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.

Hiraeth, hefting and hygge

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Soon to re-visit Trieste and woken early by owls, I am reading Jan Morris’ poignant slim volume Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere.  An extraordinary book about an extraordinary place, it introduces me to the Welsh word hiraeth which has no direct translation into English; she describes it in her introduction as “an unspecified yearning”.   Inklings of Spring bring hiraeth for some – perhaps most famously in T.S. Eliot’s opening to The Waste Land.   Here, whether it is through the Bedales Orchard’s return to pedestrian use (although please avoid the daffodils), the contented snuffling of Lucky’s new litter in the Black Barn, my first view of a red kite over the Orchard Building or the Dunannie Spring Festival, I find myself thinking more of the word used by Lake District shepherds to describe the way that their sheep become attached to a particular piece of ground – hefting.

The Dunannie Spring Festival combines dance, song, poetry and film.  We have strip the willow, owl and humming bird songs, touches of Oliver and Sound of Music and splendid haikus, the most striking being those in the voices of birds. Here is a sample – thanks to Sebbie, Tom, Oscar and Ted (see below).  The Festival ends with the film of a homemade Spring Watch episode, Dunannie-style, featuring daffodil girls, snow drop queens, pupil rabbits and spring poets, all surely hefted in their orchard.

Hiraeth and hefting are words which have a poignant twist for anyone lucky enough to be at The Middle East Society Civics given by William Sieghart on Tuesday evening. Having set up the Middle East Society after spending most of my sabbatical term in 2009 in that region – Cairo mainly, but Jordan and Syria afterwards – it is pleasing to witness an occasion like this when we have not only a wonderfully clear account of the problems facing the Israelis and the Palestinians but also such a clear sense of the broader responsibility that Europe has for what has happened there.  It is intriguing and humbling to hear about the work that William has been so closely involved with in helping community leaders from both sides gain a better understanding of each other and of the links between this region, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Attending a talk like this must whet your appetite to know more, I think, as the questions to William flow.  Lucky us to have this talk and lucky us to have the unusual blessing of a beautiful secure place to live in and a society whose discords do not threaten our lives.

Hygge is on my mind too: this Danish term, maybe a bit over bought in the Christmas hype, is the subject of an Extended Project (EP) that I am overseeing.  The EP folk – some 1/3 of the 6.1s – have the exhibition of their work in the Library this week and then are in over the weekend completing their pieces.   Here’s trusting that there will be communal hygge as they survey their work and reflect on how much they have learned about managing projects and the thrill that can accompany a single-minded pursuit of what intrigues you.

Albatross
By Sebbie

The albatross flies,

Viciously eats fish for life,

He shimmers the sky

 

Little Brown Owl
By Tom

Brown, silky feathers,

Illuminous eyes glowing

Scampering for prey

 

Tawny Owl
By Oscar

The glow in the sun

Shines on my feathery breast

Brown with speckled white

 

Sparrow Hawk
By Ted

Ready for action,

Dive with speed amazingly fast,

Sweet delicious prey

Teachers Matter

In the wake of Professor Stephen Hawking’s testimony to the influence of his Maths teacher from St Alban’s School, we have our very own Professor Alan Lucas, former student of Dunhurst and Bedales, giving us a powerful account of how an inspirational Bedales Biology teacher, Andrew Routh, changed his life.

The occasion was Civics, when Alan Lucas, speaking to students and parents, told the story of his extraordinary journey of ground-breaking research into paediatric nutrition.  In the audience was Andrew Routh, aged 91, the Biology teacher who had particularly inspired Alan during the later stages of his time at Bedales in the early 1960s.

Gemma Klein Photography

OB Alan Lucas with his former teacher, Andrew Routh

Alan’s description of the Damascene moment when his weak academic trajectory started to climb was particularly telling: his Physics teacher, Bill Crocker, sees him dawdling over a piece of work and gives him a strong verbal prod – “Who do you think you’re doing it for, me? No, you’re doing it for yourself.”  That comment changed his whole approach to school, making him an early riser and hard worker: it changed his life; he then went on to outstrip the two other undergraduates on the same course at Clare College, Cambridge who had been to a school with a much more “coercive, carrot-dangling ethos.”  Alan put his success down to this formula:  “inspiring teaching + life-changing self-motivating remark + freedom to develop in my own way.”

Currently Chair of Paediatric Nutrition at UCL and Fellow of Clare College, Alan has been instrumental in changing the way that babies all over the world are fed through alerting the medical world, not only to the importance of breast-feeding but to the effects of early nutrition on long term health and development.  The advice being given to nations across the world – whether by their own governments or by the World Health Organisation – is influenced by his work.

Like Stephen Hawking, Alan extolled the importance of inspirational teaching – both the kind he had here but also at university where university academics need to have the excellent presentational skills that the best teachers deploy. His advice to the students “If a teacher inspires you, try to analyse how they do it, because that is a great thing to learn.”

Alan spoke briefly last night about what he did when he won the James Spence medal for life-time achievement in British paediatrics.  When I talked with him in the autumn he told me the full story.  As soon as he had won this award, he phoned up Andrew Routh and told him “We’ve won a medal.”  He then drove down to Hampshire to see Andrew to show him the medal, congratulate him, thank him and, as he said last night: “We had a moment then.”

For any of us lucky enough to spend time with Alan and Andrew last night, it is difficult to feel anything other than gratitude for the power of great teaching and life-altering scientific research.

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Andrew Routh during his teaching days at Bedales

Fast and slow lanes

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Catching the immediate aftermath of a Jacob’s lamb’s birth at 6.30 this morning and seeing the careful advice tendered by Andrew Martin (Head of Outdoor Work) to the student helping him (hold the lamb by the back legs and at its mother’s head height), I find myself yet more inclined to write about the things that schools usually do not do, rather than what they generally do do.

Here we are at the start of the main public exam term and it is tempting for heads to feel a little bit like the Roman battleship commander (iconic scene in the Kirk Douglas Spartacus springs to mind) who, faced with imminent battle, whips up the tempo of the galley’s drums so that the poor, sweating wretches chained to their oars increase their tempo to ramming speed. But, fear not.

The main pre-term INSET session for most of the Bedales staff was of the useful kind – two sessions where we were taught by a colleague about something we knew little or nothing about; so I found myself learning initially about the Russian and Greek alphabets; and then having an introduction to coding. Reminding yourself what it is to be a learner is a vital tonic for all teachers.

The other inspiration for the start of term was reading the last Harry Eyres Slow Lane column from the FT Weekend. I started reading the FT Weekend a long time before joining Bedales and appreciating that the FT’s CEO is an OB – John Ridding, who I asked down to talk here a while back. Harry Eyres came too and did a typically thoughtful Civics a few years back and his ruminative, countercultural writing has always chimed with me. So, I used it as the basis for my brief, welcome back assembly to the Bedales boarders on Sunday evening. The gist of it being that the Fast Lane momentum of exam preparation and timetables is strong and dominant and will run its course; try also to set aside some time to engage with the slower, more profound world that surrounds us, especially in this beautiful part of England.

I then outlined Harry Eyres’ ambition, as outlined in his final article:

“My ambition has been to set out a workable alternative to the romantic escapism of Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree. We can enrich our necessarily limited time by learning a short poem by heart, or even writing one; by returning to those viola or clarinet studies we gave up as teenagers, and finding that we can engage with the music in a deeper way and make it our own by popping in to a museum or gallery to see not a vast, intimidating blockbuster exhibition but just one dearly loved painting; or by playing, at whatever level and with whatever physical limitations, a sport you love rather than watching overpaid narcissists on TV….Many of these suggestions have involved a return to the active rather than the passive mode. Doing, making, healing, cooking, caring, conversing face to face, writing proper letters, rambling in nature – all seem to me infinitely more satisfying than merely buying things, being passively “entertained” by images on screens or engaging in various forms of digital non-communication.”

He goes on to talk about the “food for the soul” – above all poetry and music. We always have music at these assemblies – and often poetry so we started the term with the aforementioned Yeats and had a contrasting Larkin magical moment – Water, which for me captures the Eyres spirit of finding the extraordinary in the apparently mundane.

Thinking back to what I witnessed in the Hampshire dawn – anxious ewe, tottering lamb, kindly adult’s advice and a student’s initial lambing lesson – I suspect that the student will remember that moment even longer than she will today’s routine lessons.


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.

Appreciating the frailty of civil liberties

How do you jog young people into appreciating the frailty of civil liberties? Bring someone like Andrei Sannikov to speak to them. For many, an abstract concept was made real, as his story and that of his sister, Irina Bogdanova, who also spoke, unfolded at Civics last night. We started the evening seeing a ten minute film about Andrei, co-founder of Free Belarus, and in particular the consequences for him and his supporters of standing up against President Lukashenko, as they did on 19 December 2010 when they mounted a peaceful demonstration in central Minsk. The shots of the riot police beating their shields in unison and then charging at the demonstrators was chilling; Andrei had both his legs broken and was imprisoned, initially with a five year sentence for “organising mass disorder”. It was only after considerable intervention from Amnesty International and other humanitarian organisations that he was released. Granted political asylum in the UK and living now with his sister in Woking, Free Belarus, the movement for democratic change that he leads now continues to lobby for action against Lukashenko, in particular through economic sanctions. Andrei’s dignity and courage, understated and (in the best sense) modest, came over powerfully as he talked of the continuing struggle, of the links between corruption and dictatorship, of being in a Minsk jail (“horrid”), of the importance of organisations that work for human rights and of the need never to take civil liberties for granted.  Note to self is to ensure that a regular thread within our range of visiting speakers is someone who can speak from personal experience about their own struggle for liberty.

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.

Civics provides privileged insight into international affairs

Bedales students have benefited from an enviable range of talks given by people whose work allows them a privileged insight into international affairs – Andrew Mitchell (now Minister for Overseas Development) and Sir Peter Wall (now Head of the British Army), for example. Tuesday’s Civics was such an occasion when Sir John Holmes gave us a tremendous insight into the complex world of humanitarian aid and the fraught area of intervention in other countries’ affairs. John’s experience with the Northern Ireland peace process, as ambassador in Portugal and Paris, and then in charge of the United Nations Emergency Relief operations gave him the ability to engage and enlighten an avid audience of students and staff: where does the doctrine of responsibility to protect begin and end? what difference to a country’s responsibilties might it make if its military intervention has been confined to the air? how did Rwanda change the consensus on intervention? how do you balance the twin imperatives of peace and justice in such a resolution like that of Northern Ireland?  how to reform the UN?  what are the limitations of moral outrage?  We ended up with a vote on international intervention in Syria;  happily –  and not least because John had outlined the context with such clarity –  the vote was a resounding NO!

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School


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.

The balance and pace of life

Thought-provoking and engaging evening with the FT’s Slow Lane columnist Harry Eyres: at Civics, Harry’s gentle style, lightly worn range of reference and deft ability to challenge orthodoxies provoke good discussions on the balance in our lives: work/life, human/nature and virtual/real. Intriguing links are developed between economics, environmentalism and pace of life. If the Slow Movement (which started in Piedmont in 1989 with the Slow Food movement) had a coherent educational wing, what would be its curriculum and how would its day be organised? Harry’s sense was that much time would be devoted to the classics – not only the well-known Greek and Roman works, but also the great classical works of ancient China; and that things such as smart phones, with their tendency to distract and prevent us from engaging at the level which you can with a book, would need to take a back seat. Central to the evening was an awareness that all too easily humanity gets pushed to one side; well captured in his plea that we need to “re-discover the lost art of conviviality”.

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.