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!

Adolescent Mental Health

At last government has woken up to the crisis in adolescent mental health, with the Chancellor announcing £1.25 billion extra spending over the next five years on mental health, with particular support for adolescent mental health. The upsetting accounts of parents striving to get their children the care that they need through the NHS, the awareness amongst us heads about the number of students in our schools whose mental health is of concern and the raw figures that illustrate this crisis are all deeply worrying.  The Sunday Times, which is doing really good work on this score with its campaign to improve the mental health of Britain’s schoolchildren, cites the grim statistic that in 2014 more than 17,000 children were admitted as emergency psychiatric cases last year – twice the number of four years ago.

The experience of parents trying to get help for what is after all an illness, with the potential to mar young lives no less than other well publicised illnesses that affect adolescents such as cancer, is salutary: waiting times that are long that the alternatives are either not having the help when it is desperately needed or going private. The step which we all trust government and NHS funding bodies have taken is true recognition that this is an illness which, like any other illness, needs treatment.

Two further questions: what has brought this increase about?  How can parents and schools help our children keep mentally healthy?

Responses to the first are speculative and anecdotal, but I have little doubt that the pressures on young people to succeed at school – academically, socially and outside the classroom – have increased since the great recession. At the same time the pressures that we as adults – whether as parents or as teachers – often unwittingly – push down to our children have increased – pressures “to succeed”, which means securing a job and lifestyle which ensures fulfillment, material success and (always nice to have it all) social admiration.

What else has changed since the haphazard and, let’s face it, inglorious days of the 1970s when my lot bumbled through? Social media, the increased use of prescription drugs to deal with mood, society’s acceptance of recreational drugs as part of many children’s growing up and high expectations about personal happiness and fulfillment; after all today’s adolescents and twenty-somethings are the offspring of baby boomers and their successors who have (for no reason after all other than historical luck) enjoyed the rising living standards and a relative secure job market that cannot any longer be taken for granted.

So what can we do in schools and at home to keep our children in the best mental fettle?

1) Help young people develop resilience and self-esteem through experiencing activities that challenge them, often things outside their studies.  (Jenni Brittain’s blog on the Independent Schools Council website deals more fully with this.)

2) Accept that all of us as parents and teachers have a responsibility for children’s mental health and that we model the behaviour that our children will emulate.

3) In schools, ensure that the structures and the support systems are in place to give the students the ability to work their way through as many of their own problems as they can and to have the skills to help other students – crucially, knowing when they need to gain adult support from a teacher. (Our forthcoming conference for pastoral staff – Thriving in a Changing World – could help here.)

4) Being proactive with simple things like mindfulness, exercise, healthy eating.

5) Listening and being attentive to their needs.

6) Having the right support network – pastoral staff, counsellor and then referrals as necessary to additional health professionals, GPs and more specialised, which takes us back to the Chancellor – let’s trust that money makes a real difference.


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.

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.

Ambushed!

Monday evening’s assembly and I am ambushed by the large figure of £198,345 – the amount of money raised by Bedalians since 2007 for successive visits to Swaziland, mainly to develop Mbalenhle primary school, but also now to spread the benefit to two other primary schools. This is an assembly magicked by Physics teacher, Ransi Jayatissa, who leaves us at the end of this term, having spearheaded the Swaziland project from its start seven years ago. Not only does Ransi involve all the teachers who have taken part in the project, including Becks Scullion, now deputy head at Frensham Heights, but also he has brought back the trio of OBs who went on the first expedition in 2007 – Alistair Larsson, Charlie Hughes and Matthew Naylor – who testify warmly to the long term effect of their 2007 visit on them and their delight at seeing the subsequent impact of the project on Mbalenhle. Current teachers Alex McNaughton, Michael Truss and Ben Shaw speak of the transformational impact on them of their experience – “It will change you..” says Michael – and Ben’s photo (below) of the moment that the water gushed through at  Mbalenhle primary school in 2009 is described by him as one of the best moments of his life. It’s all quite emotional and Ransi gets much applause and some serious hugging at the end.

Swaziland

Ambushed I am the following morning by smaller figures as I walk back to Bedales from my Dunhurst teaching. (Struggling here for the collective noun for a very excited group of Reception children walking down a path – not quite a gaggle, or a muddle or a huddle, maybe a giggle or a bustle or a bubble…) It is a colourful and definitely excited group (chicken!) of Dunannie Reception children, clutching the potions (finely represented figuratively on card) they have just made in the Bedales chemistry labs; they challenge me to see the fairies in the trees – alas! I see none, but then I am an adult and I haven’t been lucky enough to be mixing potions and conjuring craftily, as they have.

Dunannie Chemistry lesson

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.