Relationships

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 third blog is ‘Relationships’.

Being asked many times by visitors “What makes it all work?” I say “Relationships”.

You could transplant the school to another place, change the curriculum, massacre the routine, make the house system less distinctive and even introduce a uniform and you would not entirely destroy the spirit of the place; but if you changed the nature of the relationships, especially the relationships between teachers and students, you would see the heart of the community wither.

I see the nature of the relationships as informing the best kind of teaching and learning, as well as informing the celebrating of individuality that is so important to us. The first name term handle is merely an emblem of the thing itself.

It all began, like so many good things, with John Badley’s conviction in the early 1890s that he wanted to found a school that was markedly different from the Rugby School of his own schooldays. Central to this was the idea that the relationship between teacher and pupil must avoid the old master-servant model and be based more on mutual respect and even affection.

In Memories and Reflections he writes about how valuable it was that the school grew slowly: “..we were a family rather than a school; and this feeling, with the customs to which it gave rise, could be retained, as the family grew larger, until they became a part of the school tradition, permanently affecting the relations of older and younger even when the early conditions had been long outgrown. One of these customs….was the hand-shaking after evening prayers as the school filed past the Staff to say Good-night..”  Badley goes on to credit this family feeling with giving the school its sense of co-operation and also its desire to give “attention to the needs of the individual”.  Running across both these characteristics is the desire to engage students in the framing of the school’s rules and customs. Later on in his memoirs he describes how what he wanted “was an atmosphere of affection, confidence and opportunity”.

handshaking0003

This optimistic belief in the benign power of relationships permeates the school, affecting old traditions like the mixed-age room system and new ones like Badley Seniors (6.2s who work with Block 3 tutor groups).  At our best, even now above 460 students, we try to operate more like a family than an organisation.

I was struck by the difference a good few years before I started here when mid summer holiday, tidying a drawer in Easter Ross and idly listening to Radio 4, I heard two Bedales girls talking about their housemistress: they talked about her in a way that was completely different to anything I had heard before, using her first name (Suzie) naturally and saying how they would think nothing of taking any problem to her.

In my first term we re-did the prospectus – a bit of a song-and-dance in pre-website days. One Friday, my then colleague and Registrar, Avril Hardie, asked the 12 students on School Council to go away and think about what was most important to them about Bedales. The following week they returned with their answer: “Friendship and that we are listened to.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Digital divergence

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Get 15 heads in discussion about the use of mobile phones in their schools and you will get 15 views; get 467 Bedales students in a symposium and you will certainly have plenty of divergent views.

On Tuesday, at the meeting of our heads’ cluster group (the 86 Group) each head described the policy towards daytime use in each of their schools: the range is from prohibition to full acceptance.

On Wednesday, we had our first whole school symposium for a long time.  I started symposiums off here as a replacement to the whole school meetings which had taken place from time to time. The shortcomings of the whole school meetings was that there was no method to garnering the views of all and the voices of the most confident and vocal older students would be bound to predominate.  This symposium, led by Head Students Maisie, Ritchie, James and Scarlett, was preceded by an online questionnaire which engaged students in the issues and provided some very useful findings which were produced at the start of the plenary session and helped shape the debate that ensued.

The next stage will be for some of the key proposals to be discussed in School Council over the next few weeks.  What is clear is that there is sufficient  appetite for some change.  As with the best change here, it will occur because there has been informed discussion with the community’s welfare at its heart – in this case through the questionnaire, symposium and the resulting discussions.

The best kind of behavioural change happens when there is a consensus about what is reasonable, considerate and decent behaviour towards other members of the community.  At the heart of this must be the primacy of the living, breathing people that surround you in the flesh, not the distracting digital image or text.

The people speak

The tide of big ideas has continued to flow: the Scottish independence debate on the eve of the poll, the vote (Scotland’s and Bedales’), local MP Damian Hinds’  Friday evening Civics on Social Mobility (which stirred up a good amount of fervent chat and thought), followed by Head of Economics and Politics Ruth Tarrant‘s assembly on devolution  (the Bedales model as an illustration of the UK one) have all been grist to the ideas mill.

Friday morning’s result, its ramifications for the UK and the awareness amongst our sixth formers that their contemporaries in Scotland have become politically engaged like no other recent group of UK teenagers have certainly lent an urgency to discussions about consensus, nationality and government.  It will be intriguing to see how this is translated into a broader interest in politics and next year’s election.

At a more local level here, the 2014/15 School Council is elected and has met.  The BDaily’s new team is in place, so, with strong year group representatives and a trenchant independent-minded Press, all should be well.


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.