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

Curriculum – the last 25 years

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 fifth blog is ‘Curriculum – the last 25 years’.

Being an early riser, I choose what to do first thing. This morning I chose to walk for 20 minutes around the Bedales estate, noting a shriek of magpies mobbing a cat and querying an overgrown hedge – nothing as evocative as my occasional dawn walks in winter when the owls are competing for air space or in May when I hear the plaintive greetings of orphan lambs or even the snufflings of bleary-eyed piglets.

Choice enlivens us.  The curriculum is what schools choose to study – it is our daily bread.  As outlined in my previous piece, Bedales under Badley chose to study a different curriculum to the established Victorian public schools and chose to study it differently.

Arriving here in 2001, I found that the name carrier, the Senior School, Bedales, was teaching much the same curriculum as other schools, albeit often in an unusually vital and engaging way.  The school remained shackled to the dying animal that was the national curriculum, with its dreary GCSEs. At that point, even the Labour government was dissing GCSES. I started having thought-provoking conversations with long term supporters of the school: “why does this extraordinary school not exercise greater choice over what it teaches? Why are you not using your freedom?”

It was my good fortune to inherit some visionary colleagues who had done important work in this area with Southampton University’s Department of Education. Two were especially significant – Graham Banks (Head of English) and Philip Young (Director of Studies). With Southampton, they exploring the potential for the school to diverge from the GCSE curriculum in the 1990s, but the then Head, Alison Willcocks had decided not to press ahead.

I chose differently. Constructing a new curriculum has much in common with creating a new building: identify the need; write the brief; seek planning permission; gather your project team; assess the risks; and then build.

PRE dialogue

It was quickly evident that the territory where the greatest need coincided with the best potential to innovate was the so-called Middle Years curriculum – the GCSE years 10 and 11, Blocks 4 and 5. Governors were on side quickly. Universities were surveyed and came back positively twice, both in response to the embryonic idea and then when the concept had been fleshed out. The message was very clear: give us five or six GCSEs in the core subjects (English, Maths, two or three Sciences and a modern foreign language) and then use your freedom with the remaining four or five subject slots.

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I knew that our parents would warm to it when, as part of the consultation, Philip Young and I called a meeting of Block 1 (Year 7) parents from Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.  These after all were the parents of the children who would most likely be affected, being the first year who would take the BACs. I displayed on the screen the wording of our (then recently minted) primary academic aim: to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought. I interposed a big question mark and then on the other side of the screen wrote “ GCSEs”. The  room filled with laughter – the two things had nothing in common. We had to change the curriculum – and so we did, starting the courses in 2006. You can read more about its latest incarnation here.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.