Learning by doing: Bedales schools raise the bar with unique education

Bedales encourages curiosity and spontaneity

Bedales encourages curiosity and spontaneity - Credit: Archant

Dunannie, the pre-prep school of Bedales, believes learning should be an active, meaningful and purposeful experience.

Creativity and 'learning by doing' are integral parts of the curriculum

Creativity and 'learning by doing' are integral parts of the curriculum - Credit: Archant

In 1893, a man named John Haden Badley recognised the authoritarian regimes of late-Victorian public schools. He theorised that discipline, authority and a totally literary-based learning method was not giving children the best start to life they could have. He founded Bedales schools as a humane alternative, which since then has gone from strength to strength.

Badley believed that from an early age, children should be encouraged to be curious and spontaneous through concrete learning. As they grow and move through their network of professional and expert practitioners, they should be allowed to flourish independently and guided only when necessary through constructive intervention. Learning should be an active, meaningful and purposeful experience.

Children are encouraged to interact with the natural world

Children are encouraged to interact with the natural world - Credit: Archant

Dunannie is the pre-prep branch of Bedales School. The school’s emphasis on learning through doing and making manifests in a very tangible way. For instance, a lesson might involve children wandering the 120 acres of parkland at the Bedales estate, looking at vegetation, the farm, animals, seeing changes in the environment with their own eyes, taking their own cameras and documenting independently. It may not be a total substitute for learning in the classroom but it puts more of an emphasis on making real, healthy, independent choices without being bound to a strict text.

Pupils are encouraged to interact with the real world, engaging with the local community and wider national and international matters. At harvest time pupils support food banks and deliver goods to care homes. As children grow older and continue up the school, the involvement can continue and get deeper. Recently some of the older students from Bedales Senior School visited a town in Swaziland to help the local people get running water which they then came and told the children at Dunannie all about.

Children are allowed to flourish independently

Children are allowed to flourish independently - Credit: Archant

Head Jo Webbern says appreciation of the beautiful plays a major part at Dunannie. “We believe that minds – especially children’s minds – are inspired by more than just being told about things,” she says. “They must experience things for themselves and engage the senses – the head, the hand and the heart.” The school invites artists into school to present their work and talk to the children about the kinds of emotions their art provokes. The children also visit farms and learn not only about their favourite animals but how they fit into reality and the broader context of the world.

Dunannie advocates and aspires to fostering individuality, and encourages initiative and creativity. The curriculum is broad and flexible to meet children’s wide range of individual needs, supported by gifted and talented and learning support activities. A nurturing environment is encouraged; for example, in the playground, older children look out for the little ones.

The Bedales Estate incorporates 120 acres of parkland

The Bedales Estate incorporates 120 acres of parkland - Credit: Archant

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Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie sets a high bar when it comes to preparing its pupils for the real world. A Mandarin programme, access to chemistry and biology labs, experiments and art & design projects involving both 4 year olds and sixth formers, world book days and baking bread in the bakehouse are just a number of creative and engaging activities children embark on thanks to the huge range of Bedales’ facilities.

But what about Maths, English, and Science – the core skills pupils will need to advance through their school lives and subsequent careers?

“We remember we are teaching children,” explains Jo. “Of course their learning, development and subsequent progression is at the core of everything we do but it is also crucial to maintain a sense of childhood in a real way. That’s what sets us apart.”

For more information about Dunannie and the other Bedales schools, visit bedales.org.uk or contact the Registrar Janie Jarman on 01730 711733. You can also keep up with the latest school news via Facebook and Twitter.

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