Head Students visit the Minerva Theatre

By Bedales Head Students

Last Tuesday, the Head Students, along with Magnus, saw Cock by Mike Bartlett at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester. While it was frustrating to watch due to the high levels of tension, it was also charming, funny and intimate. The dysfunctional relationship between John (Luke Thallon) and M (Matthew Needham) made the audience cringe and laugh. The fast moving pace of the writing made the relationship between John and W (Isabella Laughland) seem move exciting.

In the story we see these relationship’s put to the test when John goes from dating M to dating W. Therefore identifying as gay to identifying to bisexual. The twist comes when John makes promises to both parties that he wants to stay with them. This in turn leads to the climatic end to the story where we see M’s dad get involved in the situation Although the ending is left ambiguous the acute frustration of a household chore is amplified in John’s horrific decision. It is not the final choice that it is horrific, of course, the journey that he took there.

The staging of this play was very simple. There were no props or set. On the floor was red tape in the shape of a decagon. To show that time had passed, a alarm bell would ring and right lights would flash. The actors would change positions based on emotions rather than on particle steps. The beautiful and intricate writing of Mike Bartlett was portrayed perfectly, the words feeling natural for each character.

Commission for Block 4 student

A Block 4 student whose original script was selected to be performed at an event in London has been commissioned to develop it into a full-length piece for theatre in the capital’s West End.

Freya Hannan-Mills’ script, Swallow – which documents a daughter’s last days in a hospice with her mother – was one of four pieces of writing chosen by casting company Spotlight to be produced for an event hosted at their studios in the heart of the West End on 7 October.

The piece, which was brought to life for Spotlight’s event by director Phoebe Rhodes and actress Kate Kelly Flood, was well received by the industry panel in attendance, with casting director Daniel Edwards tweeting: “Left speechless by [Freya’s] exceptional piece … This young actress/writer is one to watch people!”

Following the success of the performance, Freya received the news that she was to be commissioned to develop Swallow into a full-length piece for performance at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s West End in January 2019.

The script will also be featured in a ‘Best of 2018’ showcase in London in December 2018.

Freya’s latest success comes just a week after she received the Robert Hutchison Young Poets Competition for her poem, Overheard at Zara – Liverpool One, at a special prize-giving event at the University of Winchester.

Earlier this year she was crowned the winner of  Wicked Young Writer Awards’ 11-14 Years Category for her short story, Mushy Peas and Battered Bits.

Students cycle the South Downs Way

By Oscar Kingsley-Pallant, 6.2

Last weekend Archie Gibbon, Jack Cecil, Sam Wilson and I left the King Alfred’s statue in Winchester at four o’clock in the morning attempting to cycle the South Downs Way in a day.

The initial 25 miles went by in a breeze, though in freezing temperatures and pitch black skies the distance we covered in such a short space of time raised our confidence.

At 30 miles we hit a low and began to struggle with the constant increase in steepness of the hills. At the perfect time we met Nicola Cecil and Fionna Gibbon who re-supplied us with energy and morale. Setting off after that was hard and required huge mental and physical strength for the next 40 or so miles.

After hours of intense cycling on the unforgiving terrain we met Jim Gibbon, a true guardian angel to all each of us. From Brighton he supported us with fuel and motivation, meeting us at pit stops well into the night.

When darkness came we were still left with 30 miles to go and struggled. The encouragement we got from each other allowed us to continue and spur on until Eastbourne came into view.

When finishing the final leg of the journey we were all fully exhausted and lied down underneath the finishing sign with a sense of overwhelming happiness and pride that we had completed cycling the South Downs Way in a day.

Thank you to all those who supported us, especially our parents, and thank you to those who have donated to our cause as we raise money for Swaziland.

Bedales student attends Rank Foundation Leadership Day

By Norpell Wilberforce, 6.1

On 13 September, I attended the Rank Foundation School Leadership Day. Prior to that, the Rank Foundation had been a mysterious organisation about which I could only guess. However, on the day all was made clear to me with perfect clarity; we were given a talk explaining the organisation’s history and their aims and were tasked to make videos centred on various aspects of leadership so that we hear each other’s ideas and learn from them.

These videos could only have ten shots lasting only a few seconds so it pushed all our cinematography skills to the limit! My group were given the question “what are the qualities of a good leader” and there were lots of intelligent answers such as resourcefulness, determination, wisdom and charisma to name but a few. However, what really resonated with me was when one of my peers answered “A good leader knows when to relinquish control”. I think that this is one of the most important qualities because the progression of time calls for different leaders with different styles; the time a leader must really step up to the occasion is when it is time for them to step down.

Despite the well-planned and engaging programme, what I enjoyed best was meeting the rest of my cohort and hearing about their summer placements and the fantastic opportunities Rank offered them. It was an immensely enjoyable day and I look forward with much anticipation to next year!

Helena Vardag-Walters’ show-jumping success

Helena Vardag-Walters

Congratulations to Helena Vardag-Walters (Block 3), who celebrated a double win her first Italian show-jumping competition this summer.

On the first day of the two-day competition, which took place in Teaterno last month, Helena won the National A** 100m on Vardags Equestrian’s Hungarian warmblood, Corino de Vardag, leading the way with a three-second advantage over her competitor in second place.

The following day, Helena returned to win again, this time on Vardags Equestrian’s newest addition, Etoile de Vardag – this time finishing an impressive 14 seconds faster than her competitor in third place.

A blog post on Vardags’ website reads: “Helena’s incredible feat over the two-day competition showed not only her unwavering commitment to the sport but also her rising talent and determination to succeed.”

Freya Hannan-Mills wins Wicked Young Writer Award

freya-hannan-mills-bedales

Congratulations to Block 3 student Freya Hannan-Mills, who has been crowned winner of the 11-14 Years Category in the esteemed Wicked Young Writer Awards 2018.

Freya’s short story, Mushy Peas and Battered Bits – which was chosen as the winning entry by a panel including bestselling children’s author Michael Morpurgo, How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell, Olivier Award winning theatre producer Michael McCabe, and Young People’s Laureate for London Caleb Femi – staved off competition from 19 other finalists.

As winner of her category Freya won four tickets to see the London production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, a meet and greet with the cast members and an exclusive backstage tour, as well as £50 worth of books tokens, an annual subscription to award-winning children’s newspaper First News, and £100 worth of books for Bedales’ school library donated by Hachette Children’s Books.

Now in its eighth year, the Wicked Young Writer Awards recognises excellence in writing, encourages creativity, and helps develop writing talent in young people aged between five and 25 years old from all backgrounds and areas of the UK.

Freya said: “It was a fantastic honour to win the Wicked Young Writer Award. I felt shocked and excited to have won. A highlight of the ceremony was Alice Fern, who plays Elphaba in Wicked, reading my story.”

She added: “Since being at Bedales I really feel as though my creative writing has matured and developed – I have had enormous support, encouragement and the opportunity to attend masterclasses and mentoring sessions.”

Freya, who last year appeared on stage at the Lyric Theatre, London, in the production Snow Angels which she also wrote, is currently working on another script which is due to be filmed this summer.

Freya has kindly donated a copy of the book containing her winning entry, along with the other finalists’ entries, to Bedales’ school library.

Read Freya’s winning entry here (scroll to page 66).

An interview with Jo Webbern, Head of Bedales Pre-prep School, Dunannie, 2010-18

When we meet, Jo Webbern is adorned with a pair of Pudsey Bear ears. So are her staff and, of course, the children of Dunannie, over whom she keeps a good-natured watch throughout our conversation. It’s Children in Need Day, the atmosphere is excited, boisterous but suffused with warmth and encouragement. Jo is overseeing life at a school whose educational beliefs tally exactly with her own and always have done, ever since she was first inspired by the Brown Owl of her Brownie group as a young girl.

DH (1 of 9) (Large)

“I wasn’t only a Brownie, you know,” she says. “I also became a Guide later and then a Queen’s Guide but I always particularly adored Brown Owl, who was warm, friendly, kind and funny. She had been trained at the Froebel Institute, the same place that produced the first Head of Dunhurst, as it happens, and from my early days, I remember thinking that I wanted to be exactly like her.”

Teaching wasn’t the only possibility on the young Jo’s horizon when it came to considering a career, however. “There were boundaries in my childhood, naturally, but I was always given the greatest possible support by my parents to go ahead and explore life,” Jo remembers. “I was a bit of a tomboy, really, adored cars and if I wasn’t going to become an actress, which was a huge ambition of mine at one point, then being a rally driver would have been a fabulous alternative. Teaching happened in the end, mainly because I thought that it would be a more secure thing to do!”

Just as she had always planned, Jo emulated her former mentor by gaining her Froebel Certificate of Education (in 2017 students were credited with a degree). “What I loved about the Froebel approach was that children were listened to, individuality was encouraged and each child’s personal characteristics were enhanced and developed,” Jo reflects. “When I went to Froebel, the Plowden Report into primary education in Britain had just come out and while there were plenty of ideas out there, how to put them into the educational structure seemed to be a bit less certain. Practical considerations were sometimes lacking in those days but people were on the right track. It was properly recognised that a child’s early years are the most crucial of all – the building blocks, the monkey bars, the sand-pit and all the rest of it.”

A native Welsh girl, Jo headed homewards in order to gain her first practical teaching experience: “Yes, back to the Gower, where I managed to gain a really sound overview of teaching at a number of different schools. I taught inner city children and those from the farming communities and it was a great way to learn my craft.”

Eventually, the time was ripe for what had long seemed inevitable – Jo’s return to London to teach at the Froebel Demonstration School, Ibstock Place, the jewel in the crown of the Froebel Institute and a place where Jo would spend 26 contented years. “It was a wonderful school, a hands-on and spontaneous place at which to teach and to learn,” she enthuses. “Children were climbing trees the whole time, bashing around and being allowed to make their own mistakes, learn from them and ultimately apply those lessons as they moved through life. You might suddenly decide that your class would put their coats on and head off to the park in those days without any thought about permission slips or health and safety assessments. Perhaps you would all jump on a train and go and see an exhibition about the Romans – those were magical years for teachers, a time when you weren’t as restricted as you might be in the modern world. I do feel today that there is too much attention paid to control of the curriculum, that it is too carefully crafted. There has to be room for innovation and spontaneity.”

“The early years are a time when children are like a sponge; the idea for teachers must be to instil a love of learning and independent thinking in them, alongside the sound base of core standards,” Jo continues. “When I look at Year 3 in Dunannie, for example, rehearsing for their Christmas play and so taking time away from their English or maths lessons, I think how worthwhile it is. The children are learning how to work together and support each other, at the same time as they are developing their own confidence and creativity.”

Jo happened to leave Ibstock Place on the same day that Terry Wogan abdicated from his eternal reign over the airwaves of Radio 2. “It was strangely coincidental to me that we should be simultaneously leaving jobs that we loved after the same length of service,” Jo observes. “It was the right thing for me at the time, though, there were a few family matters that needed to be sorted out as well and so off I went, not without a tear in my eye.”

She would not be lost to teaching for long. A vacancy for the role of Head arose at Dunannie and Jo’s name was put forward for the post by her own former head. “I knew a fair bit about Bedales for one reason or another,” Jo explains. “I’d come here as a visitor and been so impressed; the ethos at Ibstock Place and Bedales had always been closely aligned and a number of pupils had moved on from one to the other. Sarah Webster, my formidable predecessor but one at Dunannie, was also someone whom I knew well and liked a lot. It was as though the stars aligned for me – I was free to move and now here was this wonderful opportunity to come to a place that I admired so much and now wanted me to lead the school. I felt so honoured.”

Starting as Head at the beginning of a summer term was unusual but, as Jo readily confirms, allowed her vital time to see what her priorities at Dunannie should be: “I had a clean sheet and the chance to familiarise myself with the school, to stand back, observe and reflect – and later, to implement. The only thing that took a bit of getting used to was the first-name terms but I soon saw what an enabling tool it was for the children in a conversation. One little boy seemed to think that my first name was Jwebbern, rather than Jo, so that’s what I became!”

Jo’s major preoccupation was that spontaneity should regain its place at the heart of the school – what she terms the ‘Dunannie factor’. “It seemed to me that some of the teachers had perhaps felt themselves to be under a control that was too tight,” she says. “I felt that it was necessary to restore their voice to them and allow them to express themselves through their teaching – reinstitute the ‘we can’ mentality. This is such a precious time in a child’s life and there is a danger in assessing them at every step of the way at such a young age. Of course, we measure the progress of the children but at this age more than most, children achieve different things at different times. You can achieve a Level 3 in writing if it’s especially beautifully done, but no grade can reflect the amount of effort that has gone into producing it.”

Encouragement and applause, then, would become Jo’s watchwords for Dunannie under her stewardship. “To see children skipping in to school, eager to learn, is such a wonderful thing. What we’re all trying to do here is to impart transferable skills that will prepare children for life at Dunhurst, Bedales or somewhere completely different,” she says. “Parents have a crucial role to play in that too, of course, and it’s vital for us to establish a healthy relationship with them. They need to trust us but it’s also important that they understand that we know what we’re doing. We will always listen to their views and concerns but equally, parents must be able to listen to us. Friedrich Froebel once said that a mother is a child’s first teacher and that’s true but it’s the school that has to be trusted to make those lessons work.”

It seems strange, contemplating so much exuberance and evident delight at the Dunannie of today, that Jo Webbern will no longer be a part of it after this term (Summer 2018). “I kept my retirement under my hat for a while but I’m a firm believer in leaving the party while I’m still enjoying it,” she says. “Once again, it’s absolutely the right decision for me. I have so loved the privilege of being Head here and I want to hang on to the very best of memories, the most satisfying that I’ve ever had.”

So what comes next? “I will find plenty of things to do,” Jo laughs. “I have a husband to keep an eye on and a golf handicap to bring down and I’m looking forward to doing a bit of voluntary work and a lot of travelling. Forty years of high-priced holidays will be a thing of the past for me and I intend to make the most of it. Of course I shall be sad to leave but I’ll circle back here from time to time once it’s appropriate to do so and my successor Victoria has had a chance to breathe and put her own mark on things. You can be sure of one thing: I shall never abandon the connection that I have with this place. I value it far too much.”

Jo Webbern was originally interviewed by James Fairweather in November 2017, and minor additions were added in June 2018 prior to publishing.