Hampshire’s not the place you’d think would be a hub of bohemian teens. And
yet, there it is, Bedales. A public school with a refreshingly large
proportion of day pupils, this is no academic hothouse. The emphasis is on
self-expression and self-monitoring; ex-pupils describe it as being like a
It’s very green, with tons of trees, fields and a farm. In fact, farming is a
big deal here: all the pupils are exposed to some aspects of agriculture, be
it keeping bees, birthing lambs or coppicing.
Background and Reputation
The choice for hippies who aren’t quite ready for full Montessori. Bedales’
reputation for avant-gardism has always existed; it’s been nondenominational
since it was founded in 1893. There’s no uniform (which some say leads to
pressure to be dressed fashionably); there are resident alpacas and amazing
environmental initiatives. Contrary to the image of pot-smoking teen junkies,
these days Bedales has a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and anyone found to
be taking them will be asked to leave. Alcohol isn’t quite as strongly
prohibited as drugs, although if someone is repeatedly found to be drinking
they will also be asked to leave. There are examples of pupils with drug and /
or alcohol problems being incorporated in other ways; for example becoming day
instead of boarding pupils. So: it’s still fairly hippyish, but they’re trying
to crack down a bit on the full Withnail experience.
Academic and Exit Results
The point of Bedales is emphatically not in academic results; however,
everyone wants to pass some exams. They believe in education being about
education, learning and inspiring the desire to learn. Hear, hear. Yet pass
exams they do – and well. Last year’s GCSE lot got the highest grades since
the new curriculums were introduced in 2008, and around half got A* / A
grades. Impressive stuff considering how much emphasis there is on self-
discipline; there’s no learning by rote here. Bedales also has its own
alternative to GCSEs, the UCAS recognised Bedales Assessed Courses. This is
much more coursework based than the traditional courses and allows more room
for creativity and further research into subjects which the pupils are
interested in. Also further room for getting help from others. The subjects on
offer range from the everyday (Maths, Spanish) to the more typically Bedalian:
there’s plenty of Ancient Civilisations, Ethics, Philosophy and so on. About a
quarter of pupils have dyslexia or dyspraxia. Particularly strong subjects are
English and History. Art is really extraordinarily good, with lots of pupils
going on to the Slade, the Ruskin etc. Those who go to university tend to
first take a gap year before going somewhere louche like Leeds or Bristol.
Many do Sciences, which is slightly odd considering that A-Level Science
classes are far from full. Maybe it’s just because they’re the ambitious ones,
as opposed to the lazy Humanities students.
Social and Pastoral
There are mixed-age dormitories which make bullying ‘almost impossible’
according to some. It’s a fairly small school for such a famous one and the
informal relationships with teachers (all first names) means that they are
available to mentor and look after the pupils well. However some teachers do
very obviously have ‘favourites’ who they will help and, even, side with. The
food is excellent, and the boarding houses also have kitchens, although the
trendiness of Bedales does extend, unfortunately, to the odd case of anorexia.
The salad bar wouldn’t be out of place in a 5* hotel’s buffet and mains
include chickpea curries and sirloin steak.
Sport, Art, Music and Drama
Not everyone is sporty here, and that’s ok. Pupils can opt to do farming work
instead (although some use this as an excuse to skive off and go to the pub).
For those who do want to play there’s a floodlit full-size AstroTurf, a pool
and various gym options. There is a divide, though, between the sporty types
and the not so much. Music is very well taught and popular, though there is no
pressure to do it. There’s a series of Jazz concerts as well as rock bands and
various choirs. Drama is huge and there’s an enormous theatre to prove it.
Student-run productions in recent years have included Oedipus Rex.
Most of life at Bedales feels fairly extracurricular anyway, so there’s no
need to emphasise it. But there is tons on, should you want to dip your toe in
the water. There are lecture series, and a Civic Programme where someone comes
to talk to the pupils (think former heads of MI6,TV producers and award-
winning novelists). Obviously there’s DofE, but what makes Bedales unique is
the other stuff you can do. There’s breadmaking, blacksmithing and
silversmithing, for cripes’ sake! There’s a society specifically for listening
to Radio 4 and a large choice of school magazines. You can do weaving, watch
French films or learn decorative embroidery. If William Morris were alive
today, he’d probably be a teacher here.