Bedales School is a co-educational, boarding and day independent school in the village of Steep, near the market town of Petersfield in Hampshire, England. It was founded in 1893 by John Haden Badley in reaction to the limitations of conventional Victorian schools. Bedales continues to be one of the most expensive public schools in the UK. For the school year 2015/2016, boarders' fees are £11,230 per term, a similar figure to that charged by Harrow (£11,095) or Eton (£11,090).
Bedales is renowned for its liberal ethos, relaxed attitude, fashionable parents and famous alumni. The Tatler Schools Guide used to cite Bedales as "a bohemian idyll with bite", and The Good Schools Guide states that, although the school is "less distinctive than in the past", it is "still good for 'individuals', articulate nonconformists, and people who admire such qualities".
Since 1899 the school has been on an 120-acre (0.49 km2) estate in the village of Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire. As well as playing fields, orchards, woodland, pasture and a nature reserve, the campus also boasts two Grade 1 listed arts and crafts buildings designed by Ernest Gimson, the Lupton Hall (completed in 1911) and the Memorial Library (1921), and two contemporary award-winning buildings: the Olivier Theatre (1997) and the Orchard Building (2005).
The school was started in 1893 by John H Badley and Oswald B Powell after they had been introduced to each other by Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, whom they both knew from their Cambridge days. Their wives, Amy Badley and Winifred Powell were an essential part of the team. A house called Bedales was rented just outside Lindfield, near Haywards Heath. In 1899 Badley and Powell (the latter borrowing heavily from his father, the Vicar of Bisham) purchased a country estate near Steep and constructed a purpose-built school, including state of the art electric light, which opened in 1900. The site has been extensively developed over the past century, including the relocation of a number of historic vernacular timber frame barns. A preparatory school, Dunhurst, was started in 1902 on Montessori principles (and was visited in 1919 by Dr Montessori herself), and a primary school, Dunnannie, was added in the 1950s.
Badley took a non-denominational approach to religion and the school has never had a chapel: its relatively secular teaching made it attractive in its early days to non-conformists, agnostics, Quakers, Unitarians and liberal Jews, who formed a significant element of its early intake. The school was also well known and popular in some Cambridge and Fabian intellectual circles with connections to the Wedgwoods, Darwins, Huxleys, and Trevelyans. Books such as A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? and L'Education nouvelle popularised the school on the Continent, leading to a cosmopolitan intake of Russian and other European children in the 1920s.
Bedales was originally a small and initimate school: the 1900 buildings were designed for 150 pupils. Under a necessary programme of expansion and modernisation in the 1960s and 1970s under the headmastership of Tim Slack, the senior school grew from 240 pupils in 1966 to 340, thereafter increasing to some 465.
In the first half of the 20th century the progressive movement around Bedales attracted a community of artists, craftsmen and writers to live in Steep. Edward Thomas, a poet killed in World War I – and his wife moved there in 1911. In the early 1920s Stanley Spencer made a number of drawings and paintings of activities at the school while staying with Muirhead Bone. Other important artistic connections include Edward Barnsley, Ernest Gimson, Ivon Hitchens, Alfred Hoare Powell and Arnold Dolmetsch.
With the more liberal society of the 1960s, the coeducational liberal arts ethos of the school became extremely fashionable, attracting many literary and artistic parents as well as minor British and European royalty.
Bedales has educated boys and girls together since 1898. The school's particular emphasis on arts, crafts and drama can be seen as a direct and deliberate legacy of this early co-education theory, as explained by one of the school's most influential masters, Geoffrey Crump, in his book Bedales Since the War (1936):
"It is not enough to preach self control to a girl of fifteen who is just beginning to realise her power over the other sex, or to a boy of seventeen who is seriously disturbed by a girl of his own age. They don't want to be self-controlled. But one of the most valuable things that psychology has taught us is the importance of sublimation, and here is our chance. Adolescence is a time when it is natural to be active, and it is also an awakening to the power of beauty, beauty of all kinds – in colour form, movement, sound and spiritual aspiration. The boy and girl see these first in their human counterparts, and if left to themselves will hardly look anywhere else. But it is now that they are ready for the beauty of poetry, music, painting, drawing, and above all the earth around them, and these they must be given without stint ... The tendency of modern civilisation is to hurry on the awakening of sexual consciousness – a fact that is much to be deplored, and that makes the tasks of all schoolmasters and schoolmistresses far more difficult. Children now see erotic films and posters and read erotic books at an age when we had not thought about such things. They hear erotic dance-music, with its imbecile sentimental words, wherever they go. The attitude of a city-bred boy of fourteen to a city-bred girl of fourteen is quite different from what it was ten years ago."
The early Bedalian curriculum provided sound coverage of English and modern languages, science and design, while gardening, crafts, drama and nature walks also took place. Academic standards in the early years oscillated through many phases of experimental syllabus.
In September 2006 Bedales introduced 'Bedales Assessed Courses' (abbreviated to BACs), devised 'to move away from the constraints of too many externally examined courses, and to win back the freedom necessary to reflect the school's creative ethos, and its emphasis on the individual, in our teaching and learning'. Students in Blocks 4 and 5 (Years 10 and 11) combine five or seven GCSEs – English Language, Mathematics and a Modern Language GCSE, as well as IGCSE Double Award Science, are compulsory for all students in these years – with two or three BACs. Eleven BACs are offered: Ancient Civilizations, Geography, PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics), English Literature, History, Art, Design, Dance, Classical Music, Theatre Arts and Outdoor Work.
Outdoor Work is a unique aspect of the Bedales curriculum. As well as being a BAC, it can be taken as an alternative to games. It involves a myriad of activities focused on maintaining the school's estate, including 'building barns, making a pond and creating natural sculptures' as well as opportunities to 'make jam or chutney, plant trees and to undertake gardening and livestock management tasks'. There is also a weekly opportunity to bake bread in the traditional wood-fired bread oven.
As well as the many curricular courses Bedales offers, there is a wide range of student run activities and societies. These range from the more traditional societies, such as Debating, Philosophy, Literary, Maths, etc., to the more eccentric, such as (the ever popular) Harry Potter Society, Gem Sweater Jamboree, Tea Appreciation society (Iced Tea in the summer), Akido, Jazz Appreciation, etc.
Already wide and varied, the musical and artistic focus of its curriculum is an area of particular notability; its alumni include successful instrumentalists, artists, designers, photographers, actors and singers.
The term 'Bedales Schools' incorporates Bedales itself (for ages 13–18), as well as Dunhurst (7–13) and Dunnannie (3–7). Since September 2009, Keith Budge, having formerly been Headmaster of Bedales School, has held the title of 'Head of Bedales Schools', although each of the junior schools has a separate Head as well. His role involves overseeing management and directing the long-term future and ethos of the school.
Bedales (senior) School also has a 'Managing Head', whose role is to manage the 'day to day' aspects of the school and to be directly available to all members of staff. Louise Wilson (BA, King's College London; PGCE, King's College London), formerly teaching at Portsmouth Grammar School and others, is now managing head of the senior school since September 2014.