Precepts for good health

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m glad that Wednesday evening’s assembly, led by our senior deputy, my colleague, Louise, is centred around the School’s founding values.  Louise has asked students to read excerpts from John Badley’s book, A Schoolmaster’s Testament (1937).  The chords struck resonate.  Here is a selection.

  • There can only be thoroughly good work- good in its indirect as well as its direct results- and there can only be a thoroughly healthy life where there is a general feeling of happiness.
  • [On the balance between freedom and discipline…] without a sense of freedom there cannot be the happiness that is a condition of the fullest health.
  • In every branch of school work there should be abundant opportunity for original effort and the delight that comes from creation and discovery.
  • [On the need for full happiness…] only if all sides of their nature, physical, intellectual, and emotional, find satisfaction, can they have the full sense of wellbeing which is at once a condition of health and its mental counterpart.

These precepts are running through my mind as I think about two events this week and one to come after half term.

The first is Dunhurst’s assembly yesterday morning when director of teaching and learning, Andy Wiggins, talked about precepts – mainly from books and films – engaging the audience wonderfully with sayings that are designed to help us live more happily. I am watching the assembly through a series of luggage labels hanging on a rack, each with its writer’s pledges – in effect, pupils’ own precepts to themselves – which range from the desire to eat more carrots to more general wishes to be more kind.

The second event was seeing the sixth form play, The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol.  Could there be a better example of “the delight that comes from creation and discovery”?  Cast and crew, under director in residence, Jamie Wood’s expert guidance, have woven John Berger’s tale into 80 minutes of engrossing drama, with the energy and imagination of the young actors at its heart. A cracker.

Finally, the event being planned for after half term is a whole school symposium on 8 November.  Led by the four head students – Scarlett, James, Ritchie and Maisie – it aims to answer a question:

How can we achieve the right balance between the benefits of students’ personal digital devices and the broader needs of the community?

The symposium, which takes the place of tutor time and assembly, will be preceded by an online questionnaire which will be sent out immediately after half term.  The fact that the symposium takes place in Mental Health week is fitting.  Badley’s precepts about  wellbeing will be at the forefront of our minds as we debate the issues and decide what measures might be taken.

 

Mid-term musings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Approaching mid-February, the academic year’s mid-point and that welcome time when the black dog that scampers in front of you is visible as you stride out into the dawn light before breakfast.

This week leading up to half-term has our spirited Valentine’s Ball as a highlight for sixth formers. Invitations to the V Ball pop up, sometimes in early morning Notices, sometimes in German, sometimes dramatically choreographed. Meanwhile our Block 3s are musing on the grotesqueness of the industrialised mass killing as they survey the Flanders battlefields.  Alongside all of this our 6.2 theatre studies students produce their devised pieces – 30 minute creations of their imaginations, influenced by the practitioners they study and honed into dramatic form with acute negotiation and teamwork amongst their teams of five or six.

Over the years, I have seen the most gorgeous medleys of absurdism, tragedy, kitchen sink realism, mime, comical-fantastical – you name it, this is the theatre of the possible.  Here’s the recipe: take human minds at their most fervently creative; provide stimulus (a polaroid picture this year); encircle with sufficient expert teacher structure; and finally, give space, light, sound and audience.  Result? Pieces that make you think – both about how we live but also about what can happen dramatically when ingenuity, verve and skill collide.  Over recent years I have seen these plays enacted in live graves dug by the theatre; I have seen the most stinging dramatising of how it feels to be objectified as a young female; and this year’s trio was as powerful and expert as I can remember.

In their own way, plays like these are part of something that all good schools need to be doing constantly, alongside the necessary granular work of academic pursuit: exploring what it is to be human.

What better mid-week treat then to have a Jaw given by Gary Wade, a man who (lucky fellow) knew Seamus Heaney personally.  It is a masterly account – in tender admiration – of (arguably) the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century writing in English.

A lover of Heaney myself, I find myself rootling amongst his poems late at night after the Jaw and a subsequent meeting. I am taken back to some of the classes that I taught Heaney to a long way back – Death of a Naturalist, North and The Haw Lantern. But there is so much more. Gary concluded with his favourite Heaney poem, Postscript. Its final lines describe so beautifully what human insight through art can do (“catch the heart off guard and blow it open”).  But, as the days lengthen and we need to at least nod to that V day, here’s a poem that is its own distinctive love song – to a person, place and creature:

The Otter

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer’s back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you’re out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.

– Seamus Heaney

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!

Theatre, Privilege and Independent Schools- A response to Dame Judi

Olivier Theatre 1

Last week it was my great pleasure to be in the audience for an Analogue production of Stowaway in the Bedales Olivier Theatre.  I mention this because recent weeks have seen a flurry of press attention to concerns that acting is becoming a profession closed to all but the wealthy. Dame Judi Dench has expressed the view that working class talent is increasingly squeezed out as a consequence of the costs of entry (a point supported by David Morrissey), and associates the death of repertory theatre with a reduction in opportunities to both see and participate in theatre.

Others in the industry appear undecided on the question of access – whilst BBC Controller of Drama Ben Stephenson supports the view that acting is ‘too middle class’, Gavin Henderson of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama reports no noticeable shift towards the better-off in the School’s intake. Edward Kemp of RADA also disputes that the Academy’s students are all from wealthy families and, instead, directs attention to what he sees as a general downgrading of the arts and humanities in UK society. If borne out, his concerns a) that exposure to good theatre is being squeezed and b) that in terms of school provision independent school facilities are significantly better than their state sector counterparts raise an interesting dilemma.  Does this make independent schools the protectors of the interests of a wealthy minority seeking entry to the acting profession to the detriment of a socially diverse theatre or, alternatively, the guardians of arts and humanities under siege?

Inevitably, the answer must be nuanced. At Bedales we believe that theatre has an important social and educational function, that it has a value for everybody, and that its importance would be reduced were it to be colonised by any minority. From an early age, we encourage our students to develop their performance skills – not least because we believe that it develops confidence, and awareness and understanding of others. And we believe that this is true for everybody.  Simultaneously, we leave no stone unturned in trying to prepare our students for careers in acting, or indeed any other role within theatre and the creative industries more generally, should that be what they wish for.

There can be no disputing that Bedales’ commitment to theatre is expensive, and that is reflected in our fees. We know that not everybody can afford them, although we do, of course, try to make our provision more accessible through bursaries and similar support. However, we are adamant that our facilities should be accessible to those from outside the school, and we are committed to our role as a locus of regional theatre that helps to fill some of the gap left by the demise of repertory theatre.  Bedales theatre facilities are used by the local Petersfield Youth Theatre, and we value highly our association with such an accomplished and vibrant company. We also put on a diverse and regular programme of theatre that is open to the public: whilst we are not in a position to eradicate wealth disparities and associated privileges within society, we are in a position to encourage critical reflection on this and other issues – a responsibility we take seriously both as educators of our students and in planning our theatre programmes for wider audiences.

To return to last week’s production of Stowaway, it is possible that one or more of our students present may absorb the experience into their entry into an acting career, and should that turn out to be the case I will be very proud. What is beyond dispute, however, is that in addressing questions of labour exploitation and migration, the production challenged its audience – students, staff and members of the wider community alike – to consider together human experience as connected to the great social and economic forces of our times. I am no less proud of that.


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.

Treasure Island comes off with brio and pleasing menace

Treasure Island, so redolent of all our childhoods, comes off with brio and pleasing menace.  Having seen the first full run through of Act I 8 days ago and aware of the distance travelled, it is especially gratifying to see how much cast and crew have made it their own.  Bold use of sound and colour bring Joanne Greenwood’s production design to life.  The musicians embrace the sea shanties, adding their own folksy elements and bringing their own distinctive flavour to the show. Proper guns fire and dastardly deeds multiply.  A great evening. When thinking on the talent evident and the progress made it is heartening to think that all of these actors have a further 3 or 4 years’  Bedales drama ahead of them.  Well done to Jay, Joanne, cast and crew.

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.