Consulting the student body through a Food Symposium

Bedales has a long tradition of consulting the student body about important issues. Go back 20 years or so and it took the form of a whole school meeting; over the past 11 it has been through using a symposium – and so it was on Wednesday night on the subject of Food. When I am asked by fellow heads about how to go about consultation, I am surprised at their surprise when I outline what happens here; indeed many more or less fall off their chairs at the idea of consulting a student body. Well, the message from here is that, like anything you are determined to do and that you see as vital, it is not difficult and (much more importantly) it is fun, interesting and healthy for the community. Wednesday’s symposium was helped greatly by the initial research and commitment of ten 6th formers (“the core team”)  who, having expressed an interest in the whole venture, researched the origins of our food – Chicken Korma in particular – and then led the first communal bit of the evening (Quad at 5.15) through telling the story of Bedales Chicken Korma. This was not just about the food miles in bringing the coconut milk and spices to our shores, but focussed on the living conditions of our chickens – am sparing you the grisly details here, but not-very-nice sums it up. Seed is sown in our minds: could we eat less chicken but chicken that has had a bit more exercise and lived in better conditions?  Might we eat a more local chicken? Dominic gives us a quick run through of some of the key concepts to be discussed. So, then we disperse to our groups (cross-age, chaired by sixth formers) who have a series of starter topics to get them going – seasonality, role of meat, organic, regionality, food miles, waste, nutritiousness – and a large poster-size sheet on which to write the main points of the group discussion. Half an hour later and we are back in the Quad. Head students are dashing around with microphones – questions and statements are being made from the floor as the core team of ten speed-read the large sheets and discuss what the key threads running through the discussions are. Meanwhile I am out front: ideas – from the profound to the trivial (toast seems to obsess some folk) – keep coming over our 20 minutes of plenary. Then (last 5) the main threads are voiced by a quick parade of core team people: quality over quantity, not convinced by organic, a self-conscious push to choose the healthier options on offer, try a meat free day but not a Monday (clearly not a believer in alliterative-led choices), develop links with local farms, we are up for some thoughtful experimentation. A few words finally from me on the next stages: further work on the groups’ ideas; core team to draw up a draft proposal; bring that back to the Bedales student body, before they take the consultation on to Dunhurst and Dunannie; do this by the end of term, so we can start working with Dave Greenman and our great catering team to make whatever changes we want to try. Final reminder (from the floor, of course): we need to remind ourselves how lucky we are and how well fed we are.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

One thought on “Consulting the student body through a Food Symposium

  1. Loved reading about the Food Symposium and Consultation – what an energetic school body! When I was at Bedales the food often left a lot to be desired, but when I started at Dunhurst we still had rationing books and life must have been really challenging for the catering staff. When I get down to school now I am really impressed with the choices available and I think the catering staff do an outstanding job (I have to eat meals in lots of institutions so I can make valid comparisons)…but yes there is always room for improvement and if we can move towards using more local food (especially like that idea) and eating less meat then let’s go for it!

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