Reflecting on 33 years of teaching at Bedales

There are all sorts of ways that a community listens to itself – one is through assemblies and Jaws from people who bring a long perspective and accrued insight to bear. I think back to former head Tim Slack’s Jaw when he talked about what it was like being a young head at Bedales with Mr Badley living in Fairhaven. Another such occasion was last night when Graham Banks reflected on what has changed and what has remained the same since he joined Bedales 33 years ago. These are rare occasions – a teacher thinking aloud about his time in a way uncluttered by disenchantment or the need for any self-aggrandizement. One of the strong early influences on Graham was an older teacher called George Smith with whom Graham only briefly coincided but who, as a Quaker, encouraged reflection – partly through his style of talking to the school but also through his use of silent reflection at the end of his assemblies.

What has changed? Buildings – mainly for the better, a theatre which has transformed the school’s creative life and new classrooms where you are no longer very cold in winter and too hot in summer. The size of the school (from about 350 to 455) and where we meet – the Quad was an open space, used mainly for socializing, with only occasional seats and all assemblies happened in the Lupton Hall. All boarding boys were in the main school building and looked down into the Quad. The weekends – most boarders stayed at school for each half of the term.

What has stayed the same?  The quality of music – still happily very high. The generosity of spirit towards helping others – something that Graham has in his final years here worked very hard to foster, especially through his work as head of Outreach with the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative and the fundraising initiatives that have followed it. The warmth of relationships and the friendly, informal atmosphere which he noticed, even at interview in the summer holidays almost 33 years ago, and which attracted him to the place. Is a tendency amongst some students to look to cut corners and take advantage of the trust and friendly atmosphere a necessary price to pay? Perhaps. The enduring quality and impact of visiting speakers, especially at Civics, has led to Graham missing few – even before he took over the running of these thought-provoking and humanising talks. So, students, take advantage of these things. Finally, another evergreen thing – the self-absorption of the adolescent nature which, provided that selfishness is kept at bay as much as possible, provides the backdrop for the swift changes that occur during teenage years and which make working with adolescents so fulfilling and intriguing.

Sitting and listening to Graham’s final assembly and touched on his behalf by long applause afterwards, I found myself wondering if, in 32 years time, a departing member of staff will refer back to the impact that hearing a legendary older teacher talk to the school in a reflective and wise way had on him or her.

Graham Banks

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.