Teaching: place and people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Teaching’s especially on my mind as the term’s start coincides with summer warmth.  Sunday’s assembly for freshly returned boarders allows me to talk about the way this place can spur us to engage both with each other and to think differently.  My seasonal higher education talk mid week is about how inquisitiveness – fostered here and then furthered in higher education – is the motor for lifelong learning: being interested in stuff makes you more interesting, both to yourself and to others.  Take advantage of these amazing opportunities – Roger Penrose ‘n all.

Teaching is important to headship – for your own wellbeing as well as showing others that you are as much a teacher yourself as someone gesturing in the distance in order to get others to do things and (you trust) make the right things happen.  So by Thursday lunchtime, I have met two new classes (a Block 3 and a Block 1) and taught some Chaucer (suitably enough “When April with his shoures soote…) and some Larkin  (Cut Grass).

I have also done some learning as finally I manage to coincide with sausage-making, seeing the outdoor work team and a Block 5 student in action in the Bakehouse.   Here is the pork (double minced), the rusk (gluten-free) and the seasoning – all nicely mixed in water and ready to be fed into the proverbial sausage machine – delicate job this bit and best not described too intricately so I will move on.

Last thing and I am watching Living with the Brainy Bunch (BBC), which, although billed as an interesting account of the effect of parental influence on students’ progress, is as much about the power of patient, encouraging, determined teaching.  Jack is something of a detention king (105 last year, he says with a smile) and Holly goes walkabout in her lessons, more through fear of failure than anything else.  Both are moved from their low expectation homes to the homes of high-performing students with whose parents have high expectations.  Academic achievement and self-esteem improve.  Jack’s smile and demeanour at the end say as much as his much improved Maths score.

But most on my mind is the telling conjunction of two extraordinary Bedales teachers, sadly now dead, who were Bedales teaching colossi and who inspired generations of students:  Ruth Whiting, who died last Friday and who taught History here from 1963 to 2000, returning after that to invigilate and do amazing work with the archives, in particular commemorating the OB dead of the First World War; and John Batstone,  Head of English from 1968-1993, who died in December but whose memorial service takes place tomorrow.   Testimony to the power of great teaching abounds in the way in which these two are remembered by their students.

New England colours

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Sharp early morning: clear skies, true red dawn and a decent frost as floppy Labrador, relieved that the worst of the fireworks are over, scampers over the fields.  Trees have stopped pretending they’re in a New England Fall and become more authentically Old Hampshire.

It’s a big day over there and I am thinking about USA current and past: the pineapple that my Scottish ex-pat great uncle used to send us from Hawaii each Christmas and which used to look forlorn and dismal sitting on our dining table when it arrived eventually in Lancashire, often well after Christmas. It was as exotic as it was unappetising: I think it found its way to the compost heap, only nominally nibbled. One of my Scottish uncles had followed that great uncle, starting on his pony supervising the pineapple fields and, after time fighting in Okinawa, ended up in a senior position in head office in dreamy San Francisco.  Today, we have our inaugural Kadian Harding Lecture – as it happens a Professor of Astronomy from the University of Hawaii, Gareth Wynn-Williams.

Like many people, I have found myself drawn to the USA – in my final year at school an English Speaking Union scholar became one of my best friends and I travelled around the USA with him the following year, seeing his country through his eyes as well as mine.  When I had the chance to do a year’s teaching exchange I went to California and visited a whole range of schools and universities, both in the West and East. Educationally I think that much of the best thinking is going on over there.

Returning in 2007 (the glory moment of $2 to £1) to New York with my family I saw it through the eyes of my children.  In 2012 I went back in order to visit a number of New England schools, but in particular to attempt to set up exchanges with two – Groton and Putney.  This visit also involved visiting schools which are part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Research Schools International (RSI) network.

So, with the additional purpose of firming up links with Manhattan schools which now qualify as feeder schools, Moony and I spent the five days of half term over there in the glorious bright late October sun and colours: as well as visiting two feeder schools, Groton and Putney (where we saw our Block 4s in action) we visited five higher education places: Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University (NYU), Brown University and Yale University.  There is something about being in that part of the USA, with Boston as its epicentre, which arguably has no rivals as being the cauldron of world scholarship, which is stimulating.  It is not just that the resources are so phenomenal, but it is the work ethic that goes hand in hand with it and gives one such a strong sense of opportunity.  Financial support, even for overseas applicants, is generous at Yale and it is difficult not to see time as an undergraduate or a graduate in any of these places as very desirable.

The OB network gives you a particular insight into this: Robbie Ward (2007-16) in his Freshman year at NYU in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Kate Teale (1978-80), artist and teacher at Parsons; Jonathan Klein (1978-79), Chair and Co-Founder of Getty Images; Ben Polak (1975-80), Provost of Yale.

Whatever happens today, the educational colossus that is New England will power on – and I imagine that there will be nothing but growth in the number of Bedales students who look in that direction.

Young creatives’ thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I finished my ramblings last week saying that the Young Creative Leaders session at the HMC conference was for me the most stimulating.  Why?

Three entrepreneurs, who had left school in the last 12 years or so, talked about the so-called millennial generation’s aspirations – what are young professionals looking for in their lives and how can we prepare them?  Lizzie Fane, founder of Third Year Abroad and Global Graduates, Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble and Charlotte Pearce, founder of Inkpact made up the panel.

The threads that emerged from their session resonated strongly with what I hear from their contemporaries who are OBs and my own three children who are of that generation.

  • Do something you love, something that you find fulfilling, that makes you feel alive
  • Find something that gives you the satisfaction of seeing something through
  • Spend as much time as possible seeking out different experiences, especially through travel: this will help you spot a problem that you could solve through your business
  • Look out for the ways that “digital nomads” make their livings – people who have found ways of earning money whilst living in different places: technology transforms things
  • Enjoy having control over your time; you can share working space with other creatives
  • Look for all opportunities whilst at school to take new things on, take risks, work out practical solutions for yourself, even if you seem to be one of the awkward squad
  • Building a business is all about being able to inspire people with an idea and keep them motivated – look for chances to do this at school
  • Schools need to help students understand the business basis for schools through showing them how a school needs to operate.

Interesting to reflect on the influence of their parents in all this.  The cultural, social and financial capital of their parents has been a factor in enabling them to take these risks and start their businesses. But what is also interesting is that the millennials’ determination to have greater autonomy over their lives and give greater emphasis to their personal fulfilment is partly a reaction to seeing their parents disgruntled by their work – within the corporate world in the cases cited here.

All the above are handy reminders as we look at how the Bedales experience evolves and especially how we create the right spaces to enable our students to take responsibility and risks within a safe environment.

Being as open with students as possible concerning how their school is run and how decisions are reached is part of that.  An element of this is our annual Governors’ Question Time.  Mirroring Headmaster’s Question Time which happens termly, the Governors’ one has three governors in the panel with me in the Dimbleby role.

Last night most of the questions take the three governors – Matthew Rice, Tim Wise and Michele Johnson – into suitable areas which help show their role – areas such as how the school spends its income, reviews decisions I make and what are the next building projects.  Afterwards, School Council has a session with them.  These things should help increase our students’ understanding of how their school works – and by extension give them a better insight into how complex institutions and businesses operate.

Celebrating Badley

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This coming weekend helps us celebrate the vision of the school’s founder, John Badley or, to his pupils and colleagues, Mr Badley or the Chief.  Its activities range from the Whole School Effort at Bedales (when 500+ students and teachers will create potential pasture from raggedy scrub) to the Bedales Community Festival on Sunday when we work with three charities and offer a range of activities to the wider community.

Amongst all this we have (on Saturday afternoon) a reception for donors and (on Sunday) a reunion of Old Bedalians who left 50 years ago. For me the weekend really gets going when, on Friday evening, I don my tweed plus twos and a red tie and go to Dunhurst to do my annual Badley Jaw.

Each year there is something new to add to the life of this multi-faceted and visionary man:  last year I showed slides of the very fine watercolours he did when he visited Palmyra on his Middle East tour.  This year I am going to talk about his penchant for skiing – he took skiing trips of current and former students well into his 60s.

But amongst all his many writings, it is his advice to teachers which rings as true as anything.  Here are some to ponder:

We shall do more by encouragement and the stimulus of example.

Planning a scheme of work is to be done for at least a year ahead.

Our whole system at Bedales is based upon intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.

I know that the happiest work is done when there is felt to be freedom.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Trains of thought

It’s Percy, of course, I now realise, as I have a quick search for what the green one is called – the Tank Engine, of course – that I nearly trod on when I came across it lying on its side when going towards Emma’s Walk this morning: a stray, be-dewed green engine, dropped from a passing stroller or by a toddler. I lift the lost toy reverentially and stand it off the path on a nearby tuft so that the bereft youngster has a chance of a joyful reunion. Having seen with one of our offspring how Percy, Thomas & Co were instrumental in spurring him initially into speech, I hold these toys in high esteem. The first time we heard anything spoken by him from a book was when he came out with an impromptu chunk from Thomas the Tank Engine. Well done Rev Awdry.

Inspiration is a funny old thing and I find myself musing on this in the light of a series of events over the past week.

The first is an occasion that I don’t attend, because it might cramp the participants’ style; that is the evening that our 6.2s have with nine Old Bedalians who are ten years on. I hear – both from 6.2s and from the 6.2 housestaff – that this was inspirational and thought-provoking, dealing as it did with the passions that students seek to follow and the challenge we all have of trying to match your passions with a way of making a living and feeling that you are doing something worthwhile. The range of OBs included roles which people (wrongly) don’t always associate with the school, such as lawyers with top London firms and a fast-track civil servant.DSC_0012 (Large)

The second is a conversation I had with an OB who was back for the reunion of those who left the school between 1963 and 1967. Eminent now in his own scientific field, he talks about how it was a single reprimand from his biology teacher that set him going. Trying to make excuses for not having done a prep, as if he had failed to do it for the teacher, he was met by a gruff riposte: “Well who do you think you are doing the work for? It’s not for me, it’s for you…”  The further, inspirational teaching from another biology teacher was what gave him the momentum that carried him through his degree at Cambridge and then his research.

The third is seeing Lela & Co, a new play by Cordelia Lynn (who left Bedales in 2007) at the Jerwood Theatre (Royal Court). This is a powerful piece of work which has been extremely well reviewed. You will need to work hard to get a ticket as it finishes on 3 October. Dealing with sex-trafficking, the effect of war on human relations and the nature of relations between men and women, it is a beautifully nuanced piece which cleverly avoids being preachy and maintains such a fine balance between the cheeriness of the central female role and the ghastliness of her experience. Catch it if you can. If not, look out for the next play from this rising OB talent.