Ernest and game

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Waking out of a dream where I am descending a heather-clad hill surrounded by spiralling woodcock, I am up early enough to hear Tweet of the Day.  This morning it’s the Shoveller duck.  I remember how it looks from childhood days studying its pictures (the drake with its ‘harlequin plumage’, as I am reminded this morning) but it is the Tweetmeister’s final sentence that tickles me so much: having talked up the Shoveller’s classiness – ain’t no common or garden duck this one – he ends with the peerless sentence, “You will not find him taking bread on any park lane”.

These wonderful shimmies of irony in amongst the everyday are what so much good comedy is about.  Plenty of sensible folk may find it sad that here I am chuckling about a duck as dawn breaks and our floppy Labrador paces the kitchen for her morning walk, but there we go.  As they say in Yorkshire, “there’s nowt as queer as folk”.

Good and brilliant comedy is on the minds of all of us who were lucky enough to be at An Evening with Harry Enfield and John Lloyd last night in the Bedales Quad.  Harry, with his inimitable genial impishness, interviews John; he does so in  thoughtfully irreverent way that brings out the importance of what John Lloyd has done to date in British television – most notably Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder,  Have I Got News for You and QI.

They are an irrepressible duo and we gain a series of insights into the importance of satire and the unlikely ironies of the interaction between off beat entertainment and schooling with John’s comments about Blackadder being used as a staple of history lessons.  Plenty of irony there.

At the same time we will raise over £7000 for the John Badley Foundation which provides 100% bursaries for young people to attend Bedales and Dunhurst.

The audience leaves chortled, engaged and made to think; and it’s this last bit that is as important as anything to me.  Harry’s account of how he moved from being a pub stand-up comedian to a very well known TV performer reminds us of the importance of happenstance, determination and working to develop your talent.  But it is perhaps, above all, the emphasis that John placed on three cardinal virtues that hits home:  “know what you like…trust your own instincts; do something you love; and above all, be persistent – never give up.”

Wise and funny-man Chaucer knew all about how to season the serious with the mirthful – or “ernest and game” as he had it.

Young creatives’ thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I finished my ramblings last week saying that the Young Creative Leaders session at the HMC conference was for me the most stimulating.  Why?

Three entrepreneurs, who had left school in the last 12 years or so, talked about the so-called millennial generation’s aspirations – what are young professionals looking for in their lives and how can we prepare them?  Lizzie Fane, founder of Third Year Abroad and Global Graduates, Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble and Charlotte Pearce, founder of Inkpact made up the panel.

The threads that emerged from their session resonated strongly with what I hear from their contemporaries who are OBs and my own three children who are of that generation.

  • Do something you love, something that you find fulfilling, that makes you feel alive
  • Find something that gives you the satisfaction of seeing something through
  • Spend as much time as possible seeking out different experiences, especially through travel: this will help you spot a problem that you could solve through your business
  • Look out for the ways that “digital nomads” make their livings – people who have found ways of earning money whilst living in different places: technology transforms things
  • Enjoy having control over your time; you can share working space with other creatives
  • Look for all opportunities whilst at school to take new things on, take risks, work out practical solutions for yourself, even if you seem to be one of the awkward squad
  • Building a business is all about being able to inspire people with an idea and keep them motivated – look for chances to do this at school
  • Schools need to help students understand the business basis for schools through showing them how a school needs to operate.

Interesting to reflect on the influence of their parents in all this.  The cultural, social and financial capital of their parents has been a factor in enabling them to take these risks and start their businesses. But what is also interesting is that the millennials’ determination to have greater autonomy over their lives and give greater emphasis to their personal fulfilment is partly a reaction to seeing their parents disgruntled by their work – within the corporate world in the cases cited here.

All the above are handy reminders as we look at how the Bedales experience evolves and especially how we create the right spaces to enable our students to take responsibility and risks within a safe environment.

Being as open with students as possible concerning how their school is run and how decisions are reached is part of that.  An element of this is our annual Governors’ Question Time.  Mirroring Headmaster’s Question Time which happens termly, the Governors’ one has three governors in the panel with me in the Dimbleby role.

Last night most of the questions take the three governors – Matthew Rice, Tim Wise and Michele Johnson – into suitable areas which help show their role – areas such as how the school spends its income, reviews decisions I make and what are the next building projects.  Afterwards, School Council has a session with them.  These things should help increase our students’ understanding of how their school works – and by extension give them a better insight into how complex institutions and businesses operate.

Time on and off the treadmill

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Having spent too much time sitting, some of it eating, I find myself in the gym on the treadmill watching snippets of Anne Robinson’s Britain which looks at parenting and the first of that erstwhile autumnal favourite, The Apprentice.

My sitting and eating has been matched by listening (a lot) and talking (a bit) at the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in  its appropriately heart of England location, Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was a very stimulating three days when we were encouraged to think about creative leadership, which may be why, no doubt under the influence of a shock of endorphins,  I find myself speculating about the respective worlds of Robinson and Sugar.

Crosspatch Anne’s exploration of families’ values – from the ‘gentle attachment mother’ to the one who describes herself as more lioness than tiger – could be nicely applied to schools  (boarding schools especially), which after all have family-like characteristics and embody their values in the upbringing of children.  Look here – this family even has written policies and timetables: all set for a good inspection.  I think Anne likes that.  Anne would have an entertaining time doing such work in our schools.  When two parents swap and look at each others’ lives, I am reminded of the value of exchanges, even my swap with my colleague, Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds in summer 2015.

Then, in the wake of the imperious and hatchet-faced Sugar come the latest batch of apprentices, who must surely be coached in how to outdo each other with the absurdity of their hubristic brags and the lurid nature of their imagery.  One contestant’s tasteless boast that “the only things I fear are tsunamis, volcanoes and Ebola” takes, so to speak, the biscuit.  Apprentice-speak has crept into the world of job interviews, I fear, albeit rarely garnished with quite such sickly figurative dressing.

It would, I speculate, be good entertainment to put a group of headteachers through an Apprentice-style exercise, having asked them to talk about themselves in the obligatory argot; not least because we like to feel we are open to ideas and experiences – as we were in Stratford this week.  Here is just a sample of the goodies we had:

Will Gompertz on why everyone should think like an artist.  If ever there was a talk that gave 285 headteachers a stack of ideas for a term of assemblies, it was this one.  Watch out for them popping up, ranging across the need to ensure our students could think creatively enough both to avoid being replaced by “snazzy algorithms” and to have “a lovely life.”   So, we had Cezanne, Baudelaire, Titian, Manet, Hirst and Ai Weiwei.  Artists have to be collaborative, entrepreneurial and properly sceptical – qualities that our young need much more than in their post school lives than the ability to pass exams.  Rubens was a compelling salesman of The Three Graces to aristocrats who didn’t really think they needed one until he spotted just the ideal spot in the banqueting hall.

Greg Doran, director of the RSC’s King Lear, its Artistic Director and possessor of a leonine mane that must make A C Grayling envious, talked to us about how the RSC’s work with schools and communities aims to change young lives and make us think about our lives.  Their new Roman series will ask such questions as this:   Is politics inherently unfair and can it work for the benefit of the many?  Ask Caesar, yes, but let’s spread the debate as well and avoid too much fighting in parliaments as well.

We have the chance to learn through doing (hoorah!) and I sign up for a class with one of the RSC’s voice and movement coaches – a very good two hours and lots of good advice about how to make better use of our voices and to take better care of ourselves to boot.  We are taught about cat and dog gestures – the welcoming palm (Labrador, tail wagging) and the keep-your-distance over turned hand (cat, tail swirling).

But the best session  – and one I will write about next week – was the Young Creative Leaders panel when three young (millennial, we can say) female entrepreneurs talked about their careers, the aspirations of their generation and what schools can do to promote creative leadership.   No Apprentice-speak there.

Hawks and handsaws

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Badley Celebration Weekend focuses the mind on what our schools’ values are.  The past month’s series of events  introduce new students to the place and what it means, whether that is Dunhurst’s climb to the Poet’s Stone or its camp, Block 3 in Ullswater, the Whole School Effort,  Bedales’ own take on a harvest festival or Sunday’s community festival.  It is interesting to step back and reflect a little on how we interpret the Badleyan vision – how it is, let’s say, incarnated.

Thinking of the sweep of history first of all: here are five perspectives for starters:

  • 1900: John Badley brings his new school to Steep (from Lindfield near Hayward’s Heath). 69 boys and 7 girls.  First task is to finish the main school building.  Lots of hand work.
  • 1909: Old Bedalian Camp. See the illustrations above.  The list of campers gives you some indication of what the chat must have been like.  Gimson and Lupton, for example, to whom we owe so much of our architectural heritage.  Eckersley who, along with his brother, more or less invented sound engineering and was a founding father of the BBC.  Rupert Brooke wasn’t at the 1909 camp but was a great friend of his namesake, Justin Brooke, and sometimes joined the group.
  • 1922: John Badley’s Notes and Suggestions for Staff Joining Bedales: “Teaching is not telling but helping to find out.”
  • 1966: The first year group where a student could have joined Dunannie and gone all the way through to Bedales. It is this cohort (of 55), the class of ’66, who returned to school last weekend.  Many of them spent the better part of 10 years together – in school most weekends as well.  They are in remarkably good shape and full of alarmingly distinguished people.
  • 2016: Block 3s start out – their “50 year on” reunion will be 2071.

 Activities from the last few weeks mirror the Badleyan desire that his pupils should not be feeble or ignorant about the world that surrounded them – they should know a hawk from a handsaw – and know how to use the latter, as a good number found out last Saturday in clearing an area of scrub by the Roman road.

But I suspect that what acts in its own mysteriously cohesive way – across these times and will continue to exert its spell – is the emphasis on relationships.    So here is how The Chief put it in his 1922 leaflet mentioned above:  “Our whole system at Bedales is based on intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.  For the full value of co-education especially we must have in large measure the condition of family life.”






Celebrating Badley

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This coming weekend helps us celebrate the vision of the school’s founder, John Badley or, to his pupils and colleagues, Mr Badley or the Chief.  Its activities range from the Whole School Effort at Bedales (when 500+ students and teachers will create potential pasture from raggedy scrub) to the Bedales Community Festival on Sunday when we work with three charities and offer a range of activities to the wider community.

Amongst all this we have (on Saturday afternoon) a reception for donors and (on Sunday) a reunion of Old Bedalians who left 50 years ago. For me the weekend really gets going when, on Friday evening, I don my tweed plus twos and a red tie and go to Dunhurst to do my annual Badley Jaw.

Each year there is something new to add to the life of this multi-faceted and visionary man:  last year I showed slides of the very fine watercolours he did when he visited Palmyra on his Middle East tour.  This year I am going to talk about his penchant for skiing – he took skiing trips of current and former students well into his 60s.

But amongst all his many writings, it is his advice to teachers which rings as true as anything.  Here are some to ponder:

We shall do more by encouragement and the stimulus of example.

Planning a scheme of work is to be done for at least a year ahead.

Our whole system at Bedales is based upon intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.

I know that the happiest work is done when there is felt to be freedom.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Mating tunes

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The last week has been a combination of much getting to know new students, quite a bit of talking, signpost work outside the Orchard Building and listening to some stimulating talks – most of which have been in school.

Last Saturday’s Philosophy Of…  conference is led by students (6.1s when they started planning it a year ago, 6.2s now) and is designed to get us to think – a handy prompt for sixth formers especially at the start of an academic year.

Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London, showed how areas traditionally dominated by humanities graduates are now being taken over by scientists and how scientific methods of data analysis are being used to identify musical and literary trends and the ingredients that make a hit song or a best seller.

Tunes can mate, he posits:  the Darwinian process of natural selection, speeded up by computers and aided by human beings eliminating the hopeless tunes and allowing the better ones through, causes random sounds to be created initially and then, through this process of continuous adaptation gives us some passable tunes at the end of the process.   OK, it is like a melodic ringtone but a computer has done it.   Watch out for Google’s Deep Minds project which has enabled a robot generated piano sonata.  Artificial intelligence can make a similar formula for a best seller.  The process that precedes it is the distant reading (meaning a computer doing the reading) of the five thousand best selling works of fiction of recent years  in order to identify particular types of plot and recurring ideas  (by spotting key words).  The model thriller/science fiction/Greek billionaire seduction (by rather than of) novel can then be constructed.  Yes, the latter is a popular genre.

Out with the English graduate, in with the data scientist, he says.  This writer, an English graduate, then goes over to the theatre to hear James Harding, History graduate, Head of BBC News and former editor of The Times: like Leroi he is another speaker with a gift for making us think.  Asked the question, “what will the world will look like in 2026?” he answers “I don’t know.”   Sensible, he argues, because the world is particularly unpredictable at the moment.  Four reasons why:

  • Inequality and interest rates: massive shift in wealth inequality as the rich can borrow what they want; asset prices rise, the poor get relatively poorer: the politics of anger prevail.
  • Islamic extremism competing with secularism.
  • The pace of technological change and the impact of everything from driverless cars and dating apps on human wellbeing and behaviour.
  • Identity politics: individuals are more likely to be influenced by what seems true to them and what they feel than by tribal loyalties to, say, political parties, which only 30% of us support.

But, he is upbeat when asked questions by students about whether they should be fearful of the future; and he is the first person for a while I have heard saying it’s a great time to start out as a journalist.

Lots to take on board and it’s only Saturday lunchtime.  Monday brings a conference run by the House of Commons Education Committee on The Purpose and quality of education in England, a consultation to which Bedales has made a submission.

Again, much food for thought, but it is Mary Beard, whose promotion of Classics and interesting thinking makes me a big fan, who has the last word.  Don’t think passionate disagreement about what people should learn is anything new: Socrates met his death through choosing the wrong curriculum – “corrupting the youth”.  Read Aristophanes The Clouds for a satire on a new curriculum and just remember if the twin drivers of education are ever increasing measurement (via exams) and regulation (because no one can be trusted) then it will all eventually collapse.  Abandon a good number of GCSEs as a starter, she suggests.  Well, yes, Mary…


Lakeside beginnings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

keith-budge-and-dog-ullswater1This was the scene early yesterday morning at Hayeswater by Hartsop, close to Ullswater in our magnificent Lake District.  If a dog could use a selfie stick I imagine that this is the kind of photo it might take.  My collaboration is indicated by the stockinged leg in the left foreground.

Hayeswater frames Zazu who is looking unusually thoughtful after a watchful night sleeping between the inner and outer layer of my neat one person tent (disconcertingly called Banshee); if she is reflecting on anything other than breakfast, it is probably on the possibility of more swimming in Hayeswater, hoping that each of the stones thrown by the Block 3 campers will turn into a branch that she can retrieve.  The lake is treeless – stones sink, but Zazu will paddle on in hope.  The two Block 3 groups that I accompany for supper and breakfast will have two nights on the hills and the better part of three days – demanding stuff, I think, as I leave them on Wednesday morning in order to be back at school to take assembly in the evening.   The group I am with walk at a pretty brisk pace; once again the weather looks as if it will be kind to them.

Having spent two nights accompanying our Block 3s on their annual six day visit to Ullswater, I come back to Bedales as struck as ever by the way that the Outward Bound instructors, working closely with our own Badley tutors (each there with their Block 3 tutor group) and four 6.2 students (Badley Seniors who are attached to tutor groups) guide the students.  The Outward Bound learning style constantly pushes things back to the students for their consideration.  You see them grow as individuals and as a group consequently.   The big outdoors is itself a wonderful tutor.

A clever new building  development means that the geography of the Outward Bound centre has even been developed to help this process:   a series of stylish small wooden buildings, called thinking pods and designed to spur yet better reflective learning, now abuts  the main building .  The absence of mobile phones, the breath-taking beauty of Ullswater and Helvellyn and the presence of so many new people to get to know do the rest.  When the Block 3s enter ordinary Bedales life on Monday they will have a reference point and a way of thinking that should serve them well.