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

Technicolor worlds, bravely lit

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday was one of the highly flavoured days when I have a series of technicolor moments that animate life, even in November’s neutral tones, and make me feel very lucky to be doing the job I am.

Bedales Notices first thing not only includes adverts for the forthcoming Hunger Banquet, production of Medea and visit to Florence (please wear a coat too), but a Movember message from moustachioed men: the message from Boys’ Flat housemaster duo Chris Bott and Peter Thackrey is about men’s health – let’s talk about it, blokes – but it’s done with humour and humanity.

Over to Dunhurst now for my weekly lesson with Block 1 English and another short poem for us to explore. After reading short gems like Larkin’s Cut Grass and local lad Thomas’s Adlestrop, this week we are talking about Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole. 

The Block 1’s initial insights are impressive and I think of an adage a recent interviewee slipped in (“Children can smell qualilty..”) as I move along the corridor to the packed hall where Dunannie’s production of The Tempest is about to begin.

The children have been engaged in the story both through their teachers and through a visiting story teller. It’s clear from the first moment that the Dunannie children have truly inhabited the story. The adaptation, wonderfully constructed by teachers Camilla Bell and Catherine Claasen, with music by Ben Harlan and Mea Wade, comprises twelve scenes that light the imagination.


Anchored especially in my mind’s album are moments such as the Boatswains’ song with its great rhymes, the evil Duke’s wicked single black glove, Caliban’s green gloves and the meeting between Miranda (with her classy umbrella) and the marooned Prince Ferdinand.

There’s something magical about The Tempest, which is a dramatisation of a kind of fairy tale, being brought to life by such a young audience, with parents and grandparents looking on as this tale of greed and envy being redeemed by forgiveness and the hope of youth is played out.

Bravo, Dunannie!

Building speak

“Duskily glowing, I always think,” murmurs Mem Library, as if to himself.

“What are you burbling on about, now? Do I detect a recurrence of literary reference, august friend and neighbour?”

“You can hardly blame me for being a bit literary, what with all my books – and that ‘duskily glowing’ just seems to capture how the mid January evening sun feels on my flank of an evening – lovely, you know? And it’s from Edward Thomas, y’know; he’s one of ours, a Steep fellow.”

“I suppose it’s fine for you to be a bit pleased with yourself – ‘most beautiful school library, jewel of the late Arts & Crafts’ blah, blah blah! It’s not fair: lots of interesting  things happen in your much visited, Grade listed 1 interior – and you are so warm; here I am with my lovely crucks, my bold austerity, my Powell clock, my Grade 1 status too, my sleek benches and all I have is some music and a bit of LAMDA – not for me the constant patter of student feet, those fascinating exhibitions of warriors and that recurrent lovely shhhh! Sound –“

“It’s your benches – they are too many – and they are too hard.”

Mem Lib and his bosom adjacent pal, Lupton (nee New) Hall have these kind of ruminative talks, as befit the products of Ernest Gimson – and, of course, the two most distinguished of Bedales’ buildings.

The reflective silence is broken by Lupton’s tentative thought:

“The new one’s coming on all right.”

Art & Design, you mean?”

“Yes, it’s all been so quick – one moment those disreputable sheds are there, the next another big one is springing up – and quite close to cousin Steephurst too – “

“Not that close, you old fusspot, just cosy.”

“OK, cosy….. I like her cladding – a bit like that Orchard Building you are so snooty about.”

Mem Lib gathers for the kind of portentous statement you can make if you are such a jewel of the late Arts & Crafts movement.

“I think A&D is going to be a welcome addition to the family of Bedales buildings – and that we lucky products of the great Gimson (pronounced J as in ‘genial’), we lucky few – “

“Aw, pipe down, dear Mem, pipe down…”


Ivon Hitchens

Hats off to Edmund de Waal, author and ceramicist, and the Crafts Council. On Monday De Waal launched the Crafts Council manifesto – Our Future Is In the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making. Craft-related courses are under the cosh in schools and Art Colleges. De Waal points both to the £3.4 billion that craft skills generate for the UK economy and to the link between making and entrepreneurship, citing Josiah Wedgwood whose childhood experience as a potter was instrumental to his becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the eighteenth century. The manifesto places the A of Art amongst the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), pointing to its importance in careers such as Architecture – hence the re-fashioned acronym, STEAM.

This links in my mind with what I heard in the presentation given by the Bedales Schools’ Art departments to our governors on Friday. Bedales Head of Art, Simon Sharp talked about how the place was “a school of seeing where it was cool to be creative” and where, because of the strong emphasis on Art and Design in our prep school, Dunhurst, students coming through to the senior school established this culture whereby “there was no cynicism about the value of Art” and where students quickly accepted that “worry and struggle are part of it – if it’s easy it’s not Art”.

There are two current and vibrant examples of this: the Art auction, launched with a display last week of some of the most prominent work, including an Ivon Hitchens (pictured above), kindly donated to help raise money for our new Art & Design building and now online at Paddle8; and the Barnsley Workshop exhibition in the Gallery, which will be viewed amongst others by many of those attending the Edward Thomas event on Sunday, when we will celebrate his brief life of an associated kind of craft –  that of poetry.

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.

Creativity in China

On a British Council-sponsored visit to China, representing UK boarding and, via that, Bedales; so as I tap this it is early morning and I am sitting with my four headteacher colleagues  in the mother of all traffic jams in Dalian, up north on the coast (known in colonial times as Port Arthur) and, like most Chinese cities, a place of huge growth. Now it stands at about 6 million.  Most of our work us in and around Beijing but this is our excursion north to take our message to this increasingly affluent city.

Having spent some of my sabbatical in China in 2009, when Moony and I visited our partner school in Shanghai (Chuanshua) and then travelled more broadly, it is intriguing to see how things have shot on in the interim, not least in approaches to education. Yesterday we spent much of the day at Beijing No 80 High School. Situated in the Chaoyang district of Beijing and selected in 2010 as “an experimental school for the cultivation of innovative talents in Beijing”, it says much about the ambition of Chinese education. Using its international section as a way of making the school look outwards, it is throwing huge resources at teacher training and student exchanges. For example 300 teachers spent a month training in England this summer. The most intriguing part if the three hour conference we had there with local educators yesterday was the contribution of the boss of the Education Committee of the Chaoyang  district, which (to give you a sense of the scale) has 5 million people in it.  What became very clear is that the government is seeking to meet the growing appetite amongst the Chinese middle classes for a better global perspective through getting more of the educational world to come to it.  Also clear is the way in which schools like No 80 are taking seriously the need to make students think for themselves: expressions like lifelong learning and creative thinking abound.

All this is part of the Chinese “2020 plan”, set out in 2010, to prepare their students to compete better internationally  and for more to have the option of going to top foreign universities.  In recognition of the important work No 80 is doing, not only did they have us to visit, but also Premier Hu Jintao visited last year.

Even more enjoyable than the three hour conference or even the bewitching array of lunchtime dishes, was teaching an Edward Thomas poem (The Manor Farm) to a very orderly group of sixth formers.  The 35 students were very patient and receptive. We concluded with a shot of the memorial inscription about Thomas (“killed Arras…1917”) from the Poet’s Stone, which elicited a general, plaintive sigh – an endearing and memorable final moment.

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.

Bedales set for Spring

Much PSHE in the Budge household – not just the fecund hens – but our black girl puppy Zazu reaches womanhood: now the horizon is scanned each walk for roving men dogs. Those previously innocent frisky play fights with other Bedales dog neighbours – Otto Coates, for example – pose a threat. Happily, at least as of this morning, Otto remains in the age of innocence and the puppyish frisking continues. With the new lime trees planted at the front of the school and the apple trees in the Orchard, we are set for Spring proper. Additional backdrop for me is All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis’  poignant account of Edward Thomas’ relationships – with Steep, Frost (poet) and war – quite an insight on all counts, but very unfrisky.

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.