Seasonal cycles

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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.

Inspiring futures

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m talking at the Inspiring Futures conference tomorrow and am mulling over what I might say.  I need to provide the schools’ perspective on how we should be preparing our students for the future – in particular 4IR – or the Fourth Industrial Revolution – aka the Digital Revolution.   I have 20 minutes and, at my request, it is the final slot.  So, I plan five slides.  Here’s a shrinklet version, slide by slide.

A cheesy crystal ball: we humans love predicting the future and we will so often be wrong.  The hapless verb “to future-proof” is a notable example of this.  Yet, human beings are remarkably adaptive and, in spite of our poor planning for the future, are often fleet-footed in response.   Preparing for 4IR may be too late – but how can we best prepare for whatever 5IR and 6IR are going to look like?

A frontispiece of Silas Marner, showing how the sad, miserly spinner has become part of his loom: work has made him into a machine; tempting to think this is all about preparing our young people for work, but it is also about preparing them to live enriched, fulfilled lives.  In this respect, we need our students to have an understanding of the ancient verities of philosophy and literature and to appreciate the Arts, as well as having a strong science and maths base.

The rear view mirror of a car: our educational systems prepare us for the world that has just passed.  My schooling prepared me well to serve the needs of the British Empire, just as it had gone.  Education ministers tend to hanker after the past – the fixations of Michael Gove and poor primary school children’s subsequent current fixation with adverbial clauses, for example.

A set of ball bearings beautifully balanced:  how to achieve this balance?  The state needs to limit what it requires of school children, especially in those formative GCSE years, and provide much greater freedom within the curriculum; so cut the requirement for so many GCSEs – Maths, English and Science are the only ones that the government needs to assess.  If you allow head teachers in schools to exercise their independence, you create space and therefore flexibility in the curriculum.  Such an approach challenges the current sclerotic, silo mentality of the curriculum.  How can you expect students to develop the necessary flexibility of mind and creative thinking if the curricula they encounter are often so dull and formulaic?

A blossoming chestnut tree:  how to give our youngsters the best chance of living the most fulfilled lives?  See W B Yeats’ image of the chestnut tree (“great rooted blossomer” from Among School Children). Here is a list of some of the qualities we need to help bring out in our students:

  • Capacity for independent thinking and problem solving
  • Appetite for lifelong learning: establish a love of learning early and it stays
  • Enjoyment of teamwork and collaboration
  • Understanding of other cultures – enjoyment of international links
  • Sense of wonder: to inspire and be inspired

Live things

Being away can be stimulating; being back always is.  Evening events and livestock seem to be the two themes of the last few days.

Take last night’s Global Awareness Jaw. Led by Block 5 reporting back on their visit to Woodstock School, Mussourie, India; it began with an extraordinary piece of music composed by Richie and music teacher Giacomo Pozzuto, with Richie on the tabla* and Giacomo on the oboe.  All of the students who went to this remarkable spot, perched on the Himalaya, have a hand in the composition of the presentation and three head it up.  Amongst the various memories that will anchor in the young minds watching, I suspect the spell cast by the sight and sound of tabla and oboe – the interplay of  East and Western musical traditions – will feature most.

Other evening excitements included Sunday’s Professional Guidance department presentation to 6.1 parents on Higher Education: primarily about university entry, it’s an encouraging picture that we present – not only of some of the most sought after universities being able to offer more places to candidates who gain ABB or above at A Level, but of the increasing proportion of our students gaining places at Russell Group universities.  It is the start of the cycle for the new 6.1s.  Next week I will give my annual assembly to the school on higher education, as the most important message is the old adage:  hard work + passion for your chosen subjects + working closely with your teachers = success; and the earlier that starts, the greater the success – and the more enjoyable the journey.

Tuesday evening and I am entertaining a group of fellow headteachers (collective name possibilities, a swelling of heads or a lakh of principals), initially to a meeting and then to dinner at 50 Church Road.  The 86 Group, 20 years old now, comprises 16 schools from across the south east who have enough in common and who enjoy each other’s company enough to meet termly to discuss things of common interest.  Trust and humour are the glue. Meetings of heads of 86 group schools’ departments also happen and are generally handy.  Sitting in the alcove at No 50, the evening light on the great oak tree is particularly wonderful and the birdsong stunning.

Which takes me on to livestock.  The new lambs are in Butts’ Field now and (yes, honestly) are gambolling in the evening sunlight as I walk back from home after Jaw and chat to some Block 3 boys about why lambs like going into the wooden shelter that our alpacas so scorned.  We will all feel easier about the lambs’ transition along the food chain (mint sauce is the clue here) when the time comes, because they have not been named.

This is not the case with the new quartet of 50 Church Road hens, who have recently been named.  Unlike their predecessors, who were uniformly brown, either Waitrose rejects or rescue hens, depending on how you spin it, these are proper, svelte and gorgeous young creatures, a mere few weeks old and full of adolescent preening, with a good three of four years of productive laying ahead.   Given the hopes that we pin on them, the capital outlay (x 6 of their predecessors) and their splendid distinguishing plumage and general pomp, we take the bold step of naming.  Following a brief and entirely frivolous What’s App consultation with our own offspring, they are named: Snowy (the white one), Bluebell (bluish and that’s her breed and its bluebell time in Steep woods), Chicken (brown and looks like one) and Chardonnay, after the memorable character in Footballers’ Wives, Series 1, who was herself named after the over-worked varietal type of the extravagant 80s.  I trust that they are all going to behave, especially Chardonnay.

 

*NB The left hand plays the bass on the wider drum called the “dugga” and the right hand plays the lead drums on the “tabla”. Together, the drums are also called “tabla”.

‘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.

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.

The consequences of the end of January A-Level modules

For many sixth formers up and down the land this weekend will have been one of revision for January A Level modules – as it has been for the past 12 years, since the AS/A2 system became fully fledged in 2000/01. But, with this group of mainly 6.2s (in our case) sitting January modules, it is the last time that modules will be available in January. What will be the consequences? Four spring to mind – two that directly affect students’ choices and two which are more pertinent to school organisation. The pressure to perform up to scratch at the first sitting in the summer of your 6.1 year will increase. For those who were going to take a gap year anyway, the relatively painless re-take option post A Levels goes, as you would now have to wait a year to re-take your modules. As far as our organisation goes, not having January modules increases uninterrupted teaching time – a welcome change. Less welcome is the further impact that will be felt because of all the marking now being concentrated in the summer months when the marking has been less reliable than in January) and therefore yet more effort and time spent in trying to ensure that the quality of marking is what we need it to be. On balance, it is a welcome move, although the reliability of marking remains a big bugbear.

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.