Curriculum – the last 25 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 fifth blog is ‘Curriculum – the last 25 years’.

Being an early riser, I choose what to do first thing. This morning I chose to walk for 20 minutes around the Bedales estate, noting a shriek of magpies mobbing a cat and querying an overgrown hedge – nothing as evocative as my occasional dawn walks in winter when the owls are competing for air space or in May when I hear the plaintive greetings of orphan lambs or even the snufflings of bleary-eyed piglets.

Choice enlivens us.  The curriculum is what schools choose to study – it is our daily bread.  As outlined in my previous piece, Bedales under Badley chose to study a different curriculum to the established Victorian public schools and chose to study it differently.

Arriving here in 2001, I found that the name carrier, the Senior School, Bedales, was teaching much the same curriculum as other schools, albeit often in an unusually vital and engaging way.  The school remained shackled to the dying animal that was the national curriculum, with its dreary GCSEs. At that point, even the Labour government was dissing GCSES. I started having thought-provoking conversations with long term supporters of the school: “why does this extraordinary school not exercise greater choice over what it teaches? Why are you not using your freedom?”

It was my good fortune to inherit some visionary colleagues who had done important work in this area with Southampton University’s Department of Education. Two were especially significant – Graham Banks (Head of English) and Philip Young (Director of Studies). With Southampton, they exploring the potential for the school to diverge from the GCSE curriculum in the 1990s, but the then Head, Alison Willcocks had decided not to press ahead.

I chose differently. Constructing a new curriculum has much in common with creating a new building: identify the need; write the brief; seek planning permission; gather your project team; assess the risks; and then build.

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It was quickly evident that the territory where the greatest need coincided with the best potential to innovate was the so-called Middle Years curriculum – the GCSE years 10 and 11, Blocks 4 and 5. Governors were on side quickly. Universities were surveyed and came back positively twice, both in response to the embryonic idea and then when the concept had been fleshed out. The message was very clear: give us five or six GCSEs in the core subjects (English, Maths, two or three Sciences and a modern foreign language) and then use your freedom with the remaining four or five subject slots.

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I knew that our parents would warm to it when, as part of the consultation, Philip Young and I called a meeting of Block 1 (Year 7) parents from Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.  These after all were the parents of the children who would most likely be affected, being the first year who would take the BACs. I displayed on the screen the wording of our (then recently minted) primary academic aim: to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought. I interposed a big question mark and then on the other side of the screen wrote “ GCSEs”. The  room filled with laughter – the two things had nothing in common. We had to change the curriculum – and so we did, starting the courses in 2006. You can read more about its latest incarnation here.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Picking people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Macbeth may be a peculiar starting point for a piece on picking the right people, but having seen the National’s latest (Anne-Marie Duff and Roy Kinnear) and being reminded of the nightmare vision of what happens when you make some wrong decisions in personnel, it is fresh in my mind.

In that little played parlour game when you imagine a school as run by a Shakespearean character, Headmaster Duncan isn’t doing so well,  although he realises “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”  he dies as a result of a bad choice: his most recent appointment to Cawdor House (previously Glamis) has, in breach of more than Health and Safety policy, done him in and now it’s Headmaster Macbeth (nickname, Mac the Knife, motto Dirk of Each for Weal of All).  Macbeth is, like the previous Earl of Cawdor, “a gentleman on whom I [Duncan] built / An absolute trust”; and he is very much The Boss.

As outlined elsewhere in this week’s Saturday Bulletin, there have been a series of appointments recently.  I am directly responsible for all of these except the Dunhurst deputy head, in which I was closely involved in the final stage interview.  Unusually, they cover the full 3-18 age range; unusually I will not be around to see how they prosper, as I am sure they will.

Heads need to be good at picking people: if you aren’t – or don’t become so quickly – things will go awry.  As in so many areas, I have learnt a lot from my Bedales experience.  So what are those lessons?

Involve plenty of other teachers, but remember it is your responsibility: pick a winner and all will celebrate; pick a loser and the fact that it is your choice will rest with you, so listen to others but remember to trust your own instincts as well.  See them in action: their craft is teaching and communicating with young people, not being plausible at interview.  Have them walk around the school with different people – watch how they react to different, sometimes surprising situations – a flock of sheep crossing the Orchard, for example.  Devote all the time and resources you need to the process: get it wrong and it takes much longer to unravel and your pupils’ progress suffers.  If you have any sinking feeling at all, don’t pick anyone – go round again.

Remember that they need to combine a passion for what they do or are applying to do (whether Art, housestaffing, headship or deputy headship) with sufficient nous, method and craft to make their ideas a reality.   Avoid Peter Pans or people with some preconceived sense that they can come to our schools to indulge their whims and wear a particularly outrageous pink corduroy suit, for example (true story…).

Apply the tests: would I like my own child to be taught / congratulated / looked after / told off by this person?  What would I feel like after half an hour’s train journey in their company?  Are they going to make people feel more or less cheerful after a chance encounter in school?  This is sometimes known as the radiator/drain test.  Will they light fires in young hearts?  Will they still be cheerful in their own way at the end of a 12 hour day?

Enough! Now evaluate the respective benefits of Headmaster Prospero, Headmistress Cleopatra, Headmaster Caesar or Principal Lear’s Academy for Young Ladies.

 

Winter rites and pedantic wrestling

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

We know winter has arrived when we all stop being able to walk on the grass and when the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness gives way to the season of feasts.

Feast happens to a student when, following an academic review, his or her academic efforts give cause for celebration. Like many good ideas here, Feast came from talking to students. A few years ago deputy head academic, Al McConville, asked his student teaching and learning group how they would like to see their academic efforts recognised.  At that stage recognition was based on my or my deputy “seeing” students individually or on sending postcards – we continue to do both, with meeting students in groups over tea a handy Louise innovation. These things happen out of the winter months (winter = autumn half term to February half term). Al’s group said that it would be really nice to have a special meal at Keith and Moony’s house. So, during the winter months, and in the Northern European tradition we feast.

Interestingly – and here I unleash my inner pedant/punctuation-geek – students had no truck with an article preceding the noun – Feast stood, capitalized proud and uncluttered, a proper noun needing no diluting article.

Visiting one of our New England exchange schools, Putney in Vermont last month, I was struck by their weekly communal singing session. It’s called Sing!  Yes, it’s that most wiry of verbal forms, the imperative. So, in the spirit of grammatical top trumps, here’s my suggestion for our own homespun culinary festive event: Feast!

Louise, being an hispanist, is no doubt going to suggest ¡Feast!

My imperative (Feast!) would capture the cry that goes out in the staff review meetings when teachers are acclaiming a student’s efforts – “Feast!” they exclaim, (I now like to think), imperatively.

An additional spin on this is because of the emoji effect on punctuation. See the photo below for how one breakfast cereal imbues a word with additional glory through its own mixture of embroidery and punctuation. I look forward to the next iteration of the design with invented/emoji based punctuation.

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Finally, here is a homely touch to give you some sense of what the doormat looks like at 50 Church Road when you have 40 or so Bedalians to supper and it is wet and wintery outside. Cosy inside – Viking style candelabra fired up and Moony’s chocolate brownies hoovered up appreciatively.

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Timely reminders

Having been unavoidably away for much of last week, it has been good to spend some time reminding myself of the important constants of school life – the equivalent perhaps for a farmer of getting in amongst the stock and crops – and of the energy that animates a school.

First stop is Outdoor Work, where you usually see the best of people and where there is always something new – in the polytunnel great care is being taken by the Block 3s to make an A frame up which beans will grow and I see a student’s face light up in a way that I had not seen before. In the barnyard I find two Block 5 boys, Ed A and Henry F and their BAC ODW project, a duck house. I had already taken the liberty of giving Ed a little context on the political resonances of duck houses which he has taken on board, so this conversation was much more granular and, of course, admiring, because this is going to be some duck house, but I still needed to be reassured about waterproofing and also buoyancy. It is going to be like a lake palace – lucky ducks.

Watching Maths being taught is another calming and anchoring activity. I take a wander round Block 3 Maths groups, noting a sympathetic and “no fear” approach to helping the students understand the concepts behind what they are doing, rather than simply feel it is about being right or wrong.

As we have our first Block 3 Review of the term and, hearteningly, many Block 3s’ efforts need to be recognised through congratulatory cards or brief meetings with me (“seeing” to use the vernacular), I am busy congratulating first thing on Thursday morning.  It is great to hear first hand from these students what they are particularly enjoying and any other thoughts they have about their first half of term at Bedales.

The only sadness is I arrive at Dunhurst too late for their Agincourt assembly, which I am very sorry to miss. It cannot match the way Dunhurstians commemorated the anniversary of Waterloo (with much colour, bangs and ingenuity) but it had clearly animated attendees. However, I catch Lisa Whapshott as she is taking her pupils in to their Design lesson. What are they doing this lesson? I ask.  Designing a trug, they answer. Trugs are wonderfully esoteric things (having that badge of honour of not being recognised by spellcheck) and sounding as splendid as they are reassuring to carry; it is very comforting to know that someone is working at designing and then making them in an English school.

So, trugs and duck houses – their future is safe with us.

Dunhurst quest

Believing as I do that you often spur youngsters into inquisitive action through quiz and play (“game” rather than “ernest”, says Chaucer), how good to be at our prep school, Dunhurst for the launch at assembly last week of the splendid treasure hunt A La Recherche des Carambars Perdus. Up stands Eli Chilton, French teacher to announce this quest: find one of the carambars hidden around the school; open it and find, not gooey stuff, but a French idiom, which you can cherish and deploy; collect as many carambar-idioms as you can, remembering them as you go – pupils can compare them and ultimately possibly win a prize, even beyond that of being more gallically figuratively armoured than they were before.

Some will not be tickled by this quest – chacun à son goût (I used to say), until one of my children, more in tune with modern French idiom, said it was “so out of date, like saying b’gad” and I should be saying chacun à son truc, which I say now. So here’s to keeping your idioms out of flares and in skinnies – and to ingenious ways of spurring on our natural inquisitiveness. Also, here’s to having fun with weighty titles. My ancient American uncle’s chronicle of his early life – escape from Scotland, go to Hawaii, find yourself invading Okinawa – is titled La Triviata, which shows at least that British understatement survived the journey.

Idioms will be on the minds of those of us lucky enough to hear the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, when she reads in our theatre tonight at 8 pm. To set the poetic hares and juices running and to nod at this beautifully Keatsian “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” we are having, here is a haiku from the letters page of a weekend paper:

Although detached
Even a monk must feel
A sense of wonder:
A heron takes wing from a marsh
In autumn twilight.

Saigyo (1118-90)

Celebrating The Chief’s 150th Birthday

Gemma Klein Photography

1865 saw the births of two men, W.B.Yeats and John Badley, whose lives affected how people feel and think now: Yeats as one of the most influential poets in the English Modernist movement; Badley as an educator whose vision of how our education system could be made humane created a school which has influenced many others. Although Badley could turn a passable piece of verse and no doubt a school set up by Yeats would have been entertaining for a few weeks (quite a lot of marching, sometimes in a nice brown shirt and a lot of learning about bizarre mythologies), I am glad that their respective vocational bias followed the courses they did. Yeats’ politics and his personal beliefs (think gyres and Rosicrucianism) were at best just odd, but often unpalatable, but his poetry was sublime and even visionary (think, Second Coming).

John Badley, aka The Chief, had his 150th birthday in half term (21st) and so yesterday, as soon as we could, we celebrated it by doing something I trust he would have approved of: cakes were baked, including a specially gorgeous multi-layered and beautifully ornamented birthday cake (made by colleague Diana Robinson, Dunhurst Matron) and we cut the ground for the new Art & Design building. In this respect the spade work was done by eight young men and women from across the schools – four Block 4s, two Dunhurstians and two Dunannie pupils (whose hard hats stubbornly wouldn’t stay on). They had the tough manual work; I merely had to sit in a (rather wonderful) machine and take some simple instructions. Here are some photos which give you a flavour. Many thanks to the patient men from our contractors, Beard. The good-humoured group of supporters who had witnessed the new building’s start disappeared into the February gloaming, with Chairman Matthew Rice’s suitably practical words, “See you again in 18 months’ time when we open!”

Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography


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.

Teaching is not telling but helping to find out

JH Badley new call-out

Happily Dunhurst assemblies mark my Thursday mornings: this week we were learning a song (which will remain a mystery until unveiled in all its glory), but last week Block 2s and Head of Art Stephen York presented their inspiring quotations which they talked about individually and which now emblazon the school walls in colourful poster form. As you would expect, all were presented with a good degree of individuality – top accolade to Carter C whose was delivered whilst to-ing and fro-ing on a monocycle.  Most memorable maxim for me was Einstein’s “Creativity is intelligence having fun” which now greets you on the right as you come into reception..

With Badley Weekend kicking off tomorrow and with the Chief’s sayings very much in my mind in advance of my Badley Jaw at Dunhurst tonight, here are some gems from his Notes and Suggestions for new staff joining Bedales in 1922: referring to the school community he talks of the “feeling of comradeship and cooperation”, but warns against colleagues who think that they can turn a blind eye – “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”. Punishment “must satisfy the child’s sense of justice and give him the feeling of a new start”.  More generally: “.. we shall do more by encouragement and the stimulus of example”.  “Teaching is not telling but helping to find out.” And finally: “I know that the happiest work is done where there is felt to be freedom.”


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.