Bedales Nursery & Pre-Prep, Dunannie and Bedales Prep, Dunhurst
Muddy says: A pre-prep and prep unlike any other. Part of the famous Bedales, Dunannie and Dunhurst both encourage students to be free-thinkers, strong team players, all while bolstered with incredibly strong academics.
Dunannie and Dunhurst are the pre-prep and prep arms that make up the famous Bedales School. Taking children from 2 years and 9 months – 8 years at Dunannie, and ages 8 – 13 years at Dunhurst, these co-ed settings are set in the rural village of Steep, just outside Petersfield. The senior school moved to the current location back in 1900 and the prep section opened in 1902.
Located just a mere hour outside London, and with close proximity to cities such as Winchester and Chichester, there’s a good range of local attendees as well as those from the Big Smoke. Dunannie currently has 85 pupils with an average class size of 16, and Dunhurst is 225 pupils with an average class size of about 16 to 18, giving the classes a really cosy feel but with enough kids to give a range of diversity and backgrounds.
The grounds here are a beautiful higgledy-piggledy maze of old and new buildings, along with a whopping 120 acres of space which feels incredibly rural but is close enough to transport links and the motorway for ease of getting to and from the school. The senior school is also on the same grounds but set apart from the younger kids.
There are plenty of impressive facilities here for all parts of the school. Headline facilities have to be the on-site farm – complete with chickens and polytunnels galore – and the Bedales Olivier Theatre (which is shared with the senior school).
There are also 3 floodlit outdoor tennis/netball courts, a floodlit Astroturf hockey pitch, four-lane swimming pool, Sam Banks Cricket Pavilion, outdoor cricket nets and the Sports Hall, with 4 badminton/volleyball courts, netball court, 2 basketball courts and bay indoor cricket nets.
On the creative side, there’s The Cobb which is Dunhurst’s Creative Art Centre and on the day I arrived, they were hours away from surprising the kids with the brand new Dunhurst Barn – a new teaching space created in the style of a log cabin, complete with woodland views from the classrooms themselves.
There’s no doubt that the kids here are very smart, but it’s important to note that one of the main draws to both of the schools is the different approach to learning and academics. Testing isn’t a big thing here and it’s more about “head, hand and heart”, an ethos that comes directly from Bedales’ founder John Haden Badley.
However, if you need particular statistics, in the last year, Dunhurst pupils were awarded five academic scholarships, two music scholarships and an art scholarship at Bedales Senior School. And although the majority of leavers move onto the senior school, children have been accepted to other top tier schools such as Cheltenham Ladies College, Marlborough, Gordonstoun Bryanston, Canford, St Swithun’s and Marlborough.
Art, design, music and theatre are at the very heart of all the Bedales schools. And it’s understandable to hear that many well-known people in the creative and design industries have both attended and also sent their own children here.
At Dunannie the kids have helped to create a metal sculpture that sits in the playground and all kids take part in regular music/drama and art lessons, all of which are intertwined within topic work. There’s exposure to singing and drama performance throughout the pre-prep that really ramps up when they move onto Dunhurst.
Dunhurst has dedicated art days and focuses on a range of art disciplines that includes traditional art, pottery, textiles, design technology and digital art as well. There’s a real free-flow to the art curriculum here, again based on topics, but does allow the kids to have free-reign on their creativity.
One of the kids told me that during design technology they fancied making a guitar, so that’s exactly what they did – with help and support from the staff. Another pupil told me during a textiles project to create a kimono, that didn’t appeal to them as much so instead self-drafted a Cardi B inspired jacket with elements of Asian design. The kids are given the tools and skills to create almost whatever they want, as long as it’s not too derivative of the project.
As I walked around the music department I could hear kids practising Guns ‘N’ Roses tracks alongside classical, again embracing that love of arts rather than being made to stick rigidly to a specific curriculum requirement.
The bohemian ethos of the schools really lends itself to pushing the envelope creatively here and, in the process, helps to mould some very talented young people.
Drama-wise at Dunhurst there are termly productions, including a Year 7 play, a Years 4-6 play, a Year 8 leavers’ play, and a Years 7-10 play which sees Dunhurst collaborate with the senior school.
Pupils’ input is encouraged and valued in every production, so for the kids that prefer to stay out of the limelight, there is also a chance to be involved in tech or backstage as an alternative.
Sport at Dunannie and Dunhurst is really on the up-and-up, and with core activities such as football, hockey, tennis, netball, cricket, rounders and swimming, there are plenty of opportunities for the kids to get active. They also try and mix it up as much as possible, so you’ll see boys playing netball and girls playing cricket here too.
For those who like a bit of friendly competition, Dunhurst has up to 16 teams out competing with other schools in any given week. Last year the boys’ football team were County League Champions and the girls’ hockey team County Champions. Children at Dunannie also play in regular matches against other schools.
The school is always looking for new sports to add the roster as well and along with badminton, fencing. basketball, and athletics, they are also looking to introduce water polo as well.
The head of Dunannie is Victoria Homewood who was previously the head of pre-prep over the border at Westbourne House in Chichester. With a career that has spanned both the independent and state sector, Victoria came to Dunannie just over a year ago and felt she finally found her place.
She has a real passion for teaching, helping the kids succeed, and does so with an incredibly warm aura. One of the big draws to the school for her was the unorthodox and liberal vibe. Looking to the Steiner and Montessori models, she explained while she likes some elements of the ideologies, she feels there needs to be a flexible approach to work with children. The kids need to have fun while they learn and making excellent childhood memories leads to more educational recall than the same practised exercises time and again.
Over at Dunhurst, Colin Baty is the head. A formidable Kiwi with a family legacy of teaching, Colin was previously the head of Great Walstead Prep School for 8 years. He is a regular contributor to the national education debate, his absolute wealth of knowledge on teaching is definitely a force to be reckoned with and his viewpoint certainly wins a lot of people over. He recently caused a few waves with a piece he penned calling the 11-plus and Common Entrance exams an “antiquated” process that does nothing but cause anxiety and stilt young kids.“I don’t believe that getting children of this age to jump through such hoops is good for them. Evidence around adolescent mental health suggests that we should exercise caution, and I am far from convinced that the prize is worth the tears that I have seen.”
The kids speak very highly of him, as do parents, and his view of encouraging a collective learning experience – rather than focusing completely on the individual – is refreshing and feels 100% in terms of belief and sincerity.
For kids attending Dunhurst, boarding is available from the age of 10 and up and there are currently 75 boarders, which is less than half of the student body. I was able to see around the girls boarding and found it quite cosy and bijou compared to other settings I’ve visited. My guide, who is a boarder, said that they really enjoy it and there’s enough space and activities happening to mean they are always busy and engaged.
There’s also good flexibility with boarding, and there are usually around 20 or so kids around at the weekends which means trips to the shops in Petersfield, visits to nearby trampoline parks and plenty of extra-curricular activities to take part in.
Seriously, how much time do you have? These are not your run of the mill schools. No, no, no! Starting with the most obvious, uniform, or should that be lack of? Kids here wear what they want and while there are probably a few obvious dress code rules, it’s a mish-mash of cultural influences and curious design choices. Never have I seen so many beanie hats being worn indoors.
Then there are the teachers: no Sir or Miss here, teachers are first-names only and it’s been this way for a very long time. The idea is that teachers are to be viewed more as peers rather than totalitarian authority figures and the school also boasts the fact it was one of the very first totally co-ed schools as well. The school classes are named differently as well, with Year 4 known as Group 1, Groups 2 and 3 for years 5 & 6 and Blocks 1 & 2 for years 7 & 8.
Another very popular aspect of Dunhurst is JAW, which has been in place since the school’s inception. This is a weekly session where interesting people come to the school to give a talk. However, unlike other schools, the hour-long format is 15 minutes of talking from the guest and 45 minutes of grilling from the students. Explorers, fashion designers and a whole lot more, this is one school event I wouldn’t mind checking out myself.
On the grounds, there’s the farm, a random Celtic hut on the Dunannie Orchard and I even spotted a traditional vardo as well.
Topped off by some super quirky extra-curricular activities, with top choices including the Hygge club, dog walking society and even a cake decorating activity.
Forest School is nothing new at Dunannie and right from nursery, there is a culture of outdoor learning, complete with picking up worms and getting grubby knees while finding out about the world. The nursery has its very own garden and sandpit and also shares the facilities such as the pool with the rest of the school. The kids learn French and Spanish with specialist teachers and there are also specialist teachers for music and PE.
One of the cornerstones of the schools is based around its strong pastoral care and Dunhurst, in particular, has The Nest which is a dedicated pastoral/wellbeing space. Wellbeing is its own stand-alone class as well, emphasising its prime importance as part of the school life.
This is top tier and its vast differences from other independent settings command, understandably, a higher price tag.
For Dunannie nursery (without funding) full time is £620 a term, Reception is £3,330 per term and rises to £4,350 by Year 3. Heading over to Dunhurst Group 1 aka Year 4 starts at £5,785 for day pupils, £5,885 for years 5 & 6 and years 7 & 8 £6,415 per term for day pupils.
Full boarding is £8,520 per term, half boarding (3 nights a week) is £7,590 and flexi boarding is available for £47 per night.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The schools are well regarded and people will move specifically to be close by. The unorthodox approach to learning and general day-to-day life encourages a lot of creative families and more than a few well-known individuals to choose the schools for their kids’ education. It is however very much an equal setting and every child is as important as another.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who want something different for their kids’ schooling. This is a setting that encourages free-thinkers, rule-benders (within reason, of course!) and trusts the kids to take charge of their own learning as much as being guided by the teaching staff.
Not for: If you’re all about stats and figures, measured metrics for learning and something akin to hot housing, then the bohemian quirky nature of this school is not going to fly. Also if you want your child to be the ABSOLUTE VERY BEST top of the class, the collective mentality isn’t going to work either. Worth noting as well that from Block 1 the school day runs until 5:30pm and includes mandatory Saturday lessons, so it’s a pretty long week in general.
Dare to disagree? Be our guest! The next Open Morning for both Dunannie and Dunhurst is Sat 14 March 2020. Register your interest by completing this registration form or contact the Deputy Registrar, Kate Freeman, on 01730 711558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.