By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
It is a curiosity of Bedales that the youngest entrants, the Block 3s, start their time here by arriving in verdant Hampshire before any other students – on the Thursday before most arrive on the Sunday – spend two nights at school and then head off to the Lake District, returning into circulation on the second Monday of term. Why?
Enabling your youngest students to have their induction into school life and, for example, the mysteries of IT logins and classroom locations, before they are crowded out with lots of big and alarmingly adult looking teenagers makes sense. Whisking them away to the North of England requires more explanation – it is a long way, 330 miles in fact and, like any expedition away from school, complicated to plan and resource-hungry; this is especially so as we take the Block 3 (Badley) tutors who accompany their tutor groups (usually with 8-10 students in each group).
Sitting in a very smart octagonal shed in the grounds of the Outward Bound’s centre on the edge of Ullswater (by Glenridding, the most flooded village in Britain), I am reminded why. In this snug super shed or pod are the nine members of a tutor group, an Outward Bound tutor and the Bedales tutor; they are all grouped around a table and surrounded by sheets of paper pinned to the walls which reflect the Block 3s’ journey over the first few days of their five day course. The sheets from their first day reflect what they were hoping to get out of their time at the centre – their hopes and fears. More recent ones show how the Outward Bound instructors tailor the students’ experience to our school aims. I notice one sheet which has resulted from a discussion on how their time in Ullswater might mirror the Bedales aims: HEAD: Think! HAND Do something! HEART Self-belief.
I am there for a couple of nights and, because the expeditions into the mountains this year takes place when I have to go south, I am able to spend plenty of time seeing the groups in action around the centre and, crucially for me, pinning names to faces, mannerisms, quirks of speech and all the other ways one tries to remember who the new students are.
I love going out into the hills, so it is with envy that I watch them all getting ready for their expedition on the Wednesday morning. Even these preparations are done thoughtfully. The comparisons with the quasi-military approach to expeditions that I grew up with – here’s your kit, pack it, off we go – are stark. Students sit in their octagonal pods and are asked to think of all the different activities and needs when they are up on the hills. There are discussions and debates and gradually a list is created. Of course, the instructors will not let them go off without the essentials – and safety measures are second nature to Outward Bound – but the decisions and that kit list are shaped and informed by what the students discuss.
Culturally, this is a foreign land to most of our students: that’s not just the business of wild nature, but it’s also the North – little rivers called becks, different accents and meretricious weather. It’s also a brilliant social mixing pot, with boarders and days, students from Dunhurst and many other schools all finding themselves in dorms or tutor groups with each other. You get to know your fellow travellers pretty well. Likewise, time on the hills or seeing youngsters overcome fears helps the tutors understand what makes them tick.
An additional bonus is that their return journey on Friday is broken by a sortie into Stoke for lunch, some painting of mugs and a tour of the Emma Bridgewater factory, thanks to the generous hospitality of Emma Bridgwater and Matthew Rice.
What with their time in the place that inspired the Romantic poets, their own journeys of self-discovery and this dotting into a thriving modern business in the former industrial heartland of England, it is well worth the journey.