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.