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.

Anti-feebleness dictum

Bedales-Science-MagazineThe-B-Daily

With an assembly coming up tonight on student-led initiatives, I have been dwelling on this strand of life: thinking of examples is easy; thinking about what makes this impulse so strong within our culture is trickier but interesting. So, here are some thoughts.

The impulse to want to do things yourself, rather than watch someone, usually older, do things on your behalf, is a natural one. It may well be that an environment like ours here simply allows this natural impulse greater rein than is the case in many schools. Indeed, arguably in this respect we merely sit at the homespun sandals of our Arts & Crafts forebears: learn to do things yourselves, rather than relying on others (servants, often) to do things for you, was the Badleyan message. Paired with this powerful anti-feebleness dictum was the underpinning educational conviction that we all learn best through doing. It is no accident that these two threads are connected in our second school aim which extols the virtue of doing and making.

But there is something else which connects with what’s above but which may have its genesis more in the changes that occurred in the second half of the last century with the increased expectations of that young people had of personal happiness and self-fulfilment. It seems to me that this school, temperamentally receptive to the ideas that flooded school and university campuses in the ’60s, took on much of what those heady times brought with them: above all a strong belief that individual idealism, initiative and aspiration needed to be fostered and channelled.

These head winds rocked public schools in general – the If generation knew it. Questioning, choice and individuality were in; obedience, conformity and being peas-in-a-pod were out. For Bedales it was the time when the prefect system and the remnants of school uniform went – collective responsibility and mufti replaced them: there was a different expectation about the individual’s capacity to choose. Whilst many public schools looked to throttle back on as many of the changes as they could and some staunchly marched on, this strain was grafted into the Bedales soul and has – happily from my point of view – remained a potent force. Indeed, the reforms made to the curriculum – both with the BACs and the recent changes to the Block 3 curriculum – put individual student initiative at the heart of the curriculum. There is plenty of educational research which supports the idea that allowing students to have scope for individual choice over their work spurs on motivation. Instinctively we all know this.

So, whether it is a particular take that a student takes on his or her extended project, an idea to build an octagonal shed, that quirky plan for a new publication (The BDaily after all was once a glint in a student’s eye..) or a dream of running a conference, these are central to what we do and what we are.


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.

Elitist Britain – cause for celebration?

In late August the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published Elitist Britain, which reported on the dramatic over-representation in the top echelons of public life of those educated at independent schools and Oxbridge. It argued, persuasively, that such homogeneity undermines the legitimacy of state and other institutions, through a focus on issues salient only to a minority. Fairness and meritocracy are core British values, the report says, but people are concerned that background is more important than ability.

As an independent school based in the south east, Bedales would appear to offer its students every possible advantage: Elitist Britain identifies these variables as dominant in the backgrounds of leading figures in parliament, the judiciary, FTSE CEOs and the Times Rich List. Should this be a cause for celebration for the school, which is unashamed about its success in priming its students for achievement? Well, yes and no. Elitist Britain asserts that the best people should be in the best jobs, and we agree with that. If what our students want is to achieve high office in the fields of their choosing, it is vital that the education we provide helps them to do that in every possible way. I don’t imagine there is a teacher in this country who would say anything different. We’re proud of the academic results our students achieve, and that so many of them who want to, go on to study at the Oxbridge universities before thriving in their chosen fields.

However, we don’t agree that our students’ education should be geared to their hothousing towards such traditional markers of success, and we certainly don’t value or pursue cultural homogeneity. Indeed, if we were to try to instil such a thing I am confident that our students would not let us. At the heart of the contract between school and student at Bedales is the value of educating the whole person – head, hand and heart – and of students creating as well as taking from their learning environments. We are committed to the idea of ‘active learning’, and have developed our own GCSE-level qualifications precisely because we found GCSE provision to be overly-prescriptive – homogenous, even – and stifling of imagination and creativity.

On Saturday 13th September, Bedales will host a philosophy festival. ‘Philosophy Of…’ is staged by our students, who have succeeded in putting together a varied and challenging programme. With an eye on the findings of Elitist Britain, it is notable that the speakers include Laura Bates, the force behind the Everyday Sexism Project and the campaigning feminist Beatrix Campbell OBE. As Elitist Britain reports that Parliament remains the domain of independent school educated white males, it is interesting that these speakers should visit our school at the behest of the independently-educated young people involved in the festival. We admire our students’ independence of mind in this venture, and take pride in the development of critical faculties antithetical to the idea of the simple preservation of the status quo.

Elitist Britain makes recommendations for how the homogeneity of key institutions might be punctured. For schools and education, it seeks additional efforts with regard to 11 year old high-attainers, and also for the gap between careers advice, work experience and extra-curricular activities to be closed. These are worthy suggestions, but they are not enough. More fundamentally, we must educate young people to understand the world in which they live and how they might shape it if they are to challenge the homogeneity that Elitist Britain describes, and its effects. Learning to challenge the world can begin with students learning how to shape their school experience – a daily reality at Bedales, living proof of which is the philosophy festival on Saturday 13th.

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.

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.