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

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

P1000213

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.

 

Hawks and handsaws

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

 

Badley Celebration Weekend focuses the mind on what our schools’ values are.  The past month’s series of events  introduce new students to the place and what it means, whether that is Dunhurst’s climb to the Poet’s Stone or its camp, Block 3 in Ullswater, the Whole School Effort,  Bedales’ own take on a harvest festival or Sunday’s community festival.  It is interesting to step back and reflect a little on how we interpret the Badleyan vision – how it is, let’s say, incarnated.

Thinking of the sweep of history first of all: here are five perspectives for starters:

  • 1900: John Badley brings his new school to Steep (from Lindfield near Hayward’s Heath). 69 boys and 7 girls.  First task is to finish the main school building.  Lots of hand work.
  • 1909: Old Bedalian Camp. See the illustrations above.  The list of campers gives you some indication of what the chat must have been like.  Gimson and Lupton, for example, to whom we owe so much of our architectural heritage.  Eckersley who, along with his brother, more or less invented sound engineering and was a founding father of the BBC.  Rupert Brooke wasn’t at the 1909 camp but was a great friend of his namesake, Justin Brooke, and sometimes joined the group.
  • 1922: John Badley’s Notes and Suggestions for Staff Joining Bedales: “Teaching is not telling but helping to find out.”
  • 1966: The first year group where a student could have joined Dunannie and gone all the way through to Bedales. It is this cohort (of 55), the class of ’66, who returned to school last weekend.  Many of them spent the better part of 10 years together – in school most weekends as well.  They are in remarkably good shape and full of alarmingly distinguished people.
  • 2016: Block 3s start out – their “50 year on” reunion will be 2071.

 Activities from the last few weeks mirror the Badleyan desire that his pupils should not be feeble or ignorant about the world that surrounded them – they should know a hawk from a handsaw – and know how to use the latter, as a good number found out last Saturday in clearing an area of scrub by the Roman road.

But I suspect that what acts in its own mysteriously cohesive way – across these times and will continue to exert its spell – is the emphasis on relationships.    So here is how The Chief put it in his 1922 leaflet mentioned above:  “Our whole system at Bedales is based on intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.  For the full value of co-education especially we must have in large measure the condition of family life.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lakeside beginnings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

keith-budge-and-dog-ullswater1This was the scene early yesterday morning at Hayeswater by Hartsop, close to Ullswater in our magnificent Lake District.  If a dog could use a selfie stick I imagine that this is the kind of photo it might take.  My collaboration is indicated by the stockinged leg in the left foreground.

Hayeswater frames Zazu who is looking unusually thoughtful after a watchful night sleeping between the inner and outer layer of my neat one person tent (disconcertingly called Banshee); if she is reflecting on anything other than breakfast, it is probably on the possibility of more swimming in Hayeswater, hoping that each of the stones thrown by the Block 3 campers will turn into a branch that she can retrieve.  The lake is treeless – stones sink, but Zazu will paddle on in hope.  The two Block 3 groups that I accompany for supper and breakfast will have two nights on the hills and the better part of three days – demanding stuff, I think, as I leave them on Wednesday morning in order to be back at school to take assembly in the evening.   The group I am with walk at a pretty brisk pace; once again the weather looks as if it will be kind to them.

Having spent two nights accompanying our Block 3s on their annual six day visit to Ullswater, I come back to Bedales as struck as ever by the way that the Outward Bound instructors, working closely with our own Badley tutors (each there with their Block 3 tutor group) and four 6.2 students (Badley Seniors who are attached to tutor groups) guide the students.  The Outward Bound learning style constantly pushes things back to the students for their consideration.  You see them grow as individuals and as a group consequently.   The big outdoors is itself a wonderful tutor.

A clever new building  development means that the geography of the Outward Bound centre has even been developed to help this process:   a series of stylish small wooden buildings, called thinking pods and designed to spur yet better reflective learning, now abuts  the main building .  The absence of mobile phones, the breath-taking beauty of Ullswater and Helvellyn and the presence of so many new people to get to know do the rest.  When the Block 3s enter ordinary Bedales life on Monday they will have a reference point and a way of thinking that should serve them well.

 

Is it all admin?

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Does my life consist of admin? I think this obtuse thought having done some of my early morning farming duties – feeding of chickens (increasingly friendly and productive) and walking of dog (always in search of old tennis ball) – as I walk around the estate, squinting at the Downs through the mist and greeting other early morning dog walkers.

Admin? In Scotland the stress is generally put on the second syllable, which gives it a jauntier feel, but it doesn’t have a jaunty reputation.  I am replaying a conversation I had last weekend at a wedding when I was asked by a teacher – do you spend your whole time doing admin?  No, I said, but now I am thinking about what I do and whether it is admin (however stressed).

DSC_0006 (Large)

Bedales Taster Day

So, let’s give yesterday a whirl.  Big day on interviewing – that was about six hours.  Then, a quick excursion to our outdoor Sotherington Theatre that involved seeing the finale of a feeder school taster day  – a couple of entertaining playlets on quasi classical themes which mixed, for example, the Jack and Jill story with the myth of Sisyphus  (hills/pails/stones etc); all capped by an impromptu lunch of stuffed dates and the most delicious Roman dip of multiple herbs and spices – hypotrimma – courtesy of Head of Classics, Chris Grocock and his wife, Sally, who is a Roman culinary expert.  Seriously tasty and always nice to eat alongside toga-clad folk.

What then?  Some time with a group of parents discussing the importance of the Bedales ethos – how we endeavour to retain the right balance between giving our students an appropriate amount of freedom whilst keeping them safe and fulfilling our statutory responsibilities.  Then a prospective parent, who is Italian, which I always like.

This followed by a major annual landmark moment, which is the final Wednesday afternoon tutor time with my outgoing head boy/head girl team.  We have tea in strong late afternoon sunshine on the terrace at home and devour a jam sponge cake; then I let them know who their successors are going to be – they, along with teachers, having had a strong influence on the final decisions.  Next stage is for the five of us to go over to my office where there is much hugging (by them of the new people) and I meet each of the incoming head student team and pop the question.  The incoming team, accompanied by the outgoing one, then go across to Jaw where they do their first “shush” to much acclamation. It’s all very touching and affirming.  So, many thanks to Becky, Max, Patrick and Bea for all their great work and fine leadership; and congratulations and the best of luck to Luca, Sam, Ce and Michael as they set out on their year’s term of office.

Next thing is Jaw, which is taken by students – brothers Noah and Rafferty and Maisie (6.1 and 2 and Block 4 respectively) who recount their experience of working in refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais over the holidays.  It is a powerful account and one of the strongest pieces of testimony I have heard to the transformative effect of working in those kinds of situations. Handshaking follows.

It’s now 7ish and, after a bit of scurrying around in the office (admin, I suppose) checking some letters and I am over in the main theatre greeting parents whose children are joining Block 3 in September.  We have our usual mixed panel – a range of staff and four students, mainly Block 4s.  The session is followed by a buffet supper in the Dining Hall. The hall is busy with new parents meeting their youngsters’ Badley tutors and house staff.  It is a convivial and productive occasion which always makes me feel good about the term to come and mitigates something of the impending sense of loss which comes with the prospect of losing a 6.2 year group that we have all become very fond of.

Back home to make a phone call to offer that job and then something to eat and a little bit of relaxation.

Admin? Not really.  Plenty varied for sure.

New beginnings starting up

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Schools are refreshed each year by at least a quarter of their students being new.  The process of moving those (135 in Bedales’ case) students from being new to feeling part of the community takes a bit of thought and requires different kinds of (for want of a better word) induction.  This has been the case over the past 12 days with our new Block 3s and 6.1s, who comprise the great majority of those 135.

What are we wanting to accomplish through these inductions?  Three things: familiarity with places and systems; understanding what our values are, in particular the emphasis on close collaboration between teachers and students; and opportunities to get to know the others in their cohort.

So here is how it happens.  Three days before term begins, when teachers are still enmeshed in their in service training, in come the (95) Block 3s – just over half from our prep school, Dunhurst, just under half from about 35 different schools. I talk in the theatre to their parents about what they might expect of the next stage of their children’s education and what we expect of them.

The students then spend just under two days at Bedales when we are able to focus entirely on them and where they have the freedom of the school, enjoying for example a few skittish moments in our sunlit orchard, without any of the big people who can seem very big when you are a smallish 13 year old.  Then, strange though it seems, we whisk them away in two large buses to Ullswater in the Lake District, where, as has now happened for almost 25 years, they have a 6 day course which is specially tailored to the things we most want them to develop in their early time at Bedales – resilience, self-reflection and the ability to work in a team.  Each tutor group has its Badley tutor – the teacher who will work most closely with them – accompanying them, along with the Outward Bound leader.  It is a great 6 days and highly influential, both for them as a group and as individuals.  I (and my two wayward dogs) spend two nights there, one accompanying students on an overnight camp.

For the 6.1s, the journey is very different.  Although the majority of the cohort are students who are continuing through from Block 3 and have therefore been here for three years already, the assimilation of the new 27 students and the fact that the sixth form is a new start for everyone means that you need to give everyone an induction.

Their induction is more cerebral than the Block 3s’ and shorter, with a return a mere 30 hours before the rest of the school and the induction course focussed on the need for increased independent working and leadership.  Whilst the Block 3 induction is mainly focussed on doing, the 6.1s are reminded that good sixth formers are thinkers, readers and questioners.

In many ways the finale of the 6.1 induction is the student-led “Philosophy Of…” conference which, thanks to the good leadership of Becky G and Patrick N, came off splendidly on Saturday morning. More on this next time.

A bundle of virtues and vices

184 190

“Pig – let me speak his praise – is no less provocative of the appetite, than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate. The strong man may batten on him, and the weakling refuseth not his mild juices. Unlike to mankind’s mixed characters, a bundle of virtues and vices, inexplicably intertwisted, and not to be unravelled without hazard, he is – good throughout. No part of him is better or worse than another. He helpeth, as far as his little means extend, all around. He is the least envious of banquets. He is all neighbours’ fare.”

Once you have read Charles Lamb’s A Dissertation upon Roast Pig it is difficult to munch a roast pork sandwich without thinking of that sad genius and his brilliant essay, which crackles with his own delight in the various cooked manifestations of said roasted beast – all neighbours’ fare.

My roast pork sandwich is delicious, definitely good throughout. It is modest in size, leaving room for my plate to be packed with portions of vegetables – two types of beetroot (one simply chopped and another in a sauce), some salad potatoes, some ordinary boiled potatoes, some lettuce and a sweetish piece of onion; and yes, apple sauce. The noteworthy feature of this healthy, homely but delicious platter is that it has all been produced by my hosts – the Block 3s – who have in their tutor groups, under the sway of their Badley tutors and the benign presence of the 6.2s assigned to each group (Badley Seniors), grown and bred this fare. My paper plate sags, especially when a passing pair of Block 3s add a scone with jam and cream on it. (Yes, I know the cream is imported…)

The scene is the grassy outdoor Sotherington theatre, sculpted by 6.2s a few years back and a good suntrap spot for an outdoor gathering.

240 236

Block 3 parents are there; off in the corner is the delicious but diminishing pig too, looking sadder and sadder in his roaster, but still smelling good and tempting us all to return for more. The meal is the product of each group’s project, which was quite simply to grow the food for it.

The earlier part of the day has entailed each student in the tutor group telling the assembled parents about their individual projects – so one has made a poker, with a classy stand, in the school’s forge; another has done a cycling expedition and written about it; and another has got smitten by Arthur Miller and The Crucible in particular. The project is a preparation for the independent work habits that we expect with the Bedales Assessed Courses in the following two years, but also an age-appropriate version of the Extended Project which many of our 6.1s will do.

Some of the Badley Seniors are there too. They have been an integral part of this Block 3 experience, acting as older brother/sister figures to those youngsters who are navigating their way through their first year at Bedales. Leadership roles that are based on mentoring seem to work well here – as well as mirroring a contemporary belief that leadership is more about influence than conspicuous exercise of authority. It is great to see these mixed characters, enjoying the intermittent sunshine and this genial spot in time and in a student’s Bedales journey.

View photos