Thomas-y ramblings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early this morning into the Ashford Hangers – daguerreotype shades initially as I climb up the muddy path, past black dog’s favourite pond (good dipping here) into the other green world where Edward Thomas loved to tramp.  A half hour’s climb in the half light is a tonic: imagine never wanting to come back to your home – to a cup of jasmine tea, the prospect of whatever ingenious notices our students will surprise me and my colleagues with and a varied, engaging day.

Walk in the Hangers to feel a bit Thomas-y;  saunter from Winchester to St Cross to feel a bit Keatsian, especially in this season hoping  that Autumn’s defining poem (“season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” etc) really was composed on that walk.  Having been born in the most unpoetic part of Britain (Fylde Coast), it is a constant delight to find myself in one of the most poetic places.  As usual, I wonder why I don’t do this every day.

A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t stop myself thinking about Thomas as I pick up an apple crossing the Orchard on the way to talk to the recently arrived Block 3s about some of the dos and don’ts of Bedales life.  Picking up the apple, a half-remembered line from a Thomas poem, which I taught decades ago, comes back into my head: “I cannot bite the day to the core”.  The Block 3s, being a responsive lot, come up with all available symbolic associations for the apple when I bring it into my talk – Apple (of course), temptation and experience.  Re-reading the E.T poem in question (The Glory) I am taken by his description of time – what sort of life must you be living if you find time “dreary-swift”?

But it is with the experience bit in mind, and the hope that the weekend really will be bitten to the core, that we set out on Badley Weekend – a combination of whole school efforts on Saturday at each of the three schools and the big community fair on Sunday, the weekend aims to be an example of John Badley’s founding principle of ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ in action.   It is an ambitious idea and each year we sit back and think hard about what worked and what didn’t.

Some of us would love to do more work in the whole school effort – once you get your method for filling your wheelbarrow with sand and steering it along the path, you do want to keep going.  Seeing the finished path (the Roman Road) and admiring not only what we did this year but also the fruits of our labours from last year, it is satisfying.   The community fair passes off very well – a big, different kind of effort where the work falls more on the staff than the students, but a good deal of money is raised for our three charities – Mencap, the King’s Arms and our own bursary fund, the John Badley Foundation.  Here are some photos to give you a flavour.

Next week, the big HMC (Headmasters and Headmistresses) conference that I have put together takes place in Belfast.  There are already some by-products of that event which will benefit Bedales  – more from there as the three days evolve.

The Glory

The glory of the beauty of the morning, –
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: –
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty’s presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day’s end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

– Edward Thomas

Living history

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

James GS and Mike Sadler cropIf a 97 year old man tells 15 year olds what he was doing when he was at Bedales in 1935  (aged 15, being taught Latin by John Badley) he is recounting his experience from 82 years ago.  If one of those 15 year olds lives to be 97 and talks about this (hearing the 97 year old in 2017) he or she will be talking in 2099 about hearing of the events that happened 164 years before, on the eve of the  Second World War.

The first bit of this scenario happened on Tuesday evening in my house when Mike Sadler, not only an Old Bedalian aged 97 (which puts him in a smallish club), but also one of the earliest members of the SAS (which puts him in an even smaller club).  I have listened to many intriguing people with extraordinary things to tell, but I cannot think of anything that could match this.

Mike, a slim and remarkably jaunty figure (pictured, right with Head Boy, James Grout-Smith), is surrounded by nine students and seven adults listening to him recounting his experience – from the latter stages of his Bedales career, through his initial contact with David Sterling, Paddy Mayne and the other founding members of the SAS, to the expedition to the Antarctic he undertook (with Mayne) following his war service.  We start shortly after 6pm and finish just before 9pm, with a brief break for something to eat.

Mike’s lively mind, interest in others, courtesy and sense of fun are palpable.  He has a brief tour of the school.  Interesting to think that the Memorial Library would have just opened when he was born.  He tells me that in his day there was a rather smelly generator where our smart reception now is.  His memory for where things are is legendary – as befits someone who was a brilliant navigator, who could direct a raiding party 100 miles across the desert in the dark simply by using the stars.

He shares his stories with a twinkle and, yes, a sense of fun.  His account of escaping from the white- hatted Afrika Corps and managing to get his jeep back to the Qatarra Depression was “an amusing incident”.  He describes his famous 100 mile, four day walk from Gabes to Tozeur, with only a goatskin tied together with bootlaces as a water container with an insouciance and twinkle that make light of it.  Other incidents, which sound as scary as scary gets, are described with a sense of fun and adventure.

When asked what he misses most about those days he says “so many interesting people”.    Mike’s independence of mind, willingness to question, delight in innovation and enjoyment of teamwork all found their home in those formative early years in the SAS.  It was the biggest of privileges for all of us lucky enough to meet him and hear him at his old school.

“The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – William Wordsworth

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It is a curiosity of Bedales that the youngest entrants, the Block 3s, start their time here by arriving in verdant Hampshire before any other students – on the Thursday before most arrive on the Sunday – spend two nights at school and then head off to the Lake District, returning into circulation on the second Monday of term.  Why?

Enabling your youngest students to have their induction into school life and, for example, the mysteries of IT logins and classroom locations, before they are crowded out with lots of big and alarmingly adult looking teenagers makes sense.  Whisking them away to the North of England requires more explanation – it is a long way, 330 miles in fact and, like any expedition away from school, complicated to plan and resource-hungry; this is especially so as we take the Block 3 (Badley) tutors who accompany their tutor groups (usually with 8-10 students in each group).

Sitting in a very smart octagonal shed in the grounds of the Outward Bound’s centre on the edge of Ullswater (by Glenridding, the most flooded village in Britain), I am reminded why.  In this snug super shed or pod are the nine members of a tutor group,  an Outward Bound tutor and the Bedales tutor; they are all grouped around a table and surrounded by sheets of paper pinned to the walls which reflect the Block 3s’ journey over the first few days of their five day course.  The sheets from their first day reflect what they were hoping to get out of their time at the centre – their hopes and fears.  More recent ones show how the Outward Bound instructors tailor the students’ experience to our school aims.  I notice one sheet which has resulted from a discussion on how their time in Ullswater might mirror the Bedales aims:  HEAD: Think! HAND Do something! HEART Self-belief.

I am there for a couple of nights and, because the expeditions into the mountains this year takes place when I have to go south, I am able to spend plenty of time seeing the groups in action around the centre and, crucially for me, pinning names to faces, mannerisms, quirks of speech and all the other ways one tries to remember who the new students are.

I love going out into the hills, so it is with envy that I watch them all getting ready for their expedition on the Wednesday morning.   Even these preparations are done thoughtfully.  The comparisons with the quasi-military approach to expeditions that I grew up with – here’s your kit, pack it, off we go – are stark.  Students sit in their octagonal pods and are asked to think of all the different activities and needs when they are up on the hills.  There are discussions and debates and gradually a list is created.  Of course, the instructors will not let them go off without the essentials – and safety measures are second nature to Outward Bound – but the decisions and that kit list are shaped and informed by what the students discuss.

Culturally, this is a foreign land to most of our students: that’s not just the business of wild nature, but it’s also the North – little rivers called becks, different accents and meretricious weather.  It’s also a brilliant social mixing pot, with boarders and days, students from Dunhurst and many other schools all finding themselves in dorms or tutor groups with each other.  You get to know your fellow travellers pretty well.  Likewise, time on the hills or seeing youngsters overcome fears helps the tutors understand what makes them tick.

An additional bonus is that their return journey on Friday is broken by a sortie into Stoke for lunch, some painting of mugs and a tour of the Emma Bridgewater factory, thanks to the generous hospitality of Emma Bridgwater and Matthew Rice.

What with their time in the place that inspired the Romantic poets, their own journeys of self-discovery and this dotting into a thriving modern business in the former industrial heartland of England, it is well worth the journey.

 

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.

Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.

Strutting your mutt

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday afternoon and there is only one place to be – the Badley Behaved Dog Show and Fête on the Dunhurst pitches.  Zazu (usually benign, although sometimes dramatically not so, but always unthinking, black labrador) and I arrive a little late to find it all well under way.  There’s so much to do – much sniffing and greeting: gloating bulldogs, spry labradoodles, dopey Afghans (or it that a coat?) and even some mutts who look as if they have been specially coiffured up for the occasion.  Aha!  And there is little Toby, the most popular male mammal in the Petersfield area and one of the main reasons for visiting Bedales reception, where he presides. Another youngster wags in the distance – it’s Diggerty Cross.   And there is so much for dogs and their owners to do: Waggiest Tail, Cutest Puppy, Best Veteran, Best Pedigree Gundog, Dog Most like its Owner (steer clear of that one…) and Best Fancy Dress.  As for we two legged ones, the cream teas are beguiling, the Dalmatian Bouncy Castle inviting and as for the Waterfight Zone, well it’s soaking them up.

Zazu and I are having a nice, tranquil time: I am meeting people whom I generally know – or have met – she is meeting all sorts of new friends and is yet to have one of her cross / snarly moments.  I am not taking too many chances, having her on a (literally) very short leash.  Then, our quietish afternoon is suddenly changed by the request from the now hoarse chair of governors, Matthew Rice, that I take over the commentary from him. Whoops!  From being in gentle post-prandial, smallish talk mode to needing to sound canine-savvy amongst the doggy cognoscenti.  I haven’t even checked over breeds or warmed up the dog anecdotes. I’ve never listened to those legendary cricket commentators who can talk about nothing endlessly.  Never mind, just crack on.  It reminds me of when I was asked to  give a pep talk to a school pipes (ie bagpipers) and drums band one summer evening with about ten seconds’ notice.  I summoned up the “up and at ’em” and tried to avoid St Crispin Day echoes.

Off we go: and there is a soppy looking collie-ish creature, but what do I call it? And how can I say something not entirely fatuous about that fancy dress without it upsetting someone, probably the bearer? Things settle down after a bit. Funny how you discover – for better of worse – a kind of style.  Some of the old yarns come back.  There’s a seasonal factor here: in the summer term I need to think about dogs in advance of my annual dog assembly, so I am reminiscing about previous ones – the march of the labradors, and five things you can learn from a dog, being talks that spring to mind.  So, we have a bit of labrador breed history thrown in – and I have to break off to advertise those delicious cream teas before we get to the bit about that buoyantly woolly breed the Newfoundland.  Did you know…  Best thing is to give the microphone to the winners and to hear their stories – the rescue dogs’ owners’ being the best.

The sun continues to shine and our visitors depart, leaving the wonderful volunteers – parents and colleagues – to clear up.  More people now know about the John Badley Foundation: it enables children to come to our schools from families whose circumstances mean that a Bedales education would otherwise be completely out of reach. Perhaps they will associate it with panting geniality and cuddly hounds. There’s also something about this cranky and colourful afternoon that chimes with that fragile but precious thing, our ethos.  A medley of human and canine colour, it is a celebration of what we hold dear and of those wonderfully eccentric and precious bonds that tie us to our four legged companions: cheerful, a little quirky, certainly genial, inclusive, celebratory, colourful and proud to carve its own path.

Inspiring futures

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m talking at the Inspiring Futures conference tomorrow and am mulling over what I might say.  I need to provide the schools’ perspective on how we should be preparing our students for the future – in particular 4IR – or the Fourth Industrial Revolution – aka the Digital Revolution.   I have 20 minutes and, at my request, it is the final slot.  So, I plan five slides.  Here’s a shrinklet version, slide by slide.

A cheesy crystal ball: we humans love predicting the future and we will so often be wrong.  The hapless verb “to future-proof” is a notable example of this.  Yet, human beings are remarkably adaptive and, in spite of our poor planning for the future, are often fleet-footed in response.   Preparing for 4IR may be too late – but how can we best prepare for whatever 5IR and 6IR are going to look like?

A frontispiece of Silas Marner, showing how the sad, miserly spinner has become part of his loom: work has made him into a machine; tempting to think this is all about preparing our young people for work, but it is also about preparing them to live enriched, fulfilled lives.  In this respect, we need our students to have an understanding of the ancient verities of philosophy and literature and to appreciate the Arts, as well as having a strong science and maths base.

The rear view mirror of a car: our educational systems prepare us for the world that has just passed.  My schooling prepared me well to serve the needs of the British Empire, just as it had gone.  Education ministers tend to hanker after the past – the fixations of Michael Gove and poor primary school children’s subsequent current fixation with adverbial clauses, for example.

A set of ball bearings beautifully balanced:  how to achieve this balance?  The state needs to limit what it requires of school children, especially in those formative GCSE years, and provide much greater freedom within the curriculum; so cut the requirement for so many GCSEs – Maths, English and Science are the only ones that the government needs to assess.  If you allow head teachers in schools to exercise their independence, you create space and therefore flexibility in the curriculum.  Such an approach challenges the current sclerotic, silo mentality of the curriculum.  How can you expect students to develop the necessary flexibility of mind and creative thinking if the curricula they encounter are often so dull and formulaic?

A blossoming chestnut tree:  how to give our youngsters the best chance of living the most fulfilled lives?  See W B Yeats’ image of the chestnut tree (“great rooted blossomer” from Among School Children). Here is a list of some of the qualities we need to help bring out in our students:

  • Capacity for independent thinking and problem solving
  • Appetite for lifelong learning: establish a love of learning early and it stays
  • Enjoyment of teamwork and collaboration
  • Understanding of other cultures – enjoyment of international links
  • Sense of wonder: to inspire and be inspired