Curriculum – first 100 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fourth blog is ‘Curriculum – first 100 years’.

When Bedales began in 1893, it was the second of the so-called New Schools, Abbotsholme, where John Badley had begun his teaching career, being the first. Reacting against something (the rigidities and classical basis of the Victorian public school curriculum) was fair enough, but a New School needed to answer two crucial questions: What should be taught? How should it be taught?

My previous reflections on place and relationships show the importance of individuality, personal growth, the influence of environment and balancing the work of head, hand and heart.

So, first of all what do you teach? Move away from dominance of the Classics (Greek and Latin) as the primary way both of teaching your own languages and for training the young brain. In the chapter on The Middle Years in Memories and Reflections (1955) Badley focuses in particular on what would be taught in the Middle Years, before the specialisation required for the School Certificate at 15 or 16. Here just under half of the time was spent on languages (including English) and history. Just over half was taken with Maths, Science and practical training in wood and metal work, domestic economy, music and drawing.

Secondly, how? Have the formal curriculum occupy a smaller proportion of time, but create more variety and increase the pace at which the pupils learn by what we would call now active learning – learning through doing. As a result (again from The Middle Years) teaching would be “as varied as possible, both in subject matter and in manner of treatment”.

Central to the method, the How, was the organisation of the day: the morning given over to “school work” HEAD; the afternoon to “outdoor activities” (farm work and games) HAND; and the evening to “social interaction” HEART.

See below the digest from the start of Badley’s Bedales; A Pioneer School (1923) which gives a handy overview and the brightly coloured timetable from 1903.

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Timetable 1903

 

Pioneer, experimental, new – they are all involve trying things out: and that’s what they did.

Whilst at the Old Bedales, they experimented with extending the usual public school custom of an hour’s work before breakfast to two hours. Result? They abandoned even the one hour, discovering that this led to “so much increased vigour in the rest of the day’s work”. Modern research agrees.

In 1920 Dr Montessori herself visited Dunhurst and admired the work of her protégée, Amy Clarke, the Dunhurst Head. The “project method” (an outcome of John Dewey’s “experimental work”) became an established thing with the older classes at Dunhurst – Badley cites the “building of a Viking ship” as an example: a brilliant example of cross-curricular, learning-through-doing work: “a practical demonstration of the need of various kinds of knowledge and of their inter-relatedness”.

The Dalton Plan was tried for two years in the early 1920s; although it was formally abandoned, the balance between what you were taught in “class work” and what you were expected to do in “individual work” had shifted as a result of the experiment towards the latter.

Other innovations included taking English seriously as a subject: Geoffrey Crump, appointed Senior English Master in 1919, was said to be one of the first of his kind in an English Public School.

Turning to the national educational scene, the role of Bedales in establishing the first Design O Level in the 1970s resulted from the school’s unusual position in combining Craft, Design and Technology and in the inspirational work of Biff Barker and David Butcher. In the mid 1970s over 80% of a year group took Design O Level.

In summary, in 1911 in one of his Talks in Peace and War on “the intellectual side of school work”, Badley gives three reasons for this kind of work: use (ie. the practical benefit your subjects give you), pleasure and training. It is unsurprising that in the rest of the talk he majors on pleasure: “true ambrosial food” can as naturally come from Science as from literature and great art. The educational experience should shape each pupil’s life through the New School being “a place full of active and joyous life”. (Bedales: A Pioneer School)

Next week – Bedales Assessed Courses.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Making time

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The emphasis that Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) have on coursework and the conclusion of those courses at the end of this month means that this stage in the Spring Term  entails much making and doing – whether your creation is an English Literature essay, your History chronicles, a gargantuan Utopia project, a student-crafted play or your Design artefact, we are coming into the zenith of the season of Block 5 doing and making.

The new Art & Design building is always an interesting place to visit, but doing so around midday on Sunday was especially gripping.  Turn right and you’re in a beautiful Fashion Design studio full of Block 5s making sumptuous clothes: here is Lettie’s MRI-scan themed tie-dyed (and multi-coloured) corset. By contrast there is Mia’s magpie themed (suitably black) dress with its multiple feathery tassel bits.  Over by the window pinned to the mannequin is Tiger’s shapely aquamarine sea-water-themed chiffon dress; and so she mulls:  the ripples in the chiffon are suitable, it seems, but when does a ripple become a ruck?  The 60s tend to feature – and, yes, here is an octagon inspired dress: Fleur is mapping out the octagons’ geometry – tricky work.

Over in the Product Design side, Cian is sanding his maple clock and Goose has created the most exotic of tables, with a mariner’s top and a bark-covered base which will be coated in a PVA and water mix to ensure it lasts.  Lily is making a very different table which has a reversible top – backgammon on one side and general purpose on the other.  Jack’s wellie and coat holder has involved some serious welding and is at least as tall as I am.  Joel’s glider launcher combines an electric motor with a crafty take-off pad, whilst Archie’s Cooking Camping Stove Unit even has a mini cool box – handy indeed.  Happily the new Jewellery Bay has had some action. MIllie’s steel bracelet needs some intricate cutting.

The patient students have to put up with my nosey questions – about materials and thought processes; but I find it as interesting as I do encouraging.  There is real pride in what they are doing and such a sense of purpose infusing the whole weekend: teachers, technicians and students are working closely together.

Next stop, Bedales Dance Performs on Thursday evening.

Impressive and ambitious BAC Design projects

Quick tootle round Design on Sunday afternoon: it’s the second of the BAC all-in weekends for the Block 5s and there is an air of focussed, calmly urgent industry as the students work towards the end of term BAC deadline. BAC Design happily allows for a good level of ambition in the choice of project and, mirroring the design process in later life, puts the emphasis on design and making, rather than diverting a great deal of time to writing up and neatly presenting the writing product. So, Ed B-W is enmeshed (expertly, I know) in the guts of his proto-laptop, soldering like a dervish. Abbie A’s clever piece of furniture looks like a neat, deep coffee table, but can magic into a bed. Jasper F-W’s mahogany and ash bench has lovely curves and will be good for two. Vincent H’s table looks, well, very chipboard and rather boxy..silly me, it’s a mould!  And, taking a leaf out of the building technique that gave the Orchard Building its structural core, he is going to pour concrete into the mould and make a concrete table that, in the great tradition of the Arts & Crafts, is true to the material. An impressive variety of pieces which has me egging them on mentally towards what I am sure will be great final products. And all made possible by such committed colleagues –  Ben, Alex and Mo who are hard at work, advising and cajoling.

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.

Mind-stretching opportunity

Friday lunchtime and it’s time to plant a lime tree: joining my four tutees (head boys and girls), we are the last of the tutor groups to do this; planting the penultimate tree of the stately line of limes that will increasingly mark the entrance to the school. Much talk about trees as we wait by our spades: how many we have, plant and how to look after them. Well, that was my project for the day – OK, a bit of a cheat, really –  in the great tradition of quasi-ceremonial tree-planting, the hole had been beautifully dug (out of dense clay) by a crafty (mechanical) digger before we did the nurturing bit with compost, tree-food, stamping and bark.

But it’s in the evening when the projects really get going as, in the SLT, we have the first of the 6.1 Extended Project presentations. The EP gives any 6.1 who chooses to do it a mind-stretching opportunity to pursue anything they want: they are assessed (for their resulting AS grade) entirely on the process – it’s all about planning, research and independent study – the best kind of learning through doing. And it is a shimmering display of enquiry and endeavour as we heard the seven presentations – each for 10 minutes with 5 minutes’ questions. Elize L on Tellling a Story through Dance. Emily H on A Brief History of the English Language. Maddy G on The Morality of Punishment.  Kristaan F on The Physical and Mental Effects of Aeronautical Activity. Archie H on How Steam Changed the World and why is is important to preserve it. Felix C on Eames Chair Build. And Sam W on Computer Security. Wonderful to see the confidence and ingenuity of the presentations – some with touches of the most expressive of TV presenters; one with more than a hint of the great Steve Jobs. But above all, it was the reflective comments that showed how much learning had gone on: “I hadn’t realised how much work there would be creating such a complex artefact.” “I wanted to get better at planning and I feel I did.” “If I could do my EP again I would do it again as a magazine [rather than as a website].”  And the sheer enthusiasm: “it was much more fun to do this than doing my [other AS] work.”  “I was really enthralled.”  Well, so were we.

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.

Talented song-writers shine at Bedales Rock Show

Hats off for Bedales music! What a week it has been! With our musicians filling St Luke’s, Chelsea with a rich and ambitious programme of classical music on Wednesday lunchtime and then the Rock Show on Thursday and Friday evenings, the full span is on display.  Both concerts are testimony to admirable teamwork, inspired teaching and painstaking, professional preparation and, of course, sheer talent across the traditions. Not only does the Rock Show benefit from a core of musicians who happily encompass both the classical and contemporary, but a number of the Rock Show numbers mine deeply into the classical tradition: strings and brass run strongly through the evening. A number of the same fine voices that we heard at St Luke’s are there in the theatre. Although it is great to hear strong renditions of current and old favourites, it is above all the pieces that our own talented song-writers have composed that are the most spell-binding and help make the Rock Show a wonderful testament to student creative drive.

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.

Teaching craft and mystery at Bedales

Observing fellow teachers at work is one of the plum bits of this job – and the last 10 days have been full of it, as I have seen all our new teachers in action. Two venerable words always spring to mind when I see someone teach: craft and mystery. As a compulsive etymology geek I can’t resist a scamper through the heritage of these words: so craft, with its main meaning here as “the skills in carrying out one’s work” carries plenty of the “activity involving skill in making things by hand” and even a little nuance of “guile”. Mystery was the word used to describe a handicraft or trade, but then the modern use, as in mysterious, came to the fore, because the practices of these skills or trades were hidden from others. (Sorry about that, but couldn’t resist it..)  Back to the teacher’s craft or mystery and what I have seen in the classes I have observed: an exploration of the links between the religions of the Iroquois, Hindu and Genesis (Block 3 RS); inflation’s causes and its definition (6.1 Economics); different kinds of film and how to say whether you love or loathe them (Block 3 French); good and bad cholesterol and heart disease (6.1 Biology); and how to defeat your opponent in a one-to-one situation on the hockey field (Block 4 Sport). Watching good teaching and seeing and hearing students learn is always a tonic. However experienced you are as a teacher you always learn both from seeing others teach and from having someone feed back on your teaching. But however much you can analyse and itemize the techniques used – the pedagogies, if you want a fancy word – there is at the heart of all successful teaching an emotional transaction, the mystery (there we go) and even the cunning that lie at the heat of the teacher’s craft.  That’s often quite a primitive, visceral thing: so, do I, young human X, really feel that I want to listen and learn from you, older human Y. Well, now you mention it, yes…