for a talk by Brian Poxon about Boethius’ views on Time and Eternity. This was an immensely scholarly talk about whether we can be free if God knows the future. In addition, there was also lots of helpful exam advice; Brian has examined for OCR many times, and wrote the revision guide we use at Bedales. On Wednesday, sixth formers went to Heythrop College London to a conference that examined questions of Religious Language and Life after Death. There was opportunity for seminar-style discussion, in which Bedales students demonstrated their confidence in talking about challenging ideas.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy

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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.

How our leaders talk to us about terrorism

At Jaw last Wednesday, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, Clare Jarmy stepped in to talk to us about how our leaders talk to us about terrorism. She started with talking about the symbolism behind 9/11; why the terrorists chose the twin towers, the centre of capitalism; The Pentagon, which is the centre of intelligence; and The White House, which is considered the centre of power. Clare then went on to discuss George Bush’s speech in response to 9/11. She highlighted his use of words and the topics he included. For example, when talking about America he used the adjectives ‘united’ and ‘together’ whereas when talking about the act of terrorism he used ‘evil’. It was interesting because of the recent situation with Syria and how in recent weeks news reports have stopped referring to the Syrian ‘government’, and now refer to the ‘regime’.

By Tilly Driscoll-Smith, Block 5

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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.