Seasonal cycles

WP_20170611_001

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early before the day bakes up;  literal black dog is jaunty as we walk  from Church Road, through the semi-natural Steep woods and up to the base of the Hangers, enjoying the whiff of wild garlic and a family of Canada geese in the small pond above the mill lade; we return via All Saints’ churchyard’s cluster of wild poppies and our own domestic creatures – russety pot-bellied pigs rootling and Black Rock hens taking the late dawn air as we return home via Outdoor Work’s handsome vernacular family of buildings, now joined by their big svelte cousin, Art & Design.   Agricultural cycles and care for the land been always been in my family’s marrow: the resonances with the educational world I inhabit are especially striking at this juncture in the year.

Last week I spent half an hour with the 10 new teachers who will join Bedales in September at the start of their induction day.  I talk, as I did with the new head student team, about trusteeship: so, we are all trustees of something much larger than we can ever be – a school’s culture, its better habits and instincts – and our responsibility must be to hand it on in better shape than we found it.  As well as giving them confidence in keeping to the high standards that most of them have established already in the craft of teaching, I alert them to the particularly high expectations that our students have of mutually trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their teachers.  This is, I say, the most important and influential thing we have and something that they can and will in time find powerfully nourishing.

There is a palpable sense of expectation in the room – this talented crop of teachers with their energy, optimism and passions!  Of course, as the obscure saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding, but I leave the room feeling buoyed up, thinking that the school is lucky to attract such people and I am lucky to be able to see them start their Bedales journey.

“Life is a casting off”, so says Linda Loman in Miller’s great reflection on working life, Death of a Salesman, which I am delighted to see our Block 3s writing about as I nose around amongst their end of year exams on Monday morning.  These young people, less frisky but a bit more knowledgeable than they were in September,  have entertained their parents to a Saturday lunch virtually all grown or raised (“Happy Pigs” – see photo, above, which accompanies the barbecue) during this academic season by each tutor group under the careful, farmerly and pastoral eye of their Badley tutor.

Casting of a different kind is being contemplated as news of next term’s school play being a musical filters out.

Teachers retire and move on or back to places from where they came.  And we are now in the season of staff goodbyes, which are going on out of the public eye before the more formal, collective events of the end of term.

Amongst the students, the Block 5s have returned following their GCSEs and are having a week of taster lessons so that they have the best chance of choosing the right (generally) three A Levels.  I find myself in one such lesson where the class is being asked to match Greek statues of different eras with vases of a similar age.  Discussions of musculature, naturalism and the constraints of each  genre are a taste of how gripping and formative great sixth form teaching can be.  Plenty of good stuff for us all to look forward to.

Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.

‘Seeing afresh’

It’s a crisp April early morning – sun shining and another pair of Jacob lambs born – just three ewes yet to lamb as singular black dog and I enjoy an amble around our beautiful estate. Woodpeckers are hammering away and a small skein of yelping Canada geese swoop in to the lake as we set off.

My usual sense of vicarious trepidation at the prospect of lots of students taking public exams is tempered by the memory of last night’s assembly from Head of Academic Enrichment, Clare Jarmy.  Her other role as Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics gives her a clear advantage in developing a compelling reason why all our students have good reason to look forward to exams and to see them as underpinning a very important stage in their learning.  Going over her reasoning on my morning stroll, it makes yet more sense as I rehearse the argument in my mind.  So here goes.

In order for us all to move our learning forward we need help making the jumps from what we can currently do to the next stage: seen pictorially this is about us jumping up a further stage – or, using the educational terminology, the zone of proximal development.  Teachers are the most usual way that we are helped to make that shift –

Clare’s point is that revision for exams – best described not using its literal meaning of “seeing again” but considered as “seeing afresh” – is the point when we as learners have to consolidate the learning that we have previously been assisted with.  Put differently, we re-make the learning and make it our own.

Finally, she identified another critical distinction that should help our students understand the potential benefits of this process more fully.  This has to do with the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – the difference between doing something because it gets you something else you want, and doing something for its own sake.  Clare left the students with the possibility that one thing that many of them might be discovering was that the process of revision helped them understand that they had a strong intrinsic motivation to learn.  It was at this point I learned my new word for the day – “enculturement”, which Clare used to describe the educational process central to humanity which enables people to gain an understanding of the world and what is intrinsically worthwhile.  This view, central to the writing of philosopher John McDowell, is that it is through culture that we acquire a “second nature” above and beyond our animal needs.  Education, and in particular independent learning, makes us who we are.

Intriguing stuff: Clare’s article, published here, will further enlighten.

Lucky ducks and big thinks

This headline, a Lancastrian exclamation, certainly doesn’t refer to actual ducks (who are incidentally happy with plenty of water to splash around in after mid-September downpours), neither does it refer to the nine piglets I saw sleeping cosily alongside their proud mum on my walk with my canine friends earlier this morning, nor does it refer to said two dogs, one of whom managed to steal a French loaf from my kitchen table last night and escape detection through subterfuge; but it refers to students who are encouraged to think for themselves and have the stimuli to do so. They are the lucky ducks.

At the start of the last two academic years we have had a potent symbol of this through the “Philosophy Of…” conference. The brainchild of Oscar B-W when he was in 6.1, it aims to explore the thinking that lies behind different human activities.
DSC_0017

This year’s conference, organised by Becky G and Patrick N gave us six speakers who ran across the spectrum: conversation/writing; religion, feminism/the media, journalism in war zones, campaigning for climate justice and literary biography.DSC_0013

Here is a sample of the big thinks we were encouraged to have, drawn from the three talks I attended: when we want to be kind do we want to do so because we have been brought up to be so or because we are intuiting kindness? Would you rather save Venice for posterity or save 3000 people who might die in an earthquake in another part of Italy? What makes for a really good conversation? (Olivia Fane). What pressure can we put on our governments to ensure that the climate change talks in Paris this December are successful? How can we de-carbonize our economies? (Farhana Yamin). What are the most dangerous countries on earth? Why do we know so little about the most dangerous (the Democratic Republic of Congo)? To what degree is our view of what is happening in the world dependent on whether journalists are able to report from that country? What drives the John Simpsons and (this speaker) Oggy Botchev to take the risks they take?

We will run this conference again next year – indeed next year’s student organisers have already stepped forward. Big thinks are good at any point, but especially before the more routine business of A Level courses start to predominate.

Unextended Sixth Form musings

AS Mocks, 6.1 parent-teacher discussions, some gubernatorial chats about the post-2015 reforms to A Level and the first evening of 6.1 Extended Project presentations have set some thoughts running about where we are now and what the A Level landscape might look like here from 2015 onward. It is certainly strange that the current 6.1 cohort is the penultimate one to have the AS/A2 experience that has been a fixture since 2000; so, I find myself having unexpected moments of premature nostalgia about the AS system, especially as there is still a good deal of uncertainty about how the post-2015 landscape will shape up.

So, what do we hope to keep from the current system?

1) The sense of purpose and urgency that it gives to life in 6.1

2) The breadth of a 4 subject programme in 6.1

3) The ability to make a decision as to which subject you drop at the end of 6.1

What did we need to lose? The loss of teaching time that came with the original modular vision – so, exam sessions in January and June.

With January modules already disappeared, the original vision of the post-2015 change was that June modules would go entirely too. The outcry against the loss of “co-teachable” AS exams (i.e. ones that you can teach alongside the full A Level) has meant that we will in fact have something resembling the current AS exam from 2015. The blessing and curse here is that it will not count towards the full A Level, but it will be an entirely standalone certificate. So, there is the danger that schools, understandably nervous that without a meaty end of 6.1 exam their 6.1s will revert to the lotus-eating idlers that my generation were in 6.1, will insist that this is taken, even though it will a) be meaningless in certification terms in 75% of cases;  b) throw away the main advantage of the abandoning of modularization, i.e. the increase in teaching time in the summer term. Quite a conundrum!

More on this anon – and on the excellent Extended Project evening.

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.

Pep and fizz

Pep talks, they are everywhere: the Apprentice, changing rooms, gyms – now I am even hearing one in the sanctum that is Bedales Art. No, this is not the “Man or Mouse?” final rallying call that I have heard in pre-rugby match changing rooms (one team-mate confided he had always wanted to exclaim, “Squeak, squeak!” at this point); nor is it the rasped, shouted calls of the instructor leading the static cycling class in a sweaty adjunct to the gym (“Now you are passing a beautiful forest on your left, push, push, burn, burn!”), but it is Simon Sharp, the Bedales Head of Art, giving his Block 5 class stirring words about the need for hard work on their BAC Art pieces over the forthcoming all-in weekend: “It won’t feel like work; you really get into this and give it your all and it won’t seem like work..”

And so it seems, not really like work, when I pad round on Sunday afternoon and see these students in action. There is Rosie G-T’s Burmese-inspired clay head, which looks across the room at Josie P’s elegantly-podgy cherub; next door Bella A is working on the grisly image of the cult leader Jones, whilst Freya P’s lustrous panorama and Alex H’s lagoon are requiring the deftest of brushstrokes. Not work, really, just people wrapped up in stuff  – flow, the educational wonks sometimes call it. Anyway, like lots of good things that don’t really have a fitting name, you know it when you see it or feel it.

Catching some of this adrenalin, even on a Sunday afternoon, and I am off in search of more – to the theatre, where the ghosts of Simon Kingsley-Pallant’s engaging Blocks’ play, Three Gothic Tales, have been just laid to rest after Saturday lunchtime’s last performance, and there is the first A2 Theatre Studies group (Edie A, Freya D, Vincent Z and Charlie E-F) in mid rehearsal, observed by a visiting theatre professional brought in to give each group advice from a fresh perspective in the final stages of their preparation. It is all suitably intense and I won’t give much away about the content but it looks quite scary to me. On to the Quad and the Drama studio and two other groups are working in a self-fuelled way; yes, they know that drama teachers call in, but the ownership and dynamism is all theirs.

Returning back home  I notice the alpacas jogging and muttering in the unusual afternoon sun – are they inspired too? No, Peter Coates is rattling their breakfast nuggets at them.  So they are happy; as is the visiting Jacob’s ram who, job done, has now gone home; I am always relieved that he has gone off to other work, as rams are impatient with visitors to their fields and are as cross as they are fast.

Mulling on the precious commodity that it self-fuelled work and flitting to a very different discipline, I am reminded that this is no preserve of the Arts: here is Michael Truss‘s account (from last week’s Times Educational Supplement) of it operating in Maths:

My Left-Field Lesson – Infinite ideas for maths

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.

What lies ahead for Sixth Formers?

Wednesday brings our annual open day for potential Sixth Formers and the first 6.1 Review meeting when we go through the year group, assess individuals’ progress and ensure that good progress is recognised and problems are addressed. Some reflections on what lies ahead for these two cohorts – our current 6.1s who will take A Levels in 2015 and the embryonic one that will take them in 2016: the pattern is reasonably predictable for these students, as they will continue with the slightly reformed current system, the only reforms being the taking away of January modules (which the current 6.2s are the first cohort to be affected by) and the tightening of grade boundaries, making it more difficult to get the top grades; so students currently in Year 11 (Block 5) will be the last to have the merits and demerits of the current system whereby most students take the AS exam on the way to achieving their final A Level, having taken A2 in their second year in the Sixth Form. Although the exam hurdles are a bit tougher, I suspect that the availability of places at many of our universities is likely to remain in line with the 2012 and 2013 entries.

So, what lies ahead in the brave new Govian world for those currently in Year 10 (Block 4) who will start in the Sixth Form in 2015? Well, assuming that a change of government does not scupper the current plans, from 2015 all A Levels will be fully linear, meaning that exams are all taken at the end. AS is to be de-coupled as a stand alone qualification. It is not yet clear what shape this will take but it looks as if a return to something like the old AS, whereby it was as difficult as the A Level but did not require as much material to be studied might be on the cards. Sounds familiar? It will come as no surprise that the post 2015 landscape is eerily like the one that some of us went through – the pre-2000, old linear A Level.

A complication as far as the launch of subjects in 2015 is that those subjects requiring a significant change to curriculum content will be delayed until September 2016 or later – so, Maths and Further Maths, for example, are in this category. Where curriculum content needs to be revised the Russell Group of universities will have considerable influence on the changes.

If you want to delve more into all this, have a guddle in www.ofqual.gov.uk

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.