Bede’s Senior School, Upper Dicker, Hailsham
Muddy says: Fabulous boarding facilities and innovations from a ‘day boarder’ concept to a pupil-run mini zoo help set this senior school apart.
Bede’s is an independent co-ed senior school for 13 – 19-year-olds. Founded in 1979, to complement the prep school (which dates from 1902), it has just celebrated its 40th birthday.
Set in 140 acres at the village of Upper Dicker, near Hailsham, the school has easy access to the South Downs and the cultural hotspots of Charleston and Glyndebourne, with which it has educational links. The campus has a range of attractive building styles. Lawns surrounding a small lake make a popular place for alfresco study.
The school is not as physically detached from the community as some. Children are able to walk to the village shop at lunchtimes and over 18s can visit the pub on Friday nights. Some enterprising boarders even set up a recent tea and tour for locals.
There are currently around 750 pupils, 300 of them boarders. Around 18% of pupils are international, spanning some 30+ nationalities.
Bede’s catchment area is typically Sussex, Surrey, Kent and other home counties, with London also accessible. There are many pick up points for day pupils as a large fleet of minibuses covers areas including Lewes, Brighton and Hove, Haywards Heath, Hastings, Bexhill, Uckfield and Tunbridge Wells.
The acclaimed Art School includes darkrooms, ceramics studios, a Mac graphics studio and Victorian printing press. Year 9 pupils study Fine Art, Ceramics, Photography and Graphics. A third of Bede’s pupils go on to study art-related degrees. Impressive chairs and cabinets produced by pupils in DT were on display on our visit. “You can make pretty much what you want so long as you can get it out the door,” a pupil explained.
The sports complex features a swimming pool, an eight-court multi-purpose hall, a fitness suite and squash courts. There is also a water-based astro (which I’m told makes for better play than sand-based) and some rather inspiring tennis courts in the green and purple colours of Wimbledon. Golf and other sports are available off site.
Since 2011 the school has boasted an Animal Management Unit. Pupils can study the subject at sixth form and have a chance to get involved on a rota basis at a younger age. This mini-zoo was expanded last year to enable it to house monkeys and lemurs. We also saw an owl, a hornbill and cute inquisitive meerkats who came to greet us on our visit. The facility is hugely popular and incorporates a successful dormouse breeding programme (though it was the tortoises that were getting frisky on our visit!)
A new Sixth Form Centre with coffee shop-style common room will open this September and a new boarding house in September 2020. A second astro is also on the cards.
Bede’s terms itself ‘low level selective’ in the academic sense, except for at Sixth Form intake. Instead of relying on the ‘blunt tool’ of Common Entrance exams it assesses admissions based on a cognitive test, reports from feeder schools and how readily prospective pupils get involved in group activities during the Bede’s experience days. Its own prep school generally accounts for a third of new pupil intake.
The school offers over 40 courses at GCSE and more than double that at A Level. Class sizes range up to 20 for GCSE, smaller for Sixth Form.
In their first year at the school pupils chose from a ‘carousel’ of humanities and arts subjects, gradually honing down those they find of most interest.
Sixth formers are able to take a BTEC instead of, or in addition to, A Levels. They also study a Bede’s Diploma in the Lower Sixth, described as a ‘holistic enrichment programme’ designed to boost qualities like teamwork, leadership and resilience through talks, trips, workshops and community service.
Bede’s was deemed the best school in the South for added value at A level by the Department of Education in a 2015 study that compared pupils’ performance in and between exams.
University and careers advice is strong at Bede’s and includes a newly expanded programme of lunchtime talks from visiting professionals from backgrounds as diverse as the Bank of England and Wagamama. Many pupils go on to leading arts colleges and Russell Group universities.
Parents receive academic reports each half term.
There is no formal Saturday school but an optional weekend programme for both boarders and day pupils covers sports, charity fundraising, booster and revision sessions and additional study.
Impressively, there are over 100 clubs and activities on offer. The Educational Enrichment programme includes a Space Science Club, Writers’ Workshop, Theology and Philosophy and a Model United Nations. Three afternoons a week are given over to extra activities spanning sports, arts and hobbies. Children can change their preferences every term. Extra curriculum activities include ‘knit and natter’ in the local community and silver jewellery making.
The big annual cabaret takes place in front of 1,000 people including pupils from feeder schools. Bede’s also takes a show to Edinburgh Fringe most years. The school has a Community Links programme through which volunteer pupils have given local residents IT lessons, taught English, Art and Music at local primary schools, visited nursing homes and helped to train teachers in Ghana and build houses in Uganda.
Bede’s has one of the country’s leading EAL (English as an Additional Language) departments. International numbers are capped at 30 per nationality to ensure a good mix.
Alumni include Olivier Award-winning Theatre Director Jamie Lloyd, England rugby player Rob Buchanan and England hockey player Dilly Newton. The school’s under-18s girls’ football team have been national champions and some have earned scholarships to play in the States.
Families can take part in termly parents’ forums. The policy on mobile phone use is among things to have been changed as a result of these sessions. Parents are also invited to hear visiting speakers.
Boarding and wraparound care
Bede’s is a 24/7 school, though the school timetable runs 8.30 – 17.00 and official school hours are 8.00 to 19.00.
Full or weekly boarding are available. Bede’s also has a new ‘Day Boarders’ wrap-around care concept. These pupils are attached to a boarding house, complete their prep at the school and return home around 19.15.
Bede’s five newest boarding houses were recognised by the Institute of Chartered Surveyors in 2013 for their Outstanding Design and Innovation. Another is about to be upgraded for September 2020 and pupils have visited the architects to discuss the project.
The houses are bright, welcoming places with dorms radiating off large communal areas through keyhole-shaped doorways. Wall maps and flags show the varied countries that boarders hail from. There are also plentiful sofas which get pulled forward to prime TV-watching positions for Love Island, we’re told. Pupils typically start in a dorm for five and as they progress up the school, and their study commitment grows, they end up with bedrooms to themselves or shared between two.
Day pupils also have communal houses where they can relax and study.
The estate that Bede’s now occupies was originally established by Horatio Bottomley, MP, founder of the Financial Times and notorious fraudster!
There is no compulsory sport at the school – activities can take other forms such as yoga and Pilates (a hurrah from Muddy for that!) The most popular non-sporting activity in the school is Bede’s Zoological Society, through which pupils across all years have the opportunity to help care for around 40 species in the Animal Management Centre. The school has links with several high profile zoos.
Extra Curricular options for Sixth Formers include restoring vintage vehicles in car maintenance sessions and even learning the art of wine making and brewing. They also are given life skills sessions like ‘cooking for survival’, and first aid to help equip them for university and beyond.
Head and ethos
Head Peter Goodyer joined Bede’s in 2016. He has a particular interest in the psychology and neuroscience behind how children learn and as a well as increasing awareness among teachers, he has included these topics in the popular speaker programme for parents.
He says emphasis at Bede’s is placed on breadth of experience and the individual care of pupils. Like many heads, he speaks about the importance of ensuring pupils’ happiness, though says when speaking to adults he’d express this as a sense of fulfilment.
He is proud of the value added activities on offer across the board at the school that he believes should help every Bede’s pupil achieve this fulfilment. He hopes also that the school instils a sense of community and self-respect.
The school is conscious of inclusivity and recently held a student-led equalities event covering LGBT+, gender and disability issues.
Word on the ground
Pupils we spoke to said that the modern boarding houses were their favourite aspect, along with the close-knit nature of the school that meant different ages talked within the houses. They also liked the campus layout because it enabled them get some fresh air between lessons. The good performance facilities were a hit with arts-focused pupils.
They pointed out it’s not an overly religious school; the weekly 20-minute chapel sessions are more ‘reflective’ and sometimes student-led. They said the school seemed to anticipate their needs, for instance in creating the new sixth form centre.
Per term: day students, £7,600; day boarding, £7,750; weekly boarding, £11,400; full boarding, £12,130; Sixth Form supplement £50.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A relatively balanced spilt between boarding and day pupils and good wraparound care. Smart boarding house facilities. A good international mix. Artsy teens. Animal lovers. A holistic approach to sixth form study.
Not so good for: If you’re looking for stricter academic selection criteria at admissions to create a competitive environment. Children who are unlikely to make the most of the plentiful extra curricular options.
Dare to disagree? There is an open morning at Bede’s Senior School on Sat 14 Sept 2019. Contact 01323 356609 or firstname.lastname@example.org to register. Several experience days for potential pupils run throughout the year. Entry to the school is at Year 9, 10 or 12.
Bede’s Senior School, Upper Dicker, East Sussex, BN27 3QH, bedes.org