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.

 

Danish influences

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Hygge – that’s it!

An unusual moment of revelation – more penny dropping than Eureka: it’s not gesundheit, it’s hygge (pron. hooga).

It’s a balmy Saturday evening, 7ish and I am standing by our new, sleek pizza oven as Head of Outdoor Work (ODW), Andrew Martin, his outdoor worker colleague, Feline Charpentier and 6.2 housemistress Jo Alldridge are feeding the oven (slim and chalky) with a range of tasty pizzas; teacher-pizzaiolos, they are translating flour, water and ingredients into the most scrumptious little creations.  A touch of Naples in the soft underbelly of Hampshire. The setting is the Barnyard – the area at the heart of ODW – which is, well, the heart of school hygge. It is the weekend activity which has the theme of, yes, pizza. You can eat your pizza on a straw bale (i.e. you sitting on one, cradling your pizza) and even watch a film about, yes, pizza.  Encouragingly, people are more interested in talking to each other than watching the film.  Dogs and small children add to the scene.

Hygge, a concept probably as unknown as quinoa in England before that tongue twister became trendy, may still be unfamiliar to some readers, so, ever keen to promote European understanding and travel, here is a link to Visit Denmark to give you the authentic, Danish take on their word (well, the Norwegians had a hand it in it but that’s word-traffic, Scandinavian style for you, facilitated by very unhygge-like fighting).

Drawn to the magic of the pizza oven and its ever-hungry queue of students I find myself having an illuminating talk with Kirstine who is a proper Dane and she helps my understanding further – yes, this would qualify as hygge – indeed the atmosphere could be described as hyggehit, meaning full of hygge.  I tuck this one away, ready to trump (tricky word now) other wordy smart alecs…

In fact, this occasion, with fifty or so of the boarders who are in at the weekend, is the second instance of hygge in ODW on Saturday.  At lunchtime the Block 3 tutor groups had entertained their parents to a lunch, not only prepared by them but made using ingredients that they had created during the course of the their first year at Bedales, meaning grown (radishes, broad beans, French onions, cabbage) or raised (sausages, very tasty).  Although I only caught the end of the lunch, having been in a governors’ meeting all morning, I’d say that hygge might well have been at large then again.

Is it all admin?

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Does my life consist of admin? I think this obtuse thought having done some of my early morning farming duties – feeding of chickens (increasingly friendly and productive) and walking of dog (always in search of old tennis ball) – as I walk around the estate, squinting at the Downs through the mist and greeting other early morning dog walkers.

Admin? In Scotland the stress is generally put on the second syllable, which gives it a jauntier feel, but it doesn’t have a jaunty reputation.  I am replaying a conversation I had last weekend at a wedding when I was asked by a teacher – do you spend your whole time doing admin?  No, I said, but now I am thinking about what I do and whether it is admin (however stressed).

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Bedales Taster Day

So, let’s give yesterday a whirl.  Big day on interviewing – that was about six hours.  Then, a quick excursion to our outdoor Sotherington Theatre that involved seeing the finale of a feeder school taster day  – a couple of entertaining playlets on quasi classical themes which mixed, for example, the Jack and Jill story with the myth of Sisyphus  (hills/pails/stones etc); all capped by an impromptu lunch of stuffed dates and the most delicious Roman dip of multiple herbs and spices – hypotrimma – courtesy of Head of Classics, Chris Grocock and his wife, Sally, who is a Roman culinary expert.  Seriously tasty and always nice to eat alongside toga-clad folk.

What then?  Some time with a group of parents discussing the importance of the Bedales ethos – how we endeavour to retain the right balance between giving our students an appropriate amount of freedom whilst keeping them safe and fulfilling our statutory responsibilities.  Then a prospective parent, who is Italian, which I always like.

This followed by a major annual landmark moment, which is the final Wednesday afternoon tutor time with my outgoing head boy/head girl team.  We have tea in strong late afternoon sunshine on the terrace at home and devour a jam sponge cake; then I let them know who their successors are going to be – they, along with teachers, having had a strong influence on the final decisions.  Next stage is for the five of us to go over to my office where there is much hugging (by them of the new people) and I meet each of the incoming head student team and pop the question.  The incoming team, accompanied by the outgoing one, then go across to Jaw where they do their first “shush” to much acclamation. It’s all very touching and affirming.  So, many thanks to Becky, Max, Patrick and Bea for all their great work and fine leadership; and congratulations and the best of luck to Luca, Sam, Ce and Michael as they set out on their year’s term of office.

Next thing is Jaw, which is taken by students – brothers Noah and Rafferty and Maisie (6.1 and 2 and Block 4 respectively) who recount their experience of working in refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais over the holidays.  It is a powerful account and one of the strongest pieces of testimony I have heard to the transformative effect of working in those kinds of situations. Handshaking follows.

It’s now 7ish and, after a bit of scurrying around in the office (admin, I suppose) checking some letters and I am over in the main theatre greeting parents whose children are joining Block 3 in September.  We have our usual mixed panel – a range of staff and four students, mainly Block 4s.  The session is followed by a buffet supper in the Dining Hall. The hall is busy with new parents meeting their youngsters’ Badley tutors and house staff.  It is a convivial and productive occasion which always makes me feel good about the term to come and mitigates something of the impending sense of loss which comes with the prospect of losing a 6.2 year group that we have all become very fond of.

Back home to make a phone call to offer that job and then something to eat and a little bit of relaxation.

Admin? Not really.  Plenty varied for sure.

May ideas swim

Mizzling is the word, I think, for the gentle rain that greets me and my fellow Poetry Society breakfasters as we gather by Steephurst, ready to head up to the Poet’s Stone for our annual May breakfast.  The celebrants all bring poems and we have a good range:  plenty of Edward Thomas of course, some Shelley, Browning and a jewel of a Robin Robertson poem, Swimming in the Woods, which I read and I can’t resist copying in below.

The rain stops; early sun lights up Steep woods, which we admire from our vantage point on the Hangers’ flank by Thomas’ sarsen stone.  Magical stuff.

The week’s big external facing event has been our Liberating Leaders conference which we ran in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement and King Edward VI School Bury St Edmunds.  Most conferences have at least one soggy item; I could not spot one in our line-up.  So, here are some very personal highlights.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills) reminiscing in a finely wrought speech about the maverick headteachers who had shaped his professional life and the need for schools to enable the best characteristics of the maverick to inform teachers’ work.  Look out for the cross backlash from educators who feel that this is a bit ripe given his time at Ofsted.

Danielle Harlan (Founder and CEO of the Centre for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential) on authenticity as a leader, employee engagement (which is – sad fact – stuck at 13% worldwide) and unleashing creativity.  An extraordinarily lucid but profound presentation that was in itself a masterclass in clear and memorable communication. New verb alert – to “geek out” over someone = state of admiration and adulation of a senior, august academic figure by a scholarly acolyte/admirer.

Barbara Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan) on re-making  your brain and lessons learnt from her creation and co-teaching of the world’s most popular (1.5 million students) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  She is very keen that Bedales launches a MOOC – we will explore this.  An account – as scholarly as it was homely – of her distinctive path, her own learning and some of the ways in which we can improve our learning. Key tip: buy a Pomodoro (tomato shaped timer) or set one up as an app and work in 25 minute chunks; give yourself rewards after each 25 minutes; sleep and exercise aplenty.  That classy organ, the brain, loves these rhythms.  Get it right and, like Barbara, you start with Russian and end up a leading Professor of Engineering – and meet your future life partner at the South Pole.

Happily for our students, a number of them were able to attend the conference.  Most will have heard Danielle’s assembly on Monday and many also heard Barbara talk about girls and STEM subjects. You can view the speakers’ presentations here.

In all, the many of us who heard these inspiring people can justly feel lucky ducks (as they say in Lancashire).

So here is that poem: enjoy the half term break, and maybe some wild swimming.

Swimming in the Woods by Robin Robertson 

Her long body in the spangled shade of the wood
was a swimmer moving through a pool:
fractal, finned by leaf and light;
the loose plates of lozenge and rhombus
wobbling coins of sunlight.
When she stopped, the water stopped,
and the sun remade her as a tree,
banded and freckled and foxed.

Besieged by symmetries, condemned
to these patterns of love and loss,
I stare at the wet shape on the tiles
till it fades; when she came and sat next to me
after her swim and walked away
back to the trees, she left a dark butterfly.

 

 

 

 

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.