Dramatising ideas

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting by the fireplace at 50 Church Road trying to explain to our Chinese guests – 13 students and two teachers from Chuansha School in Shanghai – the peculiarities of the English tradition of Afternoon Tea.  This is relatively straightforward, however, compared to my hamfisted attempts to describe the ups and downs of Admiral Nelson’s popularity before he secured it by dying at Trafalgar.  It’s a bit of a truism to say that things are as interesting as they are complicated once you start to delve into them, but there is nothing quite like trying to describe something central to your culture to people from a very different one and in comprehensible language to make you realise the limitations of language.

So, still wishing that I hadn’t got so embroiled in different pronunciations of “scone” or mentioned Lady Hamilton, I find myself later standing by the lake (on the Theatre side) watching the first of the five short devised shows that are part of the 6.2 Theatre Studies practical exam.  As this first piece involves two girls emerging from the lake, the cast have been hoping for the good weather to continue; alas, it’s chilly – well, alas from a comfort/ Health and Safety point of view, but a dankish twilight beefs up the Gothic in my view – breath is steamy and the piece’s conclusion (too grisly to recount) is helped by what the Scots call the dreich ambiance.

Now the audience is back in the Theatre: the relative warmth is reassuring, but the next four pieces will be in the best tradition of Bedales student-devised work: inventive, thought-provoking, rich in ideas, sometimes visceral and usually bold in execution.  Language plays its part, but is subsidiary to physical theatre.

The strongest thread running through these arresting pieces is of the complexity and pitfalls of human relationships, with the #MeToo movement and the objectification of women at its core.  Having grown accustomed to a school environment where students can use devised theatre to explore their feelings so fully, it is difficult to imagine a school where such intelligent, demanding and exploratory work does not happen.

‘Seeing afresh’

It’s a crisp April early morning – sun shining and another pair of Jacob lambs born – just three ewes yet to lamb as singular black dog and I enjoy an amble around our beautiful estate. Woodpeckers are hammering away and a small skein of yelping Canada geese swoop in to the lake as we set off.

My usual sense of vicarious trepidation at the prospect of lots of students taking public exams is tempered by the memory of last night’s assembly from Head of Academic Enrichment, Clare Jarmy.  Her other role as Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics gives her a clear advantage in developing a compelling reason why all our students have good reason to look forward to exams and to see them as underpinning a very important stage in their learning.  Going over her reasoning on my morning stroll, it makes yet more sense as I rehearse the argument in my mind.  So here goes.

In order for us all to move our learning forward we need help making the jumps from what we can currently do to the next stage: seen pictorially this is about us jumping up a further stage – or, using the educational terminology, the zone of proximal development.  Teachers are the most usual way that we are helped to make that shift –

Clare’s point is that revision for exams – best described not using its literal meaning of “seeing again” but considered as “seeing afresh” – is the point when we as learners have to consolidate the learning that we have previously been assisted with.  Put differently, we re-make the learning and make it our own.

Finally, she identified another critical distinction that should help our students understand the potential benefits of this process more fully.  This has to do with the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – the difference between doing something because it gets you something else you want, and doing something for its own sake.  Clare left the students with the possibility that one thing that many of them might be discovering was that the process of revision helped them understand that they had a strong intrinsic motivation to learn.  It was at this point I learned my new word for the day – “enculturement”, which Clare used to describe the educational process central to humanity which enables people to gain an understanding of the world and what is intrinsically worthwhile.  This view, central to the writing of philosopher John McDowell, is that it is through culture that we acquire a “second nature” above and beyond our animal needs.  Education, and in particular independent learning, makes us who we are.

Intriguing stuff: Clare’s article, published here, will further enlighten.

New beginnings starting up

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Schools are refreshed each year by at least a quarter of their students being new.  The process of moving those (135 in Bedales’ case) students from being new to feeling part of the community takes a bit of thought and requires different kinds of (for want of a better word) induction.  This has been the case over the past 12 days with our new Block 3s and 6.1s, who comprise the great majority of those 135.

What are we wanting to accomplish through these inductions?  Three things: familiarity with places and systems; understanding what our values are, in particular the emphasis on close collaboration between teachers and students; and opportunities to get to know the others in their cohort.

So here is how it happens.  Three days before term begins, when teachers are still enmeshed in their in service training, in come the (95) Block 3s – just over half from our prep school, Dunhurst, just under half from about 35 different schools. I talk in the theatre to their parents about what they might expect of the next stage of their children’s education and what we expect of them.

The students then spend just under two days at Bedales when we are able to focus entirely on them and where they have the freedom of the school, enjoying for example a few skittish moments in our sunlit orchard, without any of the big people who can seem very big when you are a smallish 13 year old.  Then, strange though it seems, we whisk them away in two large buses to Ullswater in the Lake District, where, as has now happened for almost 25 years, they have a 6 day course which is specially tailored to the things we most want them to develop in their early time at Bedales – resilience, self-reflection and the ability to work in a team.  Each tutor group has its Badley tutor – the teacher who will work most closely with them – accompanying them, along with the Outward Bound leader.  It is a great 6 days and highly influential, both for them as a group and as individuals.  I (and my two wayward dogs) spend two nights there, one accompanying students on an overnight camp.

For the 6.1s, the journey is very different.  Although the majority of the cohort are students who are continuing through from Block 3 and have therefore been here for three years already, the assimilation of the new 27 students and the fact that the sixth form is a new start for everyone means that you need to give everyone an induction.

Their induction is more cerebral than the Block 3s’ and shorter, with a return a mere 30 hours before the rest of the school and the induction course focussed on the need for increased independent working and leadership.  Whilst the Block 3 induction is mainly focussed on doing, the 6.1s are reminded that good sixth formers are thinkers, readers and questioners.

In many ways the finale of the 6.1 induction is the student-led “Philosophy Of…” conference which, thanks to the good leadership of Becky G and Patrick N, came off splendidly on Saturday morning. More on this next time.

Sixth form choices

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When Nick Tait, the architect of the AS system and latterly head of Winchester College, laid his AS plans in the late 1990s, the idea was that many students would do five AS Levels. The government really believed this and soldiered on its belief in spite of schools looking at the syllabi, shaking their heads and saying that four would be it. Breadth was everything, as was the desire to give more sixth formers something to take away at the end of a truncated (one year of) sixth form. Modular was king and ruled, allowing many bites at the cherry – so if it’s January or June, you are taking or re-taking exams. Of course, it all settled down after the heady early days – grade inflation roared away. Universities were only ever interested in three good A Levels and for the majority of students, taking four AS Levels in Lower Sixth became a way of having, yes, a teeny bit more breadth but mainly a means of ensuring the you ended up with the right three A Levels in your final year, so people started on four and narrowed to their best three.

It is with this awareness very much in mind that last week’s subject fair for Block 5 (Year 11) parents and students takes place. Things have become much more complicated; this is not because the system is complicated – it will eventually be a simpler system and one that most parents of teenagers are familiar with because they sat it themselves – but because the old AS system and the new A Levels are running alongside each other for several years. In with the new – no modules or re-takes and a test at the end of two years = linear. Out with the old (as above…) but not quite yet.

So, it is Friday and we are all in our beautiful library and on the hunt for the perfect combination – here is Economics – and it’s linear, all shiny and new, so let’s get a sense of what new Peston-like complexities are involved. There is Maths – familiar chap, still waiting in the wings to fledge from modular to linear, but it may not be until 2017 that he is ready to fly, so OK for the time being. The fair is new to us – and we find it useful; so, it seems do our parents. We will do it again next year as next year will still be complicated and there will be yet more subjects which are linear but still some soldiering on as modular.

At half time and over some delicious cakes that our catering manager Dave Greenman and his team have conjured up, I reinforce the mantra that universities will continue to be looking for three good A Levels – and that nothing should get in the way of that.

Encouragingly, Block 5 students and their parents are taken by the idea of the enrichment courses that we will be running alongside the A Levels. This works through a simple principle: the narrower your examined programme, the more enrichment you are required to do – so the three A Levels (from the start) people do maximum enrichment, those doing four A Levels and an extended project, would do very little additional compulsory enrichment as their programme is already broad and full. Many will want to opt into enrichment courses voluntarily, it seems.

The other additional feature that is shaping up well is the three week pre-sixth form session for Block 5s after their IGCSEs are finished in mid-June. This will allow them to take five subjects for that period, enabling them to gain a proper taste of what an A Level is really like. At that same time it will allow their teachers to have them do plenty of skills-based work which will ensure that they are going to be able to manage the technical side of the syllabus. I think that in all it is going to work rather well for us.


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.

Unextended Sixth Form musings

AS Mocks, 6.1 parent-teacher discussions, some gubernatorial chats about the post-2015 reforms to A Level and the first evening of 6.1 Extended Project presentations have set some thoughts running about where we are now and what the A Level landscape might look like here from 2015 onward. It is certainly strange that the current 6.1 cohort is the penultimate one to have the AS/A2 experience that has been a fixture since 2000; so, I find myself having unexpected moments of premature nostalgia about the AS system, especially as there is still a good deal of uncertainty about how the post-2015 landscape will shape up.

So, what do we hope to keep from the current system?

1) The sense of purpose and urgency that it gives to life in 6.1

2) The breadth of a 4 subject programme in 6.1

3) The ability to make a decision as to which subject you drop at the end of 6.1

What did we need to lose? The loss of teaching time that came with the original modular vision – so, exam sessions in January and June.

With January modules already disappeared, the original vision of the post-2015 change was that June modules would go entirely too. The outcry against the loss of “co-teachable” AS exams (i.e. ones that you can teach alongside the full A Level) has meant that we will in fact have something resembling the current AS exam from 2015. The blessing and curse here is that it will not count towards the full A Level, but it will be an entirely standalone certificate. So, there is the danger that schools, understandably nervous that without a meaty end of 6.1 exam their 6.1s will revert to the lotus-eating idlers that my generation were in 6.1, will insist that this is taken, even though it will a) be meaningless in certification terms in 75% of cases;  b) throw away the main advantage of the abandoning of modularization, i.e. the increase in teaching time in the summer term. Quite a conundrum!

More on this anon – and on the excellent Extended Project evening.

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.

Professional Guidance

So, we have a new department, I tell the Bedales students last Friday, and it is called Professional Guidance. Conveniently, if unflashily, situated in the bit of the Academic Village that looks out (enviously) on the Lupton Hall, it comprises Higher Education, University Liaison, Careers and Alumni matters. Through putting these overlapping functions under one roof under the leadership of our Higher Education Advisor, Vikki Alderson-Smart, we should help all the different elements work yet better together and be able to offer a range of new opportunities to students. There we have these people and functions: Sarah Oakley (overseeing Art College applications and also academic departments’ liaison with university departments in the UK and non-UK universities – apart from North American ones); Alison Mason (Careers and North American university liaison); and, new person on the block, Leana Seriau, our Alumni Officer. Leana will lead a significant expansion in our contact with Old Bedalians – in particular, she will be organising events when OBs in a particular career sector – let’s say, careers to do with Art and Design – can meet in a festive contact; such occasions and the contacts they provide will also be excellent opportunities for current sixth formers – or young OBs who are studying Design or Art at university – to meet people who are further down the career track.

Turning back to the name of this newly fledged department, it is both about guidance given professionally whilst at school and about guidance from outside school – from the professions that a student is interested in pursuing.

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.

Creativity in China

On a British Council-sponsored visit to China, representing UK boarding and, via that, Bedales; so as I tap this it is early morning and I am sitting with my four headteacher colleagues  in the mother of all traffic jams in Dalian, up north on the coast (known in colonial times as Port Arthur) and, like most Chinese cities, a place of huge growth. Now it stands at about 6 million.  Most of our work us in and around Beijing but this is our excursion north to take our message to this increasingly affluent city.

Having spent some of my sabbatical in China in 2009, when Moony and I visited our partner school in Shanghai (Chuanshua) and then travelled more broadly, it is intriguing to see how things have shot on in the interim, not least in approaches to education. Yesterday we spent much of the day at Beijing No 80 High School. Situated in the Chaoyang district of Beijing and selected in 2010 as “an experimental school for the cultivation of innovative talents in Beijing”, it says much about the ambition of Chinese education. Using its international section as a way of making the school look outwards, it is throwing huge resources at teacher training and student exchanges. For example 300 teachers spent a month training in England this summer. The most intriguing part if the three hour conference we had there with local educators yesterday was the contribution of the boss of the Education Committee of the Chaoyang  district, which (to give you a sense of the scale) has 5 million people in it.  What became very clear is that the government is seeking to meet the growing appetite amongst the Chinese middle classes for a better global perspective through getting more of the educational world to come to it.  Also clear is the way in which schools like No 80 are taking seriously the need to make students think for themselves: expressions like lifelong learning and creative thinking abound.

All this is part of the Chinese “2020 plan”, set out in 2010, to prepare their students to compete better internationally  and for more to have the option of going to top foreign universities.  In recognition of the important work No 80 is doing, not only did they have us to visit, but also Premier Hu Jintao visited last year.

Even more enjoyable than the three hour conference or even the bewitching array of lunchtime dishes, was teaching an Edward Thomas poem (The Manor Farm) to a very orderly group of sixth formers.  The 35 students were very patient and receptive. We concluded with a shot of the memorial inscription about Thomas (“killed Arras…1917”) from the Poet’s Stone, which elicited a general, plaintive sigh – an endearing and memorable final moment.

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.