Conference season

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

This year’s annual HMC Conference was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. The hotel was built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a bloody milestone along the treacherous road towards universal suffrage. It’s a stone’s throw away from what was the legendary club The Hacienda, now a block of luxury flats (sic transit gloria). But it’s most compelling claim to shaping history as opposed to having history happen on its doorstep was that Mr Rolls and Mr Royce had their first ever meeting in the hotel and decided that they would go into partnership: the engineer and the money man realising that each had something the other didn’t.

The theme of this year’s conference has been ‘Together to Learn’ – a title which is meant to work in all sorts of clever ways, of course, as we have all come together to learn from each other, from the long list of eminent speakers that have given presentations, and of course it’s a statement about how all teachers and all schools, whether independent or maintained sector, can learn from each other.

The 2018 HMC buzzword bingo was not particularly challenging. ‘Bursary provision’, ‘public benefit’ and ‘partnerships’ were the ‘go to’ mentions and proliferated the discourse whenever the lights were dimmed. Because of the political discourse in another conference going on in Birmingham, a conference even more important than a bunch of Heads of schools coming together to talk school stuff, much of the energy and talk in Manchester was about anticipating political change that might adversely affect the independent sector. The Labour Party conference that took place last week in Liverpool was a more important conference to watch from our school perspective because we can pretty safely assume that a Labour government taking office after the next general election would introduce legislation that would present real existential challenges to many schools in the independent sector.

So whilst we wait for the current Conservative administration to lead the country out of Europe into a post-Brexit world of complete uncertainty, we also have to plan for what Mr Corbyn might do when he gets the keys to No. 10. At Bedales we can speak loudly and proudly about what we do in terms of public benefit, bursary provision and partnership forming. The timing of Patrick Derham’s visit to Bedales last week when he spoke at Jaw about his own journey as a recipient of a bursary could not have been better timed as an example of what Bedales does through its John Badley Foundation to make a Bedales education available to aspiring students whose families just don’t have the means to meet the fees. We also have a range of exemplar partnerships with our local schools, and in particular a successful partnership with Bohunt School in Liphook. And last week the Outdoor Work department welcomed a group of young people from a pupil referral unit in Gosport who came to share our facilities. And there is so much more.

Patrick’s mantra about the ‘transformative power of education’ still resonates in my mind, and I have heard that phrase again this week in Manchester. Once we are through the conference season; Conservative, Labour and HMC, then teaching and learning comes centre stage again, and the classroom rather than the podium, rightly, is where the action is.

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Ullswater – perspectives

We hear perspectives from Block 3, 6.2 and a teacher on last week’s Ullswater trip…

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Clive Burch, Head of Block 3:

Last week Block 3, their tutors and an elite squad of Badley Seniors (6.2 student mentors) substituted Jane Austen’s Hampshire for Wordsworth country, the comfort of the school for a lake and its surrounding mountains and their usual beds for roll-mats. An equipment store became their library, a kit room their locker and a day sack their pencil case. Hoodies, jeans and trainers were out; fleeces, waterproof trousers and walking boots were in. They spent a day walking in the hills, another climbing up a waterfall (the revered ‘gorge walk’) and another both on and (inevitably) in the water. These team-building activities were only the prelude to either a walking or a canoe expedition with a mountainside or lakeside overnight camp. The boil-in-the-bag chicken tikka masala tasted great, but the chocolate pudding did not. Thankfully, jelly babies were at hand. Over 100 individuals left; one unified year group returned. Thank you to all the staff at Outward Bound Ullswater and for all the generous support both at school and at home.

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Eben Macdonald, Block 3:

Up in the Lake District, we, Block 3, who had just commenced our career at Bedales, were made to do various activities over a five day period aimed to create socialisation. This was successful in doing so. These activities included: gorge walking, jog and dip, camping, hiking and much more. The idea was that if we did rather arduous activities together, we’d end up helping each other. And we did. For example, in the gorge walking, which personally was my favourite activity, we had to ascend up a watery gorge which varied in steepness. We had to give each other boosts, we had to hold each other’s hands etc. Thanks to this experience at Ullswater we have made amicable friendships and have learnt what determination is. We shall apply this to our school careers.

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Rahaf Tammour and Imo Mayhook-Walker, 6.2:

At Bedales we think of going to Ullswater as a Block 3 rite of passage. It does not really have much, if any, association with 6.2. A few years ago, a handful of Badley Seniors went to Ullswater with the Block 3s and then after a hiatus that idea was revived with 18 Badley Seniors going up to Ullswater with the Block 3s. Both of us started at the beginning of 6.1 and had never been to Ullswater so we were unsure what to expect. What we experienced was a really enjoyable week where we got to know a part of the school that we would normally have limited contact with. Some of the highlights of the trip for us were the mountain walk on the second day, which challenged us as a group (and let us know what we were in for!), and the cliff jumping. The expedition on the last two days was the real high point of the whole experience – the previous days had all been leading up to this and we were all excited. We canoed 4km before walking 3km to our camp up a hill. There we met up with two other groups who had done different routes to come and camp with us, before we went on a night time walk to eat dinner and collect water. While that first day was fun, it was very tough at points and I think it helped us come together as a group. The next day we packed up and walked down to the lake before catching the steamer across the lake. Ullswater is truly a unique part of the Bedales experience and one that we would greatly encourage any new Block 3 or Badley Senior to embrace.

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Lake

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A school with a mission

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

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“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

The opening line to LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go Between, is often used to explain change; behaviour, mores, fashion will all change over time, and perhaps the link between present and past will not be obvious or clear.  My colleague, Clare Jarmy, shared with me a copy of a 1962 guide to public schools that included a long, detailed and erudite summary of Bedales. The decade of dramatic social change was about to happen, but England in 1962 was still a rather austere, monochrome and insecure place. But what is evident from the review written by H.B Jacks (the initials, rather than first name, bear out the austerity stiffness of post-war England), is that the essential differences of Bedales, the founding principles John Badley handed on to successive generations of Bedalians and successive Heads, were there in 1962, and still as present today. The title of Henry Newbolt’s famous poem, Vitae Lampada, rather than the poem itself (easy to learn, hard to forget) springs to mind. Taken itself from Lucretius, I feel strongly that ‘the torch of life’ has been passed by Keith to me, and I now have to do the running.

In his review Jacks wrote of “the importance that Badley attached to the individual child. In his view there was a place in the school, as in life, for all kinds, and it was the school’s job to provide for all kinds, and let them grow and find themselves.” This is palpably the case still, with Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie all putting the individual before the institution, still providing a supportive and stimulating context in which students can grow and find themselves. I’ve lived and worked in schools where the converse is the norm; conformity, hierarchy and what I call the machinery of punishment abound, and if you don’t fit, then you can push off, because someone else will. Bedales is refreshingly still different, and still counter-cultural in the public school world, because of its ethos.

Jacks also wrote admiringly that “the school itself, looked at as an entity, exhibits all the signs of being a living thing, with a vitality all its own, unfettered by doctrinaire educational theory and unhampered by anyone’s preconceived notions of what a school ought to be and ought to do.” All schools are living now in the aftermath of Mr Gove’s doctrinaire theory and preconceived notions of education. Bedales’ own BACs, our home grown alternative to GCSE, go from strength to strength in terms of their popularity, and the academic breadth they offer that GCSEs don’t. Bedales begins this new academic year still ‘with a vitality all its own’, and still successfully challenging educational theory. It is though a school at ease with itself, and with a clear sense of its own educational mission.

Journeys

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Keith Budge leaves Bedales at the end of this academic year. This final blog is based on his last school assembly.

As I contemplate the end of my time with Bedales, I am minded to think about journeys. Last week, in a very literal sense, I was part of a group of 24 that walked from the original Bedales home in Lindfield to Steep. This journey – all 125 km of it (I completed the first 70 of them) – marked the 125th anniversary of the school’s birth, and so I have also given thought to this rather more abstract journey.

The story of our walk from school to school is pretty straightforward. We had the idea, and it generated some enthusiasm and support. There was planning, resources, logistics, administration, risk assessments, food, water, maps, sun cream; and above all a group of people who wanted to make it happen. Substantially, that the walk was a success was the result of our teamwork.

It’s more difficult to tell the story of the first 125 years of Bedales’ existence, but two really striking things occurred to me vividly over the past week as I walked. The first of these is how very unlikely it is that the school has survived and prospered. John Badley’s idea in the early 1890s that he would start a school and that it would be based on such very different principles to the ones that enabled schools like his – Rugby – to thrive, was pretty left field.

The second striking thing, and this chimes with the story of the walk coming together, is the extent of the teamwork that enabled the fledgling creature that was early Bedales to take wing. Those of you who have followed my blogs will know that I have written regularly about John Badley. His story is well known, and so I will concentrate here a little more on the other two members of the founding triumvirate. Amy Badley, a suffragist, brought a passionate belief in women’s suffrage and women’s rights. She was, some believe, the driving force behind the introduction of girls to the school in 1898. Oswald Powell, or ‘Oz Boz’ as he was affectionately known, was multi-talented (a musician and modern linguist), and brought a great capacity for making things work.

What must it must have been like in those early days of the school’s existence in Lindfield, in Summer 1893? Fortunately, we have Oz Boz’s account to guide us – and what a fascinating read it is. You can hear in his voice the sheer daring of the school’s founding and the gamble he was taking, moving from Manchester Grammar School to join such a madcap scheme. His passion for this place “where we could all learn by doing and haply teach by being and so revolutionise English education” is both palpable and infectious. This is no po-faced account, however – he cheerfully confesses to feelings of incompetence when observed teaching History by Badley, and a comic note is struck when he talks about giving a lecture one Saturday evening on the subject of bee-keeping, despite never having kept bees. By a great quirk of fate, and with charming symmetry, his grandson, Ben Powell, joined us on Day 2 of our walk, so we heard more about Oz Boz from him.

Powell died just short of his 100th birthday; Badley reached 102. I suspect that it was this enduring partnership and the complementary qualities that they brought to it that enabled the school to be what it is today. Badley supplied that informing vision, the passion; but it would have been as nothing without the ability to deliver the goods, at which (amongst other things) Oz Boz excelled.

My final thought about the journey, and the quality that has enabled the school to thrive, is its ability to innovate and to welcome change. Whilst the school has been single-minded in preserving its founding ethos, we should remember that it is a particularly distinctive and nuanced one that invites reinterpretation by successive generations. Indeed, I particularly like Oz Boz’s take on it – that we all (staff and students alike) learn by doing, and in that process remake our idea of education. Such an approach, allied to such an ambition, is demanding: we each of us need to be part of a process of continual self-scrutiny, to share a restless determination, and to be willing to change as we each of us help shape this school’s extraordinary journey.