Relationships

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 third blog is ‘Relationships’.

Being asked many times by visitors “What makes it all work?” I say “Relationships”.

You could transplant the school to another place, change the curriculum, massacre the routine, make the house system less distinctive and even introduce a uniform and you would not entirely destroy the spirit of the place; but if you changed the nature of the relationships, especially the relationships between teachers and students, you would see the heart of the community wither.

I see the nature of the relationships as informing the best kind of teaching and learning, as well as informing the celebrating of individuality that is so important to us. The first name term handle is merely an emblem of the thing itself.

It all began, like so many good things, with John Badley’s conviction in the early 1890s that he wanted to found a school that was markedly different from the Rugby School of his own schooldays. Central to this was the idea that the relationship between teacher and pupil must avoid the old master-servant model and be based more on mutual respect and even affection.

In Memories and Reflections he writes about how valuable it was that the school grew slowly: “..we were a family rather than a school; and this feeling, with the customs to which it gave rise, could be retained, as the family grew larger, until they became a part of the school tradition, permanently affecting the relations of older and younger even when the early conditions had been long outgrown. One of these customs….was the hand-shaking after evening prayers as the school filed past the Staff to say Good-night..”  Badley goes on to credit this family feeling with giving the school its sense of co-operation and also its desire to give “attention to the needs of the individual”.  Running across both these characteristics is the desire to engage students in the framing of the school’s rules and customs. Later on in his memoirs he describes how what he wanted “was an atmosphere of affection, confidence and opportunity”.

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This optimistic belief in the benign power of relationships permeates the school, affecting old traditions like the mixed-age room system and new ones like Badley Seniors (6.2s who work with Block 3 tutor groups).  At our best, even now above 460 students, we try to operate more like a family than an organisation.

I was struck by the difference a good few years before I started here when mid summer holiday, tidying a drawer in Easter Ross and idly listening to Radio 4, I heard two Bedales girls talking about their housemistress: they talked about her in a way that was completely different to anything I had heard before, using her first name (Suzie) naturally and saying how they would think nothing of taking any problem to her.

In my first term we re-did the prospectus – a bit of a song-and-dance in pre-website days. One Friday, my then colleague and Registrar, Avril Hardie, asked the 12 students on School Council to go away and think about what was most important to them about Bedales. The following week they returned with their answer: “Friendship and that we are listened to.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Leading voices, calming and cheering

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Assemblies and Jaws, which make up such a large chunk of communal life at Bedales, are increasingly student led. This week is an example par excellence of this.

Monday sees Tom H and Foxey H, both 6.2 Psychology students, present on Happiness and positive thinking, interlacing findings from research with tips (that are especially handy given we are in 6.1 Mocks’ week) on how to prevent fruitless stress by positive thinking. In spite of some IT gremlins, the assembly is engagingly and neatly executed. I certainly feel calmer and cheerier.

Now it’s Wednesday evening and Jaw, which aims to mark significant points in the faith calendar, focusses on Chinese New Year. The entire occasion is masterminded by Block 4 students, all new to the school in September. Up front is the formidably eloquent and authoritative figure of  Hector C who takes us through the cultural background to Chinese New Year, via some facts about China, including sad ones about female infanticide and Hector’s lack of siblings (but happily he has a school of brothers and sisters, so good mitigation here). Then we have the most graceful of dances, performed by Kiki W, accompanied melodically by Bethy Y. This is a magic moment and, buoyed up by a finale of some Hector-led communal Mandarin (New Year’s greetings to each other in particular) matters close to much applause and cheering all round.

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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.

Chaucer’s verse

Most of my appearances in assemblies have not involved Geoffrey Chaucer, but Monday assembly is a pleasant exception. Having already given some exposure to his gross miller  (“a stout carl for the nones”) and his grotesquely memorable nose “werte”in my weekly Block 3 lesson earlier in the afternoon, I am up there on stage as part of Head of English David Anson‘s thought-provoking assembly on Censorship. Reading the near conclusion to the Miller’s Tale, where the pathetic love plaints of the hopeless Absolon are comically rebutted by the spirited Alison, I am struck by how, more than 600 years on and in spite of my idiosyncratic Middle English accent, the innate drama and wit of Chaucer’s verse comes through: as Dryden said, “Here is God’s plenty”.

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.

Reflections on Sunday Telegraph article

Sunday’s Telegraph article provides an interesting backdrop to my Monday, as I head off early to visit a maintained sector school in Essex. Stimulating as ever, visiting a contrasting place which is doing all sorts of similar things very well, but in a very different part of the world with very different clientele. I am already looking forward to their return visit in January and to potential links from which both schools – staff and students – will have a lot to learn. Intriguing how parts of the world a mere 90 miles away seem so distant. Monday evening’s assembly is on the Swaziland trip that took place over half term – a brief talk by Lindsey Barnes followed by an excellent film (well done Elea W-S)  which captures the full spectrum of activities and emotions evoked by the trip and the project, where we started work on a new school. Having had my Poetry Society students in last thing (reading poems with wintery themes) I re-read the Telegraph article: we do all sound rather grumpy and I daresay have cause to about the matter in question but in other respects, few causes for being curmudgeonly.

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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

New headboys and headgirls: ambassadors, advocates, do-ers and conduits

Headboys and headgirls (the head student team) perform a crucial role in the life of Bedales: along with being ambassadors, advocates, do-ers and conduits between students and staff, they need to be the senior students who represent the best of the Bedales ideal – so, people who live it –  Head, Hand and Heart. Yesterday, following a student advisory vote and much discussion amongst teachers, housestaff especially, the new team was selected. Congratulated initially by their predecessors (who have done a cracking job incidentally) they are then acclaimed by the school, who have played a large part in the selection of the team, at evening assembly as the team does its first “shush”. So, hats off to Oscar C (head boy), Cecily K (head girl), Katie S (deputy head girl) and Harley M (deputy head boy).

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.

Capturing hearts and minds

6.1s are now back in school, with an important four week start on their A2 courses, so we have a good quorum for Wednesday’s Jaw, which is Graham Banks as i/c Outreach, talking about charitable giving – its history, the cultural differences (mainly between the USA and the UK) which affect philanthropy and Bedales’ record with charitable giving (to causes outside the school). There are great initiatives which have been successful in raising significant sums – for our Swaziland project, for example; in addition Block 4’s leadership with the Youth and Philanthropy Intitiative (YPI) and the ensuing Block 4 fundraising for the handful of charities who missed out on the YPI £3000 prize have mobilised students’ energy encouragingly. However, Graham was clear in setting out the ambition – to achieve something closer (on a per capita basis) to that achieved by another school, Tonbridge, where charitable giving is more embedded and more successful. The key to achieving this will, as ever here, lie in students’ hearts and minds being captured by the challenge.

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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Students question the governors

I wonder if any other independent school puts its governors in front of the school and invites the students to ask them questions. Governors’ Question Time last night had Nick Vetch, Avril Hardie and Matthew Rice facing the troops – albeit reduced in number by exam absence and piratical preparations for the final night of Treasure Island. Questions covered the full range and were generally (as I would expect) searching: why a new Art & Design building rather than a new Music School? Why are trees being felled and shouldn’t we be planting more? Big plans for the future?  How much longer will the academic village stand? How much does parental pressure count? Should students’ views, for example, on drugs testing, be taken into account more by governors in reaching decisions? Is a school like ours by definition elitist and how does this sit with our ethos? Afterwards, School Council, bolstered by some additional willling voices subbing for exam casualties, had a further discussion session over juice and sandwiches with the governors to complete the 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.