By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

At a conference recently, I found myself lured into taking part in a competition to spot the famous person in a photograph of undergraduate rowers larking around in the Fellows’ Garden as members of University College, Oxford’s boat club: here is someone hanging upside down, there are chaps dressed as Lawrence of Arabia and here is a fellow holding out a handkerchief as if he is about to die heroically in front of a firing squad.  Recognising the place, because I had spent my undergraduate time there (once in the Fellows’ Garden urging on tortoises in the annual tortoise race) and knowing that Stephen Hawking had been an undergraduate there previously, I named him as the melodramatic, handkerchief wielding person and won a prize.  Here is the photo.

Hawking’s death was my starting item at early morning notices at Bedales on Tuesday: be attentive, I said, to what was being said and written after his death, because there is so much to admire and learn: courage – physical, intellectual and moral; the power of intellectual enquiry; determination – to keep on working and communicating to a wider audience who responded to Hawking’s additional genius for putting such complex ideas into lucid prose.  Being able to talk only with great difficulty and then reliant on his computerised speech, he had to use short sentences and be direct – a handy if unwonted discipline for a writer.

Reading Roger Penrose’s obituary in The Guardian, I was struck by two other things.

Hawking was highly regarded as a Physics undergraduate but did not take work particularly seriously at that stage and, although he took a first class degree, it was not an outstanding one – there were by this metric, plenty of more promising scientists.  It was his increased work rate and, perhaps, the additional energy that his sense of limited time left as a result of the diagnosis of ALS, a fatal degenerative disease, shortly after his 21st birthday, not long after the rowing photo was taken, that made him.

But perhaps the most notable other thing that occurred to me reading about his life and work was the extent to which scientific collaboration shaped his life.  There was only one Stephen Hawking and one megastar scientific celebrity, but his work was enabled by his series of collaborations – with Roger Penrose, Brandon Carter, James Bardeen and James Hartle, to name only some.

We will have a chance to hear more about this when Roger Penrose gives our annual Eckersley Lecture on 17 May.  Tickets are understandably scarce.

Picking people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Macbeth may be a peculiar starting point for a piece on picking the right people, but having seen the National’s latest (Anne-Marie Duff and Roy Kinnear) and being reminded of the nightmare vision of what happens when you make some wrong decisions in personnel, it is fresh in my mind.

In that little played parlour game when you imagine a school as run by a Shakespearean character, Headmaster Duncan isn’t doing so well,  although he realises “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”  he dies as a result of a bad choice: his most recent appointment to Cawdor House (previously Glamis) has, in breach of more than Health and Safety policy, done him in and now it’s Headmaster Macbeth (nickname, Mac the Knife, motto Dirk of Each for Weal of All).  Macbeth is, like the previous Earl of Cawdor, “a gentleman on whom I [Duncan] built / An absolute trust”; and he is very much The Boss.

As outlined elsewhere in this week’s Saturday Bulletin, there have been a series of appointments recently.  I am directly responsible for all of these except the Dunhurst deputy head, in which I was closely involved in the final stage interview.  Unusually, they cover the full 3-18 age range; unusually I will not be around to see how they prosper, as I am sure they will.

Heads need to be good at picking people: if you aren’t – or don’t become so quickly – things will go awry.  As in so many areas, I have learnt a lot from my Bedales experience.  So what are those lessons?

Involve plenty of other teachers, but remember it is your responsibility: pick a winner and all will celebrate; pick a loser and the fact that it is your choice will rest with you, so listen to others but remember to trust your own instincts as well.  See them in action: their craft is teaching and communicating with young people, not being plausible at interview.  Have them walk around the school with different people – watch how they react to different, sometimes surprising situations – a flock of sheep crossing the Orchard, for example.  Devote all the time and resources you need to the process: get it wrong and it takes much longer to unravel and your pupils’ progress suffers.  If you have any sinking feeling at all, don’t pick anyone – go round again.

Remember that they need to combine a passion for what they do or are applying to do (whether Art, housestaffing, headship or deputy headship) with sufficient nous, method and craft to make their ideas a reality.   Avoid Peter Pans or people with some preconceived sense that they can come to our schools to indulge their whims and wear a particularly outrageous pink corduroy suit, for example (true story…).

Apply the tests: would I like my own child to be taught / congratulated / looked after / told off by this person?  What would I feel like after half an hour’s train journey in their company?  Are they going to make people feel more or less cheerful after a chance encounter in school?  This is sometimes known as the radiator/drain test.  Will they light fires in young hearts?  Will they still be cheerful in their own way at the end of a 12 hour day?

Enough! Now evaluate the respective benefits of Headmaster Prospero, Headmistress Cleopatra, Headmaster Caesar or Principal Lear’s Academy for Young Ladies.


Grit, talent, tuition, application = Success!

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Congratulations to  PPE student, Juliette Perry (Dunhurst and Bedales, 2008-15): she has been selected to row for Oxford University against Cambridge in the Women’s Boat Race on 24 March.  See here for the details of the crew and here for an article on the admirable diversity project that the two universities are championing.  An interesting footnote here is that, unlike (I surmise) most of the other women in these two eights, Juliette did not row here at Bedales: she has gone from a standing start to this amazing achievement with extraordinary speed, clearly with a good basis for natural athleticism, and has developed her craft as a rower so quickly and so well.

Trial Eights-19 Juliette Perry credit Simon Perry

Juliette Perry (seated 7). Photo credit: Simon Perry

Here is another example in a different discipline, coincidentally also at Somerville College, Oxford. Disproving the orthodox view that musicians must start when tiny, Josh Grubb (Bedales 2010-14)  started playing the clarinet aged 14 when he started at Bedales in Block 4.  Now in his third year  reading Biochemistry at Oxford, he has played with the University Orchestra, Wind Orchestra, Sinfonietta, Ripieno Players and Consortium Novum. During his time at Somerville, Josh also formed the Woodstock Quintet, which has performed clarinet quintet repertoire throughout Oxford.  Again, it was the magic formula above that enabled his success, with Keir Rowe as his clarinet inspirational teacher.

Aside from the main thing, which is the intrinsic merit in the activity itself (rowing or music), there’s the deep imprint (or deep learning you could say) that comes from that sense of teamwork which gives results from feeling part of something which is far greater than the sum of its parts.  Although I can lay no claim to having experienced this within an orchestra, I did some rowing at a lowly level: even if I and my brawny colleagues rarely experienced the out of body sense you have when an eight pulls exactly together and the boat shoots forward, I would vouch for it being one of the best feelings you can have.



Thinkin’ ‘n doin’

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Starting out as a teacher, I was lucky to find myself in an English department which did a lot of thinking and a lot of doing: an inventive and adaptable programme of study and activities was combined with an ethos of hard work and high achievement.  A formative memory for me is the way that we collaborated and framed ideas as a department; every Wednesday we had a convivial working lunch (hosted in turn by each of us) which was our department meeting. Ideas (sometimes wacky) were knocked around and tested; good practice shared; there was lots of laughter and it was stimulating and productive. We agreed what we should do, planned carefully ahead and then made sure that our thinking resulted in the right kind of doing.

As this was my first job, I found myself running junior debating – a pretty sleepy little corner affecting a handful of devotees.  With my colleagues’ support I decided to turn this into an activity that every student in their first year had to experience.  I devised a scheme which meant that we had a series of mini-debates running across the school at the same time each week.  It involved my persuading a number of colleagues to help voluntarily with it, which they did and off we went.  It ran for several years, lasting for a year after I had left.

Being nosy and a bit pushy from an early age, I found myself observing the headmasters at the various schools I worked at:  here’s an ideas person (rare); there’s someone who gets things done.  In talking with heads I found that sometimes they themselves even talked in those terms about the business of headship, with all the dangers of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reflecting on what headship is here, in our favoured nook of Hampshire, there is no doubt: it’s a role where the thinking and the doing have to work alongside each other.  Indeed, I suspect that the innovation and distinctiveness gene at Bedales is such that the school thrives through the sense that its routines and activities are being thoughtfully scrutinized and re-shaped continuously.  This is not quite John Badley’s injunction that the school should be re-built every seven years, but it is very  much  that spirit.

I found myself thinking (there we go again…) about this last night at the end of a stimulating Jaw debate: “This house would serve no meat” (decoratively done below).  Jaw, the time when the school engages in something that has a moral or spiritual dimension, has adapted from being a Sunday evening religious observance with a broad-ranging talk at its centre (up to 1981), to a non-religious event on a Sunday evening  (up to 2005) to its present incarnation – a fortnightly programme of talks, mainly from external speakers, with a Jaw debate each term.  Last night’s one evoked memories of the community-wide debate that led to us having one no meat lunch each week.  I suspect that this one will lead to a further debate about the amount and provenance of the meat we eat.

Thoughtfulness naturally sits within all elements of the school’s leadership, just as it does within its vibrant communal life.  Effecting consequent change likewise must.

This house would serve no meat

Designed to last: women’s suffrage

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Sunday afternoon and I am admiring  the work of our young designers who are hard at work on their BAC pieces in a Design all-in weekend: here is Gus G’s chandelier type light fitting inspired by the shape of a dried cow parsley head; there is Cannden’s shoe rack, cunningly moulded  (with help from the vacuum –shaper) into a suave shoerack; here is Sam A’s dress with a touch of snakeskin-like PVC;  over there is Thea L’s intergalactic-themed one; Hannah M has been inspired by the idea of a sea slug; Hamish G’s vest (gilet perhaps) is inspired by the German 1960s Memphis Group and Anton’s natty trousers have 1960s adverts welded into them.  And here is Tess’s elegant two-piece dress – in green, white and violet, the colours of the Suffragette movement to Give Women the Vote that resulted in the Representation of the People Act receiving royal assent on 6 February 1918.

I trust that the families who were so instrumental in the founding of  Bedales would be proud of all this fine work – particularly Tess’s commemorative work and, thinking more broadly, of the role played by Bedales men and women in their work for equal rights for women.  Here is an article in the Petersfield Post (Bedales’ founding families influenced Suffragist moves).

Ruth Whiting (Head of History 1963-2000) is doing important research into this, in particular the role of Amy Garrett Badley.  Her blog describes the absorbing story that Ruth is uncovering.  More is to come, including the account of Emmeline Pankhurst’s talk given in the Bedales Dining Hall.

Appreciation of The Beautiful

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This was the sole school aim for a long time.  When the current five aims were framed early in my time, I was adamant that this nugget would find its place in the current aims, as it does in Aim 3, (To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful).

This awareness informs each assembly, which begins with music; it certainly informed my assembly on Wednesday, as I begin with Raphael’s Madonna della Seddia and ends with Helen Dunmore’s poem to her newly born daughter, Tess, (All The Things You Are Not Yet).  It informs daily decisions, whether those be about the curriculum, a flowerbed or the balance in an individual student’s life.  And this impulse is animating the lives of Old Bedalian scientists, writers, engineers, inventors, musicians, designers, dancers and actors daily.

But what about utility, I hear you (sensibly of course) say?  How handy (crafty too perhaps) to have our Arts & Crafts heritage, because Morris & Co reverenced what was beautiful and useful; therefore it’s unsurprising that furniture and architecture should be at the heart of the Arts & Crafts movement, with the hand crafting of wood at the centre of both its furniture and its architecture.

Good therefore to learn this week that the suite of furniture at the office for the Secretary of State for Education was designed and made at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in 1960.  I am delighted to hear this from our local MP and now Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.  Edward Barnsley, apprenticed to Lupton after leaving Bedales, made some of the Library furniture.  Edward, carrying on the proud Barnsley tradition of his father Sidney who built the Library to Gimson’s design, carried on working into the 1980s and would no doubt have had a personal hand in this important government commission.  You will recognise the distinctive design of his most famous chair, below.

Edward Barnsley chair - BedalesLeft: chair designed by Edward Barnsley in memory of Basil Gimson and used in the Bedales library. Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, by Roy Wake and Pennie Denton (1993) p.306






Below: the suite of furniture designed by the Barnsley Workshop and used by the Ministry for Education, reproduced by kind permission of the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Barnsley Workshop

125 years on

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

5708 Bedales-125-Logo-CMYK BROWN UPDATE 22.11 (Large)It was 125 years ago this Saturday that three boys joined John Badley and his six members of staff at a rented house called Bedales in Lindfield on the outskirts of Haywards Heath.  The school would move to its present home in Steep in 1900 – 76 students in total by then, with just seven girls, co-education having started in 1898.

As we set out on our 125 anniversary celebrations, it is interesting to reflect on what drove John Badley to found the school, what impelled him to lead it as headmaster for its first 42 years and what he might think of us now.

A charismatic 28 year old athlete and classical scholar with a top education (Rugby and Cambridge) and enough family money not to worry too much about making a living, he was inspired by the ideas of the late Arts and Crafts movement and thinkers such as Edward Carpenter and Cecil Reddie, founder of Abbotsholme and exponent of the New Schools’ movement.  Badley’s early experience teaching with Reddie convinced him that he wanted to start his own school and that the conventional public schools “simply wouldn’t do.”  The negative reasons revolved around not being narrowly focussed on the traditional classical curriculum and the cold, hierarchical disciplines of the Victorian public school.  The positive reasons had to do with wanting his school to embrace a more enlightened vision for humanity – where the outdoors, the Arts, reason, head hand and heart in equilibrium, friendship, mutual  respect between teachers and their charges and the feminine influence all held sway.

The school quickly grew, especially when established in Steep. By 1922 the total number had reached 194, including those at Dunhurst, which was started in 1902. The school filled with many families that Badley knew personally. The First World War, although a source of great sadness with the loss of life of so many of his former pupils, galvanized the building of the Memorial Library and Badley’s idealism about international cooperation, was envisaged with the League of Nations.

What would he think of us now?  I am sure he would regard life as very soft and indulgent: the Bedales he grew was physically austere and unashamedly frugal.  The cold baths were an article of faith and kept going until the late 1950s.  He would be surprised by the lack of any religious observance:  although his focus on what he regarded as the eternal truths of Christianity meant that non-conformist and Jewish families felt happier here than at schools where Anglicanism was central, there was a clear religious thread to the school, comparable to Unitarianism.

I think he would recognise and welcome many things.  Here are some: the emphasis put on inquisitiveness and inspiration; the warmth of relationships; the equality of opportunity between genders; the unusual tolerance for a community of adolescents; and the prominence of outdoor work.

I like to think that in a week which has seen a female head of sciences interviewed on national radio for her contrarian views on the use of sarcasm in teaching, warm appreciation of a Theatre of Cruelty play by a touring Norwegian company, a Jaw led by the school’s LGBT society and a series of rehearsals for the students’ annual rock show, he would feel that the creative and daring spirit flourishes.