Place: Outside

ODW0011 pre-1908 (2611)

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

Dogless he meanders

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early this morning.  Curious still being dogless – indeed being creatureless at 50 Church Road, our hens having been ravaged by the fox and our hairy black dog having been lodged with a family who will give her a much more active life over the next few years on the edge of the Firth of Forth (Gullane, pron Gillan) where she is scampering over the links and loving swimming on a daily basis.  So, dogless I will go to the ‘Badley Behaved’ Dog Show & Fête on Saturday; and dogless I take my early morning quick stroll before settling to the reading, writing and thinking necessary before the public bit of the day starts.

This truncated week looks pleasantly varied but with good hefty features: three governor sub-committee meetings, two external speaking events, three relatively routine internal small talks, one half day’s interviewing for a new teacher, lots of prospective parents, an evening housestaff meeting plus supper at home, an open day and, of course, the great Dog Show.

So, here I am on my dawn meanderings: along Emma’s walk, past the Jacob ewes and their lambs, looking in on the adolescent black pigs and up on to the Mem pitch, bathed in the day’s first sunlight and then back down past slumbering adult pigs, admiring the great job they’ve done clearing undergrowth.

I’ve taken a vow against nostalgia, but it is going to get increasingly difficult to hold out.  This is a place that invites reflection and creeps into your senses; having now been in Badley’s chair for longer than anyone other than Mr Badley himself, I should have a few thoughts about this school and the curious business of leading it.  Therefore, here’s a plan for the next half dozen blogs – OK, my last clutch of miscellaneous offerings: six brief reflections on different dimensions of Bedales.  I hope that they might be useful to someone at some stage.  First one (next week): place.

Dramatising ideas

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting by the fireplace at 50 Church Road trying to explain to our Chinese guests – 13 students and two teachers from Chuansha School in Shanghai – the peculiarities of the English tradition of Afternoon Tea.  This is relatively straightforward, however, compared to my hamfisted attempts to describe the ups and downs of Admiral Nelson’s popularity before he secured it by dying at Trafalgar.  It’s a bit of a truism to say that things are as interesting as they are complicated once you start to delve into them, but there is nothing quite like trying to describe something central to your culture to people from a very different one and in comprehensible language to make you realise the limitations of language.

So, still wishing that I hadn’t got so embroiled in different pronunciations of “scone” or mentioned Lady Hamilton, I find myself later standing by the lake (on the Theatre side) watching the first of the five short devised shows that are part of the 6.2 Theatre Studies practical exam.  As this first piece involves two girls emerging from the lake, the cast have been hoping for the good weather to continue; alas, it’s chilly – well, alas from a comfort/ Health and Safety point of view, but a dankish twilight beefs up the Gothic in my view – breath is steamy and the piece’s conclusion (too grisly to recount) is helped by what the Scots call the dreich ambiance.

Now the audience is back in the Theatre: the relative warmth is reassuring, but the next four pieces will be in the best tradition of Bedales student-devised work: inventive, thought-provoking, rich in ideas, sometimes visceral and usually bold in execution.  Language plays its part, but is subsidiary to physical theatre.

The strongest thread running through these arresting pieces is of the complexity and pitfalls of human relationships, with the #MeToo movement and the objectification of women at its core.  Having grown accustomed to a school environment where students can use devised theatre to explore their feelings so fully, it is difficult to imagine a school where such intelligent, demanding and exploratory work does not happen.

Teaching: place and people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Teaching’s especially on my mind as the term’s start coincides with summer warmth.  Sunday’s assembly for freshly returned boarders allows me to talk about the way this place can spur us to engage both with each other and to think differently.  My seasonal higher education talk mid week is about how inquisitiveness – fostered here and then furthered in higher education – is the motor for lifelong learning: being interested in stuff makes you more interesting, both to yourself and to others.  Take advantage of these amazing opportunities – Roger Penrose ‘n all.

Teaching is important to headship – for your own wellbeing as well as showing others that you are as much a teacher yourself as someone gesturing in the distance in order to get others to do things and (you trust) make the right things happen.  So by Thursday lunchtime, I have met two new classes (a Block 3 and a Block 1) and taught some Chaucer (suitably enough “When April with his shoures soote…) and some Larkin  (Cut Grass).

I have also done some learning as finally I manage to coincide with sausage-making, seeing the outdoor work team and a Block 5 student in action in the Bakehouse.   Here is the pork (double minced), the rusk (gluten-free) and the seasoning – all nicely mixed in water and ready to be fed into the proverbial sausage machine – delicate job this bit and best not described too intricately so I will move on.

Last thing and I am watching Living with the Brainy Bunch (BBC), which, although billed as an interesting account of the effect of parental influence on students’ progress, is as much about the power of patient, encouraging, determined teaching.  Jack is something of a detention king (105 last year, he says with a smile) and Holly goes walkabout in her lessons, more through fear of failure than anything else.  Both are moved from their low expectation homes to the homes of high-performing students with whose parents have high expectations.  Academic achievement and self-esteem improve.  Jack’s smile and demeanour at the end say as much as his much improved Maths score.

But most on my mind is the telling conjunction of two extraordinary Bedales teachers, sadly now dead, who were Bedales teaching colossi and who inspired generations of students:  Ruth Whiting, who died last Friday and who taught History here from 1963 to 2000, returning after that to invigilate and do amazing work with the archives, in particular commemorating the OB dead of the First World War; and John Batstone,  Head of English from 1968-1993, who died in December but whose memorial service takes place tomorrow.   Testimony to the power of great teaching abounds in the way in which these two are remembered by their students.

Hawking

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.