Curriculum – first 100 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fourth blog is ‘Curriculum – first 100 years’.

When Bedales began in 1893, it was the second of the so-called New Schools, Abbotsholme, where John Badley had begun his teaching career, being the first. Reacting against something (the rigidities and classical basis of the Victorian public school curriculum) was fair enough, but a New School needed to answer two crucial questions: What should be taught? How should it be taught?

My previous reflections on place and relationships show the importance of individuality, personal growth, the influence of environment and balancing the work of head, hand and heart.

So, first of all what do you teach? Move away from dominance of the Classics (Greek and Latin) as the primary way both of teaching your own languages and for training the young brain. In the chapter on The Middle Years in Memories and Reflections (1955) Badley focuses in particular on what would be taught in the Middle Years, before the specialisation required for the School Certificate at 15 or 16. Here just under half of the time was spent on languages (including English) and history. Just over half was taken with Maths, Science and practical training in wood and metal work, domestic economy, music and drawing.

Secondly, how? Have the formal curriculum occupy a smaller proportion of time, but create more variety and increase the pace at which the pupils learn by what we would call now active learning – learning through doing. As a result (again from The Middle Years) teaching would be “as varied as possible, both in subject matter and in manner of treatment”.

Central to the method, the How, was the organisation of the day: the morning given over to “school work” HEAD; the afternoon to “outdoor activities” (farm work and games) HAND; and the evening to “social interaction” HEART.

See below the digest from the start of Badley’s Bedales; A Pioneer School (1923) which gives a handy overview and the brightly coloured timetable from 1903.


Timetable 1903


Pioneer, experimental, new – they are all involve trying things out: and that’s what they did.

Whilst at the Old Bedales, they experimented with extending the usual public school custom of an hour’s work before breakfast to two hours. Result? They abandoned even the one hour, discovering that this led to “so much increased vigour in the rest of the day’s work”. Modern research agrees.

In 1920 Dr Montessori herself visited Dunhurst and admired the work of her protégée, Amy Clarke, the Dunhurst Head. The “project method” (an outcome of John Dewey’s “experimental work”) became an established thing with the older classes at Dunhurst – Badley cites the “building of a Viking ship” as an example: a brilliant example of cross-curricular, learning-through-doing work: “a practical demonstration of the need of various kinds of knowledge and of their inter-relatedness”.

The Dalton Plan was tried for two years in the early 1920s; although it was formally abandoned, the balance between what you were taught in “class work” and what you were expected to do in “individual work” had shifted as a result of the experiment towards the latter.

Other innovations included taking English seriously as a subject: Geoffrey Crump, appointed Senior English Master in 1919, was said to be one of the first of his kind in an English Public School.

Turning to the national educational scene, the role of Bedales in establishing the first Design O Level in the 1970s resulted from the school’s unusual position in combining Craft, Design and Technology and in the inspirational work of Biff Barker and David Butcher. In the mid 1970s over 80% of a year group took Design O Level.

In summary, in 1911 in one of his Talks in Peace and War on “the intellectual side of school work”, Badley gives three reasons for this kind of work: use (ie. the practical benefit your subjects give you), pleasure and training. It is unsurprising that in the rest of the talk he majors on pleasure: “true ambrosial food” can as naturally come from Science as from literature and great art. The educational experience should shape each pupil’s life through the New School being “a place full of active and joyous life”. (Bedales: A Pioneer School)

Next week – Bedales Assessed Courses.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

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.