Catching up on the teachers’ nomenclature debate (“Miss’ might be insulting, but calling teachers by their first names should never be allowed. End of”, Telegraph, 14 May 2014) I find myself surprised at the doctrinaire views being expressed. Although, happily, I don’t need to worry about the nuances of ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’, it has never struck me that there is harm attached to either, or that ‘Miss’ (generally pronounced so that it becomes a hybrid between Miss, Ms and Mrs) is pernicious; neither do I object to teachers being called by their preferred title and surname. If pushed, I prefer the latter, as did the founder of Bedales, Mr Badley.
Here, teachers have been called by their first names since the late 1930s. This occurred gradually when, following the school’s return from its annual camp in Devon, where first name terms were generally adopted, some of the younger teachers allowed students to call them by their first names; returning to Steep, the practice continued and gradually became accepted, although Mr Badley continued as Mr Badley through to his death aged 103 in 1967. I, however, am Keith.
Like many good things here, this welcome practice has come about through an organic process – a kind of gradual erosion of one texture or fabric and its replacement by a more pliable and comfortable one. The starched collar has given way to durable Egyptian cotton: It works well for us here.
Returning to the article by Helen Fraser, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, an organisation that I admire, I find it surprising to hear her say that an alternative to the traditional model cannot work in a different context. We British have a quaint, understandable but illogical tendency to think that tradition and formality lead to respect and order. To say (as Helen does) that “calling teachers by their first name…diminishes the respectful relationship that should exist between a teacher and his or her student” is misguided and plain wrong. I will invite her to come to Bedales and see mutual respect operating unhindered by the warm traffic of first names swapped between teachers and students, although I will give her the option of being called Ms Fraser throughout her visit if she prefers.
There is a broader, perhaps more serious point here, which is that I would no more try to foist our friendly but respectful first name custom on other schools than I would suggest they hang up their uniforms: schools have their own integrity and need to be allowed to develop their customs and cultures accordingly.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School
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.