Ideas for youth

In my dotting around week, Thursday is one of those days which brims over with stimulating ideas and people, beginning on the south coast at the Brighton Education Conference and ending up with Stephen Fry’s visit to Bedales. Now (the morning after), it is both difficult to absorb the range of ideas and not to feel entirely buoyed up, even as the dawn brings the realisation that Freddy Fox has nabbed one of our hens (“and now there are two..”). The Brighton Conference assembles an impressive range of speakers – in most cases people who help us understand the world that the children in our schools are being prepared for; and it was an impressive range. Jonathan Aitken on Margaret Thatcher and his own personal journey; Anne Applebaum, whose groundbreaking work (Gulag: A History and Iron Curtain) has done much to help us understand the power of extreme ideas and the influences that shape Eastern Europe; Anthony King, the political commentator and Professor of Government, whose talked about the mistakes governments make and the reasons why; Max Mosley on privacy, the Press, the Leveson Enquiry and digital media; and Michael Gove, who responded to the questions of delegates suitably mellowed by lunch. The Secretary of State for Education – now the Methuselah of education secretaries by modern standards – has so much that endears him to an audience of educators – he is bright, passionate about education, endearingly gawky-geeky, witty, fluent and adept at building up a rapport with an audience. How can your heart not warm when he talks about the influence of the Scottish tradition of the democratic intellect (the idea that all children have the right to “the best that has been thought and written”..) or the sense of moral purpose about the need to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy in British society; but it is when he is confronted with the glaring illogic of the way in which the A Level reforms are being introduced that he founders. To the question  “Have you found one school that supports the way in which these reforms are being introduced?” he can bring no reply at all. Being very clever and very determined doesn’t mean that great hashes aren’t going to be made. Back to base for Stephen Fry whose talk is nominally a voluntary, Civics one, but everyone who can get a ticket is there, including 20 quick-of-the-mark parents. It is the most extraordinary and uplifting evening. After chatting animatedly to the (mainly ballot-chosen) students over supper at my house beforehand, he talks in the Quad for 90 minutes. What is it that makes students so eager to hear what he has to say? I have my own, unsurprising ideas beforehand and test them out on the students – it’s QI, it’s mental health, it’s his voices, I hear. But listening to him, seeing him connect with the young and chatting to him afterwards, it is much more powerful than that – there is something that is a compelling mixture – three things at least: a hunger for ideas, connections and possibilities; an urge to follow your passions at all costs; and, above all, taking the E.M. Forster adage, the need for “kindness, kindness and yet more kindness.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

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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.