Curriculum – the last 25 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fifth blog is ‘Curriculum – the last 25 years’.

Being an early riser, I choose what to do first thing. This morning I chose to walk for 20 minutes around the Bedales estate, noting a shriek of magpies mobbing a cat and querying an overgrown hedge – nothing as evocative as my occasional dawn walks in winter when the owls are competing for air space or in May when I hear the plaintive greetings of orphan lambs or even the snufflings of bleary-eyed piglets.

Choice enlivens us.  The curriculum is what schools choose to study – it is our daily bread.  As outlined in my previous piece, Bedales under Badley chose to study a different curriculum to the established Victorian public schools and chose to study it differently.

Arriving here in 2001, I found that the name carrier, the Senior School, Bedales, was teaching much the same curriculum as other schools, albeit often in an unusually vital and engaging way.  The school remained shackled to the dying animal that was the national curriculum, with its dreary GCSEs. At that point, even the Labour government was dissing GCSES. I started having thought-provoking conversations with long term supporters of the school: “why does this extraordinary school not exercise greater choice over what it teaches? Why are you not using your freedom?”

It was my good fortune to inherit some visionary colleagues who had done important work in this area with Southampton University’s Department of Education. Two were especially significant – Graham Banks (Head of English) and Philip Young (Director of Studies). With Southampton, they exploring the potential for the school to diverge from the GCSE curriculum in the 1990s, but the then Head, Alison Willcocks had decided not to press ahead.

I chose differently. Constructing a new curriculum has much in common with creating a new building: identify the need; write the brief; seek planning permission; gather your project team; assess the risks; and then build.

PRE dialogue

It was quickly evident that the territory where the greatest need coincided with the best potential to innovate was the so-called Middle Years curriculum – the GCSE years 10 and 11, Blocks 4 and 5. Governors were on side quickly. Universities were surveyed and came back positively twice, both in response to the embryonic idea and then when the concept had been fleshed out. The message was very clear: give us five or six GCSEs in the core subjects (English, Maths, two or three Sciences and a modern foreign language) and then use your freedom with the remaining four or five subject slots.

029_DSC4211 (Large)

I knew that our parents would warm to it when, as part of the consultation, Philip Young and I called a meeting of Block 1 (Year 7) parents from Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.  These after all were the parents of the children who would most likely be affected, being the first year who would take the BACs. I displayed on the screen the wording of our (then recently minted) primary academic aim: to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought. I interposed a big question mark and then on the other side of the screen wrote “ GCSEs”. The  room filled with laughter – the two things had nothing in common. We had to change the curriculum – and so we did, starting the courses in 2006. You can read more about its latest incarnation here.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Curriculum – first 100 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fourth blog is ‘Curriculum – first 100 years’.

When Bedales began in 1893, it was the second of the so-called New Schools, Abbotsholme, where John Badley had begun his teaching career, being the first. Reacting against something (the rigidities and classical basis of the Victorian public school curriculum) was fair enough, but a New School needed to answer two crucial questions: What should be taught? How should it be taught?

My previous reflections on place and relationships show the importance of individuality, personal growth, the influence of environment and balancing the work of head, hand and heart.

So, first of all what do you teach? Move away from dominance of the Classics (Greek and Latin) as the primary way both of teaching your own languages and for training the young brain. In the chapter on The Middle Years in Memories and Reflections (1955) Badley focuses in particular on what would be taught in the Middle Years, before the specialisation required for the School Certificate at 15 or 16. Here just under half of the time was spent on languages (including English) and history. Just over half was taken with Maths, Science and practical training in wood and metal work, domestic economy, music and drawing.

Secondly, how? Have the formal curriculum occupy a smaller proportion of time, but create more variety and increase the pace at which the pupils learn by what we would call now active learning – learning through doing. As a result (again from The Middle Years) teaching would be “as varied as possible, both in subject matter and in manner of treatment”.

Central to the method, the How, was the organisation of the day: the morning given over to “school work” HEAD; the afternoon to “outdoor activities” (farm work and games) HAND; and the evening to “social interaction” HEART.

See below the digest from the start of Badley’s Bedales; A Pioneer School (1923) which gives a handy overview and the brightly coloured timetable from 1903.

IMG_1652

Timetable 1903

 

Pioneer, experimental, new – they are all involve trying things out: and that’s what they did.

Whilst at the Old Bedales, they experimented with extending the usual public school custom of an hour’s work before breakfast to two hours. Result? They abandoned even the one hour, discovering that this led to “so much increased vigour in the rest of the day’s work”. Modern research agrees.

In 1920 Dr Montessori herself visited Dunhurst and admired the work of her protégée, Amy Clarke, the Dunhurst Head. The “project method” (an outcome of John Dewey’s “experimental work”) became an established thing with the older classes at Dunhurst – Badley cites the “building of a Viking ship” as an example: a brilliant example of cross-curricular, learning-through-doing work: “a practical demonstration of the need of various kinds of knowledge and of their inter-relatedness”.

The Dalton Plan was tried for two years in the early 1920s; although it was formally abandoned, the balance between what you were taught in “class work” and what you were expected to do in “individual work” had shifted as a result of the experiment towards the latter.

Other innovations included taking English seriously as a subject: Geoffrey Crump, appointed Senior English Master in 1919, was said to be one of the first of his kind in an English Public School.

Turning to the national educational scene, the role of Bedales in establishing the first Design O Level in the 1970s resulted from the school’s unusual position in combining Craft, Design and Technology and in the inspirational work of Biff Barker and David Butcher. In the mid 1970s over 80% of a year group took Design O Level.

In summary, in 1911 in one of his Talks in Peace and War on “the intellectual side of school work”, Badley gives three reasons for this kind of work: use (ie. the practical benefit your subjects give you), pleasure and training. It is unsurprising that in the rest of the talk he majors on pleasure: “true ambrosial food” can as naturally come from Science as from literature and great art. The educational experience should shape each pupil’s life through the New School being “a place full of active and joyous life”. (Bedales: A Pioneer School)

Next week – Bedales Assessed Courses.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Relationships

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this third blog is ‘Relationships’.

Being asked many times by visitors “What makes it all work?” I say “Relationships”.

You could transplant the school to another place, change the curriculum, massacre the routine, make the house system less distinctive and even introduce a uniform and you would not entirely destroy the spirit of the place; but if you changed the nature of the relationships, especially the relationships between teachers and students, you would see the heart of the community wither.

I see the nature of the relationships as informing the best kind of teaching and learning, as well as informing the celebrating of individuality that is so important to us. The first name term handle is merely an emblem of the thing itself.

It all began, like so many good things, with John Badley’s conviction in the early 1890s that he wanted to found a school that was markedly different from the Rugby School of his own schooldays. Central to this was the idea that the relationship between teacher and pupil must avoid the old master-servant model and be based more on mutual respect and even affection.

In Memories and Reflections he writes about how valuable it was that the school grew slowly: “..we were a family rather than a school; and this feeling, with the customs to which it gave rise, could be retained, as the family grew larger, until they became a part of the school tradition, permanently affecting the relations of older and younger even when the early conditions had been long outgrown. One of these customs….was the hand-shaking after evening prayers as the school filed past the Staff to say Good-night..”  Badley goes on to credit this family feeling with giving the school its sense of co-operation and also its desire to give “attention to the needs of the individual”.  Running across both these characteristics is the desire to engage students in the framing of the school’s rules and customs. Later on in his memoirs he describes how what he wanted “was an atmosphere of affection, confidence and opportunity”.

handshaking0003

This optimistic belief in the benign power of relationships permeates the school, affecting old traditions like the mixed-age room system and new ones like Badley Seniors (6.2s who work with Block 3 tutor groups).  At our best, even now above 460 students, we try to operate more like a family than an organisation.

I was struck by the difference a good few years before I started here when mid summer holiday, tidying a drawer in Easter Ross and idly listening to Radio 4, I heard two Bedales girls talking about their housemistress: they talked about her in a way that was completely different to anything I had heard before, using her first name (Suzie) naturally and saying how they would think nothing of taking any problem to her.

In my first term we re-did the prospectus – a bit of a song-and-dance in pre-website days. One Friday, my then colleague and Registrar, Avril Hardie, asked the 12 students on School Council to go away and think about what was most important to them about Bedales. The following week they returned with their answer: “Friendship and that we are listened to.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Place: Inside

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this second blog is ‘Place: Inside’.

A big part of my Bedales education has been with design and architecture. In previous schools building  was all about utility – the most for the least, with aesthetics considered a frippery – whereas here it was to be different.  Why? The Arts & Crafts movement has beauty and utility at its core; and John Badley’s educational philosophy emphasises the importance of environment  –  the benign effect of  good surroundings on young people. The one school aim I inherited in 2001 was “the appreciation of the beautiful”. I have had the great good fortune to preside over two large and influential building projects – the Orchard Building and Art & Design.

Let’s do some stock-taking of what we had in 2001. Over 60% of teaching was done in the three Greville Rhodes “temporary” flat-roofed, conspicuously (for the time) modern blocks – North, South and Art (1968). These had been built – with great controversy – as the school expanded from 240 to 340. The classrooms in North and South block were small – a push to house 22 – with wafer thin walls: noisy, hot in summer and cold in winter. As teaching spaces they were poor, making it against the grain for teachers to depart from a traditional “chalk and talk” approach.

I did three useful things with the Orchard Building (2006): I suggested to the then Chair of Governors, Michael Blakstad, that we must have an architect on the Board and I wrote the brief for the building and worked closely with the architects to ensure that the ethos suffused the building.  We chose the architects, Walters & Cohen, because of their track record and their way of working, not because they had experience of building for schools – they had none.  Their approach was to come and spend time at the school – to understand the community and the pulse of the school day.  Whereas the Greville Rhodes buildings, in common with much of the icon-ruffling architecture of the 1960s, took no notice of our great signature buildings – the Lupton Hall (1912) and the Library (1919) – the Orchard Building, with the same pitch of roof reflects Arts & Crafts principles: truth to materials in particular, with its bold use of wood and concrete. Cindy Walters also led a master planning exercise which was decisive in creating the geometry at the estate’s centre: the first axis running from the red path in the car park (2005) to where Badley’s chair sits in the Quad, with the bisecting axis having the Theatre (1997) and Steephurst at its west and east ends.

DJI_0025

When the Orchard Building opened in September 2006, the school became calmer.  It worked.

Much happened in the 10 years between this and the building of Art & Design (2016): the refurbishment of Steephurst (£0.5 million x 3 summer holidays); the exterior of 6.2 and interior of Boys’ Flat; the re-modelling of Dunhurst’s interior; the three new staff houses (2012) near Outdoor Work, and, on a  smaller scale but poignantly powerful for so many of us, the Sam Banks Pavilion (2013), the work of the OB twin brothers, the Russells, who had learnt much of their craft with the re-assembling of the 18th century Sotherington Barn in the 1980s.

The recent transformation of the area between the gates and Steephurst, with the new Art & Design building at its centre was Matthew Rice’s idea. He had the vision to see that it made no sense to follow the original Walters & Cohen idea of re-building on the existing site (of Art & Design) but that constructing it where the makeshift Facilities’ buildings were offered a triple benefit: a more prominent setting for one of the school’s great fortes; a brown field site with consequent cost savings; an enhancement to the school’s entrance; and the desirability of putting departments with complementary activities – Art, Design and Outdoor Work – together.

Codicil to all this is delight at seeing the beautiful recent restoration of the Lupton Hall, recounted precisely and tenderly in this article from the Old Bedalian Newsletter (click here and scroll to page 20) by Anna Keay, the governor who  succeeded Matthew Rice as Chairs of Buildings’ sub-committee.

My advice then about schools and building:  remember that nothing can happen until your finances are in good fettle; get plenty of architectural and property expertise onto the governing board;  put the school’s ethos at the centre of your buildings’ design; consult widely before you build; make your teachers who will use the building central to that consultation; and remember that great design doesn’t cost much more than indifferent design.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Place: Outside

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this first blog is ‘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.