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.

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

Nailing it

Want straight-talking no-nonsense advice on looking after yourself or, if you have stumbled or waltzed into parenthood, your child?  Call Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading adolescent and child psychologists.  We are lucky: he has chosen to visit his old school – Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst – 51 years after he left, after a brief but happy stay as (yes..) a seven year old boarder.

Having spent Monday evening with Michael, heard the positive ripples from the seminar he led with Bedales and Dunhurst pastoral staff in the afternoon and seen him in action in his illuminating lecture in the Bedales theatre in the evening, I can see why he is such an influential and sought after figure in the topical area of adolescent wellbeing and mental health

Like the best teachers, he clearly likes, understands and relishes working with young people.  There’s no whiff of condescension.  There’s no beating around any bush or ducking any issue.  That look on the face of an outraged teenage girl when her parent has told her that she cannot have what she wants is memorably named by Michael in the title of his best-selling book – Princess Bitchface Syndrome.  We might think it – he says it.  In his clunky terminology, nailed.

Parents’ occasional, supine feebleness over things digital is also nailed: “Find your digital spine!” he exhorts; if what your youngster is telling you s/he should be able to do is clearly against their wellbeing, forbid them!

Likewise nailed are things that anyone who has worked with children and been a parent knows intuitively.  For me, one powerful truth is foremost in my mind: the value of what he calls “islands of competence” or sparks.  This is what educators see on a daily basis: the impact on a young person’s life – and therefore wellbeing in the broadest sense – of something catching their interest, energy and ultimately passion.  Michael talked with typical humour about his son’s passion for leg-spin bowling. It could just as easily be the violin or blacksmithing or tennis or Beowulf or the guitar or cross-country running or running your own car-washing business.  The role of schools and parents is to create the environment which gives children plenty of choice – and then to allow the child to fan the spark into a fire, cheering on what they do.

Sometimes it takes a while to see the effect of those islands of competence or sparks.  Intriguing then on the night following Michael’s talk to be at one of our first Old Bedalian gatherings based on a particular career area – in this case Art and Design.  So, I and colleagues far better qualified to be there – Art and Design teachers above all – have such an enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours in a (stylish, hipsterish) place under a rumbling arch by Waterloo.   Here are around 100 OBs – aged 19 upwards –  who have made their ways in areas connected with Art and Design.  Many conversations go back to those moments at school when a spark caught – and the fires keep burning and burning.

Chinese tea and Oxford reception

Summer brings with it even more times when you have pleasant chats with very different groups of people over a cup of tea or even a glass of Prosecco. Friday evening saw MIchael Truss, Clare Jarmy, Sarah Oakley, Philip Parsons and I at the Old Parsonage in Oxford meeting up over drinks with about 20 present and recently past OB Oxonians; which was both fun and informative, as far as building up a full picture in order better to guide current students on college and course choice. Intriguing too for me to discover that I have shared a glass (non-alcoholic in several cases of course) with both of my head boys from 2010/11 on their 20th birthdays – Omer Sami in Los Angeles on Easter Monday and Frank Macpherson in Oxford last Friday.

This afternoon it is a traditional cup of tea (plus scones etc)  at 50 Church Road with our 12 student guests and two teachers from our Chinese partner school, Chuansha in Shanghai. I visited there four years ago, which was also when the last student delegation came here; they hosted our school visit to China in February. At last night’s assembly, my welcome to them was followed by two traditional Chinese pieces played by our visitors – Joy, Zhang Zhixiao, playing her flute and Rita, Ding Yixin, singing. The assembly then continued with Shirley, Jin Huijing, one of the Chinese teachers describing some of the differences between Chuansha and Bedales – with the typical class size (of 42) perhaps the most salient statistic. The courage of our visitors in performing here in front of the school – and on only their second day – won many plaudits and warm applause. It was great to see them sitting chatting outside with our students in the evening sun after assembly. Tonight, a very different business as we have our annual reception and presentation to the local Steep community. The purpose of this is to keep people abreast of developments – both educational and building – and to enlist their support and understanding with future developments, such as the new Art & Design centre.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Global awareness and visiting speakers

Global Awareness has been a hot topic for me over the last week, starting with the final round of the selection process of a new Head of Global Awareness – more on the successful candidate later in the week – moving on to Sir Andrew Cahn‘s Civics on Friday, Dr Noel Brehony’s talk at last night’s Middle East Society and looking forward to Lord Winston’s Eckersley Lecture tonight. There will a number of energetic and globally avid Bedalians who will have been to all three – plenty who have been to the first and the last. So, in a nutshell, their scope?  Sir Andrew: the role of the Civil Service and the ways it’s changed, what drives politicians, Prime Minister’s styles, British industry’s competitiveness vs BRIC countries, his own career choices (“a grey journalist or a colourful civil servant”?), what Britain and Bedales might look like in 40 years’ time; Dr Noel: the Arab Spring – one of three revolutions over the past century, Egypt’s birth pangs, Yemen, Israel and missed opportunities for peace; Lord Winston – can we survive the 21st Century? That puts a different spin on Global Awareness.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


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.