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.

Bluey moods

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last Monday was said to be one of the most depressing days of the year in the annual cycle of morale – any tonic effect of the festive season has dissipated, the days are still short and the costs of Christmas are coming home to roost in credit card bills.  In schools, the harsh reality of mock exam results outline a demanding path ahead.

Here there are some major reasons to perk up and appreciate what we have.  Step out at first light and look up – here are hoar frost mornings in our National Park setting which boost the spirits; walk back across the Orchard at four in the afternoon and admire the warmest of glows on the red-brick Memoral Library front as it catches the last of the day’s sun: “duskily glowing,” to transpose an Edward Thomas phrase.

The other big reason to be cheerful is the annual Rock Show and the final stages of the work that leads up to it.  I will leave a full, music critic’s account to others better qualified, but having now seen all the Rock Shows since they started early in my time – 2004, and with my senses still pleasantly abuzz with last night’s fantastic performance – 2 1/2 hours of sustained music –  here are a few thoughts.

Most importantly, I have no doubt that this event has become one of the most important catalysts and crucibles for student creativity and its accompanying disciplines; and that is saying a lot in in a school often associated with creativity.  The Rock Show is spur and showcase for hours of song writing, music tuition and practice; it is also a vehicle for exploration of how human ingenuity and technology connect.

It is a display of a pretty full spectrum of contemporary music, with jazz, blues, folk and most kinds of rock.  This year, perhaps above any, had an extraordinary range of moods and styles within the individual vocalists.

The Rock Show is an illustration of how well instruments and skills associated with the world of classical music work alongside the contemporary music staples of electric guitars and drums.

It provides the best kind of laboratory for experimentation: take, for example, the moments this year when music whose origins seemed more from the laptop than  the keyboard was being conjured by its creator  (James) with an ingenuity and panache that had as much in common with Gothic sorcery as conventional music.

Lastly, if there is a collective operation that requires teamwork of the highest order and the orderly control of human ego, curiously it is this.

Bravo, musicians, the supporting technical crew and Neil Hornsby.

Technicolor worlds, bravely lit

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday was one of the highly flavoured days when I have a series of technicolor moments that animate life, even in November’s neutral tones, and make me feel very lucky to be doing the job I am.

Bedales Notices first thing not only includes adverts for the forthcoming Hunger Banquet, production of Medea and visit to Florence (please wear a coat too), but a Movember message from moustachioed men: the message from Boys’ Flat housemaster duo Chris Bott and Peter Thackrey is about men’s health – let’s talk about it, blokes – but it’s done with humour and humanity.

Over to Dunhurst now for my weekly lesson with Block 1 English and another short poem for us to explore. After reading short gems like Larkin’s Cut Grass and local lad Thomas’s Adlestrop, this week we are talking about Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole. 

The Block 1’s initial insights are impressive and I think of an adage a recent interviewee slipped in (“Children can smell qualilty..”) as I move along the corridor to the packed hall where Dunannie’s production of The Tempest is about to begin.

The children have been engaged in the story both through their teachers and through a visiting story teller. It’s clear from the first moment that the Dunannie children have truly inhabited the story. The adaptation, wonderfully constructed by teachers Camilla Bell and Catherine Claasen, with music by Ben Harlan and Mea Wade, comprises twelve scenes that light the imagination.

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Anchored especially in my mind’s album are moments such as the Boatswains’ song with its great rhymes, the evil Duke’s wicked single black glove, Caliban’s green gloves and the meeting between Miranda (with her classy umbrella) and the marooned Prince Ferdinand.

There’s something magical about The Tempest, which is a dramatisation of a kind of fairy tale, being brought to life by such a young audience, with parents and grandparents looking on as this tale of greed and envy being redeemed by forgiveness and the hope of youth is played out.

Bravo, Dunannie!

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful – all have been in good evidence this weekend.

My amble round (accompanied by singular dog) takes in A2 devised drama rehearsals in the theatre, BAC design and Outdoor Work.  The dancers have had a productive weekend choreographing their pieces and are content as I catch them on their way out.  Designers in evidence include Charlie whose beehive-inspired spice rack has been a fiendish thing to create, initially on the computer: now the CAD (computer aided design) machine is in its sixth hour of toil, bringing Charlie’s vision to life.  Chris’ concentration over the metal lathe is palpable as he makes the delicate little legs for his piece. Over in the wood corner, students work in oak and chestnut – here, for example, Izzy’s table is shaping up well as she smooths the legs – there’s an island etched into the top.

Upstairs in Fashion Design and ingenuity is also afoot – who would have thought of a dress with a sumptuous oil spill weaving its way down it?  Nellie has. And doesn’t that Art Deco dress – striking in black – have a beautiful gold-etched design at the top?  Its inspiration is the Chrysler building in New York, I learn, from Emily.

Over in Outdoor Work and they have had a productive weekend too.  The Bridge across to the Lake is becoming a reality, thanks to Talulah, Dylan and Henry S; it looks elegant and sturdy.  I recommend both a plaque and a formal title.  Other fruits of the weekend include a fine piece of hazel fence weaving – courtesy of Ed and Henry F, whose magnificent duck house looks all set to take its place in Marie Antoinette’s garden – and, over by the Black Barn, clever work with the classy pig sty and the egg incubation unit.

But even ahead of all of this in my mental scrap album is a Saturday evening at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield where the Bedales Cecilia Consort joins with Southern Pro Musica.  Conductor Jonathan Willocks, formerly Director of Music at Bedales conducts the combined group in Mozart’s Dixit Dominus, Ave verum corpus and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our choir to work with a professional orchestra, performing to a packed audience in a building with a fine acoustic.

But the evening belongs to the young Bedales cellist, Caleb, whose performance of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C is breathtaking in its virtuosity.  I have seen a number of very fine individual performances in schools but nothing can match this. His performance is the product of a year’s intense practice and focussed learning. It is a stunning result and the encores roll on. Bravo, Caleb!

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.

AS drama and three schools music

Sunday sees our AS Drama groups in from 10 working with Phil King and Lyndsey Turner, an assistant director from the RSC, who is bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the monologues and duologues that these 6.1 students are preparing for the examiner’s assessment on Tuesday. A busy week for them as they have their scripted pieces on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as well. I arrive as Vincent Z’s Aston (from Pinter’s Caretaker ) is giving us his harrowing account of being lobotomised. Inspired thinking to bring someone else in to give these final stages of preparation additional edge and fizz. Lyndsey’s approach is to encourage them to relax into their own performance and their own interpretation, rather than their thinking that somewhere out there is a perfect musical score that they should be following. A musical score of a different and more gregarious kind is in evidence on Monday as, for the first time for a while, we assemble strings players from across the 3-18 spectrum to play together in the Quad. You cannot underestimate the effect of having to look up and play “up” to a senior expert student in your field. This kind of occasion is designed to deploy that kind of powerful effect and to capture it on film.

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.

Demonstration of the tremendous quality of musical attainment at the Cecilia Concert

The Cecilia Concert is not only a demonstration of the tremendous quality of musical attainment at Bedales but this time is also an engaging tour of classical musical genres. The programme is organised into three phases: we start off dancing, move on to concertos and then conclude with a more metaphysical phase – dying, living and loving. In terms of genres, that’s marching with Keir’s Concert Band’s Sousa’s Procession (led by Elea S) and walzing with the Emperor (impressively moustachioed Franz Josef), led by Georgie G and Jo P. In concerto mode we are being Baroque and delicate, engaging with Corelli and Bach, with Will Lithgow’s Chamber Orchestra, led by strings’ stars, Georgie G, Sofia T and Miriam W. Suitably enough, after all this dancing (some military and some dangerously sensual) and brittle baroque sophistication, the final phase is a bit more solemn and we are preparing for the inevitable: out come different sizes of choirs to speed us on our way, with Schutz’s Nunc Dimittis (based on a prince’s funeral music), Haydn’s Insanae et Vanae (foolish and groundless cares..) and finally Schubert’s poignant Intende Voci Orationis (Listen to the voice of my prayer). The presiding sense is of talented young people, inspired to maximize their abilities, doing difficult things very well and producing something of great beauty. Lucky us.

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.