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

Dystopia revisited

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

A while back and in another school, I taught a sixth form General Studies course that was based on the idea of nightmare worlds; central to it were dystopian novels.  Unusually for such a course, the students seemed to have read most of the books on offer and when the course stopped after its one term’s duration, they seemed keen for more.  1984 (1948) and Brave New World (1932) were there of course, but it was Zamyatin’s We (1924), which arguably laid the imaginative foundation for 1984, that seemed to attract a good deal of the discussion.  Shortly after its publication, I taught Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which gripped its teenage readers with its nightmarish world and was an intriguing text to be talking with teenagers about in the ’80s.  Over the holidays I returned to Attwood with her very readable The Heart Goes Last, as well as finding Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror as my annual box set.

More’s Utopia (1516), the book that coined the adjectives, is now 500 years old; each Spring, our Block 5s who are taking the much admired Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) become caught up in creating their ideal worlds; so the idea of Utopia is very much a feature of our shared cultural life.  So, it is salutary – scary actually – to stop and think about how many dystopian echoes there are in the way that the world seems right now. Early Black Mirror, 15 Million Merits (2011) especially, where the game show and unintended consequences of an increasingly digitally based world combine to create a garish living nightmare, now seems spookily prescient.

Specific to the USA, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) is thought-provoking.  I’m told we should be reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935).

But it is the masterly portrayal of totalitarian thought control in Orwell’s 1984 that seems to be capturing people’s interest.  I suspect that there will also be many more teachers who are encouraging their students to carry their reading of Orwell on into the essays, in particular Politics and the English Language with its memorable concluding thought:

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Woolly thoughts

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Strolling with my canine partners around the Bedales estate on these fresh May early mornings and starting to absorb the thoughts on nationhood and nationality springing from the election’s aftermath, I can’t help thinking about a particular kind of Englishness – one that beats no drum and certainly wouldn’t harm a fly – a timeless, pastoral Englishness that gripped Edward Thomas and Hardy (Dorset, not kiss me..) and that Shakespeare tapped into so brilliantly. This strand of nationality, essentially romantic, may have something in common with the romantic strands in Scottish nationalism, which is itself partly informed by landscape, poetry and music (and partly, less appetizingly, by anti-Englishness).

As I turn right by the school reception and head home past Butt’s Field, where our Jacob’s ewes and their 26 progeny are grazing and whose name comes from the time it would have been used by the men of Steep to do their longbow practice (firing their shafts at the butts/targets), I think back to an A Level English lesson I taught in the glassed box classroom that overlooks Butt’s field four years ago.

We were reading Act 3 Scene 2 of Henry IV Part 2 – where the two old Englishmen, Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, are reminiscing about their lives and talking about agricultural matters; Silence has just told Shallow that their mutual friend Double has died:

SHALLOW:  Jesu, Jesu, dead! A drew a good bow; and dead! A shot a fine shoot. John o’ Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head. Dead! A would have clapped i’th clout at twelve score, and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and fourteen and a half, that it would have done a man’s heart good to see. How a score of ewes now?

SILENCE: Thereafter as they be. A score of ewes may be worth ten pounds.

SHALLOW: And is old Double dead?

As we were reading this scene, Peter Coates was feeding the sheep: the timeless sights and sounds alongside us chimed with the Justices’ conversation. We were all constructively distracted as the cacophony of baa-ing and the sight of sheep outside – a properly remarkable scene.

There are other strands of Englishness that underpin the school – notably that of Locke, Paine and Orwell – but I suspect that the pastorally restorative and timeless side is one we can easily overlook.

Some of you will remember that the sheep combine with the Maths department to have the annual lambing probability test. This was announced by head of Maths, Michael Truss yesterday morning.

Question: based on i) the probability of a ewe lamb being born as 0.6 ; and ii) there being 12 male lambs and 14 female lambs, what is the probability of this outcome? Michael will be choosing the winning answer at random from all the correct ones later in the week.


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.

Dangerous foreign amblings

Poetry, literature and the dangers of monolingualism are all front page news – thanks to a timely debate sparked by Jeremy Paxman’s comments after judging the Forward Prize, Michael Gove’s impact on the national provenance of GCSE texts and the welcome alert to the shortage of strong British modern language students given by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Professor Borysiewicz.

I feel unusually smugly Govian as I teach my Block 1 lesson on Tuesday: they start by reminding me of the splendid Shakespearean insults that they have learnt and, yet more importantly, the appetite that their (proper, full time) English teacher, Melissa Canter has given them for the sheer flex, sinew and oomph of Shakespearean language; then I gather their thoughts on what they think makes for poetry before drawing on a few adages on the topic  – from Hardy and Larkin (Govian murmurs of approval, please) – segueing into the stunning and unusually  (for someone better known for being urban-dreary) lyrical Larkin poem Cut Grass. So, a lesson that begins with Shakespeare, dallies with Hardy and then concludes in the sweet spot of the English pastoral-lyrical tradition – 10/10 for me on the Govian British Isles scale. And I suspect I am doing quite well too by Wordsworth and Paxman benchmarks on accessible poetry – stuff ordinary folk can appreciate.

Sadly – and here is the confession – I have erred over the course of half term. Foolishly, I allowed myself to be bundled onto a train by my well organised wife (Dutch extraction, a few generations back, I fear); I then found myself in a very comfortable armchair travelling at high speed towards Paris (where awkwardly that almost British Isles author Joyce wrote a bit) and then on to Strasbourg, still sitting comfortably. Even more dangerously, I found myself confronted with a range of books, some of dubious origin: Burial Rites, an enthralling and thought-provoking first novel by Hannah Kent, an Australian, about a young Icelandic woman condemned to death for murdering her lover;  Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eagle-eyed commentary on cultural cross-currents between the UK, USA and Nigeria; The Mighty Heart,  Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson – about, well, what it says, but one of those mind-whirring books which sets you both thinking and wanting to visit all sorts of places across North Africa, the Mediterranean and the near East; and The Undertaking by an Irish author, Audrey Magee, about Stalingrad and domestic life in Berlin.  (Didn’t like that one but loved the other three, by the way, and didn’t read them all on the train, of course.)

So how did I do on the Gove scale? Well, The Mighty Heart is fine because Adam Nicholson is British, although being mainly a Scot, he could easily soon fall foul to a re-defintion of the British Isles; sadly, though, the book is about Greeks and others from outwith these isles, although Homer’s yarns have been quite influential on much of British Isles literature, even Joyce’s Ulysses (if permitted).

Aside of feeling relieved that our own, homegrown Bedales Assessed Course in English Literature will allow us the scope to choose the texts, from Britain or elsewhere,  that we feel are right for our students, I feel embarrassed that, maybe unwittingly, Michael Gove has allowed himself to appear Farage-like in his literary parochialism. Enough from me – here is Michael Rosen’s much more balanced and fully referenced Letter from a curious parentDear Mr Gove…

Chaucer’s verse

Most of my appearances in assemblies have not involved Geoffrey Chaucer, but Monday assembly is a pleasant exception. Having already given some exposure to his gross miller  (“a stout carl for the nones”) and his grotesquely memorable nose “werte”in my weekly Block 3 lesson earlier in the afternoon, I am up there on stage as part of Head of English David Anson‘s thought-provoking assembly on Censorship. Reading the near conclusion to the Miller’s Tale, where the pathetic love plaints of the hopeless Absolon are comically rebutted by the spirited Alison, I am struck by how, more than 600 years on and in spite of my idiosyncratic Middle English accent, the innate drama and wit of Chaucer’s verse comes through: as Dryden said, “Here is God’s plenty”.

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.

The effect on the brain of reading complex literature

Given that it is Jane Austen’s big year (well, one of them, the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice), the value of the Arts is challenged by government cuts and we are all increasingly interested in how the brain works, what a pleasure it was to hear Professor Natalie Phillips of Michigan State University talking on the BBC’s Open Book on Sunday. The effect of reading complex literature that invites thoughtful analysis is being shown to have a particularly advantageous effect on areas of the brain which many other activities do not reach. For Professor Phillips, it’s all about reading Mansfield Park. Once you dip inside the treasure trove that is Jane Austen, you find that the reactions of others to the mythical idea of the author herself provides an additional layer of interest, yes, even beyond the vagaries of film adaptations, wet shirts etc. Virginia Woolf imagined what it would have been like to be in a room with Jane: ” a sense of meaning withheld, a smile at something unseen, an atmosphere of perfect control and courtesy mixed with something finely satirical…” She concludes that it would have been “alarming to find her at home”.  As to the effect of one book, for me, I have the image of my 98 year old grandmother sitting in her chair with her hand covering her ancient, battered edition of Pride and Prejudice. Having read it increasingly regularly in her life she had in her final years lost the ability to read, so she simply had her old, battered edition on her table and kept her hand on it, for her, a sacred tome.

Read more on the Austenonly blog.

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.