Writing about Bedales

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This happened from early on.  In 1896 Edmond Demolins, the French educationalist, visited Bedales.  In two of his subsequent books, A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? (1897) and L’Education nouvelle he said that the national success of the English was due to the public school system and that the logical outcome of that system was to be seen in the “new schools” such as Bedales.  Never mind the supremacist premise of his first book and the poor logic of his thesis, Demolins’ books were widely read in France and amongst the educated classes in continental Europe.  As a result, there was an influx of students from there, including various exotic Russian aristocrats.  Schools based on the Bedales model had sprung up in places as various as St Petersburg, Hilversum (Holland) and Lake Geneva.

Last December I hosted Julian Astle of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).  Julian has subsequently published his research The Ideal School Exhibition.  The RSA has a strong tradition in educational advocacy.  In his book Julian seeks to “expand the conversation to the purpose and essential character of school-based education” which he sees as increasingly being focussed on “education’s narrow instrumentalist’s value”.  Pointing to the broader value of education and the way that authoritarian regimes – such as Victor Orban’s in Hungary – will seek to close down educational institutions that make people think broadly, Astle has toured the country to find schools that are high in conviction and that manage to be successful whilst holding fast to their values – educational missionaries.

Bedales is one of these.  Here is the full report, and an executive summary can be found here.

An excerpt reads:

“Bedales, a fee paying school in Hampshire, defines itself by its humanity (the school was established to provide a humane alternative to the regimented austerity of Victorian schooling) and through its holistic educational philosophy, summed up by its motto “to educate the Head, Hand and Heart”. It strives to introduce its students to what is true (academics), what is beautiful (creativity and making) and what is right (morals and ethics).”

The other school that Astle sees falling strongly into this category is a state school founded in 2012, School 21 in Stratford, East London.  Its head and founder, Peter Hyman, visited on Thursday, met a range of teachers, toured with students and had a good chat with me.   Fascinating and stimulating to talk with someone who, against the grain of so much of the current arid educational orthodoxy, is making such a success of a school that promotes a very different and utterly humane vision.  Here are his ten points for what a school should do.

Have a look at what he says in the executive summary and also in the section where he writes about our school aims.

It is great that an enlightened organisation like the RSA, so wedded to enlightenment thinking, is taking such an important stand in what Michael Oakeshott called “the great conversation of mankind”.

 

 

New horizons

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Music is as central to school life here as it is in any school other than specialist music schools.  How brilliant then to have such an enjoyable and vibrant first major school concert under our new Director of Music, Doug McIlwraith?  We were treated to a new range of ensembles and a welcome breadth of pieces: cello, woodwind, brass and percussion ensembles accompanied the traditional Concert Band and School Orchestra (Sousa Marches and Water Music).  Barbershop and School Choir, embraced Asika Thali (traditional Zulu High-Life Song) and De Animals A-comin’ (Negro Spiritual), whilst the Chamber Choir  thrived on the customary and majestic sacred music of MacMillan (O Radiant Down) and Purcell (Thou Knowest Lord). The Jazz Band, formed just this term, capped the evening.  Enjoyment in music making and in creating pieces that the audience would relish were palpable.  Hats off to Doug, his colleagues and our young musicians.

Mortar boards off to two teachers, one current one past, who will be moving on to new horizons.  Congratulations to Nick Robinson, Dunhurst Deputy Head, who will be taking up the reins as Headmaster of the Preparatory School at West Buckland School.  We will miss Nick when he moves to his new post in April but it is healthy and good for all when talented colleagues gain promotion and new challenges.

Former Bedales Deputy Head, Leo Winkley, now Headmaster of St Peter’s, York, will be moving in September to become Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, nursery of talents as various as Darwin and the founders of Private Eye.  As well as being a wonderful contributor to the school in his leadership role, he was also the architect of the much admired Philosophy, Religion and Ethics BAC.  Congratulations to Leo on his new role.

 

Two days, two talks

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Two days into the week and we have had two talks which inspire and help all of us understand better this era of upheaval we are living through.

Monday and it’s the Global Awareness lecture, given by Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay. This remarkable young man tells the story of his flight from Afghanistan in 2007 when he was 12.  The endemic struggles for control, the power of education in this turbulence, the mentality of Pashtun young men, the violent death of his father  – all these bring alive to us the reality of his native land and the need for him to leave.  Most poignant is his account of his year long journey to the UK, the cruelties and rare kindnesses he encountered – those oranges and croissants given by the Italian police.

For his audience,  sitting in the safe oaken glow of our theatre in woody, safe Hampshire,  we are jolted and inspired as we hear of his response to not seeing his mother for 11 years and his swift learning of English, succeeding at school quickly here – 10 GCSEs from scratch in two years – and his subsequent education, achievements such as The Lightless Sky and further ambitions.

Tuesday Civics and it’s John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times group, on news in the era of upheaval.  As his talk proceeds – 20 minutes of razor sharp observations supported by four slides and 40 minutes of questions – pennies are dropping amongst the student audience.  Yes, I really am listening to someone who leads one of the most influential, opinion shaping news groups in the world; and yes, this is pretty amazing.

John talks about the prevalence of fake news – it’s always been there (think Zinoviev) but now it is systematic and operating at scale. Quality news, which costs money, works through a collision of ideas – “there are… unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know” (D Rumsveldt, unlikely but true source).  On the contrary Facebook’s cunning algorithms give you more of what you like.  He’s had the debate with its boss.

Thinking of going into journalism?  Great opportunities but it’s more about news than it is about writing – increasingly stories area being told through means other than straight writing – here’s the FT’s popular Uber game which takes you into the life of one of their drivers.  If you have determination and initiative you will succeed in his vocation.  And, while we’re at it, cut the adjectives.

Perhaps above all what comes over is the sense of a man whom you would naturally want to follow and whom it is stimulating and enjoyable to be around.  He begins his talk with a reference to the David Watt book An Inquiring Eye.  This is his lode star, it seems.  He feels lucky being able to follow a career which allows him to do what he loves and credits this to a high degree because of the mindset and personality he developed here at Bedales.

We leave the SLT with more questions for John as I shepherd him across the Orchard.  Students return to their boarding houses, clutching Tuesday’s FT (read Janan Ganesh’s  ‘The real saboteurs of Brexit are its own amateur leaders‘ if nothing else).

 

The ripple effect of talks like these two amongst school communities is powerful.

Digital divergence

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Get 15 heads in discussion about the use of mobile phones in their schools and you will get 15 views; get 467 Bedales students in a symposium and you will certainly have plenty of divergent views.

On Tuesday, at the meeting of our heads’ cluster group (the 86 Group) each head described the policy towards daytime use in each of their schools: the range is from prohibition to full acceptance.

On Wednesday, we had our first whole school symposium for a long time.  I started symposiums off here as a replacement to the whole school meetings which had taken place from time to time. The shortcomings of the whole school meetings was that there was no method to garnering the views of all and the voices of the most confident and vocal older students would be bound to predominate.  This symposium, led by Head Students Maisie, Ritchie, James and Scarlett, was preceded by an online questionnaire which engaged students in the issues and provided some very useful findings which were produced at the start of the plenary session and helped shape the debate that ensued.

The next stage will be for some of the key proposals to be discussed in School Council over the next few weeks.  What is clear is that there is sufficient  appetite for some change.  As with the best change here, it will occur because there has been informed discussion with the community’s welfare at its heart – in this case through the questionnaire, symposium and the resulting discussions.

The best kind of behavioural change happens when there is a consensus about what is reasonable, considerate and decent behaviour towards other members of the community.  At the heart of this must be the primacy of the living, breathing people that surround you in the flesh, not the distracting digital image or text.

Evening at Chalk Farm

RIBA Twitter crop

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last time I was at the Round House, I was watching Bob Hoskins in all the pomp of his stage villainy plot the downfall of the Duchess of Malfi.  Tuesday evening and I am sitting at a fancy table, well dined, in a Round House adapted for the RIBA awards, surrounded by architects, listening to Louise Minchin describe the four buildings that are shortlisted for Client of the Year: Bedales School Art & Design Building being one of them.  The judge opens his envelope and – wow! – Yes, we have won.

Up onto the stage we go for the presentation of the award and my brief, sob-free, acceptance speech.  Big thanks are due to Tom Jarman of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios who nominated us for the award and to the home team: Matthew Rice whose vision for the building informed the project;  our bursar, Richard Lushington, who held all the different dimensions together; Nigel Hartley, the project manager; and the heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw.

Cameras flash etc and we troop off to leave the stage free for the Stirling Prize – Hastings Pier, which is firmly on my list of places to visit.

The RIBA Client of the Year has been awarded since 1998 and we are the first school to win the prize – you can see the previous winners here.

So, this is good for Bedales, for the independent sector and for schools in general.  Building well, works – great design and a great process is often no more expensive than the grimly utilitarian. And you have a building that will inspire for a century or so.

For me, there are three major lessons that come from the Client of the Year accolade.

The first is the power of ethos.  The RIBA booklet describes it as “a building after a philosophy of being”. In the same way that we have tried to ensure that the ethos permeates the curriculum, so the best of our buildings embody the ethos.  Appreciation of the beautiful, making and doing and the influence of the school environment are all key elements of that ethos which the building reflects.

The second is the power of consultation: students, staff, parents, OBs, the local community were all consulted.  The initial plans were rejected – “too big, too dark, too close to Steephurst” – and the revised ones then consulted on further.

Finally, it is the strength of collaboration. RIBA described is as “co-authorship in the truest sense”.  Architects and school understood, liked and respected each other, with a brilliant result.  Hoorah!

Precepts for good health

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m glad that Wednesday evening’s assembly, led by our senior deputy, my colleague, Louise, is centred around the School’s founding values.  Louise has asked students to read excerpts from John Badley’s book, A Schoolmaster’s Testament (1937).  The chords struck resonate.  Here is a selection.

  • There can only be thoroughly good work- good in its indirect as well as its direct results- and there can only be a thoroughly healthy life where there is a general feeling of happiness.
  • [On the balance between freedom and discipline…] without a sense of freedom there cannot be the happiness that is a condition of the fullest health.
  • In every branch of school work there should be abundant opportunity for original effort and the delight that comes from creation and discovery.
  • [On the need for full happiness…] only if all sides of their nature, physical, intellectual, and emotional, find satisfaction, can they have the full sense of wellbeing which is at once a condition of health and its mental counterpart.

These precepts are running through my mind as I think about two events this week and one to come after half term.

The first is Dunhurst’s assembly yesterday morning when director of teaching and learning, Andy Wiggins, talked about precepts – mainly from books and films – engaging the audience wonderfully with sayings that are designed to help us live more happily. I am watching the assembly through a series of luggage labels hanging on a rack, each with its writer’s pledges – in effect, pupils’ own precepts to themselves – which range from the desire to eat more carrots to more general wishes to be more kind.

The second event was seeing the sixth form play, The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol.  Could there be a better example of “the delight that comes from creation and discovery”?  Cast and crew, under director in residence, Jamie Wood’s expert guidance, have woven John Berger’s tale into 80 minutes of engrossing drama, with the energy and imagination of the young actors at its heart. A cracker.

Finally, the event being planned for after half term is a whole school symposium on 8 November.  Led by the four head students – Scarlett, James, Ritchie and Maisie – it aims to answer a question:

How can we achieve the right balance between the benefits of students’ personal digital devices and the broader needs of the community?

The symposium, which takes the place of tutor time and assembly, will be preceded by an online questionnaire which will be sent out immediately after half term.  The fact that the symposium takes place in Mental Health week is fitting.  Badley’s precepts about  wellbeing will be at the forefront of our minds as we debate the issues and decide what measures might be taken.

 

New views

Gemma Klein Photography

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday morning and I am sitting on a hard bench in the Lupton Hall listening to the music that precedes our Open Day panel.  I am looking up over the stage out of the Oriel window behind the stage at Scots pine branches that are swaying within this stark round frame.  This is the first time I have sat, listened and looked within the newly reborn Lupton Hall.  With the old curtains stripped away and the original stark beauty of the Lupton Hall now evident, its original conception is clear – and it’s stunning.

The New Hall, as it was originally called, is an integral part of Bedales’ founding, being a product of the friendship and early professional partnership of three of the master-craftsmen of the late Arts and Crafts movement, Geoffrey Lupton, Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley.  In 1911 Lupton asked Gimson to draw up plans for new buildings at Bedales – a hall, library, gym and labs around a large open quadrangle.  The New Hall became the Lupton Hall because Lupton supervised the building  and did most of the work himself; it is also thought that he paid for it himself.   The majesty of our Memorial Library, Gimson’s design but built by Lupton and the Barnsleys (Sidney and his son Edward), has overshadowed the Lupton Hall, but the refurbishment of the latter will, I suspect, re-balance matters.

Our architect, Richard Griffiths, has re-captured the original uncompromising conception of the building: the old curtain and the sloping stage have gone, re-capturing the original volume of the room and enabling the stage to be used for music ensemble practices and for concerts across all three schools.  The view I now enjoy over the stage and out that Oriel window hasn’t been enjoyed for a good 90 years because of the curtain.

Reflecting on this I remember another new view: in April 2006, hard hat on, climbing up amongst the scaffolding to the top floor of the Orchard Building site,  I looked across to the Library and could see the Library’s shape from above and the clerestory windows that you wouldn’t know existed without that perspective. Only birds and passing balloonists had seen that before.

It feels just as good to see a wonderful old building restored as it did to see a new one, like the Orchard Building, opened.