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

Two days, two talks

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Two days into the week and we have had two talks which inspire and help all of us understand better this era of upheaval we are living through.

Monday and it’s the Global Awareness lecture, given by Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay. This remarkable young man tells the story of his flight from Afghanistan in 2007 when he was 12.  The endemic struggles for control, the power of education in this turbulence, the mentality of Pashtun young men, the violent death of his father  – all these bring alive to us the reality of his native land and the need for him to leave.  Most poignant is his account of his year long journey to the UK, the cruelties and rare kindnesses he encountered – those oranges and croissants given by the Italian police.

For his audience,  sitting in the safe oaken glow of our theatre in woody, safe Hampshire,  we are jolted and inspired as we hear of his response to not seeing his mother for 11 years and his swift learning of English, succeeding at school quickly here – 10 GCSEs from scratch in two years – and his subsequent education, achievements such as The Lightless Sky and further ambitions.

Tuesday Civics and it’s John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times group, on news in the era of upheaval.  As his talk proceeds – 20 minutes of razor sharp observations supported by four slides and 40 minutes of questions – pennies are dropping amongst the student audience.  Yes, I really am listening to someone who leads one of the most influential, opinion shaping news groups in the world; and yes, this is pretty amazing.

John talks about the prevalence of fake news – it’s always been there (think Zinoviev) but now it is systematic and operating at scale. Quality news, which costs money, works through a collision of ideas – “there are… unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know” (D Rumsveldt, unlikely but true source).  On the contrary Facebook’s cunning algorithms give you more of what you like.  He’s had the debate with its boss.

Thinking of going into journalism?  Great opportunities but it’s more about news than it is about writing – increasingly stories area being told through means other than straight writing – here’s the FT’s popular Uber game which takes you into the life of one of their drivers.  If you have determination and initiative you will succeed in his vocation.  And, while we’re at it, cut the adjectives.

Perhaps above all what comes over is the sense of a man whom you would naturally want to follow and whom it is stimulating and enjoyable to be around.  He begins his talk with a reference to the David Watt book An Inquiring Eye.  This is his lode star, it seems.  He feels lucky being able to follow a career which allows him to do what he loves and credits this to a high degree because of the mindset and personality he developed here at Bedales.

We leave the SLT with more questions for John as I shepherd him across the Orchard.  Students return to their boarding houses, clutching Tuesday’s FT (read Janan Ganesh’s  ‘The real saboteurs of Brexit are its own amateur leaders‘ if nothing else).


The ripple effect of talks like these two amongst school communities is powerful.

Live things

Being away can be stimulating; being back always is.  Evening events and livestock seem to be the two themes of the last few days.

Take last night’s Global Awareness Jaw. Led by Block 5 reporting back on their visit to Woodstock School, Mussourie, India; it began with an extraordinary piece of music composed by Richie and music teacher Giacomo Pozzuto, with Richie on the tabla* and Giacomo on the oboe.  All of the students who went to this remarkable spot, perched on the Himalaya, have a hand in the composition of the presentation and three head it up.  Amongst the various memories that will anchor in the young minds watching, I suspect the spell cast by the sight and sound of tabla and oboe – the interplay of  East and Western musical traditions – will feature most.

Other evening excitements included Sunday’s Professional Guidance department presentation to 6.1 parents on Higher Education: primarily about university entry, it’s an encouraging picture that we present – not only of some of the most sought after universities being able to offer more places to candidates who gain ABB or above at A Level, but of the increasing proportion of our students gaining places at Russell Group universities.  It is the start of the cycle for the new 6.1s.  Next week I will give my annual assembly to the school on higher education, as the most important message is the old adage:  hard work + passion for your chosen subjects + working closely with your teachers = success; and the earlier that starts, the greater the success – and the more enjoyable the journey.

Tuesday evening and I am entertaining a group of fellow headteachers (collective name possibilities, a swelling of heads or a lakh of principals), initially to a meeting and then to dinner at 50 Church Road.  The 86 Group, 20 years old now, comprises 16 schools from across the south east who have enough in common and who enjoy each other’s company enough to meet termly to discuss things of common interest.  Trust and humour are the glue. Meetings of heads of 86 group schools’ departments also happen and are generally handy.  Sitting in the alcove at No 50, the evening light on the great oak tree is particularly wonderful and the birdsong stunning.

Which takes me on to livestock.  The new lambs are in Butts’ Field now and (yes, honestly) are gambolling in the evening sunlight as I walk back from home after Jaw and chat to some Block 3 boys about why lambs like going into the wooden shelter that our alpacas so scorned.  We will all feel easier about the lambs’ transition along the food chain (mint sauce is the clue here) when the time comes, because they have not been named.

This is not the case with the new quartet of 50 Church Road hens, who have recently been named.  Unlike their predecessors, who were uniformly brown, either Waitrose rejects or rescue hens, depending on how you spin it, these are proper, svelte and gorgeous young creatures, a mere few weeks old and full of adolescent preening, with a good three of four years of productive laying ahead.   Given the hopes that we pin on them, the capital outlay (x 6 of their predecessors) and their splendid distinguishing plumage and general pomp, we take the bold step of naming.  Following a brief and entirely frivolous What’s App consultation with our own offspring, they are named: Snowy (the white one), Bluebell (bluish and that’s her breed and its bluebell time in Steep woods), Chicken (brown and looks like one) and Chardonnay, after the memorable character in Footballers’ Wives, Series 1, who was herself named after the over-worked varietal type of the extravagant 80s.  I trust that they are all going to behave, especially Chardonnay.


*NB The left hand plays the bass on the wider drum called the “dugga” and the right hand plays the lead drums on the “tabla”. Together, the drums are also called “tabla”.

Thought stimulus

GA lecture- Lucie Cluver


It’s a week when only a student most stubbornly impervious to the world elsewhere will not be spurred to some constructive thought both about the potential their future might hold and about the world that surrounds them. I am thinking about three events.

Monday’s assembly has Tom Jarman, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios talking to the school. Tom, who has a refreshingly irreverent and informal style, initially briefs us on the new Art & Design building and then takes questions on what it is like being an architect and why he chose to follow that vocation. Memorably, he describes how his school Economics teacher told him that he would only find something satisfying if it provided “manifest outcomes”, an expression that certainly resonated for me. So, this became a thought-provoking talk about why someone does what he does and what the rewards are for doing that demanding and complex job.

Tuesday’s Global Awareness lecture presented the 100+ people in a packed SLT with a different narrative. Lucie Cluver, Associate Professor in Evidence-Based Social Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford, is a former pupil of our head of Global Awareness, Annabel Smith. Lucie’s hour long talk was one of the most powerful, interesting talks I have heard. For all of us, but especially for the students, this was an amazing insight into how research in the field can determine social policy – and how Lucie and her teams of (extraordinarily) brave and resourceful researchers have gathered the evidence that is increasingly shaping government policy in Africa to AIDS prevention and containment – amongst teenagers especially.

It’s just Thursday now and  at lunchtime we are welcoming a group of Korean students, amongst whom there are people who have escaped from North Korea; their aim is to spread awareness of what is going on in that benighted country.

Plenty of food for thought and constructive mulling over leave weekend.

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.

Chinese tea and Oxford reception

Summer brings with it even more times when you have pleasant chats with very different groups of people over a cup of tea or even a glass of Prosecco. Friday evening saw MIchael Truss, Clare Jarmy, Sarah Oakley, Philip Parsons and I at the Old Parsonage in Oxford meeting up over drinks with about 20 present and recently past OB Oxonians; which was both fun and informative, as far as building up a full picture in order better to guide current students on college and course choice. Intriguing too for me to discover that I have shared a glass (non-alcoholic in several cases of course) with both of my head boys from 2010/11 on their 20th birthdays – Omer Sami in Los Angeles on Easter Monday and Frank Macpherson in Oxford last Friday.

This afternoon it is a traditional cup of tea (plus scones etc)  at 50 Church Road with our 12 student guests and two teachers from our Chinese partner school, Chuansha in Shanghai. I visited there four years ago, which was also when the last student delegation came here; they hosted our school visit to China in February. At last night’s assembly, my welcome to them was followed by two traditional Chinese pieces played by our visitors – Joy, Zhang Zhixiao, playing her flute and Rita, Ding Yixin, singing. The assembly then continued with Shirley, Jin Huijing, one of the Chinese teachers describing some of the differences between Chuansha and Bedales – with the typical class size (of 42) perhaps the most salient statistic. The courage of our visitors in performing here in front of the school – and on only their second day – won many plaudits and warm applause. It was great to see them sitting chatting outside with our students in the evening sun after assembly. Tonight, a very different business as we have our annual reception and presentation to the local Steep community. The purpose of this is to keep people abreast of developments – both educational and building – and to enlist their support and understanding with future developments, such as the new Art & Design centre.

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.

Global awareness and visiting speakers

Global Awareness has been a hot topic for me over the last week, starting with the final round of the selection process of a new Head of Global Awareness – more on the successful candidate later in the week – moving on to Sir Andrew Cahn‘s Civics on Friday, Dr Noel Brehony’s talk at last night’s Middle East Society and looking forward to Lord Winston’s Eckersley Lecture tonight. There will a number of energetic and globally avid Bedalians who will have been to all three – plenty who have been to the first and the last. So, in a nutshell, their scope?  Sir Andrew: the role of the Civil Service and the ways it’s changed, what drives politicians, Prime Minister’s styles, British industry’s competitiveness vs BRIC countries, his own career choices (“a grey journalist or a colourful civil servant”?), what Britain and Bedales might look like in 40 years’ time; Dr Noel: the Arab Spring – one of three revolutions over the past century, Egypt’s birth pangs, Yemen, Israel and missed opportunities for peace; Lord Winston – can we survive the 21st Century? That puts a different spin on Global Awareness.

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.