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

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

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”.

 

 

Conference conclusions

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

What do some 300 headteachers want to do when they convene for their annual conference, say in Belfast?

Having just returned from this event and having done it, here is a pithy summary.  People want three things: to be inspired, to come back with some useful things, and to have plenty of chances for fellowship.  Time and sundry survey monkeys will no doubt tell whether my august colleagues found the balance right in the conference I have shaped but here are some highlights from each of these categories.

Inspired we were on Monday by Jonathan Powell telling us about the Northern Ireland peace process and the role that he played as chief negotiator.  On Tuesday, Barb Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University) and John Lloyd (creator of QI and so many of the great satirical TV shows of the last 35 years) inspired us to think about how we learn and how he might better galvanise children’s curiosity.  On Wednesday we heard from one of our colleagues, Mark Steed, on how educational experimentation in Dubai may be indicating a future where education in its current form, say at Bedales, becomes as unusual as bespoke tailoring and most learn through a combination of technology and a small amount of classroom contact.

Useful things are done mainly in workshops, which cover areas such as legal, strategy, neuroscience, gender identity, entrepreneurship, partnerships and even pensions.  Heads’ panels exploring different kinds of innovation in our schools give us ideas we can take away – people are keen to share ideas and there is a spirit of collaboration.  A final heads’ panel has six of us describe particularly testing times that we have faced – here, as is so often, usefulness and inspiration blend.

Fellowship?  Leading is, we think, a lonely business.  Moving into headship you go from having plenty of colleagues you can share confidences with to very few: the relationships you develop with fellow heads become a critical part of your personal, as well as professional support network.  So, planning a conference, you want to make sure that there are plenty of generous breaks for coffees, teas (as purveyors of these beverages on the railways uniquely say).  You also want to make sure that the evening events are sufficiently attractive to make sure that people do want to congregate and that food and drink are compelling. For me, no conference is complete without a poetry reading so we had Alice McCullough on Monday evening.  You need to allow people to do other things together, so have an afternoon when you can tramp the beautiful hills of Mourne or seek out the mysteries of the Titanic.

Having the unusual privilege of organising such an event is itself quite thought-provoking, but I can recommend it.


Find out more about the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), and view films from this year’s conference on the HMC YoutTube channel.

 

“The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – William Wordsworth

P1000213

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It is a curiosity of Bedales that the youngest entrants, the Block 3s, start their time here by arriving in verdant Hampshire before any other students – on the Thursday before most arrive on the Sunday – spend two nights at school and then head off to the Lake District, returning into circulation on the second Monday of term.  Why?

Enabling your youngest students to have their induction into school life and, for example, the mysteries of IT logins and classroom locations, before they are crowded out with lots of big and alarmingly adult looking teenagers makes sense.  Whisking them away to the North of England requires more explanation – it is a long way, 330 miles in fact and, like any expedition away from school, complicated to plan and resource-hungry; this is especially so as we take the Block 3 (Badley) tutors who accompany their tutor groups (usually with 8-10 students in each group).

Sitting in a very smart octagonal shed in the grounds of the Outward Bound’s centre on the edge of Ullswater (by Glenridding, the most flooded village in Britain), I am reminded why.  In this snug super shed or pod are the nine members of a tutor group,  an Outward Bound tutor and the Bedales tutor; they are all grouped around a table and surrounded by sheets of paper pinned to the walls which reflect the Block 3s’ journey over the first few days of their five day course.  The sheets from their first day reflect what they were hoping to get out of their time at the centre – their hopes and fears.  More recent ones show how the Outward Bound instructors tailor the students’ experience to our school aims.  I notice one sheet which has resulted from a discussion on how their time in Ullswater might mirror the Bedales aims:  HEAD: Think! HAND Do something! HEART Self-belief.

I am there for a couple of nights and, because the expeditions into the mountains this year takes place when I have to go south, I am able to spend plenty of time seeing the groups in action around the centre and, crucially for me, pinning names to faces, mannerisms, quirks of speech and all the other ways one tries to remember who the new students are.

I love going out into the hills, so it is with envy that I watch them all getting ready for their expedition on the Wednesday morning.   Even these preparations are done thoughtfully.  The comparisons with the quasi-military approach to expeditions that I grew up with – here’s your kit, pack it, off we go – are stark.  Students sit in their octagonal pods and are asked to think of all the different activities and needs when they are up on the hills.  There are discussions and debates and gradually a list is created.  Of course, the instructors will not let them go off without the essentials – and safety measures are second nature to Outward Bound – but the decisions and that kit list are shaped and informed by what the students discuss.

Culturally, this is a foreign land to most of our students: that’s not just the business of wild nature, but it’s also the North – little rivers called becks, different accents and meretricious weather.  It’s also a brilliant social mixing pot, with boarders and days, students from Dunhurst and many other schools all finding themselves in dorms or tutor groups with each other.  You get to know your fellow travellers pretty well.  Likewise, time on the hills or seeing youngsters overcome fears helps the tutors understand what makes them tick.

An additional bonus is that their return journey on Friday is broken by a sortie into Stoke for lunch, some painting of mugs and a tour of the Emma Bridgewater factory, thanks to the generous hospitality of Emma Bridgwater and Matthew Rice.

What with their time in the place that inspired the Romantic poets, their own journeys of self-discovery and this dotting into a thriving modern business in the former industrial heartland of England, it is well worth the journey.

 

Then and now

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Events over the past week or so have led to some thinking about how schools have changed over the last few decades; so I have found myself thinking about how independent schools seemed to someone starting out on his career – as I was – in the early 1980s.  What’s changed? How and why?

Within the sector that I have been working in, which is boarding, the big change has been from it being boys only to being co-educational.  The changes effected by this have been profound culturally, changing the typical group of teachers (“common room” in school speak) into a much more balanced, less clubby, less male dominated group of people.   Sherry before lunch in the common room gradually petered out during the 80s.  The old breed of schoolmaster, for whom schoolmastering was a lifestyle choice and who had sufficient private money to enable him to take some foreign holidays became a rarity.

Alongside this the commitment to high quality teaching and learning, which struck me as haphazard and dependent on outstanding individuals when I started, has become an expectation.  The English department I joined in 1980 remains in my mind the epitome of a brilliant department, but it happened because of a coincidence of extraordinary teachers, not because there was any top-down expectation or because of educational policy in the school.

This brings me to the effects of inspection and regulation, which have been profound.  Schools now are highly regulated places: heads are responsible for policies and systems that should make it very difficult for there to be marked areas of poor delivery within a school for any length of time.  Has this rubbed out some of the more colourful elements?  Probably, but it has improved the general standard considerably.  Lesson observation and appraisal – foreign concepts 30 years ago – are standard now.  When I started as a housemaster in 1991 I cannot remember having anything to do with a policy; now all teachers’ lives are underpinned by policies.

But the biggest and best change has been in the safety of students under our care.  The impact of the Children Act 1989, subsequent statutory requirements and the sea-change in schools’ awareness of the risks facing young people have been profound.  Accompanying this has been a cultural change in the recognition given to listening to young people and involving them in their own education – something I suspect that Bedales has always been particularly good at.

I suspect these changes mirror what’s happened in many other areas of our national life as institutions and professions have become more accountable and as successive scandals have shown the Emperor not to have as many clothes as he thought: Shipman was to Medicine as Savile was to Church and School.  The City no longer runs on booze, trust and a good measure of insider dealing.

Creeping greyness is the danger.  Passionate and inspirational teaching remains the elixir which lies at any good school’s heart.

 

Conferring on boarding

Just about to leave the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) conference in the heart of Victorian Manchester. Much good idea sharing and updating on everything from safeguarding to outreach, but it will be the memory of positive advocates for boarding that will stick with me above all.  Both are men who exemplify the degree to which the right kind of boarding experience can have a transformative effect on the individual’s confidence.  In the BSA magazine, Tony Little, former head of Eton, described the quality well: “through my own experience [in boarding] I have seen students metamorphose from cautious caterpillars into bold caterpillars ready to take flight”.

The first example was Ben Fogle whose speech, early in the conference, referred to the way his experience at Bryanston had transformed him.  In the BSA magazine he summarises it: “Shy as a mouse, I lacked a voice and probably a personality”.  Boarding was a powerful ingredient of “confidence… confidence in me. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin.”  He concludes by describing confidence as the antithesis of the public school swagger: it’s “a virtue. A skill. A feeling. A value.”  His testimony and his subsequent life are fine examples of the effect of that miscellaneous bundle of experiences, mainly encountered outside the classroom, that go under the dry expression ‘co-curricular’ (switching on the TV late last night, there is his large frame, commenting on the mating habits of wildebeest).

The second example of confidence in action was last night’s after dinner talk by Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent and ex Marlborough student.  Although he would be the last one to describe himself in this way, his talk and his life are, like Fogle’s, an example of physical and moral courage.  Frank described how his experience at school made him hungry to get out and do new things once he left Marlborough.  This translated into him, as a student of Arabic, having the chutzpah to knock on the door of a family in Cairo and ask if he could live with them and learn their language.  His account of his near fatal wounding at the hands of Al Qaeda affiliates (“losers”, as he described them) in 2004 was especially powerful: his extraordinary luck in surviving that attack and the way that writing his experience down had been decisive for his state of mind.  Here is an example of both confidence and an inspirational, cheerful resilience: his conclusion “life is still an awful lot of fun”.