Journeys

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Keith Budge leaves Bedales at the end of this academic year. This final blog is based on his last school assembly.

As I contemplate the end of my time with Bedales, I am minded to think about journeys. Last week, in a very literal sense, I was part of a group of 24 that walked from the original Bedales home in Lindfield to Steep. This journey – all 125 km of it (I completed the first 70 of them) – marked the 125th anniversary of the school’s birth, and so I have also given thought to this rather more abstract journey.

The story of our walk from school to school is pretty straightforward. We had the idea, and it generated some enthusiasm and support. There was planning, resources, logistics, administration, risk assessments, food, water, maps, sun cream; and above all a group of people who wanted to make it happen. Substantially, that the walk was a success was the result of our teamwork.

It’s more difficult to tell the story of the first 125 years of Bedales’ existence, but two really striking things occurred to me vividly over the past week as I walked. The first of these is how very unlikely it is that the school has survived and prospered. John Badley’s idea in the early 1890s that he would start a school and that it would be based on such very different principles to the ones that enabled schools like his – Rugby – to thrive, was pretty left field.

The second striking thing, and this chimes with the story of the walk coming together, is the extent of the teamwork that enabled the fledgling creature that was early Bedales to take wing. Those of you who have followed my blogs will know that I have written regularly about John Badley. His story is well known, and so I will concentrate here a little more on the other two members of the founding triumvirate. Amy Badley, a suffragist, brought a passionate belief in women’s suffrage and women’s rights. She was, some believe, the driving force behind the introduction of girls to the school in 1898. Oswald Powell, or ‘Oz Boz’ as he was affectionately known, was multi-talented (a musician and modern linguist), and brought a great capacity for making things work.

What must it must have been like in those early days of the school’s existence in Lindfield, in Summer 1893? Fortunately, we have Oz Boz’s account to guide us – and what a fascinating read it is. You can hear in his voice the sheer daring of the school’s founding and the gamble he was taking, moving from Manchester Grammar School to join such a madcap scheme. His passion for this place “where we could all learn by doing and haply teach by being and so revolutionise English education” is both palpable and infectious. This is no po-faced account, however – he cheerfully confesses to feelings of incompetence when observed teaching History by Badley, and a comic note is struck when he talks about giving a lecture one Saturday evening on the subject of bee-keeping, despite never having kept bees. By a great quirk of fate, and with charming symmetry, his grandson, Ben Powell, joined us on Day 2 of our walk, so we heard more about Oz Boz from him.

Powell died just short of his 100th birthday; Badley reached 102. I suspect that it was this enduring partnership and the complementary qualities that they brought to it that enabled the school to be what it is today. Badley supplied that informing vision, the passion; but it would have been as nothing without the ability to deliver the goods, at which (amongst other things) Oz Boz excelled.

My final thought about the journey, and the quality that has enabled the school to thrive, is its ability to innovate and to welcome change. Whilst the school has been single-minded in preserving its founding ethos, we should remember that it is a particularly distinctive and nuanced one that invites reinterpretation by successive generations. Indeed, I particularly like Oz Boz’s take on it – that we all (staff and students alike) learn by doing, and in that process remake our idea of education. Such an approach, allied to such an ambition, is demanding: we each of us need to be part of a process of continual self-scrutiny, to share a restless determination, and to be willing to change as we each of us help shape this school’s extraordinary journey.

The Future

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this sixth and final blog is ‘The Future’.

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Photo: Bedales Orchard circa 1996

Encountering the now mandatory careers’ interest test in its fledgling stage of development, I and the other 16 year old boys in my year met our housemaster to our career fate; the witless algorithm had declared “Air traffic controller” for almost all of us. I said no, I might become a teacher and yes, even in a school rather like the one I was at. My housemaster’s brow furrowed: “Do you really think that schools like this will still exist in 20 years’ time?” was his reply. I said yes and but yes they generally do, albeit much changed. But what about the next 20 years? How well equipped is the independent boarding sector? And what about Bedales?

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Photo: Class of 1968

CHALLENGES

  • Nationally: easy targets – affordability and the toff trap: as boarding school fees continue to outstrip most professional class incomes, we run the risk of ceasing to serve our traditional core base of families. If inequality continues to grow, we therefore become more and more identified with the inequities of British society, the super-rich and the worst aspects of our class system. We already are an attractive political target and therefore vulnerable to increases in tax – either through VAT or losing business tax relief.
  • Locally: in built, evergreen challenge: schools with our kind of heritage – liberal, progressive, informal, based on mutually trusting relationships – can too easily use their ethos as an excuse for lacklustre achievement. This is tempting as the ethos and atmosphere (as outlined in my previous Reflections pieces) are so much of the experience; but if they become excuses for lack of ambition, both academic and in conduct, then they work against the school’s success. So, it is not only a matter of the words we build into our strategic goals and our job descriptions (“academic achievement within a distinctive ethos”) but it is about ensuring that the systems and structures have the right bracing quality. “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted..” as Margaret Schlegel says in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

OPPORTUNITIES

  • Equipping students for the post 4IR future: the new work environment will need people who are natural collaborators, have high emotional intelligence and, having had a pleasurable experience of learning at school, are adept at learning afresh throughout their lives.
  • Thinking laterally: John Badley’s mistrust of subject silos has proved a good instinct. Schools which enable their students to connect across the curriculum and develop in them the natural, inquisitive instincts to think laterally will be well placed. There is already very good stuff going on here across the 3-18 age range – think project work. (See my Reflections blog on Bedales’ Curriculum – first 100 years) What is possible in the space (curricular and physical) between Art & Design and Outdoor Work is one of the enticing areas to develop. Anything can be made here.
  • Ability to respond to adverse influences: some public schools find adroitness tricky. The grip of tradition can be a drag on change. Bedales’ tradition is of innovating in response to influences in broader society which work against the welfare of the young people in our charge. Yes, it is more difficult to do this in the digital age but we can do more than most. Our size also helps: three smallish units as part of a family of schools which means we have sensible economies of scale. Investment enabled by good demand and efficiency will often be in distinctive areas which set us apart from other comparable schools.
  • Courage in our convictions: schools with the strength to stick by their convictions, adapting as necessary to changing parental lifestyles, will be best placed, especially if the school’s educational convictions equip its students both to have fulfilling, successful careers, as well as enjoying life.

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Photo: Whole school photo, 1893

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Curriculum – the last 25 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fifth blog is ‘Curriculum – the last 25 years’.

Being an early riser, I choose what to do first thing. This morning I chose to walk for 20 minutes around the Bedales estate, noting a shriek of magpies mobbing a cat and querying an overgrown hedge – nothing as evocative as my occasional dawn walks in winter when the owls are competing for air space or in May when I hear the plaintive greetings of orphan lambs or even the snufflings of bleary-eyed piglets.

Choice enlivens us.  The curriculum is what schools choose to study – it is our daily bread.  As outlined in my previous piece, Bedales under Badley chose to study a different curriculum to the established Victorian public schools and chose to study it differently.

Arriving here in 2001, I found that the name carrier, the Senior School, Bedales, was teaching much the same curriculum as other schools, albeit often in an unusually vital and engaging way.  The school remained shackled to the dying animal that was the national curriculum, with its dreary GCSEs. At that point, even the Labour government was dissing GCSES. I started having thought-provoking conversations with long term supporters of the school: “why does this extraordinary school not exercise greater choice over what it teaches? Why are you not using your freedom?”

It was my good fortune to inherit some visionary colleagues who had done important work in this area with Southampton University’s Department of Education. Two were especially significant – Graham Banks (Head of English) and Philip Young (Director of Studies). With Southampton, they exploring the potential for the school to diverge from the GCSE curriculum in the 1990s, but the then Head, Alison Willcocks had decided not to press ahead.

I chose differently. Constructing a new curriculum has much in common with creating a new building: identify the need; write the brief; seek planning permission; gather your project team; assess the risks; and then build.

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It was quickly evident that the territory where the greatest need coincided with the best potential to innovate was the so-called Middle Years curriculum – the GCSE years 10 and 11, Blocks 4 and 5. Governors were on side quickly. Universities were surveyed and came back positively twice, both in response to the embryonic idea and then when the concept had been fleshed out. The message was very clear: give us five or six GCSEs in the core subjects (English, Maths, two or three Sciences and a modern foreign language) and then use your freedom with the remaining four or five subject slots.

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I knew that our parents would warm to it when, as part of the consultation, Philip Young and I called a meeting of Block 1 (Year 7) parents from Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.  These after all were the parents of the children who would most likely be affected, being the first year who would take the BACs. I displayed on the screen the wording of our (then recently minted) primary academic aim: to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought. I interposed a big question mark and then on the other side of the screen wrote “ GCSEs”. The  room filled with laughter – the two things had nothing in common. We had to change the curriculum – and so we did, starting the courses in 2006. You can read more about its latest incarnation here.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Curriculum – first 100 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fourth blog is ‘Curriculum – first 100 years’.

When Bedales began in 1893, it was the second of the so-called New Schools, Abbotsholme, where John Badley had begun his teaching career, being the first. Reacting against something (the rigidities and classical basis of the Victorian public school curriculum) was fair enough, but a New School needed to answer two crucial questions: What should be taught? How should it be taught?

My previous reflections on place and relationships show the importance of individuality, personal growth, the influence of environment and balancing the work of head, hand and heart.

So, first of all what do you teach? Move away from dominance of the Classics (Greek and Latin) as the primary way both of teaching your own languages and for training the young brain. In the chapter on The Middle Years in Memories and Reflections (1955) Badley focuses in particular on what would be taught in the Middle Years, before the specialisation required for the School Certificate at 15 or 16. Here just under half of the time was spent on languages (including English) and history. Just over half was taken with Maths, Science and practical training in wood and metal work, domestic economy, music and drawing.

Secondly, how? Have the formal curriculum occupy a smaller proportion of time, but create more variety and increase the pace at which the pupils learn by what we would call now active learning – learning through doing. As a result (again from The Middle Years) teaching would be “as varied as possible, both in subject matter and in manner of treatment”.

Central to the method, the How, was the organisation of the day: the morning given over to “school work” HEAD; the afternoon to “outdoor activities” (farm work and games) HAND; and the evening to “social interaction” HEART.

See below the digest from the start of Badley’s Bedales; A Pioneer School (1923) which gives a handy overview and the brightly coloured timetable from 1903.

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Timetable 1903

 

Pioneer, experimental, new – they are all involve trying things out: and that’s what they did.

Whilst at the Old Bedales, they experimented with extending the usual public school custom of an hour’s work before breakfast to two hours. Result? They abandoned even the one hour, discovering that this led to “so much increased vigour in the rest of the day’s work”. Modern research agrees.

In 1920 Dr Montessori herself visited Dunhurst and admired the work of her protégée, Amy Clarke, the Dunhurst Head. The “project method” (an outcome of John Dewey’s “experimental work”) became an established thing with the older classes at Dunhurst – Badley cites the “building of a Viking ship” as an example: a brilliant example of cross-curricular, learning-through-doing work: “a practical demonstration of the need of various kinds of knowledge and of their inter-relatedness”.

The Dalton Plan was tried for two years in the early 1920s; although it was formally abandoned, the balance between what you were taught in “class work” and what you were expected to do in “individual work” had shifted as a result of the experiment towards the latter.

Other innovations included taking English seriously as a subject: Geoffrey Crump, appointed Senior English Master in 1919, was said to be one of the first of his kind in an English Public School.

Turning to the national educational scene, the role of Bedales in establishing the first Design O Level in the 1970s resulted from the school’s unusual position in combining Craft, Design and Technology and in the inspirational work of Biff Barker and David Butcher. In the mid 1970s over 80% of a year group took Design O Level.

In summary, in 1911 in one of his Talks in Peace and War on “the intellectual side of school work”, Badley gives three reasons for this kind of work: use (ie. the practical benefit your subjects give you), pleasure and training. It is unsurprising that in the rest of the talk he majors on pleasure: “true ambrosial food” can as naturally come from Science as from literature and great art. The educational experience should shape each pupil’s life through the New School being “a place full of active and joyous life”. (Bedales: A Pioneer School)

Next week – Bedales Assessed Courses.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Relationships

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this third blog is ‘Relationships’.

Being asked many times by visitors “What makes it all work?” I say “Relationships”.

You could transplant the school to another place, change the curriculum, massacre the routine, make the house system less distinctive and even introduce a uniform and you would not entirely destroy the spirit of the place; but if you changed the nature of the relationships, especially the relationships between teachers and students, you would see the heart of the community wither.

I see the nature of the relationships as informing the best kind of teaching and learning, as well as informing the celebrating of individuality that is so important to us. The first name term handle is merely an emblem of the thing itself.

It all began, like so many good things, with John Badley’s conviction in the early 1890s that he wanted to found a school that was markedly different from the Rugby School of his own schooldays. Central to this was the idea that the relationship between teacher and pupil must avoid the old master-servant model and be based more on mutual respect and even affection.

In Memories and Reflections he writes about how valuable it was that the school grew slowly: “..we were a family rather than a school; and this feeling, with the customs to which it gave rise, could be retained, as the family grew larger, until they became a part of the school tradition, permanently affecting the relations of older and younger even when the early conditions had been long outgrown. One of these customs….was the hand-shaking after evening prayers as the school filed past the Staff to say Good-night..”  Badley goes on to credit this family feeling with giving the school its sense of co-operation and also its desire to give “attention to the needs of the individual”.  Running across both these characteristics is the desire to engage students in the framing of the school’s rules and customs. Later on in his memoirs he describes how what he wanted “was an atmosphere of affection, confidence and opportunity”.

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This optimistic belief in the benign power of relationships permeates the school, affecting old traditions like the mixed-age room system and new ones like Badley Seniors (6.2s who work with Block 3 tutor groups).  At our best, even now above 460 students, we try to operate more like a family than an organisation.

I was struck by the difference a good few years before I started here when mid summer holiday, tidying a drawer in Easter Ross and idly listening to Radio 4, I heard two Bedales girls talking about their housemistress: they talked about her in a way that was completely different to anything I had heard before, using her first name (Suzie) naturally and saying how they would think nothing of taking any problem to her.

In my first term we re-did the prospectus – a bit of a song-and-dance in pre-website days. One Friday, my then colleague and Registrar, Avril Hardie, asked the 12 students on School Council to go away and think about what was most important to them about Bedales. The following week they returned with their answer: “Friendship and that we are listened to.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Place: Inside

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this second blog is ‘Place: Inside’.

A big part of my Bedales education has been with design and architecture. In previous schools building  was all about utility – the most for the least, with aesthetics considered a frippery – whereas here it was to be different.  Why? The Arts & Crafts movement has beauty and utility at its core; and John Badley’s educational philosophy emphasises the importance of environment  –  the benign effect of  good surroundings on young people. The one school aim I inherited in 2001 was “the appreciation of the beautiful”. I have had the great good fortune to preside over two large and influential building projects – the Orchard Building and Art & Design.

Let’s do some stock-taking of what we had in 2001. Over 60% of teaching was done in the three Greville Rhodes “temporary” flat-roofed, conspicuously (for the time) modern blocks – North, South and Art (1968). These had been built – with great controversy – as the school expanded from 240 to 340. The classrooms in North and South block were small – a push to house 22 – with wafer thin walls: noisy, hot in summer and cold in winter. As teaching spaces they were poor, making it against the grain for teachers to depart from a traditional “chalk and talk” approach.

I did three useful things with the Orchard Building (2006): I suggested to the then Chair of Governors, Michael Blakstad, that we must have an architect on the Board and I wrote the brief for the building and worked closely with the architects to ensure that the ethos suffused the building.  We chose the architects, Walters & Cohen, because of their track record and their way of working, not because they had experience of building for schools – they had none.  Their approach was to come and spend time at the school – to understand the community and the pulse of the school day.  Whereas the Greville Rhodes buildings, in common with much of the icon-ruffling architecture of the 1960s, took no notice of our great signature buildings – the Lupton Hall (1912) and the Library (1919) – the Orchard Building, with the same pitch of roof reflects Arts & Crafts principles: truth to materials in particular, with its bold use of wood and concrete. Cindy Walters also led a master planning exercise which was decisive in creating the geometry at the estate’s centre: the first axis running from the red path in the car park (2005) to where Badley’s chair sits in the Quad, with the bisecting axis having the Theatre (1997) and Steephurst at its west and east ends.

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When the Orchard Building opened in September 2006, the school became calmer.  It worked.

Much happened in the 10 years between this and the building of Art & Design (2016): the refurbishment of Steephurst (£0.5 million x 3 summer holidays); the exterior of 6.2 and interior of Boys’ Flat; the re-modelling of Dunhurst’s interior; the three new staff houses (2012) near Outdoor Work, and, on a  smaller scale but poignantly powerful for so many of us, the Sam Banks Pavilion (2013), the work of the OB twin brothers, the Russells, who had learnt much of their craft with the re-assembling of the 18th century Sotherington Barn in the 1980s.

The recent transformation of the area between the gates and Steephurst, with the new Art & Design building at its centre was Matthew Rice’s idea. He had the vision to see that it made no sense to follow the original Walters & Cohen idea of re-building on the existing site (of Art & Design) but that constructing it where the makeshift Facilities’ buildings were offered a triple benefit: a more prominent setting for one of the school’s great fortes; a brown field site with consequent cost savings; an enhancement to the school’s entrance; and the desirability of putting departments with complementary activities – Art, Design and Outdoor Work – together.

Codicil to all this is delight at seeing the beautiful recent restoration of the Lupton Hall, recounted precisely and tenderly in this article from the Old Bedalian Newsletter (click here and scroll to page 20) by Anna Keay, the governor who  succeeded Matthew Rice as Chairs of Buildings’ sub-committee.

My advice then about schools and building:  remember that nothing can happen until your finances are in good fettle; get plenty of architectural and property expertise onto the governing board;  put the school’s ethos at the centre of your buildings’ design; consult widely before you build; make your teachers who will use the building central to that consultation; and remember that great design doesn’t cost much more than indifferent design.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Place: Outside

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this first blog is ‘Place: Outside’.

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It’s easy to become inured to the beauty of this place. “I’d forgotten it was so beautiful,” were the first words I heard from a returning head boy as he stood outside the old Reception several years after he had left, soaking it all up as he gazed at the place whose beauty he had grown up in and taken for granted.

Steep wasn’t John Badley’s initial choice of place. He took a 21 years’ lease on the 30 acres of the Old Bedales at Lindfield near Hayward’s Heath where the school first started in January 1893. He had hoped to extend the building, but the development of that site proved difficult. So he looked for a larger space where he could build afresh and bought the 100 acres of Church (or Steephurst) Farm here at Steep, to which the seven girls and 70 boys moved in September 1900.

Steephurst, an unprepossessing brick building then, was the farm house; there were some barns – the one beside Steephurst that is now the drama studio and the Black Barn – but otherwise Badley had to build. So, the move to Steep gave the opportunity for the school’s early folklore to develop. The E.F. Warren Main School building with the Quad at its centre was unfinished when that valiant band of 77 students moved here in 1900. The Quad, open to the elements, was bare earth and snow drifted into the rooms that surrounded it in the first harsh winter.

Badley’s belief in the influence of the environment and the importance of his students having space to roam went hand in hand with the virtues of manual work. Read ‘School Talks in Peace and War’ and you will see that for example in July 1914 in his Jaw ‘What the School Stands For’ he is explicit on this matter: “health, freedom, comradeship”.  At this same period he talks about the importance of manual work, which is important for four reasons: it is healthy, real, necessary and unselfish.

Later in 1911, in a Jaw called ‘The Building of Thelema’, it is clear that the building of the school in his promised land of Steep is the physical act and emblem of the creation of his educational vision: “Year by year the building is going on and you are helping to build it. I do not mean these actual buildings of brick and timber, or even the [Lupton] Hall that is beginning to rise as your gift to your school… For the spirit in which we work and live is the stuff with which we build the city of our dreams.”

For us, the sense that the place has been moulded by the work of generations of students and staff is integral to its influence on how we feel and think about it. The awareness that this process of continuous change is healthy and invigorating is at the heart of that influence.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools