Thinkin’ ‘n doin’

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Starting out as a teacher, I was lucky to find myself in an English department which did a lot of thinking and a lot of doing: an inventive and adaptable programme of study and activities was combined with an ethos of hard work and high achievement.  A formative memory for me is the way that we collaborated and framed ideas as a department; every Wednesday we had a convivial working lunch (hosted in turn by each of us) which was our department meeting. Ideas (sometimes wacky) were knocked around and tested; good practice shared; there was lots of laughter and it was stimulating and productive. We agreed what we should do, planned carefully ahead and then made sure that our thinking resulted in the right kind of doing.

As this was my first job, I found myself running junior debating – a pretty sleepy little corner affecting a handful of devotees.  With my colleagues’ support I decided to turn this into an activity that every student in their first year had to experience.  I devised a scheme which meant that we had a series of mini-debates running across the school at the same time each week.  It involved my persuading a number of colleagues to help voluntarily with it, which they did and off we went.  It ran for several years, lasting for a year after I had left.

Being nosy and a bit pushy from an early age, I found myself observing the headmasters at the various schools I worked at:  here’s an ideas person (rare); there’s someone who gets things done.  In talking with heads I found that sometimes they themselves even talked in those terms about the business of headship, with all the dangers of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reflecting on what headship is here, in our favoured nook of Hampshire, there is no doubt: it’s a role where the thinking and the doing have to work alongside each other.  Indeed, I suspect that the innovation and distinctiveness gene at Bedales is such that the school thrives through the sense that its routines and activities are being thoughtfully scrutinized and re-shaped continuously.  This is not quite John Badley’s injunction that the school should be re-built every seven years, but it is very  much  that spirit.

I found myself thinking (there we go again…) about this last night at the end of a stimulating Jaw debate: “This house would serve no meat” (decoratively done below).  Jaw, the time when the school engages in something that has a moral or spiritual dimension, has adapted from being a Sunday evening religious observance with a broad-ranging talk at its centre (up to 1981), to a non-religious event on a Sunday evening  (up to 2005) to its present incarnation – a fortnightly programme of talks, mainly from external speakers, with a Jaw debate each term.  Last night’s one evoked memories of the community-wide debate that led to us having one no meat lunch each week.  I suspect that this one will lead to a further debate about the amount and provenance of the meat we eat.

Thoughtfulness naturally sits within all elements of the school’s leadership, just as it does within its vibrant communal life.  Effecting consequent change likewise must.

This house would serve no meat

Winter rites and pedantic wrestling

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

We know winter has arrived when we all stop being able to walk on the grass and when the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness gives way to the season of feasts.

Feast happens to a student when, following an academic review, his or her academic efforts give cause for celebration. Like many good ideas here, Feast came from talking to students. A few years ago deputy head academic, Al McConville, asked his student teaching and learning group how they would like to see their academic efforts recognised.  At that stage recognition was based on my or my deputy “seeing” students individually or on sending postcards – we continue to do both, with meeting students in groups over tea a handy Louise innovation. These things happen out of the winter months (winter = autumn half term to February half term). Al’s group said that it would be really nice to have a special meal at Keith and Moony’s house. So, during the winter months, and in the Northern European tradition we feast.

Interestingly – and here I unleash my inner pedant/punctuation-geek – students had no truck with an article preceding the noun – Feast stood, capitalized proud and uncluttered, a proper noun needing no diluting article.

Visiting one of our New England exchange schools, Putney in Vermont last month, I was struck by their weekly communal singing session. It’s called Sing!  Yes, it’s that most wiry of verbal forms, the imperative. So, in the spirit of grammatical top trumps, here’s my suggestion for our own homespun culinary festive event: Feast!

Louise, being an hispanist, is no doubt going to suggest ¡Feast!

My imperative (Feast!) would capture the cry that goes out in the staff review meetings when teachers are acclaiming a student’s efforts – “Feast!” they exclaim, (I now like to think), imperatively.

An additional spin on this is because of the emoji effect on punctuation. See the photo below for how one breakfast cereal imbues a word with additional glory through its own mixture of embroidery and punctuation. I look forward to the next iteration of the design with invented/emoji based punctuation.


Finally, here is a homely touch to give you some sense of what the doormat looks like at 50 Church Road when you have 40 or so Bedalians to supper and it is wet and wintery outside. Cosy inside – Viking style candelabra fired up and Moony’s chocolate brownies hoovered up appreciatively.


Consulting the student body through a Food Symposium

Bedales has a long tradition of consulting the student body about important issues. Go back 20 years or so and it took the form of a whole school meeting; over the past 11 it has been through using a symposium – and so it was on Wednesday night on the subject of Food. When I am asked by fellow heads about how to go about consultation, I am surprised at their surprise when I outline what happens here; indeed many more or less fall off their chairs at the idea of consulting a student body. Well, the message from here is that, like anything you are determined to do and that you see as vital, it is not difficult and (much more importantly) it is fun, interesting and healthy for the community. Wednesday’s symposium was helped greatly by the initial research and commitment of ten 6th formers (“the core team”)  who, having expressed an interest in the whole venture, researched the origins of our food – Chicken Korma in particular – and then led the first communal bit of the evening (Quad at 5.15) through telling the story of Bedales Chicken Korma. This was not just about the food miles in bringing the coconut milk and spices to our shores, but focussed on the living conditions of our chickens – am sparing you the grisly details here, but not-very-nice sums it up. Seed is sown in our minds: could we eat less chicken but chicken that has had a bit more exercise and lived in better conditions?  Might we eat a more local chicken? Dominic gives us a quick run through of some of the key concepts to be discussed. So, then we disperse to our groups (cross-age, chaired by sixth formers) who have a series of starter topics to get them going – seasonality, role of meat, organic, regionality, food miles, waste, nutritiousness – and a large poster-size sheet on which to write the main points of the group discussion. Half an hour later and we are back in the Quad. Head students are dashing around with microphones – questions and statements are being made from the floor as the core team of ten speed-read the large sheets and discuss what the key threads running through the discussions are. Meanwhile I am out front: ideas – from the profound to the trivial (toast seems to obsess some folk) – keep coming over our 20 minutes of plenary. Then (last 5) the main threads are voiced by a quick parade of core team people: quality over quantity, not convinced by organic, a self-conscious push to choose the healthier options on offer, try a meat free day but not a Monday (clearly not a believer in alliterative-led choices), develop links with local farms, we are up for some thoughtful experimentation. A few words finally from me on the next stages: further work on the groups’ ideas; core team to draw up a draft proposal; bring that back to the Bedales student body, before they take the consultation on to Dunhurst and Dunannie; do this by the end of term, so we can start working with Dave Greenman and our great catering team to make whatever changes we want to try. Final reminder (from the floor, of course): we need to remind ourselves how lucky we are and how well fed we are.

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.