Place: Inside

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 second blog is ‘Place: Inside’.

A big part of my Bedales education has been with design and architecture. In previous schools building  was all about utility – the most for the least, with aesthetics considered a frippery – whereas here it was to be different.  Why? The Arts & Crafts movement has beauty and utility at its core; and John Badley’s educational philosophy emphasises the importance of environment  –  the benign effect of  good surroundings on young people. The one school aim I inherited in 2001 was “the appreciation of the beautiful”. I have had the great good fortune to preside over two large and influential building projects – the Orchard Building and Art & Design.

Let’s do some stock-taking of what we had in 2001. Over 60% of teaching was done in the three Greville Rhodes “temporary” flat-roofed, conspicuously (for the time) modern blocks – North, South and Art (1968). These had been built – with great controversy – as the school expanded from 240 to 340. The classrooms in North and South block were small – a push to house 22 – with wafer thin walls: noisy, hot in summer and cold in winter. As teaching spaces they were poor, making it against the grain for teachers to depart from a traditional “chalk and talk” approach.

I did three useful things with the Orchard Building (2006): I suggested to the then Chair of Governors, Michael Blakstad, that we must have an architect on the Board and I wrote the brief for the building and worked closely with the architects to ensure that the ethos suffused the building.  We chose the architects, Walters & Cohen, because of their track record and their way of working, not because they had experience of building for schools – they had none.  Their approach was to come and spend time at the school – to understand the community and the pulse of the school day.  Whereas the Greville Rhodes buildings, in common with much of the icon-ruffling architecture of the 1960s, took no notice of our great signature buildings – the Lupton Hall (1912) and the Library (1919) – the Orchard Building, with the same pitch of roof reflects Arts & Crafts principles: truth to materials in particular, with its bold use of wood and concrete. Cindy Walters also led a master planning exercise which was decisive in creating the geometry at the estate’s centre: the first axis running from the red path in the car park (2005) to where Badley’s chair sits in the Quad, with the bisecting axis having the Theatre (1997) and Steephurst at its west and east ends.

DJI_0025

When the Orchard Building opened in September 2006, the school became calmer.  It worked.

Much happened in the 10 years between this and the building of Art & Design (2016): the refurbishment of Steephurst (£0.5 million x 3 summer holidays); the exterior of 6.2 and interior of Boys’ Flat; the re-modelling of Dunhurst’s interior; the three new staff houses (2012) near Outdoor Work, and, on a  smaller scale but poignantly powerful for so many of us, the Sam Banks Pavilion (2013), the work of the OB twin brothers, the Russells, who had learnt much of their craft with the re-assembling of the 18th century Sotherington Barn in the 1980s.

The recent transformation of the area between the gates and Steephurst, with the new Art & Design building at its centre was Matthew Rice’s idea. He had the vision to see that it made no sense to follow the original Walters & Cohen idea of re-building on the existing site (of Art & Design) but that constructing it where the makeshift Facilities’ buildings were offered a triple benefit: a more prominent setting for one of the school’s great fortes; a brown field site with consequent cost savings; an enhancement to the school’s entrance; and the desirability of putting departments with complementary activities – Art, Design and Outdoor Work – together.

Codicil to all this is delight at seeing the beautiful recent restoration of the Lupton Hall, recounted precisely and tenderly in this article from the Old Bedalian Newsletter (click here and scroll to page 20) by Anna Keay, the governor who  succeeded Matthew Rice as Chairs of Buildings’ sub-committee.

My advice then about schools and building:  remember that nothing can happen until your finances are in good fettle; get plenty of architectural and property expertise onto the governing board;  put the school’s ethos at the centre of your buildings’ design; consult widely before you build; make your teachers who will use the building central to that consultation; and remember that great design doesn’t cost much more than indifferent design.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

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.

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!

Readying the set to go

Returning home past our oak-clad theatre from a very respectable display by the Bedales Ist XI footballers (against the distinctively named Corinthian Casuals) as the dusk gathers late on Saturday afternoon, I notice a side door open on the flank of the theatre and slip inside into a golden glow.

Here is an Aladdin’s cave of activity: under the watchful eye of our theatre designer, Joanne Greenwood, the tech and stage crew are working at the set for the forthcoming main school production: Sound of The Night Feather.  I will not spill dramatic secrets here, but the set involves a novel configuration and I understand that when the cast had the run of the freshly minted set for the first time early this week, there was warm admiration for what Joanne and her crew had created.

For me these moments, when you see the process that underpins a production, are as stirring as the business of seeing the final performance itself.  Without the devoted efforts of this team over the course of many weeks, the vision for the production would be stillborn.

So there is Oli with his dinky control tablet testing all the lights.  Harry and Chris are our other tech-meisters. Hilda is sorting out a seam of masonry, whilst Tom is brandishing a drill and looking for a place to plant a hook.  Others will be busy in the lighting box.

I am told that there will be a reveal – great! But no, I certainly do not want to see it now, but greatly look forward to its revelation next week.

Fun constructing: the wright stuff

DSC_0013

Construction is in the air – literally in the case of the steel skeleton of the new Art & Design building, which is being assembled like a piece of outsized meccano in the previously undisturbed sky outside Steephurst. It is also proceeding apace outside Design, where Sammy M’s gracefully engineered skateboard ramp is nearing completion. No doubt the final layers of varnish are being applied to pieces we will admire on Parents’ Day.

But it is the shaping of word and song that I want to celebrate for a moment. Here are three topical instances from across the age range.

Sunday, 4 pm Bedales Olivier theatre – the cast and crew of Everyone else is a superhero are working hard in the Olivier theatre as their all-in weekend nears its conclusion. It is the first time that I have seen these Block 3s and 4s in action and they seem somehow (given that they have been working on this play for 24 hours already) to still have boundless energy. I sit and watch. Are they rehearsing or are they constructing the play? In my (of course) old-fashioned way I still think that you find a play on a page and then you, well, do it; but life in the theatre has become much more interesting than that – so, no, you old fuddy duddy, you devise a play, creating something out of an idea and, lo, the play is constructed from the process. However much I know that this can happen in theory and indeed I have seen recent evidence of its success with Phil King’s productions, here I am, watching a rehearsal and I am seeing this play evolve. It is being made. Stuff happens in the rehearsal – yes, some funny and unexpected stuff (secret for the time being); and, yes, the funny, accidental stuff has gone into the play, with the decision being made instantaneously – bold and clever, I say, especially as at some point (I hope by now) Richard Weinman who is our director in residence, needs to say, “STOP, THAT’S IT, NO MORE CHANGES!” And the play will stop evolving and start being honed towards performance. Anyway I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out and I think it will be funny and thought-provoking – in the Theatre from Saturday onwards. It will have been great fun to be in – and a brilliant bit of education.

Monday, 7.30, Drama studio – three short plays performed by 6.1s. All have been written by sixth formers for the National Theatre’s New Views competition. Each is about 15 minutes long. The actors have had the unusual experience of working closely with the authors (their peers). The subject matter – lives on the edge, literally in one case – demands a high level of skill in the writing – especially that tricky business of creating dialogue that works. All three of the plays have something to say to the packed audience. Impressively all three scripts have been learnt and are performed with feeling. It’s a gutsy and powerful occasion.

Wednesday, 9.15, Dunhurst Well – the world premiere of The Gruffalo, the opera – musical settings and songs composed by the children of Dunannie. Here is the spirit of devising and improvising at large in Dunannie. Under the inspiring guidance of Mea Wade and Ben Harlan, the children have improvised tunes for the words of The Gruffalo. The tunes have been then quickly written down as they are being sung and chords have been created to support them. So what we hear in the Well was lots of different tunes stuck together with chords to make one coherent melody. First, the Forest Overture is performed by the Dunnanie Orchestra. Each creature has its signature tune, so for example the owl’s call is created on a battery of xylophones and recorders. Then comes that story itself, with the full choir in support. It is rapturously received: bravo!

An interesting place to be

*temp*

If, in some strange mythological challenge or a curious dream, you had to choose a place around here to be, I think it would be difficult to find a more interesting place to be than the Olivier Theatre.

Now, of course, it would be comforting feeling so well put together, with your sturdy beams, stylish dimensions and all that admirable Arts & Crafts heritage; of course it would be cheering to have the company of engaging colleagues like John Barker and all those lively drama teachers who inhabit your stylish eyrie-like upper reaches; but the real stuff – the stuff of dreams – is happening right at your centre and the last few days are typical of the glories that you have witnessed in your midst, in your splendid solar plexus of a stage.

On a weekend in mid January you find yourself colonized by a chirruping, energetic swarm of Dunhurst boys and girls working under the direction of sundry human-magicians (robe and sceptre-less but wielding plenty of magic) who start conjuring works of an exotic and a Japanese nature from them. Mid-week and the concoction is really becoming recognisable and, yes, here is Land of the Flying Dragon, involving all the Blocks pupils in as visually compelling and complex a show as the formidable Kingsley-Pallant has yet created. Three cracking performances! What home grown entertainment, you have!

Any big fat tears you might be about to shed when that dream is ended (when the show concludes on Saturday afternoon) is short-lived when, just as the rest of the working world is slowing for the weekend, it all starts up again: the moment the last admiring parent has gone, here are the men of the Bedales Estates’ staff – dismantling and pushing you around – out goes the stage in the round, retreat to the proscenium arch and, bash, knock, squeeze, you are in a different shape again and being crawled over – and it’s Saturday night.

Sunday morning you wake bleary-eyed – it has been some week and you are thinking that a bit of inactivity is in order – some, how do you say, chillaxing? No rest in prospect, however, as gesticulating people in black t-shirts with wires coming out of their ears clamber all over you – always twiddling away they are. And here are various, eager musicians – and lots and lots of guttural, twangy noise as they fiddle with their instruments and with the kit. They must really know what they are doing. You will be wondering what is going to happen, as the 2015 Rock Show girds its loins.


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.

Theatre, Privilege and Independent Schools- A response to Dame Judi

Olivier Theatre 1

Last week it was my great pleasure to be in the audience for an Analogue production of Stowaway in the Bedales Olivier Theatre.  I mention this because recent weeks have seen a flurry of press attention to concerns that acting is becoming a profession closed to all but the wealthy. Dame Judi Dench has expressed the view that working class talent is increasingly squeezed out as a consequence of the costs of entry (a point supported by David Morrissey), and associates the death of repertory theatre with a reduction in opportunities to both see and participate in theatre.

Others in the industry appear undecided on the question of access – whilst BBC Controller of Drama Ben Stephenson supports the view that acting is ‘too middle class’, Gavin Henderson of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama reports no noticeable shift towards the better-off in the School’s intake. Edward Kemp of RADA also disputes that the Academy’s students are all from wealthy families and, instead, directs attention to what he sees as a general downgrading of the arts and humanities in UK society. If borne out, his concerns a) that exposure to good theatre is being squeezed and b) that in terms of school provision independent school facilities are significantly better than their state sector counterparts raise an interesting dilemma.  Does this make independent schools the protectors of the interests of a wealthy minority seeking entry to the acting profession to the detriment of a socially diverse theatre or, alternatively, the guardians of arts and humanities under siege?

Inevitably, the answer must be nuanced. At Bedales we believe that theatre has an important social and educational function, that it has a value for everybody, and that its importance would be reduced were it to be colonised by any minority. From an early age, we encourage our students to develop their performance skills – not least because we believe that it develops confidence, and awareness and understanding of others. And we believe that this is true for everybody.  Simultaneously, we leave no stone unturned in trying to prepare our students for careers in acting, or indeed any other role within theatre and the creative industries more generally, should that be what they wish for.

There can be no disputing that Bedales’ commitment to theatre is expensive, and that is reflected in our fees. We know that not everybody can afford them, although we do, of course, try to make our provision more accessible through bursaries and similar support. However, we are adamant that our facilities should be accessible to those from outside the school, and we are committed to our role as a locus of regional theatre that helps to fill some of the gap left by the demise of repertory theatre.  Bedales theatre facilities are used by the local Petersfield Youth Theatre, and we value highly our association with such an accomplished and vibrant company. We also put on a diverse and regular programme of theatre that is open to the public: whilst we are not in a position to eradicate wealth disparities and associated privileges within society, we are in a position to encourage critical reflection on this and other issues – a responsibility we take seriously both as educators of our students and in planning our theatre programmes for wider audiences.

To return to last week’s production of Stowaway, it is possible that one or more of our students present may absorb the experience into their entry into an acting career, and should that turn out to be the case I will be very proud. What is beyond dispute, however, is that in addressing questions of labour exploitation and migration, the production challenged its audience – students, staff and members of the wider community alike – to consider together human experience as connected to the great social and economic forces of our times. I am no less proud of that.


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.