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27 May 2021
by Ferdinand Steinbeis


English Boarding Schools in Profile: Bede's Senior School, an Excitingly Diverse School That Focuses On The Individual

Hello from a wet and windy London!
It’s been the wettest May on record for us over here, but the clouds have cleared this week and the sun’s peeked out again, so it finally looks like true summer might be just around the corner. This month, we’re trying out a pilot episode for a new format of our podcast Tea with the Head — shorter, sharper, and a whole lot more exciting! We recorded this episode at Bede’s School in Sussex, where we were blessed with a rare day of blue skies. Don’t forget to listen to the podcast, and in the meantime, our thoughts on Bede’s are here for you to read below.
Fuzzy perspective: Bede's Senior School's main lawn
The Setting
Peter Goodyer, headmaster at Bede’s Senior School, likes to describe it as “a treasure in the East Sussex countryside”. Headmasters are often prone to exaggeration, but we can assure you this time that you can take Peter’s word for it!
Bede's maybe unassuming from the outside...
On the outside, Bede’s is unassuming. It sprawls through and dominates Upper Dicker, a small village about 20 minutes drive from the Sussex coastline. The school’s reception is under an impressive stone portico, but aside from that, the cluster of red-brick buildings (an old country manor house) that you see from the road are fairly unremarkable.
...but really comes to life on the inside: colourful classroom cabins
Once inside, however, you realise that Bede’s saves up all its treasures for the pupils within its walls. A warm mix and match of architectural styles, the campus is refreshingly modern and carefree about its attractiveness — there’s a pop of mutilcoloured cabins raised on stilts here, and a sleek wooden-and-glass structure there! A sort of rambling, creative village, Bede’s also has amazing grounds and sports facilities. From the lake at the heart of the school, there’s green as far as the eye can see — until, that is, it turns blue when you hit the actual sea!
Access to Bede’s is easy. The drive from London is about two hours, but there’s also Berwick train station just up the road from Upper Dicker, about an hour and a half from London.
The school's fabulous 6th Form Center
What (we think!) Bede’s is all about
As you’d expect from its campus, Bede’s stands out from your typical English boarding school. It’s flexible, dynamic, and has its feet firmly in the future, not bogged down in historic roots. This creative-thinking is also reflected in the breadth of its extracurriculars — from the Legat Dance Academy to the school zoo, Bede’s extracurricular programme really is all singing and all dancing. Friendly and very welcoming, there’s a strong sense of community at Bede’s. In our podcast, Peter said he’d most like to be known as a “kind” headmaster, and we really felt that his ethos definitely extends throughout the school.
Kindness - preached by the headmaster; practiced by teachers and pupils
In pupils' day-to-day lives, Bede’s is a school that provides really tailored education and pastoral care, whether that means finding the right course or qualification for each student, or making sure there’s an extracurricular activity that gets them going in the morning. This individual approach naturally means Bede’s does some things differently — the school makes decisions on what suits pupils’ needs, not what’s the norm in the boarding school sector. The school zoo probably speaks for itself in this respect!
A somewhat different kind of class....
The Academics
The success of Bede’s individualised approach really shows itself in its academic results. Despite not being a selective school, in 2020, 43 per cent of students achieved between a 9 and 7 at GCSE; 54 per cent achieved A or A at A Level, and 82 per cent achieved between A () and B. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 39 per cent achieved between 9 and 7 at GCSE; 48 per cent achieved A or A at A Level, and 70 per cent achieved between A () and B.
These results are really impressive from a school that takes in pupils with a wide range of academic abilities. At von Bülow, we’ve sent both high-fliers, and those who have struggled in the past, and both have flourished under the tuition at Bede’s.
Colourful view: seen from inside Bede's amazing arts department
Peter says hyperlink this is down to close teacher-pupil-parent relationships, with parents regularly updated on students’ progress. “We don’t like the idea of parents’ getting surprises,” he says. The constant feedback loop means that Bede’s has a solid awareness of each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses, and is able to offer courses and academic routes that suit them accordingly — alongside GCSEs and A Levels, Bede’s offers a wide range of BTEC qualifications, such as in Animal Management (thanks to the zoo).
Costumes from Bede's theatre and Legat Dance School
The Extracurriculars
Rather than being closely linked, or “extra” to the academic curriculum, arts and extracurriculars at Bede’s are inseparable from it. In Year 9, pupils take part in a rotating “carousel” of co-curricular activities — from cooking to first aid, relationship discussions to animal management, and kayaking to paddle-boarding — to help them find their passion.
There’s a need for a carousel because the range of extracurriculars on offer throughout the school is truly vast. From visual to performing arts, games and hobbies to community volunteering, Bede’s has it all. Each sport is offered throughout the entire year, rather than rugby, for example, dominating the autumn term, and leaving those who don’t play rugby at a loss. One of our tour guides, Freddie, was really into his sports and said that it’s definitely his favourite part of the school. “Sports is one of the biggest things at school, Bede’s is really good for it,” he told us, himself a hockey and cricket player.
The famous Bede's zoo
What was really nice to hear though, was that Alice, our other tour guide, who said she focuses on her academic pursuits rather than sports, also had great things to say about the extracurriculars — she was amply satisfied by their debating societies and discussion groups.
You couldn’t talk about extracurriculars at Bede’s and not talk about the school zoo, where full-time staff, helped by students, care for more than 50 species of animals, including ring-tailed lemurs, hornbills, baby dragons, and a kinkajou!
The school's 25m swimming pool
There is also, of course, the famous Legat Dance School, whose reputation reaches far beyond Bede’s grounds. A world-famous dance school, the Legat has for many years been formally attached to Bede’s, and pupils there are supported to balance their creative and academic pursuits.
The reason for such a vast extracurricular offering? It makes pupils happy, says hyperlink Peter. “My priority is ensuring that I’ve got children that are happy,” he tells us. “If I’ve got children that are happy, I’m going to have successful children. And for me, it’s about getting that order right… The breadth of the co-curricular is really, really important in that, because to be happy, a child needs to find something that they love.”
Boys' boarding: one of Bede's modern, spacious boarding houses
The Boarding
Bede’s has five boarding houses; of the school’s 760 pupils, around 300 board. The boarding houses are modern and well-designed, with a focus on large communal spaces. Freddie, our tour guide, said he thought the design of the boarding houses was a testament to the school itself. “This kind of summarises Bede’s,” he told us. “How it’s not traditional — it’s not a boarding house with rows and rows of rooms, it’s nice and open and modern.”
International students are well-integrated, and Alice, our other tour guide, said that for her, the multicultural community has been a real highlight of her Bede’s experience. “My favourite thing is the diversity, you get to meet people from all over the world, which is pretty cool,” she says.
With both of our tour guides pointing to Bede’s boarding as the school’s key characteristic and highlight, that probably says more than we ever could!
The idyosincratic Bede's cabins
Our view on a student suited to Bede’s Senior School
Bede’s is a place where anyone creative or active will thrive — the probably unrivalled offering of extracurricular activities makes sure of that. But it’s much more than that; really, Bede’s is about catering to the pupils that turn up at its door, rather than instilling on them a “Bede’s” education. While those who already think out of the box will likely make the most of everything the school has to offer, we really got a sense that even quieter, more traditional types would benefit from the way Bede’s looks at the world. Modern and forward-thinking, we’re confident that the best of any pupil would be brought out at Bede’s.
Green as far as the eye can see: Bede's stunning campus
“It's a child who has a joy in getting involved,” Peter says. “A joy in trying new things and doing things outside of their comfort zone, and who’s not worried about the way in which that determines who they are. They’re in it because they’re enjoying what they’re doing. And by enjoying what they're doing, they're going to get success out of it. It’s someone who loves their education, and will find joy in everything that they do.”

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