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.

Literature: adapting for today

Tempting though it might be to lob into the current debate on co-ed vs single sex education, I won’t. There are schools of all complexions and degrees of quality: the fit for your child and the quality of the school are far more important criteria for parental choice than gender mix.

More pressing in my mind is the business of reading and how the great literature of the past is adapted for a modern audience.

But first, to the topical.  A question I tend to ask of Bedales students on their return from holiday is: “Have you read or seen anything interesting?” Quite often they will choose to talk about what they have read – often their reading is different from mine, although,as an avid book review scanner, I tend to be aware of their books’ existence; often my reading is informed by what students are reading; occasionally the conversation dips into my talking about what I have been reading over the holidays.  I am always interested in what was the spur to their reading – a friend or a teacher, usually.  It is worth noting that by reading, I neither (of course) mean fiction nor sitting down with a printed volume – but I do think that students are increasingly aware that there is a qualitative difference between the browsing and article-scanning that internet-based research tends to involve and the in-depth, sustained concentration that reading a conventional book, whether on a kindle or on paper, requires.

I will return in a later blog to some of the choices that students are making in their own reading and to mine, but now to the link  between this and its adaptation for a modern audience.  Dickens, Shakespeare and Tolstoy – there you go, three big names we can scare ourselves with; but they are all pertinent to this debate and its central question: what license has the modern adapter to communicate these authors’ works to today’s audience?

Dickens is dear to my heart for reasons similar to why Orwell is – as an author whose writing had a significant effect in shaping our national consciousness and in reflecting back to us what was fair, decent and humane in the way in which we treat our fellow human beings.  Dickens should be read – or if not read, should be known about, so, although I return to Dickens every Christmas (Our Mutual Friend this one), I am as much interested in how he is brought alive for TV as anything; so it was good finally to see one of the current Dickens soap-opera Dickensian last night. Having been snooty about the idea (that you create a story out of a miscellany of Dickens characters), I thought it was cracking telly and engaged the audience with the delight and quirkiness of his characters.  It must also motivate people to read more of him.

The jury is out on how the views of the immensely talented Emma Rice, the new director of the Globe Theatre, will translate to that wonderful outdoor space, with its central role in advancing our Shakespearean heritage in this the year when we celebrate his  400th birthday.  I am all in favour of re-apportioning roles between the genders – to redress the fact that only 16% of lines in Shakespeare are allocated to women, but less confident that her approach to ironing out some of the difficulties in the language will do much else other than drain the richness out of his words.  Tom Sutcliffe’s piece in The Guardian is strong on this.

Finally, to Tolstoy and the good-looking new adaptation.  As a number of commentators have pointed out, it is trying to play the Downton trick: presenting us with a bewitchingly attractive world from the past that never existed and weaving a story out of it – good, escapist fun, but little to do with England or Russia respectively.  I doubt many people will pick up the mighty tome of War and Peace as a result of it – neither will they be alerted to the radical side of Tolstoy which made him such a controversial figure, as well, incidentally, as a big admirer of Bedales (yes, true..). I suspect that social historians in 30 years’ time will be discussing these shows for what they say about how we see ourselves now.

If that sounds curmudgeonly, let me end on a more upbeat note: the fact that the triple peaks of these three great authors are so much in the public eye is a feature of our national cultural life that most countries sadly lack and that we should be (of course, quietly) proud of.  Schools and teachers have no excuse not to be the beneficiaries.



Big glad day

A whirligig of happenings over the past few days, starting on Friday evening. First jolly – it’s the BPA fundraising party and I am dressed like an old-fashioned, properly messy artist (it being dress, artistic, you see) with a paint patina-ed apron and a droopy silk handkerchief, calling everyone out of the evening sun into the marquee where things are auctioned (sheep, attendance at film premieres, a holiday in Barbados) and Bedalians raise the tone through playing their music, with their mums and dads bopping in front. (Stop press: circa £60K raised – hoorah! and a huge thank you to the brilliant parent volunteers, student helpers, catering staff and generous donors and buyers of prizes.)

Saturday morning, Parents’ Day proper and we’re off: one of the best hours of the year is the first – my quiet, pad around the Art & Design exhibition before anyone else is there and so I can see it all without needing to be polite and, being of course a unitasker, therefore being distracted. So, here’s an amazing face in oils with the most bewitchingly ugly lips, there’s some semi-melted pottery, there (Gallery now) is a molten face shape with a painted face behind, here (Workshop now) is a chair inspired by I.M. Pei (Mr Louvre, I see) and not just any old ruff and bodice but Marie Antoinette-inspired women’s wear.

I could stay here all day, there being so much that is intriguing and beautiful, but no, off to the Dance display where, as an unagile person who had only been coaxed into the briefest of shuffles in my apron, I watch 70 minutes of pieces conjured from the minds of dance students and their inspiring teachers – Rosie Nash and Liz Richards. But, can’t dawdle too long because it is well after noon and Moony and I are scampering over the Mem Pitch to be part of the opening of the Kadian Observatory – the bit of the day that I will always remember: Kadian’s friends, builders of this observatory, now well grown up, stand proudly in front of this beautiful mini rotunda as Peter Coates, Michael Truss, Thomas Harding speak before Kadian’s sister Sam cuts the ribbon and it is open – a wonderful memorial to Kadian and one that will inspire more wonder.

Then, scuttling back to the Theatre to find it hosting the scratch drama Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, a powerful piece using actors across the community, with an urgent message about the prevalence of Aids and its continuing impact. Lunch will need to wait as the drumbeat summons us to the farewell to Tony Layzell, drum teacher here for 27 years and former drummer with The Bachelors, a group who my parents shuffled to, I think. Music of another kind beckons and past the massed picnics of the Orchard we go to the Library where, amongst the fine exhibition of OB maps and photos, we find Clare Jarmy‘s madrigalists singing to us from the upstairs balcony: timeless, ethereal…But, though the spirit is buoyed up and willing sustenance is needed and a brief pit-stop required, but brief it must be because, although there is a light shower, the musicians are probably singing by Steephurst now, which they were, but truncated by a refreshing shower. The roaming barbershop quartet (dressed in their bespoke waistcoats designed by singer-designer Alex Y) helpfully sing to the assembled marquee to help still them so I can announce the Swaziland raffle winners. Then it is OBs in the pigeon-hole cafe for a quick welcome and pep talk – will see them later at their 10th and 25th year reunions – and presentations to four long-serving colleagues who have reached the 25 year watershed – John Barker (Arts Coordinator), David McClunan (Sports Facility Maintenance Technician), John Scullion (Deputy Managing Head) and Peter Coates (Head of Outdoor Work).

The last daylight stop is to the Summer Concert where we start in the Quad with the guttural chords of Carmina Burana and end in Boys’ Flat courtyard with the delicacy of Sir John Taverner’s ThLamb. The most striking feature of the concert is the series of virtuoso performances by a quartet of outstandingly capable musicians who have given so much to school music over their four or five years. Here is Olivia B’s melodically lamenting Cleopatra; there is Daniel R, rapt with concentration over his double bass (Vivaldi’s Sonata III), Callum A, feet and hands a blur on the organ (J. S.Bach’s Toccata in F); Josh G tackling a clarinet piece designed to be of fiendish complexity to challenge the most able (Messager’s Solo de Concours) and Immy W bringing across Bernstein’s complex blend of classical pastiche and contemporary musical styles (Glitter and be Gay). A big, glad day.

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.

Midsummer Moomin

Invigorated from seeing so much activity at the Dunhurst Parents’ Day on Saturday – dancing, drama improvising, pottery and weaving (and that’s merely a fraction of what’s on offer) – I find myself drawn into the big tent and into the world of the Moomins, for the Harlan (music and lyrics) and Kingsley-Pallant (direction) production of Tales from Moominvalley, a wonderful meeting of creative talents and a show for the mental scrapbook. What a creation is Moomin! And how brilliantly have Simon and Ben captured it! Entranced by the performances by the evocatively named and intriguing characters – Little My, Sniff, Fillyjonk etc – I am putty in their dramatic hands. There is something about this wonderfully quirky and vulnerable performance that captures the anxieties, bizareness and (often baseless) fears of early adolescence beautifully. Stephen York’s stylish and clever set is scampered over nimbly by scores of young actors as Simon manages his usual feat of everyone’s involvement. It is an extraordinary happening – and one that it is difficult to imagine happening at any other school.

Moomin is now so much in my head: how did it pass me by first time round? Was it barred from the Fylde Coast, like much that was culturally interesting? I suspect not, but perhaps I missed the first wave as the books were only translated into English in the early 1960s and maybe I was thought to be post-Moomin when they finally emerged in the North; or perhaps I was already putty in the hands of Willard Price (African Adventure etc) and Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy.

The other person who is very much in my head is Alan Bennett – more than usual that is, as I am a big fan. This is partly because I was so tickled by Harry Enfield’s rendition of Alan Bennett playing Stalin in his and Paul Whitehouse’s excellent comic take on 50 years of BBC2, but also because Bennett has had another go at private schools, saying that they are not fair. Reassuringly, he says, the revolution will be a gradual one with the “amalgamation of state and public schools at sixth form level”. Well, well. More pertinent but as misleading is the spin put by the BBC on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Ofsted report on competitive sport: it is recounted as if it is somehow the fault of the independent sector that 40% of the British medal winners at the London Olympics were privately educated, rather than, as the report suggests, a major failure of the maintained sector that competitive sport is so patchy there.

Excitement about Moomins, Bennett, Wilshaw, Wimbledon and even end of term reports will, of course, be sidelined by the prospect of Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie Summer Party this Friday, when, having bought your ticket, you can bid for experiences as various as a week at a house in Barbados or Norfolk, two tickets to the world premiere of the next Bond film, the Bedales gypsy caravan or even a Bedales Jacob sheep – dead or alive.

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.

Forward musings

The weekend brings much forward-looking: our 6.1s, returned after their AS modules, are immersed in matters to do with Higher Education, whilst parents of Block 4s downwards come to a Parents’ Forum to hear about the plans to reform A Levels from 2015 onwards.

The 6.1 UCAS weekend has had its current intensive flavour for a while: a lengthy session on Friday when they are brought up close to the UCAS application procedure, with particular help on their personal statement from a visiting expert from the University of Southampton; the Beyond Bedales fair on Saturday when 55 recent Old Bedalians return to offer their advice on places and courses; and on Sunday a session for parents, which a number of students also attended, on the ways in which we help our students gain a place at the higher education destination of their choice. This year the top destination for our students on a ten year basis is Oxford (pipping Leeds and Bristol). Edinburgh continues its march upwards as a destination, now that the attraction of the higher fee from the English students outweighs the previous favouring of Scots-based ones. At the Beyond Bedales fair it is reassuring and touching to hear how many of the OB undergraduates benefited from this occasion in its early stages two or three years ago. Warm proselytising on behalf of the more far flung universities is afoot – come to St Andrews, it’s fab! Durham is a must! Conversations that happened on Saturday will influence where and what a number of our current 6.1s will study between 2015 and at least 2020.

Meanwhile, much more crystal ball polishing is going on in the theatre at the Parents’ Forum where Bedales Director of Teaching and Learning, Alistair McConville and I outline the likely sixth form assessment landscape from 2015 onwards. Three A Levels are the thing, as they pretty much are now, but you get there differently – rather as (yes, really) we all did before the Tait-led reforms of 2000; so you take your exams at the end. That’s the simple bit. The tricksy bit is twofold: how you arrive at your destination and how you run the new system alongside the old system from 2015 to 2018. More anon by way of some detailed feedback from this meeting and outline on what to look out for next, but no one can expect anything definite until the full specifications are published in the early autumn.

Back here at the homestead, having seen our valiant hen, Mrs Green (assumed missing, nabbed by Freddy Fox in my 9 May blog, but mysteriously restored after having camped out overnight) see off in short order sundry creatures proverbially more courageous – a Jack Russell, a Westie and a squirrell – I am repenting ever having made the silly connection between hens and cowardice. This new-found open-mindedness will prepare me well for imminent report writing.

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.

Passing muster

Wednesday evening’s assembly brings an unlikely combination of threads that need to be woven together: the announcement of the new head student team, the publication of our ISI inspection report and the annual appearance of at least one dog. The first is relatively straightforward as, by tradition, the new team merely appear and do their first “shush”, so big cheers (literally too) for Rob M, Margaret R, Esme A and Roly B who have been chosen after a long process, which began with their agreeing to be put forward, a school vote and then plenty of staff discussion. Then we at last receive the final version of our ISI inspection report: happily, not too much of the inspectors’ warm enthusiasm for the schools has been tempered by that shadowy figure, the Editor, and both the reports – the Bedales one and the Dunhurst & Dunannie one – read glowingly and take me back to the wonderfully heartening 2 1/2 hours of verbal feedback we had on the final day of last term.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the dog? I am already slimming the canine element down as last year the annual dog assembly featured about 8 labradors and culminated in the appearance of the most cuddly of labradoodle puppies. So, the need to tell the school about the inspection and to introduce the idea of criteria means that we are confined to one dog – the unwisely named Budge dog Zazu – who, carefully managed by former deputy head girl Freya D, allows herself to be used as an example of labradorness. With the aid of the 18 Kennel Club criteria for what makes for the ideal labrador, I make a quick series of judgements on her various dimensions and characteristics: so, well done on not being cow-hocked and yes, you look close-coupled with half decent withers, but, oh dear,  bad luck with the feathery tail – not ottery enough, so merely good, certainly not excellent.

On to the report itself: above all I want the students to know that their close engagement with the their work and their warm, mutually respectful relationships with their teachers over recent years have been a massive factor in enabling this; also, their love of learning, inspired by their teachers, is evident not only in what the inspectors observed but also in the work that the inspectors scrutinized and in the results achieved – it is not just a matter of turning on the charm and the brains for a few days. Also, I want them to see that this has all been done within the Badley ideals, so we close with a picture of The Chief, looking suitably thoughtful, with his rather labradorish eyes.

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.

Naming rights

Catching up on the teachers’ nomenclature debate (“Miss’ might be insulting, but calling teachers by their first names should never be allowed. End of”, Telegraph, 14 May 2014) I find myself surprised at the doctrinaire views being expressed. Although, happily, I don’t need to worry about the nuances of ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’, it has never struck me that there is harm attached to either, or that ‘Miss’ (generally pronounced so that it becomes a hybrid between Miss, Ms and Mrs) is pernicious; neither do I object to teachers being called by their preferred title and surname. If pushed, I prefer the latter, as did the founder of Bedales, Mr Badley.

Here, teachers have been called by their first names since the late 1930s. This occurred gradually when, following the school’s return from its annual camp in Devon, where first name terms were generally adopted, some of the younger teachers allowed students to call them by their first names; returning to Steep, the practice continued and gradually became accepted, although Mr Badley continued as Mr Badley through to his death aged 103 in 1967. I, however, am Keith.

Like many good things here, this welcome practice has come about through an organic process – a kind of gradual erosion of one texture or fabric and its replacement by a more pliable and comfortable one. The starched collar has given way to durable Egyptian cotton: It works well for us here.

Returning to the article by Helen Fraser, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, an organisation that I admire, I find it surprising to hear her say that an alternative to the traditional model cannot work in a different context. We British have a quaint, understandable but illogical tendency to think that tradition and formality lead to respect and order. To say (as Helen does) that “calling teachers by their first name…diminishes the respectful relationship that should exist between a teacher and his or her student” is misguided and plain wrong. I will invite her to come to Bedales and see mutual respect operating unhindered by the warm traffic of first names swapped between teachers and students, although I will give her the option of being called Ms Fraser throughout her visit if she prefers.

There is a broader, perhaps more serious point here, which is that I would no more try to foist our friendly but respectful first name custom on other schools than I would suggest they hang up their uniforms: schools have their own integrity and need to be allowed to develop their customs and cultures accordingly.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

Keith Budge and Bedales' Head Students

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.