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!

Dangerous foreign amblings

Poetry, literature and the dangers of monolingualism are all front page news – thanks to a timely debate sparked by Jeremy Paxman’s comments after judging the Forward Prize, Michael Gove’s impact on the national provenance of GCSE texts and the welcome alert to the shortage of strong British modern language students given by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Professor Borysiewicz.

I feel unusually smugly Govian as I teach my Block 1 lesson on Tuesday: they start by reminding me of the splendid Shakespearean insults that they have learnt and, yet more importantly, the appetite that their (proper, full time) English teacher, Melissa Canter has given them for the sheer flex, sinew and oomph of Shakespearean language; then I gather their thoughts on what they think makes for poetry before drawing on a few adages on the topic  – from Hardy and Larkin (Govian murmurs of approval, please) – segueing into the stunning and unusually  (for someone better known for being urban-dreary) lyrical Larkin poem Cut Grass. So, a lesson that begins with Shakespeare, dallies with Hardy and then concludes in the sweet spot of the English pastoral-lyrical tradition – 10/10 for me on the Govian British Isles scale. And I suspect I am doing quite well too by Wordsworth and Paxman benchmarks on accessible poetry – stuff ordinary folk can appreciate.

Sadly – and here is the confession – I have erred over the course of half term. Foolishly, I allowed myself to be bundled onto a train by my well organised wife (Dutch extraction, a few generations back, I fear); I then found myself in a very comfortable armchair travelling at high speed towards Paris (where awkwardly that almost British Isles author Joyce wrote a bit) and then on to Strasbourg, still sitting comfortably. Even more dangerously, I found myself confronted with a range of books, some of dubious origin: Burial Rites, an enthralling and thought-provoking first novel by Hannah Kent, an Australian, about a young Icelandic woman condemned to death for murdering her lover;  Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eagle-eyed commentary on cultural cross-currents between the UK, USA and Nigeria; The Mighty Heart,  Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson – about, well, what it says, but one of those mind-whirring books which sets you both thinking and wanting to visit all sorts of places across North Africa, the Mediterranean and the near East; and The Undertaking by an Irish author, Audrey Magee, about Stalingrad and domestic life in Berlin.  (Didn’t like that one but loved the other three, by the way, and didn’t read them all on the train, of course.)

So how did I do on the Gove scale? Well, The Mighty Heart is fine because Adam Nicholson is British, although being mainly a Scot, he could easily soon fall foul to a re-defintion of the British Isles; sadly, though, the book is about Greeks and others from outwith these isles, although Homer’s yarns have been quite influential on much of British Isles literature, even Joyce’s Ulysses (if permitted).

Aside of feeling relieved that our own, homegrown Bedales Assessed Course in English Literature will allow us the scope to choose the texts, from Britain or elsewhere,  that we feel are right for our students, I feel embarrassed that, maybe unwittingly, Michael Gove has allowed himself to appear Farage-like in his literary parochialism. Enough from me – here is Michael Rosen’s much more balanced and fully referenced Letter from a curious parentDear Mr Gove…

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.

Ideas for youth

In my dotting around week, Thursday is one of those days which brims over with stimulating ideas and people, beginning on the south coast at the Brighton Education Conference and ending up with Stephen Fry’s visit to Bedales. Now (the morning after), it is both difficult to absorb the range of ideas and not to feel entirely buoyed up, even as the dawn brings the realisation that Freddy Fox has nabbed one of our hens (“and now there are two..”). The Brighton Conference assembles an impressive range of speakers – in most cases people who help us understand the world that the children in our schools are being prepared for; and it was an impressive range. Jonathan Aitken on Margaret Thatcher and his own personal journey; Anne Applebaum, whose groundbreaking work (Gulag: A History and Iron Curtain) has done much to help us understand the power of extreme ideas and the influences that shape Eastern Europe; Anthony King, the political commentator and Professor of Government, whose talked about the mistakes governments make and the reasons why; Max Mosley on privacy, the Press, the Leveson Enquiry and digital media; and Michael Gove, who responded to the questions of delegates suitably mellowed by lunch. The Secretary of State for Education – now the Methuselah of education secretaries by modern standards – has so much that endears him to an audience of educators – he is bright, passionate about education, endearingly gawky-geeky, witty, fluent and adept at building up a rapport with an audience. How can your heart not warm when he talks about the influence of the Scottish tradition of the democratic intellect (the idea that all children have the right to “the best that has been thought and written”..) or the sense of moral purpose about the need to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy in British society; but it is when he is confronted with the glaring illogic of the way in which the A Level reforms are being introduced that he founders. To the question  “Have you found one school that supports the way in which these reforms are being introduced?” he can bring no reply at all. Being very clever and very determined doesn’t mean that great hashes aren’t going to be made. Back to base for Stephen Fry whose talk is nominally a voluntary, Civics one, but everyone who can get a ticket is there, including 20 quick-of-the-mark parents. It is the most extraordinary and uplifting evening. After chatting animatedly to the (mainly ballot-chosen) students over supper at my house beforehand, he talks in the Quad for 90 minutes. What is it that makes students so eager to hear what he has to say? I have my own, unsurprising ideas beforehand and test them out on the students – it’s QI, it’s mental health, it’s his voices, I hear. But listening to him, seeing him connect with the young and chatting to him afterwards, it is much more powerful than that – there is something that is a compelling mixture – three things at least: a hunger for ideas, connections and possibilities; an urge to follow your passions at all costs; and, above all, taking the E.M. Forster adage, the need for “kindness, kindness and yet more kindness.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

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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.

Class acts

It’s a curious week – not just truncated because of the extended weekend but also a week of daily contrasts between the slightly frenzied dotting around during the day (at conferences and meetings, mainly out of school) and the relative serenity of the evening’s activities. Yesterday was a case in point: the HMC summer briefing in London – all good, useful stuff and running admirably to time – followed by my failed attempt to dash back to catch the start of the Ian Bostridge concert; a missed train and I am standing like the naughty boy outside the auditorium, straining to catch what I can of the soulful Winterreise (the original twelve song version) through the double doors. But the second half – Charles Ives songs and the Britten Winter Words – is more than worth my initial frustration: there is something so brilliantly nonchalant about the way that this tall, be-suited man – at the top of his craft – lolls against the piano and then seems caught up in the songs, as if by some kind of benign accident. It is brilliant, mesmerizing stuff and great to see a good number of students there, lapping it up. A similar genius is there with Antony Sher‘s Falstaff which I was lucky enough to see (in the afternoon and the evening) at Stratford last month – a performance where the artist’s skill and its physical embodiment are so much at ease that you cannot “tell the dancer from the dance”. (Although, grisly irony here, it is sobering to know that Loie Fuller, the dancer who inspired Yeats to write this poem, met her maker as a result of her famously diaphanous scarf catching in the wheel of a car.) Plenty of Bedales students and I will see this week an enviable trio of class performers – Ian Bostridge, Stephen Fry and Martha Nussbaum – all no doubt possessed by their sundry crafts and their own nonchalances. Someone who also knows what he is doing, although nonchalant doesn’t catch it, is the now famous Mr Drew who, understandably in demand following the success of Educating Essex, is now engaged in a thoughtful battle of wills with various difficult lads in Mr Drew’s School for Boys (Channel 4). If you have  ever thought that tough love was merely a catchphrase, this should put you right.

Afternote: lambing going well – 25 born and 4 ewes yet to lamb.

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.

Frisky, frisking and friskier

Frisky is the word, even for the ancient (well, 12.6) Westie Ailsa as she does her characteristic three-legged hop down Emma’s Walk this morning, trying to keep up with her roaming, clumsy young labrador friend and no doubt inspired by an interesting smelly medley of Jacob’s sheep, Hector the Percheron horse and even the occasional crisp-dropping Bedalian who has been sitting on the lovely bench there and admiring the daffodils, which are at their best now. Frisking my early-morning-befuddled mind for reasons (in the words of the song) to be cheerful, which I am, I find myself thinking back randomly to Head of Outdoor Work, Peter Coates’ exhortation to us all at Notices last week to go out to Emma’s Walk and admire the daffodils – an invitation as unusual for a school as it is typical of this place; then (frisking again) my waking brain thinks on to the series of fascinating rambles for the mind that we have enjoyed at Bedales of late – even over the past week.

Rupert Sheldrake, challenging scientific orthodoxies at the Eckersley Lecture with his radical scepticism and theories about morphic fields and radical externalism.  Stephen Daldry, film and theatre director, talking so engagingly at Civics about his six current obsessions  – i.e. his work and forthcoming projectgs; and last night’s Jaw – philosopher-in-residence Nigel Warburton challenging the audience as to whether they would sign up to a guaranteed life of synthetic but authentic-feeling happiness (as supplied by the special Google happiness suit) if they had a choice.  (No they wouldn’t.) So here, with all these stimulations to thought –  are plenty reasons to be cheerful;  and that is without even going into the many intriguing conversations I have had with prospective and current students – about their ideas, choices and aspirations.

Friskier yet? Well, final word: it seems to me that a primary responsibilty of any school is to demonstrate on a daily basis the importance of discovering what you really love doing  and then giving you the gumption to follow those passions/obsessions – your bliss, as it is sometimes called.

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.

Curricular conundrums

When thinking about the curriculum, it is good to be reminded of the inspiration felt when first seeing one of those early John Badley timetables – with Head Work and Hand Work marked with a Victorian’s certainty (as morning and early afternoon activities respectively): the clarity of vision of educators like Badley is an apt reminder to all of us of the influence of what is taught and learnt in schools. Whilst we cannot ignore what governments think we should have, we need to be reminded that our role, especially in independent schools, is to align our curricula with the school’s fundamental beliefs – its aims.

I gave an assembly at Bedales last night on this. As ever, the process of trying to condense belief and provide some context  – 1988 Education Act, Curriculum 2000 (AS changes) and 2015 A Level reforms – is healthy. In particular at this assembly I was responding to students’ interest, generated partly by the current Harvard research project into active learning and the Student Teaching and Learning Group that is at the centre of that work, in the changes we are planning for next year’s Block 3 curriculum: students  are interested and want to know what we are going to do. In order to answer this question I had to go a bit further back and to outline why we did what we did in 2006 with the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) – in particular our desire to align as much of the Middle Years (14-16) curriculum with the school’s (then recently minted) primary academic aim to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought.

The Block 3 curriculum takes its inspiration partly from the BAC experience and partly from the imaginative approach that is taken at Dunhurst to making learning as active and cross-curricular as possible. So, the Block 3 curriculum from September will set out yet more single-mindedly with inspiration and inquisitiveness at its heart; it will increase the opportunities for making and doing, again mirroring a school aim; it will have have a strong emphasis on cross-curricular and experiential learning and will therefore use Outdoor Work‘s resources to help achieve this. Finally, it will combine a desire to have students reflect on their learning with some extended pieces of work – individual and group projects that have something of the 6.1 Extended Project about them.

As for the 2015 A Level reforms, I want to engage the students in the debate about how we respond: in short, we need to ensure our candidates’ access to the most demanding universities remains strong, whilst keeping as much breadth as possible in the 6th form.  This will be achievable but in spite of the 2015 reforms rather than because of them. It is not only Ed Miliband who feels that Mr Gove should remain on the naughty step.

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.