Conferring on boarding

Just about to leave the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) conference in the heart of Victorian Manchester. Much good idea sharing and updating on everything from safeguarding to outreach, but it will be the memory of positive advocates for boarding that will stick with me above all.  Both are men who exemplify the degree to which the right kind of boarding experience can have a transformative effect on the individual’s confidence.  In the BSA magazine, Tony Little, former head of Eton, described the quality well: “through my own experience [in boarding] I have seen students metamorphose from cautious caterpillars into bold caterpillars ready to take flight”.

The first example was Ben Fogle whose speech, early in the conference, referred to the way his experience at Bryanston had transformed him.  In the BSA magazine he summarises it: “Shy as a mouse, I lacked a voice and probably a personality”.  Boarding was a powerful ingredient of “confidence… confidence in me. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin.”  He concludes by describing confidence as the antithesis of the public school swagger: it’s “a virtue. A skill. A feeling. A value.”  His testimony and his subsequent life are fine examples of the effect of that miscellaneous bundle of experiences, mainly encountered outside the classroom, that go under the dry expression ‘co-curricular’ (switching on the TV late last night, there is his large frame, commenting on the mating habits of wildebeest).

The second example of confidence in action was last night’s after dinner talk by Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent and ex Marlborough student.  Although he would be the last one to describe himself in this way, his talk and his life are, like Fogle’s, an example of physical and moral courage.  Frank described how his experience at school made him hungry to get out and do new things once he left Marlborough.  This translated into him, as a student of Arabic, having the chutzpah to knock on the door of a family in Cairo and ask if he could live with them and learn their language.  His account of his near fatal wounding at the hands of Al Qaeda affiliates (“losers”, as he described them) in 2004 was especially powerful: his extraordinary luck in surviving that attack and the way that writing his experience down had been decisive for his state of mind.  Here is an example of both confidence and an inspirational, cheerful resilience: his conclusion “life is still an awful lot of fun”.

Big glad day

A whirligig of happenings over the past few days, starting on Friday evening. First jolly – it’s the BPA fundraising party and I am dressed like an old-fashioned, properly messy artist (it being dress, artistic, you see) with a paint patina-ed apron and a droopy silk handkerchief, calling everyone out of the evening sun into the marquee where things are auctioned (sheep, attendance at film premieres, a holiday in Barbados) and Bedalians raise the tone through playing their music, with their mums and dads bopping in front. (Stop press: circa £60K raised – hoorah! and a huge thank you to the brilliant parent volunteers, student helpers, catering staff and generous donors and buyers of prizes.)

Saturday morning, Parents’ Day proper and we’re off: one of the best hours of the year is the first – my quiet, pad around the Art & Design exhibition before anyone else is there and so I can see it all without needing to be polite and, being of course a unitasker, therefore being distracted. So, here’s an amazing face in oils with the most bewitchingly ugly lips, there’s some semi-melted pottery, there (Gallery now) is a molten face shape with a painted face behind, here (Workshop now) is a chair inspired by I.M. Pei (Mr Louvre, I see) and not just any old ruff and bodice but Marie Antoinette-inspired women’s wear.

I could stay here all day, there being so much that is intriguing and beautiful, but no, off to the Dance display where, as an unagile person who had only been coaxed into the briefest of shuffles in my apron, I watch 70 minutes of pieces conjured from the minds of dance students and their inspiring teachers – Rosie Nash and Liz Richards. But, can’t dawdle too long because it is well after noon and Moony and I are scampering over the Mem Pitch to be part of the opening of the Kadian Observatory – the bit of the day that I will always remember: Kadian’s friends, builders of this observatory, now well grown up, stand proudly in front of this beautiful mini rotunda as Peter Coates, Michael Truss, Thomas Harding speak before Kadian’s sister Sam cuts the ribbon and it is open – a wonderful memorial to Kadian and one that will inspire more wonder.

Then, scuttling back to the Theatre to find it hosting the scratch drama Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, a powerful piece using actors across the community, with an urgent message about the prevalence of Aids and its continuing impact. Lunch will need to wait as the drumbeat summons us to the farewell to Tony Layzell, drum teacher here for 27 years and former drummer with The Bachelors, a group who my parents shuffled to, I think. Music of another kind beckons and past the massed picnics of the Orchard we go to the Library where, amongst the fine exhibition of OB maps and photos, we find Clare Jarmy‘s madrigalists singing to us from the upstairs balcony: timeless, ethereal…But, though the spirit is buoyed up and willing sustenance is needed and a brief pit-stop required, but brief it must be because, although there is a light shower, the musicians are probably singing by Steephurst now, which they were, but truncated by a refreshing shower. The roaming barbershop quartet (dressed in their bespoke waistcoats designed by singer-designer Alex Y) helpfully sing to the assembled marquee to help still them so I can announce the Swaziland raffle winners. Then it is OBs in the pigeon-hole cafe for a quick welcome and pep talk – will see them later at their 10th and 25th year reunions – and presentations to four long-serving colleagues who have reached the 25 year watershed – John Barker (Arts Coordinator), David McClunan (Sports Facility Maintenance Technician), John Scullion (Deputy Managing Head) and Peter Coates (Head of Outdoor Work).

The last daylight stop is to the Summer Concert where we start in the Quad with the guttural chords of Carmina Burana and end in Boys’ Flat courtyard with the delicacy of Sir John Taverner’s ThLamb. The most striking feature of the concert is the series of virtuoso performances by a quartet of outstandingly capable musicians who have given so much to school music over their four or five years. Here is Olivia B’s melodically lamenting Cleopatra; there is Daniel R, rapt with concentration over his double bass (Vivaldi’s Sonata III), Callum A, feet and hands a blur on the organ (J. S.Bach’s Toccata in F); Josh G tackling a clarinet piece designed to be of fiendish complexity to challenge the most able (Messager’s Solo de Concours) and Immy W bringing across Bernstein’s complex blend of classical pastiche and contemporary musical styles (Glitter and be Gay). A big, glad day.

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.

Midsummer Moomin

Invigorated from seeing so much activity at the Dunhurst Parents’ Day on Saturday – dancing, drama improvising, pottery and weaving (and that’s merely a fraction of what’s on offer) – I find myself drawn into the big tent and into the world of the Moomins, for the Harlan (music and lyrics) and Kingsley-Pallant (direction) production of Tales from Moominvalley, a wonderful meeting of creative talents and a show for the mental scrapbook. What a creation is Moomin! And how brilliantly have Simon and Ben captured it! Entranced by the performances by the evocatively named and intriguing characters – Little My, Sniff, Fillyjonk etc – I am putty in their dramatic hands. There is something about this wonderfully quirky and vulnerable performance that captures the anxieties, bizareness and (often baseless) fears of early adolescence beautifully. Stephen York’s stylish and clever set is scampered over nimbly by scores of young actors as Simon manages his usual feat of everyone’s involvement. It is an extraordinary happening – and one that it is difficult to imagine happening at any other school.

Moomin is now so much in my head: how did it pass me by first time round? Was it barred from the Fylde Coast, like much that was culturally interesting? I suspect not, but perhaps I missed the first wave as the books were only translated into English in the early 1960s and maybe I was thought to be post-Moomin when they finally emerged in the North; or perhaps I was already putty in the hands of Willard Price (African Adventure etc) and Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy.

The other person who is very much in my head is Alan Bennett – more than usual that is, as I am a big fan. This is partly because I was so tickled by Harry Enfield’s rendition of Alan Bennett playing Stalin in his and Paul Whitehouse’s excellent comic take on 50 years of BBC2, but also because Bennett has had another go at private schools, saying that they are not fair. Reassuringly, he says, the revolution will be a gradual one with the “amalgamation of state and public schools at sixth form level”. Well, well. More pertinent but as misleading is the spin put by the BBC on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Ofsted report on competitive sport: it is recounted as if it is somehow the fault of the independent sector that 40% of the British medal winners at the London Olympics were privately educated, rather than, as the report suggests, a major failure of the maintained sector that competitive sport is so patchy there.

Excitement about Moomins, Bennett, Wilshaw, Wimbledon and even end of term reports will, of course, be sidelined by the prospect of Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie Summer Party this Friday, when, having bought your ticket, you can bid for experiences as various as a week at a house in Barbados or Norfolk, two tickets to the world premiere of the next Bond film, the Bedales gypsy caravan or even a Bedales Jacob sheep – dead or alive.

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.

Forward musings

The weekend brings much forward-looking: our 6.1s, returned after their AS modules, are immersed in matters to do with Higher Education, whilst parents of Block 4s downwards come to a Parents’ Forum to hear about the plans to reform A Levels from 2015 onwards.

The 6.1 UCAS weekend has had its current intensive flavour for a while: a lengthy session on Friday when they are brought up close to the UCAS application procedure, with particular help on their personal statement from a visiting expert from the University of Southampton; the Beyond Bedales fair on Saturday when 55 recent Old Bedalians return to offer their advice on places and courses; and on Sunday a session for parents, which a number of students also attended, on the ways in which we help our students gain a place at the higher education destination of their choice. This year the top destination for our students on a ten year basis is Oxford (pipping Leeds and Bristol). Edinburgh continues its march upwards as a destination, now that the attraction of the higher fee from the English students outweighs the previous favouring of Scots-based ones. At the Beyond Bedales fair it is reassuring and touching to hear how many of the OB undergraduates benefited from this occasion in its early stages two or three years ago. Warm proselytising on behalf of the more far flung universities is afoot – come to St Andrews, it’s fab! Durham is a must! Conversations that happened on Saturday will influence where and what a number of our current 6.1s will study between 2015 and at least 2020.

Meanwhile, much more crystal ball polishing is going on in the theatre at the Parents’ Forum where Bedales Director of Teaching and Learning, Alistair McConville and I outline the likely sixth form assessment landscape from 2015 onwards. Three A Levels are the thing, as they pretty much are now, but you get there differently – rather as (yes, really) we all did before the Tait-led reforms of 2000; so you take your exams at the end. That’s the simple bit. The tricksy bit is twofold: how you arrive at your destination and how you run the new system alongside the old system from 2015 to 2018. More anon by way of some detailed feedback from this meeting and outline on what to look out for next, but no one can expect anything definite until the full specifications are published in the early autumn.

Back here at the homestead, having seen our valiant hen, Mrs Green (assumed missing, nabbed by Freddy Fox in my 9 May blog, but mysteriously restored after having camped out overnight) see off in short order sundry creatures proverbially more courageous – a Jack Russell, a Westie and a squirrell – I am repenting ever having made the silly connection between hens and cowardice. This new-found open-mindedness will prepare me well for imminent report writing.

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.

Passing muster

Wednesday evening’s assembly brings an unlikely combination of threads that need to be woven together: the announcement of the new head student team, the publication of our ISI inspection report and the annual appearance of at least one dog. The first is relatively straightforward as, by tradition, the new team merely appear and do their first “shush”, so big cheers (literally too) for Rob M, Margaret R, Esme A and Roly B who have been chosen after a long process, which began with their agreeing to be put forward, a school vote and then plenty of staff discussion. Then we at last receive the final version of our ISI inspection report: happily, not too much of the inspectors’ warm enthusiasm for the schools has been tempered by that shadowy figure, the Editor, and both the reports – the Bedales one and the Dunhurst & Dunannie one – read glowingly and take me back to the wonderfully heartening 2 1/2 hours of verbal feedback we had on the final day of last term.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the dog? I am already slimming the canine element down as last year the annual dog assembly featured about 8 labradors and culminated in the appearance of the most cuddly of labradoodle puppies. So, the need to tell the school about the inspection and to introduce the idea of criteria means that we are confined to one dog – the unwisely named Budge dog Zazu – who, carefully managed by former deputy head girl Freya D, allows herself to be used as an example of labradorness. With the aid of the 18 Kennel Club criteria for what makes for the ideal labrador, I make a quick series of judgements on her various dimensions and characteristics: so, well done on not being cow-hocked and yes, you look close-coupled with half decent withers, but, oh dear,  bad luck with the feathery tail – not ottery enough, so merely good, certainly not excellent.

On to the report itself: above all I want the students to know that their close engagement with the their work and their warm, mutually respectful relationships with their teachers over recent years have been a massive factor in enabling this; also, their love of learning, inspired by their teachers, is evident not only in what the inspectors observed but also in the work that the inspectors scrutinized and in the results achieved – it is not just a matter of turning on the charm and the brains for a few days. Also, I want them to see that this has all been done within the Badley ideals, so we close with a picture of The Chief, looking suitably thoughtful, with his rather labradorish eyes.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School


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.

Naming rights

Catching up on the teachers’ nomenclature debate (“Miss’ might be insulting, but calling teachers by their first names should never be allowed. End of”, Telegraph, 14 May 2014) I find myself surprised at the doctrinaire views being expressed. Although, happily, I don’t need to worry about the nuances of ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’, it has never struck me that there is harm attached to either, or that ‘Miss’ (generally pronounced so that it becomes a hybrid between Miss, Ms and Mrs) is pernicious; neither do I object to teachers being called by their preferred title and surname. If pushed, I prefer the latter, as did the founder of Bedales, Mr Badley.

Here, teachers have been called by their first names since the late 1930s. This occurred gradually when, following the school’s return from its annual camp in Devon, where first name terms were generally adopted, some of the younger teachers allowed students to call them by their first names; returning to Steep, the practice continued and gradually became accepted, although Mr Badley continued as Mr Badley through to his death aged 103 in 1967. I, however, am Keith.

Like many good things here, this welcome practice has come about through an organic process – a kind of gradual erosion of one texture or fabric and its replacement by a more pliable and comfortable one. The starched collar has given way to durable Egyptian cotton: It works well for us here.

Returning to the article by Helen Fraser, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, an organisation that I admire, I find it surprising to hear her say that an alternative to the traditional model cannot work in a different context. We British have a quaint, understandable but illogical tendency to think that tradition and formality lead to respect and order. To say (as Helen does) that “calling teachers by their first name…diminishes the respectful relationship that should exist between a teacher and his or her student” is misguided and plain wrong. I will invite her to come to Bedales and see mutual respect operating unhindered by the warm traffic of first names swapped between teachers and students, although I will give her the option of being called Ms Fraser throughout her visit if she prefers.

There is a broader, perhaps more serious point here, which is that I would no more try to foist our friendly but respectful first name custom on other schools than I would suggest they hang up their uniforms: schools have their own integrity and need to be allowed to develop their customs and cultures accordingly.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

Keith Budge and Bedales' Head Students


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.

Miscellaneous but engaging matters

Summer’s lease is starting promisingly, with sunny weather presiding over the weekend and its miscellaneous but engaging matters: on Saturday, a Block 3 parent-teacher meeting with the double doors of the Library open and a spring in most steps as younger siblings took advantage of the Orchard; on Sunday, the annual Gentlemen of Bedales XI vs the Bedales Schools’ Teachers’ XI on the Mem Pitch; the final run through of the Summer Production (sneakily observed by me and, yes, it is definitely worth seeing) in the Theatre; and a memorable reading of Troilus and Cressida on the patio (stoep if you like Afrikaans) of 50 Church Road by the Shakespeare Society, followed by the traditional pizza and ice-cream and plenty of discussion about all those different versions of the Trojan story and its associated, titanic characters.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School


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.