The Future

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 sixth and final blog is ‘The Future’.

Orchard c 1996 (1757)

Photo: Bedales Orchard circa 1996

Encountering the now mandatory careers’ interest test in its fledgling stage of development, I and the other 16 year old boys in my year met our housemaster to our career fate; the witless algorithm had declared “Air traffic controller” for almost all of us. I said no, I might become a teacher and yes, even in a school rather like the one I was at. My housemaster’s brow furrowed: “Do you really think that schools like this will still exist in 20 years’ time?” was his reply. I said yes and but yes they generally do, albeit much changed. But what about the next 20 years? How well equipped is the independent boarding sector? And what about Bedales?

Class of 1968 6ii probably [Record]

Photo: Class of 1968

CHALLENGES

  • Nationally: easy targets – affordability and the toff trap: as boarding school fees continue to outstrip most professional class incomes, we run the risk of ceasing to serve our traditional core base of families. If inequality continues to grow, we therefore become more and more identified with the inequities of British society, the super-rich and the worst aspects of our class system. We already are an attractive political target and therefore vulnerable to increases in tax – either through VAT or losing business tax relief.
  • Locally: in built, evergreen challenge: schools with our kind of heritage – liberal, progressive, informal, based on mutually trusting relationships – can too easily use their ethos as an excuse for lacklustre achievement. This is tempting as the ethos and atmosphere (as outlined in my previous Reflections pieces) are so much of the experience; but if they become excuses for lack of ambition, both academic and in conduct, then they work against the school’s success. So, it is not only a matter of the words we build into our strategic goals and our job descriptions (“academic achievement within a distinctive ethos”) but it is about ensuring that the systems and structures have the right bracing quality. “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted..” as Margaret Schlegel says in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

OPPORTUNITIES

  • Equipping students for the post 4IR future: the new work environment will need people who are natural collaborators, have high emotional intelligence and, having had a pleasurable experience of learning at school, are adept at learning afresh throughout their lives.
  • Thinking laterally: John Badley’s mistrust of subject silos has proved a good instinct. Schools which enable their students to connect across the curriculum and develop in them the natural, inquisitive instincts to think laterally will be well placed. There is already very good stuff going on here across the 3-18 age range – think project work. (See my Reflections blog on Bedales’ Curriculum – first 100 years) What is possible in the space (curricular and physical) between Art & Design and Outdoor Work is one of the enticing areas to develop. Anything can be made here.
  • Ability to respond to adverse influences: some public schools find adroitness tricky. The grip of tradition can be a drag on change. Bedales’ tradition is of innovating in response to influences in broader society which work against the welfare of the young people in our charge. Yes, it is more difficult to do this in the digital age but we can do more than most. Our size also helps: three smallish units as part of a family of schools which means we have sensible economies of scale. Investment enabled by good demand and efficiency will often be in distinctive areas which set us apart from other comparable schools.
  • Courage in our convictions: schools with the strength to stick by their convictions, adapting as necessary to changing parental lifestyles, will be best placed, especially if the school’s educational convictions equip its students both to have fulfilling, successful careers, as well as enjoying life.

WSP 1893 [2871]

Photo: Whole school photo, 1893

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Relationships

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 third blog is ‘Relationships’.

Being asked many times by visitors “What makes it all work?” I say “Relationships”.

You could transplant the school to another place, change the curriculum, massacre the routine, make the house system less distinctive and even introduce a uniform and you would not entirely destroy the spirit of the place; but if you changed the nature of the relationships, especially the relationships between teachers and students, you would see the heart of the community wither.

I see the nature of the relationships as informing the best kind of teaching and learning, as well as informing the celebrating of individuality that is so important to us. The first name term handle is merely an emblem of the thing itself.

It all began, like so many good things, with John Badley’s conviction in the early 1890s that he wanted to found a school that was markedly different from the Rugby School of his own schooldays. Central to this was the idea that the relationship between teacher and pupil must avoid the old master-servant model and be based more on mutual respect and even affection.

In Memories and Reflections he writes about how valuable it was that the school grew slowly: “..we were a family rather than a school; and this feeling, with the customs to which it gave rise, could be retained, as the family grew larger, until they became a part of the school tradition, permanently affecting the relations of older and younger even when the early conditions had been long outgrown. One of these customs….was the hand-shaking after evening prayers as the school filed past the Staff to say Good-night..”  Badley goes on to credit this family feeling with giving the school its sense of co-operation and also its desire to give “attention to the needs of the individual”.  Running across both these characteristics is the desire to engage students in the framing of the school’s rules and customs. Later on in his memoirs he describes how what he wanted “was an atmosphere of affection, confidence and opportunity”.

handshaking0003

This optimistic belief in the benign power of relationships permeates the school, affecting old traditions like the mixed-age room system and new ones like Badley Seniors (6.2s who work with Block 3 tutor groups).  At our best, even now above 460 students, we try to operate more like a family than an organisation.

I was struck by the difference a good few years before I started here when mid summer holiday, tidying a drawer in Easter Ross and idly listening to Radio 4, I heard two Bedales girls talking about their housemistress: they talked about her in a way that was completely different to anything I had heard before, using her first name (Suzie) naturally and saying how they would think nothing of taking any problem to her.

In my first term we re-did the prospectus – a bit of a song-and-dance in pre-website days. One Friday, my then colleague and Registrar, Avril Hardie, asked the 12 students on School Council to go away and think about what was most important to them about Bedales. The following week they returned with their answer: “Friendship and that we are listened to.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Writing about Bedales

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This happened from early on.  In 1896 Edmond Demolins, the French educationalist, visited Bedales.  In two of his subsequent books, A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? (1897) and L’Education nouvelle he said that the national success of the English was due to the public school system and that the logical outcome of that system was to be seen in the “new schools” such as Bedales.  Never mind the supremacist premise of his first book and the poor logic of his thesis, Demolins’ books were widely read in France and amongst the educated classes in continental Europe.  As a result, there was an influx of students from there, including various exotic Russian aristocrats.  Schools based on the Bedales model had sprung up in places as various as St Petersburg, Hilversum (Holland) and Lake Geneva.

Last December I hosted Julian Astle of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).  Julian has subsequently published his research The Ideal School Exhibition.  The RSA has a strong tradition in educational advocacy.  In his book Julian seeks to “expand the conversation to the purpose and essential character of school-based education” which he sees as increasingly being focussed on “education’s narrow instrumentalist’s value”.  Pointing to the broader value of education and the way that authoritarian regimes – such as Victor Orban’s in Hungary – will seek to close down educational institutions that make people think broadly, Astle has toured the country to find schools that are high in conviction and that manage to be successful whilst holding fast to their values – educational missionaries.

Bedales is one of these.  Here is the full report, and an executive summary can be found here.

An excerpt reads:

“Bedales, a fee paying school in Hampshire, defines itself by its humanity (the school was established to provide a humane alternative to the regimented austerity of Victorian schooling) and through its holistic educational philosophy, summed up by its motto “to educate the Head, Hand and Heart”. It strives to introduce its students to what is true (academics), what is beautiful (creativity and making) and what is right (morals and ethics).”

The other school that Astle sees falling strongly into this category is a state school founded in 2012, School 21 in Stratford, East London.  Its head and founder, Peter Hyman, visited on Thursday, met a range of teachers, toured with students and had a good chat with me.   Fascinating and stimulating to talk with someone who, against the grain of so much of the current arid educational orthodoxy, is making such a success of a school that promotes a very different and utterly humane vision.  Here are his ten points for what a school should do.

Have a look at what he says in the executive summary and also in the section where he writes about our school aims.

It is great that an enlightened organisation like the RSA, so wedded to enlightenment thinking, is taking such an important stand in what Michael Oakeshott called “the great conversation of mankind”.

 

 

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.

Question time

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday brings Headmaster’s Question Time (HQT to be snappy).  It’s slow to get going, with gender change leading, but then the hands are up and I am facing all sorts of questions: choosing the new head, Saturday school, student self-evaluation, but the most unexpected question is the shortest: “Are you a feminist?”

In this admirably questioning school, I have been asked most things before but I haven’t been asked this question.  Although I have interrogated myself pretty firmly on whether I believe in equal rights for men and women I haven’t felt the need to make the further declaration.  I suspect my (no doubt not very thought through) position might have been influenced by seeing Ed Miliband grinning inimitably in a This is what a feminist looks like t shirt.

My response to the question in HQT was that, although I had been brought up by a mother with admirably strong views on women’s rights, I would consider it presumptuous to call myself a feminist, as, although I believe firmly in equal rights, I don’t consider myself ardent enough to describe myself as a feminist.  My response has evoked a good range of reactions – some quite strong – and I am meeting some of those who have expressed their concern to discuss things further.

I have since been finding out a bit more about the history of the feminist movement and the range of meanings attached to the word feminist. This article from the British Library looks handy.

There have also been a number of interesting conversations with colleagues and students about the degree to which any individual should feel that he or she should want to be categorised and identified with particular movements, however much they like or are interested in those areas.

I suspect that we have hit a rich seam and that there will be plenty further exploration.  I hope so.

Innovation and technology

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

A first for me – a visit to BETT  (British Educational Training and Technology Show) at the ExCeL (curious upper/lower case effect) in order to be part of a panel talking about innovation in schools.

Having talked with colleagues who are regular BETT goers, I had some idea of what to expect, but even so it was an eye opener.  Huge screens pulse and entice and a hubbub that mingles human voices with all kinds of electronic noises forms a distinctive fog of a soundscape.  It is bewitching stuff, with technology to advance learning at all stages in a person’s education.

Within this cauldron of technological opportunity sits the Times Educational Supplement‘s (TES for short, no messing with cases here) little theatre where, aided merely by some particularly svelte face mics and a question-asking app, I and two colleagues talk about innovation, spur on some group discussions and try to reach some conclusions.

Innovation is, of course, a word that comes with a health warning: it is, after all, the word most used in applicants’ cvs to describe themselves. In the context of BETT, I fear that it can also sometimes used as a synonym for being comfortable with digital resources in the classroom.  There is a danger that innovation has become a lazy self-promotional tag that doesn’t really add much.

So here are four brief thoughts about educational innovation in that context:

1) Complacency about educational methods used is the enemy of the search for better ways of teaching and learning: constant exploration as to how we can help this process may result in innovation, but the state of mind isn’t described by the word; neither is technology always the answer.

2) Beware hubris!  Each technological revolution risks sneering at previous ones and thinks it has got things cracked; it too often underestimates the role of the live teacher.  Technology has enabled new styles of teaching and learning but, as an early adopter student of audio-visual methods in language teaching back in the 70s, I remember my O Level German teacher’s lessons much more for his anecdotes about his favourite German wine than the audio visual slides of Heidi and Joachin’s lame romance.

3) Remember how the curriculum can shackle you: however smart your use of technology, if you are working with dull material in a constricting curriculum, you can think you are having more fun and feel decidedly contemporary, but you are still working within a constrained space, with all the ensuing limitations.

4) The whizzbangs of BETT are mainly, I suspect, about jazzier and smarter delivery, mostly in the traditional classroom setting.   The biggest revolution will be in a quieter and more solitary area of online learning.  Here a recent Skype conversation with Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering at Oakland University and co-founder of the world’s largest MOOC is fresh in my mind.  Barbara (barbaraoakley.com) spoke at our Liberating Leaders conference in the summer. With the right online courses, especially in subjects such as Maths and Physics where there such great teacher shortages, UK students’ learning should receive a significant boost.  This quiet revolution is yet to happen.

 

Liberal values in an illiberal age

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Who could have guessed that ‘post-truth’ would be declared as the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year? ‘Post-truth’ is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I certainly didn’t think I would be standing before the Bedales students at an assembly, as I was last night, giving a talk under that title and with the political background that we are currently adjusting to.

It all takes some explaining, which is what I was trying to do.  Where do you start?  Here are some reasonable questions that any sentient Bedales teenager might be thinking:

  • If that former education minister, Michael Gove, tells us that “the people in this country have had enough of experts” and the views of experts, such as judges, are widely decried on the front page of the Daily Mail, what’s the point of education, which is, after all, about becoming more expert?
  • Likewise, if what matters is that governments listen to the people and the views of experts such as MPs are being pushed to one side, why should I worry about voting – here in Petersfield for example?
  • What about the so-called liberal elite? Aren’t our teachers people who are part of that group? I think our headmaster would certainly like to think he is. I thought that it was a good thing to be a liberally minded person.
  • What about our school’s values? We are asked to live by values such as tolerance, kindness, respect for each other’s feelings – aren’t these being downgraded?

It is with this kind of background that teachers – perhaps headteachers in particular – need to assert the value of a liberal education. By that I mean liberal in these two senses: the promotion of values such as tolerance, kindness and respect for others’ feelings; and the willingness to respect and accept the opinions that are different from our own and an openness to new ideas.

In this post-truth world, sadly we need to be vigorous in asserting the value of knowledge over opinion. Our business is to help educate young people to be kind, humane, inquisitive people who love learning and want to keep learning. The world needs plenty of people like this – people who are fuelled by the idea of becoming experts and want to make the world a better place.

There is also a less characteristic call to arms, which is to exhort our students to become much more engaged in the big political debates. People of my generation who have known nothing other than the success of Western liberal democracy and ideals – especially from the moment of the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 onwards – it is a rude shock to find these certainties challenged as they are at the moment. In transmitting our shock and dismay we can help alert our students to the dangers in what is going on.

Political engagement might have seemed like something for others – now it is something for us. The values that underpin a liberal education need to be more urgently and, even (uncharacteristically maybe) stridently voiced.