Seasonal cycles

WP_20170611_001

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.

Making time

keith-budge-blog-6-3-17-fcb_bedales-school-of-art-and-design_-huftoncrow_022_

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.

Mid-term musings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Approaching mid-February, the academic year’s mid-point and that welcome time when the black dog that scampers in front of you is visible as you stride out into the dawn light before breakfast.

This week leading up to half-term has our spirited Valentine’s Ball as a highlight for sixth formers. Invitations to the V Ball pop up, sometimes in early morning Notices, sometimes in German, sometimes dramatically choreographed. Meanwhile our Block 3s are musing on the grotesqueness of the industrialised mass killing as they survey the Flanders battlefields.  Alongside all of this our 6.2 theatre studies students produce their devised pieces – 30 minute creations of their imaginations, influenced by the practitioners they study and honed into dramatic form with acute negotiation and teamwork amongst their teams of five or six.

Over the years, I have seen the most gorgeous medleys of absurdism, tragedy, kitchen sink realism, mime, comical-fantastical – you name it, this is the theatre of the possible.  Here’s the recipe: take human minds at their most fervently creative; provide stimulus (a polaroid picture this year); encircle with sufficient expert teacher structure; and finally, give space, light, sound and audience.  Result? Pieces that make you think – both about how we live but also about what can happen dramatically when ingenuity, verve and skill collide.  Over recent years I have seen these plays enacted in live graves dug by the theatre; I have seen the most stinging dramatising of how it feels to be objectified as a young female; and this year’s trio was as powerful and expert as I can remember.

In their own way, plays like these are part of something that all good schools need to be doing constantly, alongside the necessary granular work of academic pursuit: exploring what it is to be human.

What better mid-week treat then to have a Jaw given by Gary Wade, a man who (lucky fellow) knew Seamus Heaney personally.  It is a masterly account – in tender admiration – of (arguably) the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century writing in English.

A lover of Heaney myself, I find myself rootling amongst his poems late at night after the Jaw and a subsequent meeting. I am taken back to some of the classes that I taught Heaney to a long way back – Death of a Naturalist, North and The Haw Lantern. But there is so much more. Gary concluded with his favourite Heaney poem, Postscript. Its final lines describe so beautifully what human insight through art can do (“catch the heart off guard and blow it open”).  But, as the days lengthen and we need to at least nod to that V day, here’s a poem that is its own distinctive love song – to a person, place and creature:

The Otter

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer’s back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you’re out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.

– Seamus Heaney

Agricultural cycles

DSC_0070

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.

Students immerse themselves

BedalesStock18  BedalesStock19

It’s a big weekend for all-ins, when Design and Drama students are free of the limitations of the 35 or 70 minute bitesize chunks we call lessons and can immerse themselves in true making with long stretches of time. So, Sunday afternoon and it’s all go in Design. Upstairs amongst the Block 5 BAC design fashionistas, Oli is mastering the intricacies of PVC as he crafts a space-age-looking concept dress whilst Charlotte A’s dress has intricate veiny patterns, Barny’s has a Brazilian cathedral as inspiration for its jagged, pixie tassels and Scott is ironing on 70s style crystals. All are working to demanding designs born out of their own inspiration and in materials that require patience and skill in the making. Downstairs where the materials are resistant, Ottoline is at the lathe fashioning the base for her light whilst Josh is in a haze of beeswax as he smooths his elegant disc. Keen football and tennis men, Taye and Orlando are creating bespoke, elegant homes for their kit, whilst Yoji is working metal to shape the roof on his model of his Utopian new Bedales music school. The workshops have the productive hum of people immersed in what they do – self-generating work of the best kind.

Over in the theatre the weekend is working towards its finale with the 6.2 drama students – a “tech” session then a first run through at 7pm of the two devised A2 pieces. Each group has been working throughout the weekend, with the help of director-in-residence, Georgie Sampson and head of drama Phil King. On Sunday afternoon the students have the additional benefit of a visiting practitioner, Lucy Ellison of Mapping 4D, who watches each piece, bringing “fresh eyes” and additional advice. Although the craft will result in a more ephemeral creature when these pieces are staged on Wednesday and Thursday, the hard work in shaping stubborn material into a finished shape is born of the same impulse and discipline that pervades nearby design. Tough but good work.


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.

Anti-feebleness dictum

Bedales-Science-MagazineThe-B-Daily

With an assembly coming up tonight on student-led initiatives, I have been dwelling on this strand of life: thinking of examples is easy; thinking about what makes this impulse so strong within our culture is trickier but interesting. So, here are some thoughts.

The impulse to want to do things yourself, rather than watch someone, usually older, do things on your behalf, is a natural one. It may well be that an environment like ours here simply allows this natural impulse greater rein than is the case in many schools. Indeed, arguably in this respect we merely sit at the homespun sandals of our Arts & Crafts forebears: learn to do things yourselves, rather than relying on others (servants, often) to do things for you, was the Badleyan message. Paired with this powerful anti-feebleness dictum was the underpinning educational conviction that we all learn best through doing. It is no accident that these two threads are connected in our second school aim which extols the virtue of doing and making.

But there is something else which connects with what’s above but which may have its genesis more in the changes that occurred in the second half of the last century with the increased expectations of that young people had of personal happiness and self-fulfilment. It seems to me that this school, temperamentally receptive to the ideas that flooded school and university campuses in the ’60s, took on much of what those heady times brought with them: above all a strong belief that individual idealism, initiative and aspiration needed to be fostered and channelled.

These head winds rocked public schools in general – the If generation knew it. Questioning, choice and individuality were in; obedience, conformity and being peas-in-a-pod were out. For Bedales it was the time when the prefect system and the remnants of school uniform went – collective responsibility and mufti replaced them: there was a different expectation about the individual’s capacity to choose. Whilst many public schools looked to throttle back on as many of the changes as they could and some staunchly marched on, this strain was grafted into the Bedales soul and has – happily from my point of view – remained a potent force. Indeed, the reforms made to the curriculum – both with the BACs and the recent changes to the Block 3 curriculum – put individual student initiative at the heart of the curriculum. There is plenty of educational research which supports the idea that allowing students to have scope for individual choice over their work spurs on motivation. Instinctively we all know this.

So, whether it is a particular take that a student takes on his or her extended project, an idea to build an octagonal shed, that quirky plan for a new publication (The BDaily after all was once a glint in a student’s eye..) or a dream of running a conference, these are central to what we do and what we are.


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.

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.