Appreciation of The Beautiful

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This was the sole school aim for a long time.  When the current five aims were framed early in my time, I was adamant that this nugget would find its place in the current aims, as it does in Aim 3, (To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful).

This awareness informs each assembly, which begins with music; it certainly informed my assembly on Wednesday, as I begin with Raphael’s Madonna della Seddia and ends with Helen Dunmore’s poem to her newly born daughter, Tess, (All The Things You Are Not Yet).  It informs daily decisions, whether those be about the curriculum, a flowerbed or the balance in an individual student’s life.  And this impulse is animating the lives of Old Bedalian scientists, writers, engineers, inventors, musicians, designers, dancers and actors daily.

But what about utility, I hear you (sensibly of course) say?  How handy (crafty too perhaps) to have our Arts & Crafts heritage, because Morris & Co reverenced what was beautiful and useful; therefore it’s unsurprising that furniture and architecture should be at the heart of the Arts & Crafts movement, with the hand crafting of wood at the centre of both its furniture and its architecture.

Good therefore to learn this week that the suite of furniture at the office for the Secretary of State for Education was designed and made at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in 1960.  I am delighted to hear this from our local MP and now Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.  Edward Barnsley, apprenticed to Lupton after leaving Bedales, made some of the Library furniture.  Edward, carrying on the proud Barnsley tradition of his father Sidney who built the Library to Gimson’s design, carried on working into the 1980s and would no doubt have had a personal hand in this important government commission.  You will recognise the distinctive design of his most famous chair, below.

Edward Barnsley chair - BedalesLeft: chair designed by Edward Barnsley in memory of Basil Gimson and used in the Bedales library. Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, by Roy Wake and Pennie Denton (1993) p.306

 

 

 

 

 

Below: the suite of furniture designed by the Barnsley Workshop and used by the Ministry for Education, reproduced by kind permission of the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Barnsley Workshop

Making time

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The emphasis that Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) have on coursework and the conclusion of those courses at the end of this month means that this stage in the Spring Term  entails much making and doing – whether your creation is an English Literature essay, your History chronicles, a gargantuan Utopia project, a student-crafted play or your Design artefact, we are coming into the zenith of the season of Block 5 doing and making.

The new Art & Design building is always an interesting place to visit, but doing so around midday on Sunday was especially gripping.  Turn right and you’re in a beautiful Fashion Design studio full of Block 5s making sumptuous clothes: here is Lettie’s MRI-scan themed tie-dyed (and multi-coloured) corset. By contrast there is Mia’s magpie themed (suitably black) dress with its multiple feathery tassel bits.  Over by the window pinned to the mannequin is Tiger’s shapely aquamarine sea-water-themed chiffon dress; and so she mulls:  the ripples in the chiffon are suitable, it seems, but when does a ripple become a ruck?  The 60s tend to feature – and, yes, here is an octagon inspired dress: Fleur is mapping out the octagons’ geometry – tricky work.

Over in the Product Design side, Cian is sanding his maple clock and Goose has created the most exotic of tables, with a mariner’s top and a bark-covered base which will be coated in a PVA and water mix to ensure it lasts.  Lily is making a very different table which has a reversible top – backgammon on one side and general purpose on the other.  Jack’s wellie and coat holder has involved some serious welding and is at least as tall as I am.  Joel’s glider launcher combines an electric motor with a crafty take-off pad, whilst Archie’s Cooking Camping Stove Unit even has a mini cool box – handy indeed.  Happily the new Jewellery Bay has had some action. MIllie’s steel bracelet needs some intricate cutting.

The patient students have to put up with my nosey questions – about materials and thought processes; but I find it as interesting as I do encouraging.  There is real pride in what they are doing and such a sense of purpose infusing the whole weekend: teachers, technicians and students are working closely together.

Next stop, Bedales Dance Performs on Thursday evening.

Time on and off the treadmill

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Having spent too much time sitting, some of it eating, I find myself in the gym on the treadmill watching snippets of Anne Robinson’s Britain which looks at parenting and the first of that erstwhile autumnal favourite, The Apprentice.

My sitting and eating has been matched by listening (a lot) and talking (a bit) at the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in  its appropriately heart of England location, Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was a very stimulating three days when we were encouraged to think about creative leadership, which may be why, no doubt under the influence of a shock of endorphins,  I find myself speculating about the respective worlds of Robinson and Sugar.

Crosspatch Anne’s exploration of families’ values – from the ‘gentle attachment mother’ to the one who describes herself as more lioness than tiger – could be nicely applied to schools  (boarding schools especially), which after all have family-like characteristics and embody their values in the upbringing of children.  Look here – this family even has written policies and timetables: all set for a good inspection.  I think Anne likes that.  Anne would have an entertaining time doing such work in our schools.  When two parents swap and look at each others’ lives, I am reminded of the value of exchanges, even my swap with my colleague, Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds in summer 2015.

Then, in the wake of the imperious and hatchet-faced Sugar come the latest batch of apprentices, who must surely be coached in how to outdo each other with the absurdity of their hubristic brags and the lurid nature of their imagery.  One contestant’s tasteless boast that “the only things I fear are tsunamis, volcanoes and Ebola” takes, so to speak, the biscuit.  Apprentice-speak has crept into the world of job interviews, I fear, albeit rarely garnished with quite such sickly figurative dressing.

It would, I speculate, be good entertainment to put a group of headteachers through an Apprentice-style exercise, having asked them to talk about themselves in the obligatory argot; not least because we like to feel we are open to ideas and experiences – as we were in Stratford this week.  Here is just a sample of the goodies we had:

Will Gompertz on why everyone should think like an artist.  If ever there was a talk that gave 285 headteachers a stack of ideas for a term of assemblies, it was this one.  Watch out for them popping up, ranging across the need to ensure our students could think creatively enough both to avoid being replaced by “snazzy algorithms” and to have “a lovely life.”   So, we had Cezanne, Baudelaire, Titian, Manet, Hirst and Ai Weiwei.  Artists have to be collaborative, entrepreneurial and properly sceptical – qualities that our young need much more than in their post school lives than the ability to pass exams.  Rubens was a compelling salesman of The Three Graces to aristocrats who didn’t really think they needed one until he spotted just the ideal spot in the banqueting hall.

Greg Doran, director of the RSC’s King Lear, its Artistic Director and possessor of a leonine mane that must make A C Grayling envious, talked to us about how the RSC’s work with schools and communities aims to change young lives and make us think about our lives.  Their new Roman series will ask such questions as this:   Is politics inherently unfair and can it work for the benefit of the many?  Ask Caesar, yes, but let’s spread the debate as well and avoid too much fighting in parliaments as well.

We have the chance to learn through doing (hoorah!) and I sign up for a class with one of the RSC’s voice and movement coaches – a very good two hours and lots of good advice about how to make better use of our voices and to take better care of ourselves to boot.  We are taught about cat and dog gestures – the welcoming palm (Labrador, tail wagging) and the keep-your-distance over turned hand (cat, tail swirling).

But the best session  – and one I will write about next week – was the Young Creative Leaders panel when three young (millennial, we can say) female entrepreneurs talked about their careers, the aspirations of their generation and what schools can do to promote creative leadership.   No Apprentice-speak there.

Readying the set to go

Returning home past our oak-clad theatre from a very respectable display by the Bedales Ist XI footballers (against the distinctively named Corinthian Casuals) as the dusk gathers late on Saturday afternoon, I notice a side door open on the flank of the theatre and slip inside into a golden glow.

Here is an Aladdin’s cave of activity: under the watchful eye of our theatre designer, Joanne Greenwood, the tech and stage crew are working at the set for the forthcoming main school production: Sound of The Night Feather.  I will not spill dramatic secrets here, but the set involves a novel configuration and I understand that when the cast had the run of the freshly minted set for the first time early this week, there was warm admiration for what Joanne and her crew had created.

For me these moments, when you see the process that underpins a production, are as stirring as the business of seeing the final performance itself.  Without the devoted efforts of this team over the course of many weeks, the vision for the production would be stillborn.

So there is Oli with his dinky control tablet testing all the lights.  Harry and Chris are our other tech-meisters. Hilda is sorting out a seam of masonry, whilst Tom is brandishing a drill and looking for a place to plant a hook.  Others will be busy in the lighting box.

I am told that there will be a reveal – great! But no, I certainly do not want to see it now, but greatly look forward to its revelation next week.

Bedales Arts performs

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Up and out with our two contrasting mutts: Westie = delicate, reluctant, elderly, small and off-white; Labrador = black and big, galumphing in all directions in search of a soggy tennis ball.  But spring is in the air, the playing field grass has had its first cut (summery freshly dead grass smell) and the birds, as Chaucer has it “maken melodye”. Time then to reflect on a three days when I have been lucky enough to witness different kinds of artistic talent – at different stages in the Protean journey of striving and learning.

Tuesday evening and its Dunhurst Chamber Music where Ben Harlan and Mia Wade give the Dunhurst musicians an opportunity – for some their first – to perform; and it is in a friendly and informal setting which mirrors Western music’s early days of performance in private houses. The sense of accomplishment – of those, often halting, memorable first performances, sometimes battled through – is palpable. More young musicians are embarked! Wednesday night and I am in Chelsea at a comparable occasion courtesy of Hill House International, one of the largest prep schools in the country and the largest family owned one. Here one of their musical showcases, this one for brass, is the attraction and, as at Dunhurst, we see in many cases boys and girls rising to the difficult challenge of first performance.DSC_0009 (2)

Thursday brings a triptych of creativity in three media. The lunchtime St Luke’s, Chelsea concert by Bedales musicians brings pieces as various as seventeenth century madrigals, a Handel (Ombra Mai Fu) piece complete with James H singing male soprano and the old favourite, Somewhere, over the Rainbow. Early evening, back in Steep, and it is the private view for the Dunhurst Art exhibition where work ranges from traditional, draughtsman-like renditions of the Memorial Library (very difficult with all that Arts & Crafts irregularity) to Gormley-inspired sculptures and a tussock of riotously-decorated skate boards (sorry, nomenclature betrays my generation). It’s a wonderfully engaging exhibition and needs to be seen. Then on to the theatre for Bedales Dance Performs, where an enthralled audience sees 24 pieces, performed by a comparable number of dancers, ranging across the age span.  Under Liz Richards’ inspired tutelage these young men and women produce work that shows how freedom to explore, coupled with the discipline of hard work and talented direction can have extraordinary results. Truly Head, Hand and Heart in action.


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.