Growing up on a dairy farm in Ireland, I never really went on holidays; there were always too many jobs to do. Our modest little farm here at Bedales is no different, and we had so much work planned for the Spring term. Jobs included laying the hedge along Emma’s Walk, coppicing another section of the sand quarry and pollarding the willow in Ruth’s Meadow. We had also planned blacksmithing, vegetable bed preparation, bee keeping, jam and marmalade making, spinning and weaving, not to mention all the jobs around the farm too. I should never have let the students go home for the holiday at the end of last term!
We are working hard on the theory aspects of all this necessary work, and trying to do as much online as we can. But getting cold, dirty and wet – and developing the resilience to work through it all – is one of the key parts of Outdoor Work, and not something we can easily replicate online.
The animals on the farm are doing well. They are a bit fed up of the wet weather, but last weekend’s snow was a welcome break from the drizzle which saw a very entertaining snowball fight between the Southdown, Herdwick and Jacob sheep! They are all due to start lambing just after half term, and we will have a second round of lambing at the start of the Summer term with our main Jacob flock. Little Pig and Bessie are due to farrow towards the end of February, after we hired a big saddleback boar in October. We can’t wait to see the results of this crossbreeding.
Some very special and long awaited arrivals should also be joining us around February. They are the three Fs: Favour, Freya and Fingers, our ready-made Dexter herd. Favour is pregnant and due in April, Freya is the 10-month-old daughter of Favour, and Fingers is her cousin… Confused?! We are too, but we can’t wait to get these little cows settled in and ready for when you all return.
As always you can keep an eye on what we are up to by following us on Instagram and Twitter.
Living with the Land is our new Sixth Form course, which was written by Feline and me, and introduced to the curriculum this year. The course aims to equip students with the necessary practical skills to live lightly off the land, and enable them to look at the issues surrounding the environment and our impact upon it. It is a natural progression from our Outdoor Work Bedales Assessed Course (BAC), however it goes into far greater depth and includes significant self-directed work, including a portfolio and a ‘major’ project in the final year.
Living with the Land around us means having a greater awareness of our environment, living in rhythm with the seasons, trying to reduce our footprint and applying our new-found knowledge to other aspects of our lives and our community. This term we have been focusing on getting students to really think about their immediate surroundings. We have encouraged them to take a step back and take time to really consider the impact we are having on the natural environment.
So far this term students have spent time looking at and observing our beautiful estate. This has meant a lot of walking and talking, as well as just sitting in a field, letting our senses tell us more about the land around us. We have been looking at permaculture and how its principles might be applied to ourselves, our community and beyond. We have built wattle and daub walls and started looking at natural building and how empowering and beautiful it is. Bread baking, foraging, making hedgerow preserves and site surveying are just some of the topics we have already touched upon over the past three weeks on this exciting and enriching course.
By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation
Another way is possible. At Bedales we have long eschewed a narrow focus on preparing students for terminal exams. A nourishing educational experience must do much more than fill heads with knowledge for the sake of supervised regurgitation. We live out our Ruskin-inspired motto: “Head, Hand and Heart”. Every day at school should strike a balance between intellectual stimulation, creative work, and service to the community. We have recently re-structured our school day around this principle. There is choice about when to get up, since we know that autonomy is motivating, and that not all adolescents are designed for early mornings. Lots of students will opt to start the day with a co-curricular activity: meditation, feeding sheep, baking bread, a country walk; they might get into the kitchens to help serve and clear breakfast; others will choose a little more slumber before academic lessons and plan their activities for later. We know that an under-slept student is an inefficient one. Lessons start at 9.45. A full hour later than they used to be. We know that it’s refreshing for students to take breaks and to switch activity, so we have built a further blast of non-academic activity into the middle of the day. Music ensembles, drama rehearsals, service activities with local community partners, tending the vegetable garden, or a tennis lesson, for example. More lessons in the afternoon, followed by a final raft of optional activities in the evening. But, crucially, lots of choice about when to be active and when to rest. So, everyone chooses co-curricular activities, but by no means in every slot. It’s really important for young people to be able to opt for unstructured leisure, too, and they can choose when to get their homework done as long as they hit the deadline. No compulsory ‘prep’ times here.
We have baked our “Head, Hand, Heart” principles into curriculum and assessment. For a dozen years Bedales has been issuing the now famous ‘Centre Assessed Grades’ for its own GCSE-equivalent courses, the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). We have trusted teachers to report reliably and constructively on the broad range of work that students do, and so have universities. And we have been able to assess in a much broader way than GCSEs permit. As part of our Outdoor Work BAC, for example, a student’s ability to work in a team whilst renovating a tractor is as much a part of their assessment as writing about the process. Their ability to explain and defend their project to an audience counts towards their grade. This is ‘work that matters’ to paraphrase Ron Berger. We’re rolling out a Level 3 equivalent course in Living With the Land this September to teach students how to live in a radically sustainable way. Watch out for a proliferation of cob houses and hemp-clad foragers in the Hampshire hills!
We’re adopting a rigorous project-based learning approach in year 9, inspired by the Expeditionary Learning Movement and our friends at the XP School in Doncaster. Students will work on real-life enquiry questions and study across disciplines in order to respond practically to real-world issues. For example, we will look at the contemporary refugee crisis through the lenses of history, geography, religious studies and literature at the same time as planning practical responses to support our partners at the Rural Refugee Network.
It’s an enviable experience for our students and they know it, but we don’t want to keep it all to ourselves. We are eager to share this kind of rounded, enriching approach to education with others, knowing that far too many languish in an unfulfilling exam-obsessed rut. We’re working with a small number of independent schools to build a partnership with our innovative colleagues and friends in the maintained sector at Bohunt School, Gosport’s Key Education Centre, School 21 and the XP School to make the case for significant national assessment reform. Watch this space, but the time has never felt more ripe for a thorough re-thinking of the drudgerous, purgatorial treadmill of an education system obsessed with terminal exam results…
It’s so good to have everyone back at Bedales and to have students involved on the farm again. With the school closed during lockdown, many of our usual helpers weren’t around, but with animals to feed and a farm to keep running, those of us still on site were busier than ever. So here’s a quick catch-up on what you might have missed…
Since March: three Herdwick, 12 Bedales chocolate and 27 Jacob lambs were born, our two sows had 12 Berkshire and 13 Oxford Sandy & Black piglets between them, we sold six live lambs and two ewes, sent eight hoggets to the abbatoir, lost 15 chickens to a mystery predator, acquired two Pygmy goats, sold 22 piglets, thought about getting a cow (watch this space!), baled 111 bales of hay, harvested over 250 jars of honey, sheared 68 sheep, trimmed countless feet and bottle fed a lamb in my house for five weeks! This is without even mentioning all the fruit and vegetables that has been grown, harvested and frozen in preparation for delicious recipe making with students this term.
We received a huge amount of help from staff living on site, who so generously gave their time to tend to the vegetable beds and polytunnels. Not only did this provide a form of lockdown therapy, but a wonderful community spirit flourished – thank you! I would also like to give a special mention to Outdoor Work’s Kirsten and Marcella, as well as my own family, all of whom worked tirelessly throughout a long and sometimes difficult period to help keep this unique and beautiful farm thriving. We very much look forward to working alongside students and staff once again. Here’s to a fabulous new school year!
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The Summer term is usually the busiest and most rewarding; students can literally see the fruits of their labour all around them. But at the moment, certain areas of Outdoor Work (ODW) remind me of a post-apocalyptic movie. People have gone, tools have been left, a shoven leaning against a wall is slowly being choked by bindweed as it makes its way up the shaft. Yet despite the eerie silence and our missing workforce, plants still grow and animals still need tending…
Every year we time the lambing of our Jacob sheep to start at the beginning of the Summer term. This year at the black barn, we got 26 lambs from 15 ewes. Across the yard, our two sows, Bessie and Little Pig, were busy giving birth to 22 piglets between them. The barnyard was buzzing with new life and a welcome distraction for passers-by on their daily lockdown walk.
We currently have around 90 sheep on the farm. They are all at different stages of life and require a lot of hands-on work. Social distancing and farming don’t really go well together and it is at times like this that the term ‘Bedales bubble’ has been very appropriate. Without the help of students, regular jobs like weighing, treating, foot trimming, shearing and moving sheep have been a challenge. But my ‘ODW bubble’ of Kirsten, Marcella, Oscar Kingsley-Pallant, Josh Baty and my family has worked wonders!
By Marcella Craven, Outdoor Work Technician and Beekeeper
Beekeepers all over the country watch their hives intently at this time of year.
All the long winter we have fed our bees with fondant, checked that the hives haven’t blown over (at Bedales we weighted our roofs down with slabs during the severe winds and we still had one fly off)! We treated the hives for disease. We also worried that pests might have got into the hives, silently wrecking the comb, eating stores or consuming bees! Woodpeckers, badgers, mice, wasps and worse of all, man-made poisons, insecticides and sprays all present a serious risk to the hives.
This year the weather has not been good for bees. Wet, mild weather makes hives damp. Bees can’t fly to make cleansing flights, and the colony can chill easily. Global warming is changing our seasons and this causes a difference to the forage available, and the weather which a bee needs to be able to venture out and retrieve it. I have observed that life for a colony is complex and often mirrors our human problems.
Outdoor Work is unique in its ability to displace us from the normality of walled classrooms. It enables everyone, regardless of age, to become acquainted with the work that our hands can miraculously create.
On Saturday I, along with seven other keen blacksmiths (who are either learning blacksmithing as part of their Outdoor Work BAC, have chosen blacksmithing as an enrichment or regularly attend blacksmithing club with our visiting resident blacksmith, Lucille from Little Duck Forge), diverged from the routine of morning lessons and attended Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’. A forge-in is the term given to a group of blacksmiths working collaboratively on a project – and in our case, we spent the day making a decorative panel for a new wooden archway to be built at the entrance to Outdoor Work near Steephurst.
On Saturday night at the Small Shepherd’s Club AGM, Kirsten Houser and I were the proud recipients of the McLellan Lambing Trophy (pictured above with Etty and Sasha). The trophy is awarded to the flock with the highest lambing percentage. Although we came second in 2018, in 2019 we were finally victorious!
Here in Outdoor Work, we have a long tradition of keeping sheep. We mostly have Jacobs, a breed prized for their piebald fleece and magnificent curly horns. Not only do they have a distinctive look, they are easy to handle and produce delicious meat. Because of the variation in their fleece, the wool is highly sought after by knitters and weavers.
We also have three smiley-faced South Down ewes. This is a local breed that has grazed the South Downs for centuries and is historically one of the most important British sheep breeds. Keeping them company are two Herdwicks, a breed native to the Lake District. We mostly keep them just because they look so awesome!
On Monday evening, we were very lucky to have Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, visit Bedales to give a fascinating talk. Patrick spoke of his life as a dairy farmer in West Wales and his early work with the Soil Association, before talking about the aim of the Sustainable Food Trust, the patron of which is the Prince of Wales.
The Sustainable Food Trust works to “accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems that nourish the health of both people and planet”. They work with government organisations and individuals to audit and fight for more sustainable food and farming systems. Their latest project is a collaboration with Richard Dunne called The Harmony Project, which seeks to apply the principles of nature and interconnectedness with education.
Patrick wanted to highlight the complicated nature of every choice we make – the hidden cost of food. He spoke of the benefits of grass-fed beef and lamb, both for our health and for our environment. He also spoke of sheep farmers in Wales who are now building huge chicken sheds where there would have once been grassland, as consumers mistakenly believe buying chicken is better for the environment than lamb. Those chickens are fed a concentration of soya and grain shipped in from all around the world and live short, miserable lives in giant sheds. We as consumers are completely unaware of the implications of our food choices – the ‘plant based’ food trend as pernicious as the one consumers think they need to avoid, with large multinational companies making huge sums of money from our desire to eat more sustainably.
By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work, and Feline Charpentier, Teacher of Outdoor Work
From September 2020, students in 6.1 will be able to choose a new Outdoor Work (ODW) course as one of their sixth form options. ‘Living with the Land’ is a two-year course which will equip students with the practical skills to live lightly off the land, enabling them to look at the wider context for the issues surrounding the environment and our impact upon it. Living with the land around us means having a greater awareness of our environment, living with the seasons, trying to reduce our footprint and applying our new-found knowledge to other aspects of our lives and the community.
It is a natural progression from all aspects covered in the ODW BAC, however it goes into far greater depth and includes significant self-directed work, including a portfolio and a ‘major’ project in the final year. There is currently no clear pathway for a student wishing to take a more practical course at sixth form in environmental subjects. The closest comparable courses are Countryside Management, Food Skills, Sustainability or the planned Natural History GCSE. No courses combine traditional building, cooking and craft skills with aspects of ecology, sustainability and community.