An update from the Professional Guidance department

By Vikki Alderson-Smart, HE Advisor

A team of interviewers arrived at school this week to take part in one-to-one talks with 6.1 students about their plans for after Bedales. The interviewing team sent a message afterwards to say: “We were totally bowled over by your students over the past couple of days. They were not only punctual and polite, but also most communicative, conveying a wide spectrum of ideas and delightful to engage.”

All of the 6.1’s will have a follow-up interview with me to discuss in more depth their research into their post-Bedales plans. I will be encouraging them to go and visit universities on open days, and all these dates can be found on the UCAS website. Taster days are another good way of trying out various courses; registration for the University of London taster programme is now open.

Students can also try MOOCS as a way of dipping their toes into subjects they may not have tried before; Futurelearn is a particularly good website for finding courses.

Students should also take advantage of the Old Bedalian careers list. I will encourage your sons and daughters to speak with Leana Seriau, Alumni Liaison Manager, to use this facility. She is able to put students in contact with Old Bedalians from many career areas so that they can gain a better insight into areas of work they may be considering. Please encourage them to see Leana or contact her by email:


Students and buyers remorse – the case for liberal arts degrees

By Vikki Alderson-Smart, Head of Professional Guidance

A recent survey of university students conducted by the website The Student Room found that nearly a fifth regret their choice of degree, with even more saying that they would have chosen differently had they been given a second chance.

These findings are far from unique. In 2016, a survey of A level students conducted by Which? found that around three in ten wish they had chosen different A level subjects. Only half felt sufficiently informed about how their A levels might affect their choice of university or choice of course, and three in ten said that advice they were given when choosing their A levels failed to take into account how their subject options might affect their degree and university choices.

As a teacher with a specialist professional guidance role, these new findings grab my attention – not least as many of those students expressing disappointment cite a lack of initial research as the main cause. Careers advice in schools has long been criticised as patchy – not least by Ofsted, who in 2013 reported that only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all students were receiving the level of information they needed. On the surface of it, then, it sounds like this may be a fairly straightforward failing on the part of school careers guidance practitioners and the schools that employ them. However, it would be wise for us to pause before pulling the trigger.

I am fortunate to be part of the Bedales Professional Guidance Department which provides a highly-structured Higher Education (HE) pathway for sixth form students. However, making good choices also requires an investment on the part of the student. To this end, we encourage them to make use of a wide range or resources when selecting courses. University taster days, where a student can experience a day in the life in a wide range of subjects can help when deciding between courses. Futurelearn is an excellent source for students to access free online courses as another way of trying out various subjects. Our 6.1’s (lower sixth) participate in the Centigrade programme which aims to match a student’s interests with HE courses, hopefully opening their eyes to options not previously thought about. Bedales also subscribes to Unifrog – a wonderful resource that is a comparison website for university courses. It collates available data – subject requirements, typical grade offers, league table and student satisfaction scores, tuition and teaching provision, and much more. No less usefully, it allows students to calibrate their progress against what is available to them, and so make realistic choices.

Does this guarantee that our students make decisions that are right for them? Well, for those who are clear about their direction and highly motivated it is a great help, but for others the picture can be less straightforward. In my experience, about 70% of any lower sixth year group at the start of the spring term, will know broadly what they want to do, with about 20% of the cohort very clear about subjects and institutions, and how they plan to realise their goals. The remaining students tend to be pretty vague in comparison – their direction might extend towards doing one of the humanities, but with little preference as to where. Around 5-10% of the cohort will have no clear idea.

It is tempting to assume that students will make best use of what we make available to them. However, whilst at key points some want a great deal of my time, others actively avoid 1-to-1 guidance sessions with me and give resources a wide berth.

We must be wary, then, in assuming that students’ A level and university choices directly reflect the quality of careers and HE guidance available to them. And even when this is the case, things don’t always go to plan. For example, it is difficult to foresee that continuing a subject in which they had done well at GCSE may prove to be too much of a stretch for some, or that non-educational factors may change the picture for them. Working with such uncertainties is one of the ways in which we careers guidance specialists must earn our corn.

There are various approaches we can take to helping the undecided to ensure that they make sound choices for A level and university destinations. For example, we might steer them towards facilitating A level subjects which have admissions currency across a range of courses. More specifically, we may encourage those who are less than firm in their university preferences to consider applying after they have received their A level results. This removes at least some of the uncertainty from the process for them, and buys them more time to research.

For those who are struggling to identify a specialism, we might make a point of highlighting the availability of liberal arts degrees which, initially at least, see students pursue a wider range of subject options thus allowing extra time to settle on their passion. Such programmes are well established in the US, Canada and Europe, and an interesting new development has been the rising enthusiasm in UK universities for this approach.

Sound advice from school careers staff is very important, of course, but I sometimes wonder whether we might be better advised to structure HE in a way that doesn’t require all young people to settle on a specialism quite so early.


Old Bedalians talk on life beyond Bedales


On Friday evening this year’s 6.2 students were given a glimpse of themselves in ten years’ time when a group of Old Bedalians who left the school in 2004 came back to share their experiences and to talk about their careers. This annual event always produces a wide variety of OBs and occupations and we had examples from the world of journalism, advertising, film, computing, politics and design. All spoke warmly of the help and encouragement they had received at school and the strong social and professional networks that existed among Old Bedalians. They did much to reassure the 6.2s that it was quite normal to experiment and change direction in order to find the right career path and that self- belief was the most important guarantee of success.  They came across as a lively, entertaining and wise group of alumni, and they were able to pass on some valuable insights and advice to the 6.2s who are following in their footsteps. Many thanks to the OBs for their time: Jeremy Walker; Mrinal Sinh-Smith; Lucy Luscombe; Bella Mates; Francesca Pheasant; Luisa Parker; Nico Ball.

OB Mrinal Sinh-Smith (from The Guardian) with his sister Radheka Kumari, current 6.2 student.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Support for leavers

We wish our departing 6.2s well as they leave Bedales to become Old Bedalians. They will be joining the vast alumni network, and as they move on to further studies and careers, they can continue to benefit from the Bedales Professional Guidance team. A great resource for them is the help which can be offered by OBs who are already established in their careers. Nearly 200 OBs, in a wide range of professional fields, have signed up to the initiative. Recent leavers can email Leana Seriau, Alumni Liaison Manager to enquire whether there are any offers in their field of interest. We keep in touch with OBs via monthly OB Bulletins and the yearly OB Newsletter, as well as several reunions to mark different life milestones, and via social media. The first OB event of the next school year will be an inaugural OB v 1st XI football match on 13 September (1.30pm). The OB team is being organised by Jack Deane (OB 2004-09). Supporters are welcome – refreshments will be served.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.