Writing about Bedales

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This happened from early on.  In 1896 Edmond Demolins, the French educationalist, visited Bedales.  In two of his subsequent books, A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? (1897) and L’Education nouvelle he said that the national success of the English was due to the public school system and that the logical outcome of that system was to be seen in the “new schools” such as Bedales.  Never mind the supremacist premise of his first book and the poor logic of his thesis, Demolins’ books were widely read in France and amongst the educated classes in continental Europe.  As a result, there was an influx of students from there, including various exotic Russian aristocrats.  Schools based on the Bedales model had sprung up in places as various as St Petersburg, Hilversum (Holland) and Lake Geneva.

Last December I hosted Julian Astle of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).  Julian has subsequently published his research The Ideal School Exhibition.  The RSA has a strong tradition in educational advocacy.  In his book Julian seeks to “expand the conversation to the purpose and essential character of school-based education” which he sees as increasingly being focussed on “education’s narrow instrumentalist’s value”.  Pointing to the broader value of education and the way that authoritarian regimes – such as Victor Orban’s in Hungary – will seek to close down educational institutions that make people think broadly, Astle has toured the country to find schools that are high in conviction and that manage to be successful whilst holding fast to their values – educational missionaries.

Bedales is one of these.  Here is the full report, and an executive summary can be found here.

An excerpt reads:

“Bedales, a fee paying school in Hampshire, defines itself by its humanity (the school was established to provide a humane alternative to the regimented austerity of Victorian schooling) and through its holistic educational philosophy, summed up by its motto “to educate the Head, Hand and Heart”. It strives to introduce its students to what is true (academics), what is beautiful (creativity and making) and what is right (morals and ethics).”

The other school that Astle sees falling strongly into this category is a state school founded in 2012, School 21 in Stratford, East London.  Its head and founder, Peter Hyman, visited on Thursday, met a range of teachers, toured with students and had a good chat with me.   Fascinating and stimulating to talk with someone who, against the grain of so much of the current arid educational orthodoxy, is making such a success of a school that promotes a very different and utterly humane vision.  Here are his ten points for what a school should do.

Have a look at what he says in the executive summary and also in the section where he writes about our school aims.

It is great that an enlightened organisation like the RSA, so wedded to enlightenment thinking, is taking such an important stand in what Michael Oakeshott called “the great conversation of mankind”.

 

 

Digital divergence

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Get 15 heads in discussion about the use of mobile phones in their schools and you will get 15 views; get 467 Bedales students in a symposium and you will certainly have plenty of divergent views.

On Tuesday, at the meeting of our heads’ cluster group (the 86 Group) each head described the policy towards daytime use in each of their schools: the range is from prohibition to full acceptance.

On Wednesday, we had our first whole school symposium for a long time.  I started symposiums off here as a replacement to the whole school meetings which had taken place from time to time. The shortcomings of the whole school meetings was that there was no method to garnering the views of all and the voices of the most confident and vocal older students would be bound to predominate.  This symposium, led by Head Students Maisie, Ritchie, James and Scarlett, was preceded by an online questionnaire which engaged students in the issues and provided some very useful findings which were produced at the start of the plenary session and helped shape the debate that ensued.

The next stage will be for some of the key proposals to be discussed in School Council over the next few weeks.  What is clear is that there is sufficient  appetite for some change.  As with the best change here, it will occur because there has been informed discussion with the community’s welfare at its heart – in this case through the questionnaire, symposium and the resulting discussions.

The best kind of behavioural change happens when there is a consensus about what is reasonable, considerate and decent behaviour towards other members of the community.  At the heart of this must be the primacy of the living, breathing people that surround you in the flesh, not the distracting digital image or text.

Evening at Chalk Farm

RIBA Twitter crop

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last time I was at the Round House, I was watching Bob Hoskins in all the pomp of his stage villainy plot the downfall of the Duchess of Malfi.  Tuesday evening and I am sitting at a fancy table, well dined, in a Round House adapted for the RIBA awards, surrounded by architects, listening to Louise Minchin describe the four buildings that are shortlisted for Client of the Year: Bedales School Art & Design Building being one of them.  The judge opens his envelope and – wow! – Yes, we have won.

Up onto the stage we go for the presentation of the award and my brief, sob-free, acceptance speech.  Big thanks are due to Tom Jarman of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios who nominated us for the award and to the home team: Matthew Rice whose vision for the building informed the project;  our bursar, Richard Lushington, who held all the different dimensions together; Nigel Hartley, the project manager; and the heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw.

Cameras flash etc and we troop off to leave the stage free for the Stirling Prize – Hastings Pier, which is firmly on my list of places to visit.

The RIBA Client of the Year has been awarded since 1998 and we are the first school to win the prize – you can see the previous winners here.

So, this is good for Bedales, for the independent sector and for schools in general.  Building well, works – great design and a great process is often no more expensive than the grimly utilitarian. And you have a building that will inspire for a century or so.

For me, there are three major lessons that come from the Client of the Year accolade.

The first is the power of ethos.  The RIBA booklet describes it as “a building after a philosophy of being”. In the same way that we have tried to ensure that the ethos permeates the curriculum, so the best of our buildings embody the ethos.  Appreciation of the beautiful, making and doing and the influence of the school environment are all key elements of that ethos which the building reflects.

The second is the power of consultation: students, staff, parents, OBs, the local community were all consulted.  The initial plans were rejected – “too big, too dark, too close to Steephurst” – and the revised ones then consulted on further.

Finally, it is the strength of collaboration. RIBA described is as “co-authorship in the truest sense”.  Architects and school understood, liked and respected each other, with a brilliant result.  Hoorah!

Precepts for good health

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m glad that Wednesday evening’s assembly, led by our senior deputy, my colleague, Louise, is centred around the School’s founding values.  Louise has asked students to read excerpts from John Badley’s book, A Schoolmaster’s Testament (1937).  The chords struck resonate.  Here is a selection.

  • There can only be thoroughly good work- good in its indirect as well as its direct results- and there can only be a thoroughly healthy life where there is a general feeling of happiness.
  • [On the balance between freedom and discipline…] without a sense of freedom there cannot be the happiness that is a condition of the fullest health.
  • In every branch of school work there should be abundant opportunity for original effort and the delight that comes from creation and discovery.
  • [On the need for full happiness…] only if all sides of their nature, physical, intellectual, and emotional, find satisfaction, can they have the full sense of wellbeing which is at once a condition of health and its mental counterpart.

These precepts are running through my mind as I think about two events this week and one to come after half term.

The first is Dunhurst’s assembly yesterday morning when director of teaching and learning, Andy Wiggins, talked about precepts – mainly from books and films – engaging the audience wonderfully with sayings that are designed to help us live more happily. I am watching the assembly through a series of luggage labels hanging on a rack, each with its writer’s pledges – in effect, pupils’ own precepts to themselves – which range from the desire to eat more carrots to more general wishes to be more kind.

The second event was seeing the sixth form play, The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol.  Could there be a better example of “the delight that comes from creation and discovery”?  Cast and crew, under director in residence, Jamie Wood’s expert guidance, have woven John Berger’s tale into 80 minutes of engrossing drama, with the energy and imagination of the young actors at its heart. A cracker.

Finally, the event being planned for after half term is a whole school symposium on 8 November.  Led by the four head students – Scarlett, James, Ritchie and Maisie – it aims to answer a question:

How can we achieve the right balance between the benefits of students’ personal digital devices and the broader needs of the community?

The symposium, which takes the place of tutor time and assembly, will be preceded by an online questionnaire which will be sent out immediately after half term.  The fact that the symposium takes place in Mental Health week is fitting.  Badley’s precepts about  wellbeing will be at the forefront of our minds as we debate the issues and decide what measures might be taken.

 

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.