The enduring power of student involvement at Bedales

Although the exam season is very much with us, this week is a reminder of the enduring power of student involvement at Bedales – three examples.

Last night the Landscape and Planning Committee met to discuss various proposals which will affect the way the estate looks and feels – item 1, the plans for the new Art & Design Centre. This committee is one of a number which has a strong student presence – 3 6.2s – Katie S, Reuben T and Archie H – along with 5 teachers, with head of ODW Peter Coates in the chair. All the students  have had enough experience both of this committee and of associated areas – Outdoor Work, Technical Support and Design – to bring to bear well-informed and argued views. As well as engaging fully with the debate on the location, orientation and materials of the new building, we roam over other areas: what should be the whole school effort in late September, signage and the 6.2 legacy project. Example 2: a new  method of selecting next year’s head boy and head girl team. Following an admirably well argued and sensible student suggestion last June as to how we might reform the way that this team is chosen, we are trying something new: rather than the student body being asked to take part in an “advisory vote”, whose results remain secret and which has no formal correlation with the people eventually chosen (formally by me)  we have asked individuals to be nominated by their tutors and put forward for a vote; so 21 people (out of a year group of 94) have been nominated; we will then publish the top 10 (alphabetically) who will go forward from the vote to the staff consultation stage when there will be a debate on who will make the best leadership quartet. So, greater transparency but with the people who have to work most closely with the head team – myself and Dominic – having the final say. This first year is a trial one, but I would be surprised if it did not turn out to be a really constructive and progressive reform. Third example: this weekend’s exhibition of plans for the new Art & Design Centre. Kicking off the weekend is the lengthy meeting that will occur on Friday evening between the lead architect, Tom Jarman, and the student committee, led by Architecture student Katie S and comprising Art and Design students across the years.  This student Art & Design consultation group has already met twice in order to familiarise themselves with the background – in particular the school’s requirements in terms of workshops, studios, classrooms etc. Comprising, after all, the people who represent the building’s primary users,  this group has already come up with ideas and questions that enrich the process.

If you are a parent reading this, you might, as I do sometimes, reflect on the contrast between the level of student engagement at Bedales and the level that you had at your school. Not only is the community here benefiting hugely from the insights and energy of student involvement – in everything from teaching and learning, through food to health and safety, but the students are gaining experience in how you engage with organisations and effect change by dint of constructive argument and diplomacy.

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.