Schooling without tears

Searching questions at Saturday’s open morning panel have the healthy effect of making all of us think about what makes up that vital, complex fabric that we blithely call atmosphere and ethos. How do we strive to have the best bits of a liberal education without the lax bits? How do we rely sufficiently on the motor that is inspiration whilst having things we can deploy if student motivation wanes?

Pondering these weighty matters and thinking about where the school might currently lie in its 122 year journey, I found myself reading an article from the front page of the Pall Mall Gazette (October 5, 1892). So, this is before the school started in its first location near Hayward’s Heath in 1893. The article is entitled:


It begins: “It’s pretty; but will it work?” and goes on to talk about how the headmaster of the new school, Abbotsholme, Dr Reddie is releasing his lieutenant, Mr J. H. Badley to start “yet another New school on his own account”.

The article then consists of an interview with John Badley in which he outlines some of the founding principles of the school. Alluding to the “narrowing influence” of early specialization, the “monopoly of Latin grammar and the all-pervading atmosphere of individual competition, with its machinery of marks and prizes and scholarships, subordinating the higher ideals of education to what will ‘pay’ and the interests of the majority to those of the few who are to swell the school honour lists.”

All interesting stuff, but above all it is the reference to what he calls “character – training, general culture, the humanizing side of life” that rings a strong chord, as does his vision that the evenings should be taken up with music, reading and the ‘humanities’. Liberal becomes a yet more loaded word by the day – humane has legs, perhaps. It has good provenance here.

The additional curiosity arising from this article is that it was probably written by Edmund Garrett, Badley’s brother in law (who went to the same windswept school as I did) and whose sister was a strong voice in the suffragette movement. It was probably this article that was read by Constance Wilde, Oscar’s wife, who wrote a letter in October the following year saying that she had persuaded her husband that they should send their eldest child, Cyril, to the new Bedales. Badley and Wilde would have been part of the same Cambridge circle.  Cyril Wilde, aged 9, arrived in Summer 1894 and spent just three terms at Bedales before scandal engulfed his family and he went to Radley under an assumed name.

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.