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.

Agricultural cycles

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Part of Mr Badley’s genius (I muse, taking an early morning stroll as a proper, warm June summer’s day takes shape) was to twig how close we humans are to the seasonal cycles of the agricultural year.  After all, a Western European is only a maximum of a mere ten generations or so away from living on the land and being bound by the cycles of sowing, growth and harvest.

In Mr Badley’s case, there were additional specific reasons why having a school within a farm made sense: what greater emblem could there be of Work of Each for Weal of All than communal haymaking? And of course he wanted his students to “know a hawk from a hernshaw” and to avoid a situation where “the rotation of the crops [is] as much a mystery as the procession of the Equinoxes”. This was partly to avoid the helplessness that he saw as resulting from young gentlemen who expected “to be at one end of a bell-pull with a servant at the other.”

Alongside this was his conviction that the education of head, hand and heart needed to work in conjunction- agricultural hand work (which was innately “useful work”) was, alongside archery, drawing and woodwork, a vital part of this educational elixir.

Here we stand at the start of June and the educational cycle is about to go through one of its seasonal turns, with an additional twist this year: the Block 3s are coming towards the end of the first cycle of a curriculum which we re-shaped and introduced in September last year.  Central to this re-jigged programme was a much greater commitment to Outdoor Work and in particular the growing of food. We wanted these young men and women to learn more about the countryside that they are part of; so they have been growing vegetables and raising pigs.

This week the first of the Block 3 tutor groups will host their parents to a meal which features their handy work. They will also tell their parents about their individual and group projects, many of which are based in the land that surrounds us. Of course, we will be eliciting feedback from this first group of students and ensuring that next year’s cohort benefit from the refinements we will introduce as a result, but the initial indications are good and it is heartening to see this vital element of Bedales life having such a positive impact on young lives.

In the meantime, along with some new facilities for next year’s piglets – luxurious sties being built as an Outdoor Work Bedales Assessed Course project- 30 handsome hens have occupied their new home, the aptly named Jurassic Park hen enclosure, perhaps the best fortified such encampment in Hampshire.