Psychology – what’s it all about?

Periodically, questions are raised about the rigour and value of some A Levels, of which Pyschology is one. Most recently, Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools’ Council (ISC) was reported in the Daily Mail as saying that girls who should be doing Physics are instead doing Psychology, and urges schools to persuade capable girls to choose the latter. Why? Because he says this will help to get more women into Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) careers and, importantly, onto university courses in subjects such as Engineering and Medicine. It is of note that he at least partly absolves independent schools from his analysis although I am unconvinced by his argument. Psychology was introduced as a subject at least in part to get girls more involved in Science, a task at which it has surely excelled. Although well established in universities, it was not until the 1970s that Psychology A Level was introduced in the classroom. Today more than 50,000 students are entered for the examination each year, making it the fourth most popular A Level nationally – also the case at Bedales. And, yes, it remains popular with girls.

The ongoing mantra is that it simply is not as difficult as Maths and the Physical Sciences, with great play made of its omission by the Russell Group universities from its list of ‘facilitating subjects’ – those identified as having the greatest transferability across university degree subject areas. In fact, the Russell Group identifies Psychology as ‘useful’ in relation to a range of degree subjects, whilst a number of different assessments of the difficulty of A Level subjects place Psychology above some facilitating subjects. Survey findings in 2003 found that the majority of students regarded Psychology as both their most demanding and most interesting subject (McGuinness, 2003). In 2008, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) found that Psychology was comparable in terms of standards with Biology and Sociology (although with a caveat about the difficulty of comparing different subjects).

Psychology employs a research approach and methods – for example, experimental design – that is consistent with those employed in the Natural Sciences. However, Psychology A Level also requires familiarity with the less tightly controlled observational method – also associated with the Social Sciences. Consequently, it is our belief that Psychology provides a unique opportunity to explore different and sometimes conflicting schools of thought with regard to theories of knowledge and scientific method.

That Psychology A Level is a subject that faces usefully both the Natural and Social Sciences is reflected in Psychology provision at university undergraduate level. For example, the University of Cambridge Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Department stresses the ways in which the subject overlaps with and contributes to Anthropology, Archaeology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy and Sociology.

We think there is great value in a subject that may lead students down so many potentially interesting paths. When students know exactly what they want to do beyond school, it makes sense for them to study those subjects that will get them to where they need to be next. The study of Medicine, for example, calls for a major commitment to the Natural Sciences – as a third of fourth subject Psychology might be interesting and valuable, although not essential.

However, for the significant proportion of students who have not yet decided where their future interest lies, Psychology can be a very useful way in which to ensure that the Sciences are represented in their mix of A levels.

By Sarah Flavell, Head of Psychology, Bedales School

More information about the Bedales Psychology curriculum.



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

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

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

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)

‘State of the Universe’ student led lectures

Sixth form Physics ‘State of the Universe’ lectures were thoughtfully prepared and professionally delivered this year by the current 6.1 students. These included a carefully calculated account of the effects of all humans jumping at the same time at the same place on Earth; not too much as it happens according to Jim Kan and Callum Steele. They did go on to describe the catastrophic effects of collectively lasering the moon. Chris Bury gave an account of contemporary robotic capabilities and many of the moral dilemmas that these devices will inevitably present in the future. Would you be happy that your self drive car steers you into a tree rather than hit a pedestrian? The exciting prospects for nanotechnology from space elevators to buckyball medicine dispensers or ‘nanobombs’ were plain to see in Patrick Newlands and Kath Welch’s presentation. The elegance of supersymmetry was well reflected in Chloe Zhao’s amusing and well balanced talk which started with some inspiring pieces of visual art from Ryoji.

Physics Chloe

There followed a three stage launch into space through recent developments in Exoplanet discovery ably outlined by Sam MacGuffog and Izzy Soper. The challenges facing the development of space vehicles for commercial and scientific endeavours was described by Nico Bradley and Max Hannam, where different funding routes could drive the project such as Mars 1; the one way trip to colonise Mars but presented as reality show; Elon Musk’s Space X programme which suffered its first set back recently with an exploding rocket system and the need to have reusable vertical landing and recoverable rockets.    Naveed Khalessi, Bella Anderson and Will Harvey pursued the idea of the relative merits of different propulsion systems and the practicalities of terraforming  Mars or more distant planets.

Physics Mars

Angel Fang gave a thorough account of the mechanism and uses of quantum cryptography in data security systems using the properties of quantum mechanics to elude would-be hackers. The lectures concluded with Ned Jones and Keir Dale tackling the knotty problem of superstring theory, tying the cosmological general relativity with the submicroscopic quantum world and wrapping it all in 11 dimensional space. The conclusion was that…it was hard to prove.  All together the students put in considerable individual efforts to grasp the essence of their talks, delivered them brilliantly and gained much from each other and the experience.

Physics LHC

Read the full lecture notes here

By Tobias Hardy, Head of Physics

The Bedales Drone Project

In his 1942 short story Runaround the science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced his “Three Laws of Robotics”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Robots are now an everyday part of our lives and new drone technology can be seen in mountain rescue, the deployment of weaponry and possibly even the delivery of books! As the relationship of mankind to our creations becomes more and more far-reaching and in every way intimate, there is much to reflect on: the technically possible “coulds”; the philosophical “whys” and “whats”; and the ethical “shoulds”.

Much inspired by last year’s Civics talk by Dr Dirk Gorneson from The University of Southampton on the topic of UAV’s (Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles), I was struck by the implications of this technology for the ethical theory we study in the PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics) department at Bedales; such as in Just War Theory (A2 Level), and the Philosophy of Mind and Artificial Intelligence (studied for BAC PRE Creative Response Block 5). There was growing overlap between the theory and the real world issues emerging in the wake of the technology now available in the field of UAV’s.

Conversing with teachers and students alike it was clear that this was an area well worth exploring. So, with a huge thank you to the BPA for funding the initiative, and to Richard Sinclair and Jack Paxman for their consultation, I can proudly announce The Drone Project’s first acquisition – a quad-copter drone.

This, the first of two drones to be acquired, is well equipped to take steady aerial images and can be remotely piloted and can follow search patterns. The second can be programmed to be (to a certain extent) autonomous and will be able to be fitted with sensors which feedback information that can then be acted upon in real time. We already have a Quad Copter expert at the school, Edward Boyd-Wallis, who has designed his own drone as part of his A Level.

Proposals for upcoming projects include:

  • Philosophy – Machine Ethics Project (MEP)
  • Search and Rescue Project – The emphasis of this would be to consider the ethical judgements around prioritisation, resource distribution etc., alongside the practical applications. We hope to make links with existing rescue organisations, such as the RNLI, in order to participate with the wider community.
  • Science project – create an aerial map of the sand quarry in order to study the regeneration of plants (“succession”) year on year.
  • Geography – Block 3 project Orientation project and mapping of the Bedales site.
  • Computing – Artificial Intelligence programming.
  • Just War Theory – As part of the A-level Ethics course.
  • Design – Modification and implementation, 3D printing.
  • Sport – Analysis and documentation of sports events.

An aerial photo of Bedales taken by the drone:

Image taken by the Bedales Drone

By  Benedict Haydn-Davies, Teacher of PRE


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.

Dog psychology explained

One of the greatest things about Bedales is the variety of speakers. At a recent Jaw, Dr Juliane Kaminski from the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth presented her research on dog psychology. She explained the different experiments she had carried out, proving that dogs are more aware of their surroundings than apes and chimpanzees. Juliane described how dogs respond to different objects and hand gestures, and that one particular dog can recognise over 1000 different objects on command. Her experiments verified that the relationship between dogs and their owners is extremely unique, but perhaps the most surprising fact was that dogs have been domesticated for 30,000 years with findings of humans buried hugging their beloved canines. The question however of whether our ‘best friends’ are truly loyal to us out of love or if they are more selfish and always looking for a reward is yet to be answered.

By Megan Harley (Block 4), Winnie Hall (Block 5) and Freya Deane (6.2)


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.

Dunannie children explore Earth, Space and the Victorians

Children at Bedales Pre-Prep, Dunannie, have been exploring topics spanning the earth, space and the Victorians as part of their learning this term.

Children in Year 1 were delighted to explore space in their very own mobile planetarium that appeared in the school’s library. Once inside they could gaze at the night sky and learn how to spot stars and constellations. They also found planets and astronauts in the planetarium.

Year 2 were introduced to the Victorian period in a number of different ways. Through exploring the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee, they adopted his unusual technique of mixing contrasting colours to create modern samplers from the traditional Victorian craft of stitching samplers. The children then explored the streets of Victorian times during a visit to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.

Year 3 have been enjoying plenty of outdoor activities in their study of ‘earth’. This included examining the woodland environment at Alice Holt.

Commenting on their studies this term, Jo Webbern, Head of Dunannie said, “These topics are made all the more fascinating for the children because they are learning through doing. As Head of the school, there isn’t a day that goes by without seeing the Library transformed – one day the Arctic, the next, the Vikings. Our children are fully immersed into the world that they are studying as we believe young minds learn best when truly inspired.”

Dunannie children explore earth, space and the Victorians

Year One learning about space


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.

Sixth Form Biologists enjoy DNA and Genetics lectures

Last Wednesday, Sixth Form biologists travelled to London for a day of lectures on DNA and Genetics at the Education Centre of the University of London. We first heard from Professor Paul Sharpe (Kings College), who talked about the future of teeth and how through some genetic engineering, they might in the future be able to re-grow themselves when knocked out. Then Professor Mark Jobling (University of Leicester) spoke about DNA fingerprinting in forensic science and told us some interesting stories about how it has grown and is used in tracking down criminals. Next was a talk on the use of artificial materials being used in the body to potentially replace organs from Molly M. Stevens (Imperial College). There was an interactive talk about mutations in DNA and how this can affect your genes and make you ‘super human’ and finally, Dr Kevin Fong (UCL), who is a presenter for Horizon documentaries, talked to us about the extreme limits your body can go to and told a story of a girl who died for three hours and then came back to life. Once the nerves in her arms and legs had recovered, she was fine, able to move and had no brain damage.

By Poppy Duncan and Emily Blackley, 6.1


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.