Thinkin’ ‘n doin’

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Starting out as a teacher, I was lucky to find myself in an English department which did a lot of thinking and a lot of doing: an inventive and adaptable programme of study and activities was combined with an ethos of hard work and high achievement.  A formative memory for me is the way that we collaborated and framed ideas as a department; every Wednesday we had a convivial working lunch (hosted in turn by each of us) which was our department meeting. Ideas (sometimes wacky) were knocked around and tested; good practice shared; there was lots of laughter and it was stimulating and productive. We agreed what we should do, planned carefully ahead and then made sure that our thinking resulted in the right kind of doing.

As this was my first job, I found myself running junior debating – a pretty sleepy little corner affecting a handful of devotees.  With my colleagues’ support I decided to turn this into an activity that every student in their first year had to experience.  I devised a scheme which meant that we had a series of mini-debates running across the school at the same time each week.  It involved my persuading a number of colleagues to help voluntarily with it, which they did and off we went.  It ran for several years, lasting for a year after I had left.

Being nosy and a bit pushy from an early age, I found myself observing the headmasters at the various schools I worked at:  here’s an ideas person (rare); there’s someone who gets things done.  In talking with heads I found that sometimes they themselves even talked in those terms about the business of headship, with all the dangers of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reflecting on what headship is here, in our favoured nook of Hampshire, there is no doubt: it’s a role where the thinking and the doing have to work alongside each other.  Indeed, I suspect that the innovation and distinctiveness gene at Bedales is such that the school thrives through the sense that its routines and activities are being thoughtfully scrutinized and re-shaped continuously.  This is not quite John Badley’s injunction that the school should be re-built every seven years, but it is very  much  that spirit.

I found myself thinking (there we go again…) about this last night at the end of a stimulating Jaw debate: “This house would serve no meat” (decoratively done below).  Jaw, the time when the school engages in something that has a moral or spiritual dimension, has adapted from being a Sunday evening religious observance with a broad-ranging talk at its centre (up to 1981), to a non-religious event on a Sunday evening  (up to 2005) to its present incarnation – a fortnightly programme of talks, mainly from external speakers, with a Jaw debate each term.  Last night’s one evoked memories of the community-wide debate that led to us having one no meat lunch each week.  I suspect that this one will lead to a further debate about the amount and provenance of the meat we eat.

Thoughtfulness naturally sits within all elements of the school’s leadership, just as it does within its vibrant communal life.  Effecting consequent change likewise must.

This house would serve no meat

Appreciation of The Beautiful

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This was the sole school aim for a long time.  When the current five aims were framed early in my time, I was adamant that this nugget would find its place in the current aims, as it does in Aim 3, (To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful).

This awareness informs each assembly, which begins with music; it certainly informed my assembly on Wednesday, as I begin with Raphael’s Madonna della Seddia and ends with Helen Dunmore’s poem to her newly born daughter, Tess, (All The Things You Are Not Yet).  It informs daily decisions, whether those be about the curriculum, a flowerbed or the balance in an individual student’s life.  And this impulse is animating the lives of Old Bedalian scientists, writers, engineers, inventors, musicians, designers, dancers and actors daily.

But what about utility, I hear you (sensibly of course) say?  How handy (crafty too perhaps) to have our Arts & Crafts heritage, because Morris & Co reverenced what was beautiful and useful; therefore it’s unsurprising that furniture and architecture should be at the heart of the Arts & Crafts movement, with the hand crafting of wood at the centre of both its furniture and its architecture.

Good therefore to learn this week that the suite of furniture at the office for the Secretary of State for Education was designed and made at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in 1960.  I am delighted to hear this from our local MP and now Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.  Edward Barnsley, apprenticed to Lupton after leaving Bedales, made some of the Library furniture.  Edward, carrying on the proud Barnsley tradition of his father Sidney who built the Library to Gimson’s design, carried on working into the 1980s and would no doubt have had a personal hand in this important government commission.  You will recognise the distinctive design of his most famous chair, below.

Edward Barnsley chair - BedalesLeft: chair designed by Edward Barnsley in memory of Basil Gimson and used in the Bedales library. Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, by Roy Wake and Pennie Denton (1993) p.306

 

 

 

 

 

Below: the suite of furniture designed by the Barnsley Workshop and used by the Ministry for Education, reproduced by kind permission of the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Barnsley Workshop

125 years on

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

5708 Bedales-125-Logo-CMYK BROWN UPDATE 22.11 (Large)It was 125 years ago this Saturday that three boys joined John Badley and his six members of staff at a rented house called Bedales in Lindfield on the outskirts of Haywards Heath.  The school would move to its present home in Steep in 1900 – 76 students in total by then, with just seven girls, co-education having started in 1898.

As we set out on our 125 anniversary celebrations, it is interesting to reflect on what drove John Badley to found the school, what impelled him to lead it as headmaster for its first 42 years and what he might think of us now.

A charismatic 28 year old athlete and classical scholar with a top education (Rugby and Cambridge) and enough family money not to worry too much about making a living, he was inspired by the ideas of the late Arts and Crafts movement and thinkers such as Edward Carpenter and Cecil Reddie, founder of Abbotsholme and exponent of the New Schools’ movement.  Badley’s early experience teaching with Reddie convinced him that he wanted to start his own school and that the conventional public schools “simply wouldn’t do.”  The negative reasons revolved around not being narrowly focussed on the traditional classical curriculum and the cold, hierarchical disciplines of the Victorian public school.  The positive reasons had to do with wanting his school to embrace a more enlightened vision for humanity – where the outdoors, the Arts, reason, head hand and heart in equilibrium, friendship, mutual  respect between teachers and their charges and the feminine influence all held sway.

The school quickly grew, especially when established in Steep. By 1922 the total number had reached 194, including those at Dunhurst, which was started in 1902. The school filled with many families that Badley knew personally. The First World War, although a source of great sadness with the loss of life of so many of his former pupils, galvanized the building of the Memorial Library and Badley’s idealism about international cooperation, was envisaged with the League of Nations.

What would he think of us now?  I am sure he would regard life as very soft and indulgent: the Bedales he grew was physically austere and unashamedly frugal.  The cold baths were an article of faith and kept going until the late 1950s.  He would be surprised by the lack of any religious observance:  although his focus on what he regarded as the eternal truths of Christianity meant that non-conformist and Jewish families felt happier here than at schools where Anglicanism was central, there was a clear religious thread to the school, comparable to Unitarianism.

I think he would recognise and welcome many things.  Here are some: the emphasis put on inquisitiveness and inspiration; the warmth of relationships; the equality of opportunity between genders; the unusual tolerance for a community of adolescents; and the prominence of outdoor work.

I like to think that in a week which has seen a female head of sciences interviewed on national radio for her contrarian views on the use of sarcasm in teaching, warm appreciation of a Theatre of Cruelty play by a touring Norwegian company, a Jaw led by the school’s LGBT society and a series of rehearsals for the students’ annual rock show, he would feel that the creative and daring spirit flourishes.

Creativity benefits

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Amongst the good places to be in Britain, the National Theatre and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon are up there.  What I see or do when in these places is almost secondary to being there.  Soaking it up in the National Gallery is a close second.

Why? Because being in places which celebrate the creative power of the human spirit heartens.  Knowing that this country once had the courage to provide the necessary subsidy to create a national theatre; it is daily fillip to see what a beacon our two great theatres are for work that makes us think about how we live.

This feeling is compromised by knowing what is going on in maintained schools at the moment.  Why are we squeezing creativity out of our schools?  Asks Director of the NT, Rufus Norris, in The Guardian.   I would add to Norris’ hard-nosed statistics about the benefit to the UK economy of the creative industries (which are of greater value to the UK economy each year than the automotive, oil, gas, aerospace and life sciences combined) the view that a major factor in keeping Brexit-sensitive highly paid jobs in London will be the strength of the capital’s cultural life, as well as the quality of its independent schools.

The practical benefits of the so-called creative industries in the world after school are mirrored in schools.  In thinking about what schools should offer, it is fun/scary to imagine a school stripped of something so central and life-enhancing that we currently do: so imagine a school with no music, art, dance, design or drama.  No bewitching glimpse yesterday of the forthcoming Dunhurst Blocks’ play (Curious Children) as the stage heaving with most of its 100+ actors brimmed with life; no Daniel Preece art master class on cityscapes; no stream of potential designers heading off to art and design schools;  no scholars’ concert; and no musical performances at assemblies and Jaws.  It’s a dystopian vision akin to imagining a school without Maths and Science.  In short, misery!

Here is Yeats to sum up:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

– W.B. Yeats Among School Children

Resolutions and challenges

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Never a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I find myself wondering why: simple, I like resolutions and challenges too much and don’t see why they should be simply for the year’s start.

So, what weremy Christmas holiday’s resolutions and challenges and, thinking more broadly, what might be some of this term’s?

Re-discover Wales: go to the Gower Peninsula, enjoy the restaurants of Mumbles, climb (most of) Pen-y-Fan,  traverse Rhossili beach’s splendour.

Remind myself of Dickens’ riches: re-read Little Dorritt.  Grapple imaginatively with something truly unpalatable,  the plight  women of the USSR  armed forces in the Great Patriotic War (The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Alexievich).  Discover an author I haven’t properly appreciated – Helen Dunmore  (Talking to the Dead, Counting the Stars). Read someone I didn’t know existed – Elizabeth Taylor (Mrs Palfrey at the Claremonth). Wonderful.   Read a book that challenges my thinking: Money: the Unauthorised Biography, Felix Martin.

See another thoughtful musical (after Spring Awakening) – Sondheim’s Follies at the NT with its echoes of Death of a Salesman. See the RSC’s Imperium, six hours of drama based on Robert Harris’s account of Cicero’s life. Unexpected bonus here was finding OB Pierro Niel-Mee in two central roles – Clodius and Agrippa.

Chuck out a load of old stuff – de-clutter.  Happily seeing my family doesn’t involve the need for resolutions, at least so far.

But, much more importantly, what are the challenges thrown up by the start of the term?

Our first Wednesday notices brings some: knit something creative and try for the Jacob’s Sheep Society’s (JSS)  Lady Aldington Memorial Trophy. (Warning: if you flirt with the excellent JSS website, you could be gone for some time.  But at least read about the history of the breed, which is suitably romantic.)

Be there at the Junior or Senior Literary Society’s discussions of the books they have read over the holidays – The Talented Mr Ripley and The Hare with Amber Eyes on two evenings next week.

Come to the Classics’ Society’s revival meeting on Mythology (which underpins most things classical –ask Cicero) or hear Charles Hall’s Civics on Venice.

Most pressing in most students’ minds will be the imminence of mock exams (for Block 5 and 6.2) and the challenge of getting a great deal done in the mere ten weeks of term.

But by the close of Wednesday, quotidian concerns, vital though they be, are put into a different context by the first Jaw of 2018, given by Charterhouse’s chaplain, Clive Case, who talks arrestingly about the value to us all of  bringing into our lives more silence.

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.