Seasonal cycles

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early before the day bakes up;  literal black dog is jaunty as we walk  from Church Road, through the semi-natural Steep woods and up to the base of the Hangers, enjoying the whiff of wild garlic and a family of Canada geese in the small pond above the mill lade; we return via All Saints’ churchyard’s cluster of wild poppies and our own domestic creatures – russety pot-bellied pigs rootling and Black Rock hens taking the late dawn air as we return home via Outdoor Work’s handsome vernacular family of buildings, now joined by their big svelte cousin, Art & Design.   Agricultural cycles and care for the land been always been in my family’s marrow: the resonances with the educational world I inhabit are especially striking at this juncture in the year.

Last week I spent half an hour with the 10 new teachers who will join Bedales in September at the start of their induction day.  I talk, as I did with the new head student team, about trusteeship: so, we are all trustees of something much larger than we can ever be – a school’s culture, its better habits and instincts – and our responsibility must be to hand it on in better shape than we found it.  As well as giving them confidence in keeping to the high standards that most of them have established already in the craft of teaching, I alert them to the particularly high expectations that our students have of mutually trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their teachers.  This is, I say, the most important and influential thing we have and something that they can and will in time find powerfully nourishing.

There is a palpable sense of expectation in the room – this talented crop of teachers with their energy, optimism and passions!  Of course, as the obscure saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding, but I leave the room feeling buoyed up, thinking that the school is lucky to attract such people and I am lucky to be able to see them start their Bedales journey.

“Life is a casting off”, so says Linda Loman in Miller’s great reflection on working life, Death of a Salesman, which I am delighted to see our Block 3s writing about as I nose around amongst their end of year exams on Monday morning.  These young people, less frisky but a bit more knowledgeable than they were in September,  have entertained their parents to a Saturday lunch virtually all grown or raised (“Happy Pigs” – see photo, above, which accompanies the barbecue) during this academic season by each tutor group under the careful, farmerly and pastoral eye of their Badley tutor.

Casting of a different kind is being contemplated as news of next term’s school play being a musical filters out.

Teachers retire and move on or back to places from where they came.  And we are now in the season of staff goodbyes, which are going on out of the public eye before the more formal, collective events of the end of term.

Amongst the students, the Block 5s have returned following their GCSEs and are having a week of taster lessons so that they have the best chance of choosing the right (generally) three A Levels.  I find myself in one such lesson where the class is being asked to match Greek statues of different eras with vases of a similar age.  Discussions of musculature, naturalism and the constraints of each  genre are a taste of how gripping and formative great sixth form teaching can be.  Plenty of good stuff for us all to look forward to.

Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.

An evening at the RGS

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Ever been to the Royal Geographical Society?  Well I hadn’t until Monday – it’s amazing, the RGS, as I now say confidently.  For those brimming with quips about it being a place given over solely to the pursuit of Geography teaching in schools – with attendant cheap comments about elbow patches on musty tweed jackets – think again.  Saunter round its splendid rooms on the edge of Hyde Park in South Kensington; admire the portraits of Stanley, Livingstone and Speke.  This is the nursery and inspiration to our great British explorers.  Admire the cabinet containing the instruments that guided Darwin’s skipper, Fitzroy to the Galápagos and, yes, there it is, the simple form recommending Fitzroy for membership of the RGS.

Paul-Turner (Large)I was at the RGS for a Bedales first: to see our Head of Geography, Paul Turner, awarded one of the two National Teaching Awards for Excellence in Secondary Geography Education.  This award, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey, was given to Paul as part of the RGS’s annual awards ceremony – a grand occasion (string quartet, serious canapes, with Speke/Stanley looking on).  So, above all it’s a cause for loud congratulations for Paul who is clearly a much admired figure in geographical circles for the innovative way in which he has taken Geography – in particular his online presence (website, Twitter, Vimeo amongst other things) and influence amongst the Geographical education community.

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Claire Power (RGS award winner), Ordnance Survey CEO Nigel Clifford and Head of Geography at Bedales Paul Turner

Another highlight of the evening for me is the award of a Patron’s Medal  (winner last year: Bob Geldof) to Lindsey Hilsum, the Channel 4 News Editor, for her work in reporting from the world’s most challenging places and in particular the way she highlights the plight of refugees.  Her brief speech is the evening’s most powerful piece of oratory: she quotes Warsan Shire’s poem, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” and concludes by wondering how long it will be before a refugee gains an award at the RGS.  Ever keen to bring voices like hers to Bedales I catch her afterwards and ask her to come and speak here. I think she will.

To add to the excitement, I see the RGS President, Nicholas Crane, whose book The Making of the British Landscape: From the Ice Age to the Present was one of my best Christmas reads and is a strong recommendation.  As well as being a scholarly account of our islands’ stories, it is written with a tenderness towards the landscape that surprises.

Final thought: the more teachers connect professionally to other educators, the stronger the collaboration and the greater the opportunities for our students.  It is a daily tonic for me and many here to know that so many of my colleagues have such a strong presence in their professional circles.

Home 
By Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

Read the full poem here.

 

Partnership potential

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Collaboration and working in partnership with other people and organisations have been strong themes here.  After all, the school’s founding motto, ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’,  puts communal effort and therefore collaboration at its core.  A willingness to look outwards and connect with others beyond the school gates has likewise been a strong feature.  Here is a wonderful poster advertising the school’s fundraising efforts for the Russian Famine in 1922.

This strong thread in the Bedales ethos, our Global Awareness programme and the range of partnerships – local, national and international  – that we have are in my mind as I go to Eton to be one of the keynote speakers at the start of their Inspiring School Partnerships conference on Wednesday.  Speaking alongside John Weeks, head of the London Academy of Excellence (sixth form college set up in 2012 by a number of independent schools) and Professor Bill Lucas (who has researched independent-state school partnerships), we sketch out the territory.

In short, the independent sector is doing lots of very good work in partnership with maintained sector schools, but there is more we want to do and, whatever the general election result, more we will be strongly encouraged to do.

I talk about some of the potential traps in our relationship with the maintained sector – a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach from central government will not work; neither will anything that smacks of a condescension or tokenism.  Initiatives based on shared, identified need and mutual professional enthusiasm will work.  I talk briefly about the connection that was made through Geoff Barton and I getting to know each other and each other’s schools (King Edward VI, Bury St Edmunds) through spending time in each place.  The result ranged from increased mutual understanding and appreciation of the two sectors to the Liberating Leaders conference we ran here a year ago.  Geoff has now moved on from headmastering and is General Secretary of the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL).  Our friendship continues and we will bump into each other increasingly next year as the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) works closely with ASCL and all HMC heads are ASCL members.

What about the future potential for new partnerships at the Bedales Schools?  Lots, is the answer.  We want to do more and we will do more.  It will be one of our priorities next year.

Strutting your mutt

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday afternoon and there is only one place to be – the Badley Behaved Dog Show and Fête on the Dunhurst pitches.  Zazu (usually benign, although sometimes dramatically not so, but always unthinking, black labrador) and I arrive a little late to find it all well under way.  There’s so much to do – much sniffing and greeting: gloating bulldogs, spry labradoodles, dopey Afghans (or it that a coat?) and even some mutts who look as if they have been specially coiffured up for the occasion.  Aha!  And there is little Toby, the most popular male mammal in the Petersfield area and one of the main reasons for visiting Bedales reception, where he presides. Another youngster wags in the distance – it’s Diggerty Cross.   And there is so much for dogs and their owners to do: Waggiest Tail, Cutest Puppy, Best Veteran, Best Pedigree Gundog, Dog Most like its Owner (steer clear of that one…) and Best Fancy Dress.  As for we two legged ones, the cream teas are beguiling, the Dalmatian Bouncy Castle inviting and as for the Waterfight Zone, well it’s soaking them up.

Zazu and I are having a nice, tranquil time: I am meeting people whom I generally know – or have met – she is meeting all sorts of new friends and is yet to have one of her cross / snarly moments.  I am not taking too many chances, having her on a (literally) very short leash.  Then, our quietish afternoon is suddenly changed by the request from the now hoarse chair of governors, Matthew Rice, that I take over the commentary from him. Whoops!  From being in gentle post-prandial, smallish talk mode to needing to sound canine-savvy amongst the doggy cognoscenti.  I haven’t even checked over breeds or warmed up the dog anecdotes. I’ve never listened to those legendary cricket commentators who can talk about nothing endlessly.  Never mind, just crack on.  It reminds me of when I was asked to  give a pep talk to a school pipes (ie bagpipers) and drums band one summer evening with about ten seconds’ notice.  I summoned up the “up and at ’em” and tried to avoid St Crispin Day echoes.

Off we go: and there is a soppy looking collie-ish creature, but what do I call it? And how can I say something not entirely fatuous about that fancy dress without it upsetting someone, probably the bearer? Things settle down after a bit. Funny how you discover – for better of worse – a kind of style.  Some of the old yarns come back.  There’s a seasonal factor here: in the summer term I need to think about dogs in advance of my annual dog assembly, so I am reminiscing about previous ones – the march of the labradors, and five things you can learn from a dog, being talks that spring to mind.  So, we have a bit of labrador breed history thrown in – and I have to break off to advertise those delicious cream teas before we get to the bit about that buoyantly woolly breed the Newfoundland.  Did you know…  Best thing is to give the microphone to the winners and to hear their stories – the rescue dogs’ owners’ being the best.

The sun continues to shine and our visitors depart, leaving the wonderful volunteers – parents and colleagues – to clear up.  More people now know about the John Badley Foundation: it enables children to come to our schools from families whose circumstances mean that a Bedales education would otherwise be completely out of reach. Perhaps they will associate it with panting geniality and cuddly hounds. There’s also something about this cranky and colourful afternoon that chimes with that fragile but precious thing, our ethos.  A medley of human and canine colour, it is a celebration of what we hold dear and of those wonderfully eccentric and precious bonds that tie us to our four legged companions: cheerful, a little quirky, certainly genial, inclusive, celebratory, colourful and proud to carve its own path.

Inspiring futures

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m talking at the Inspiring Futures conference tomorrow and am mulling over what I might say.  I need to provide the schools’ perspective on how we should be preparing our students for the future – in particular 4IR – or the Fourth Industrial Revolution – aka the Digital Revolution.   I have 20 minutes and, at my request, it is the final slot.  So, I plan five slides.  Here’s a shrinklet version, slide by slide.

A cheesy crystal ball: we humans love predicting the future and we will so often be wrong.  The hapless verb “to future-proof” is a notable example of this.  Yet, human beings are remarkably adaptive and, in spite of our poor planning for the future, are often fleet-footed in response.   Preparing for 4IR may be too late – but how can we best prepare for whatever 5IR and 6IR are going to look like?

A frontispiece of Silas Marner, showing how the sad, miserly spinner has become part of his loom: work has made him into a machine; tempting to think this is all about preparing our young people for work, but it is also about preparing them to live enriched, fulfilled lives.  In this respect, we need our students to have an understanding of the ancient verities of philosophy and literature and to appreciate the Arts, as well as having a strong science and maths base.

The rear view mirror of a car: our educational systems prepare us for the world that has just passed.  My schooling prepared me well to serve the needs of the British Empire, just as it had gone.  Education ministers tend to hanker after the past – the fixations of Michael Gove and poor primary school children’s subsequent current fixation with adverbial clauses, for example.

A set of ball bearings beautifully balanced:  how to achieve this balance?  The state needs to limit what it requires of school children, especially in those formative GCSE years, and provide much greater freedom within the curriculum; so cut the requirement for so many GCSEs – Maths, English and Science are the only ones that the government needs to assess.  If you allow head teachers in schools to exercise their independence, you create space and therefore flexibility in the curriculum.  Such an approach challenges the current sclerotic, silo mentality of the curriculum.  How can you expect students to develop the necessary flexibility of mind and creative thinking if the curricula they encounter are often so dull and formulaic?

A blossoming chestnut tree:  how to give our youngsters the best chance of living the most fulfilled lives?  See W B Yeats’ image of the chestnut tree (“great rooted blossomer” from Among School Children). Here is a list of some of the qualities we need to help bring out in our students:

  • Capacity for independent thinking and problem solving
  • Appetite for lifelong learning: establish a love of learning early and it stays
  • Enjoyment of teamwork and collaboration
  • Understanding of other cultures – enjoyment of international links
  • Sense of wonder: to inspire and be inspired

Standing up

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Chutzpah – one of our language’s most zesty borrowings  (Yiddish, 19th C)  – is a word you don’t often hear in educational circles, but it’s what springs to my mind on Thursday morning as I listen to Bella’s assembly at Dunhurst.  She stands in front of her teachers and fellow pupils and captures all our attention as she engages us with her subject – Malala Yousafzai and her book Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.  Bella, a Block 1 (Year 7) student has launched a book club, based around this book; she tells us about Malala’s life, the Taliban’s attempted murder of her in 2012 and her subsequent survival and work, including speaking to the United Nations and meeting President Obama.  She commands the stage, managing to ask questions of the audience and still keep momentum and rapt attention.  She is loving it – and so are we: the book club will, I am sure, flourish.

A culture which expects young people to stand up in front of their peers and engage them, whether through enthusing them with their own interests like Bella did or through a debate, a musical, dramatic or even a feat of magic is helping generate chutzpah in its young people. It’s a scary and foreign business, standing up in front of large groups – but what a brilliant thing to have once you’ve overcome your nerves.  An integral part of the three day residential assessment (that our candidates for Block 3 entry sit) is a Merry Evening when each group of 10 has to prepare and perform a short piece, based on a chosen theme, in front of their peers and teachers.  It creates a colourful and enjoyable evening, but it also reflects the expectation that all our young people should be able to stand up and engage an audience, having developed their own style and their own reserves of this particular kind of chutzpah.