Curriculum – the last 25 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fifth blog is ‘Curriculum – the last 25 years’.

Being an early riser, I choose what to do first thing. This morning I chose to walk for 20 minutes around the Bedales estate, noting a shriek of magpies mobbing a cat and querying an overgrown hedge – nothing as evocative as my occasional dawn walks in winter when the owls are competing for air space or in May when I hear the plaintive greetings of orphan lambs or even the snufflings of bleary-eyed piglets.

Choice enlivens us.  The curriculum is what schools choose to study – it is our daily bread.  As outlined in my previous piece, Bedales under Badley chose to study a different curriculum to the established Victorian public schools and chose to study it differently.

Arriving here in 2001, I found that the name carrier, the Senior School, Bedales, was teaching much the same curriculum as other schools, albeit often in an unusually vital and engaging way.  The school remained shackled to the dying animal that was the national curriculum, with its dreary GCSEs. At that point, even the Labour government was dissing GCSES. I started having thought-provoking conversations with long term supporters of the school: “why does this extraordinary school not exercise greater choice over what it teaches? Why are you not using your freedom?”

It was my good fortune to inherit some visionary colleagues who had done important work in this area with Southampton University’s Department of Education. Two were especially significant – Graham Banks (Head of English) and Philip Young (Director of Studies). With Southampton, they exploring the potential for the school to diverge from the GCSE curriculum in the 1990s, but the then Head, Alison Willcocks had decided not to press ahead.

I chose differently. Constructing a new curriculum has much in common with creating a new building: identify the need; write the brief; seek planning permission; gather your project team; assess the risks; and then build.

PRE dialogue

It was quickly evident that the territory where the greatest need coincided with the best potential to innovate was the so-called Middle Years curriculum – the GCSE years 10 and 11, Blocks 4 and 5. Governors were on side quickly. Universities were surveyed and came back positively twice, both in response to the embryonic idea and then when the concept had been fleshed out. The message was very clear: give us five or six GCSEs in the core subjects (English, Maths, two or three Sciences and a modern foreign language) and then use your freedom with the remaining four or five subject slots.

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I knew that our parents would warm to it when, as part of the consultation, Philip Young and I called a meeting of Block 1 (Year 7) parents from Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.  These after all were the parents of the children who would most likely be affected, being the first year who would take the BACs. I displayed on the screen the wording of our (then recently minted) primary academic aim: to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought. I interposed a big question mark and then on the other side of the screen wrote “ GCSEs”. The  room filled with laughter – the two things had nothing in common. We had to change the curriculum – and so we did, starting the courses in 2006. You can read more about its latest incarnation here.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Live things

Being away can be stimulating; being back always is.  Evening events and livestock seem to be the two themes of the last few days.

Take last night’s Global Awareness Jaw. Led by Block 5 reporting back on their visit to Woodstock School, Mussourie, India; it began with an extraordinary piece of music composed by Richie and music teacher Giacomo Pozzuto, with Richie on the tabla* and Giacomo on the oboe.  All of the students who went to this remarkable spot, perched on the Himalaya, have a hand in the composition of the presentation and three head it up.  Amongst the various memories that will anchor in the young minds watching, I suspect the spell cast by the sight and sound of tabla and oboe – the interplay of  East and Western musical traditions – will feature most.

Other evening excitements included Sunday’s Professional Guidance department presentation to 6.1 parents on Higher Education: primarily about university entry, it’s an encouraging picture that we present – not only of some of the most sought after universities being able to offer more places to candidates who gain ABB or above at A Level, but of the increasing proportion of our students gaining places at Russell Group universities.  It is the start of the cycle for the new 6.1s.  Next week I will give my annual assembly to the school on higher education, as the most important message is the old adage:  hard work + passion for your chosen subjects + working closely with your teachers = success; and the earlier that starts, the greater the success – and the more enjoyable the journey.

Tuesday evening and I am entertaining a group of fellow headteachers (collective name possibilities, a swelling of heads or a lakh of principals), initially to a meeting and then to dinner at 50 Church Road.  The 86 Group, 20 years old now, comprises 16 schools from across the south east who have enough in common and who enjoy each other’s company enough to meet termly to discuss things of common interest.  Trust and humour are the glue. Meetings of heads of 86 group schools’ departments also happen and are generally handy.  Sitting in the alcove at No 50, the evening light on the great oak tree is particularly wonderful and the birdsong stunning.

Which takes me on to livestock.  The new lambs are in Butts’ Field now and (yes, honestly) are gambolling in the evening sunlight as I walk back from home after Jaw and chat to some Block 3 boys about why lambs like going into the wooden shelter that our alpacas so scorned.  We will all feel easier about the lambs’ transition along the food chain (mint sauce is the clue here) when the time comes, because they have not been named.

This is not the case with the new quartet of 50 Church Road hens, who have recently been named.  Unlike their predecessors, who were uniformly brown, either Waitrose rejects or rescue hens, depending on how you spin it, these are proper, svelte and gorgeous young creatures, a mere few weeks old and full of adolescent preening, with a good three of four years of productive laying ahead.   Given the hopes that we pin on them, the capital outlay (x 6 of their predecessors) and their splendid distinguishing plumage and general pomp, we take the bold step of naming.  Following a brief and entirely frivolous What’s App consultation with our own offspring, they are named: Snowy (the white one), Bluebell (bluish and that’s her breed and its bluebell time in Steep woods), Chicken (brown and looks like one) and Chardonnay, after the memorable character in Footballers’ Wives, Series 1, who was herself named after the over-worked varietal type of the extravagant 80s.  I trust that they are all going to behave, especially Chardonnay.

 

*NB The left hand plays the bass on the wider drum called the “dugga” and the right hand plays the lead drums on the “tabla”. Together, the drums are also called “tabla”.

Top degree corrections

Red faces at the Higher Education and Funding Council of England (HEFCE) as our professional association, HMC, confronts them with a rookie error in the report that they published in early September.  When they published the report, the data seemed to point to a significant and unfavourable difference in degree outcomes between students from the independent sector and their state sector peers.  Now – aha! – it turns out that the headline statistic published by the HEFCE contained a basic mathematical error. Those interpreting the report had got their columns mixed up, claiming initially that 73% of independent school entrants received a 1st or 2:1 compared to 82% from state schools and 6th form colleges – in fact it is the other way round.

You can make your own conclusions about what the HEFCE wanted the research to show, but a clue might lie in the fact that the HEFCE silently changed the mistake in the numerical appendix to its online document but not its overall interpretation in the body of the report which continues to maintain that evidence points to generally higher performance achieved by state school graduates compared with independent school peers entering with like for like grades.

Since the error came to light, Professor Alan Smithers from the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham has analysed the report further and produced his own paper, which shows that students’ performance in entry qualifications is the single strongest predictor of subsequent degree performance, which is why the proportion of students getting a 1st or 2:1 degree is much higher for independent school students – 82% versus 73% for the record.

Although it was HMC who did the heavy lifting with this and made HEFCE admit its error to the media, hats off to the eagle-eyed parent who spotted the error and alerted a member school.

Chinese tea and Oxford reception

Summer brings with it even more times when you have pleasant chats with very different groups of people over a cup of tea or even a glass of Prosecco. Friday evening saw MIchael Truss, Clare Jarmy, Sarah Oakley, Philip Parsons and I at the Old Parsonage in Oxford meeting up over drinks with about 20 present and recently past OB Oxonians; which was both fun and informative, as far as building up a full picture in order better to guide current students on college and course choice. Intriguing too for me to discover that I have shared a glass (non-alcoholic in several cases of course) with both of my head boys from 2010/11 on their 20th birthdays – Omer Sami in Los Angeles on Easter Monday and Frank Macpherson in Oxford last Friday.

This afternoon it is a traditional cup of tea (plus scones etc)  at 50 Church Road with our 12 student guests and two teachers from our Chinese partner school, Chuansha in Shanghai. I visited there four years ago, which was also when the last student delegation came here; they hosted our school visit to China in February. At last night’s assembly, my welcome to them was followed by two traditional Chinese pieces played by our visitors – Joy, Zhang Zhixiao, playing her flute and Rita, Ding Yixin, singing. The assembly then continued with Shirley, Jin Huijing, one of the Chinese teachers describing some of the differences between Chuansha and Bedales – with the typical class size (of 42) perhaps the most salient statistic. The courage of our visitors in performing here in front of the school – and on only their second day – won many plaudits and warm applause. It was great to see them sitting chatting outside with our students in the evening sun after assembly. Tonight, a very different business as we have our annual reception and presentation to the local Steep community. The purpose of this is to keep people abreast of developments – both educational and building – and to enlist their support and understanding with future developments, such as the new Art & Design centre.

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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

California Re-visited

Having spent a year in California on a teaching exchange in 1988/9, it was intriguing to go back: instead of being parents of a one year old we were parents of two university age children and one working for an American company. All three of our children have ended up having some university time abroad – the first two because they are linguists (so, France, Italy, Columbia and Mozambique) and our third, Lara, because she is at Edinburgh and has managed to secure her third year abroad, continuing to study history but at University of California, San Diego (UCSD); so, with the main attraction being visiting Lara and seeing a little of her San Diego life and the secondary one of re-visiting a state where we had spent a very intriguing and enjoyable year, we set off. Overused words like vibrant and innovative don’t really capture California, especially the coastal belt from San Francisco to San Diego. The raw data that compare California to countries capture some of it; the fact that since we were last there a whole clutch of Californian based companies have become world brand names also says much. The experience of visiting UCSD and also University of California, Los Angeles was also powerful: these places mirror what is going on economically in terms of ambition and world reach. Take a look at the Times Higher Education 2012/3 rankings – not only will you see that the California Institute of Technology is ranked first in the world but that there are 6 other Californian universities in the top 40 in the world: Stanford (2), Berkeley (9), UCLA (13), UC Santa Barbara (35) and UC San Diego (38). Not only are these west coast universities starting to push their east coast rivals back (Harvard and Yale are at 2 and 11 respectively), but they are supplanting their old world rivals – the UK also has 6 in the top 40 – Oxford (2), Cambridge (7), Imperial (8), UCL (17), Edinburgh (32) and LSE (39). My evidence base is entirely anecdotal – based on a tour and subsequent conversations with OB and former head boy Omer Sami (2nd year at UCLA) and a tour and various chats with Lara and some of her friends. Omer is taking maximum advantage of the breadth and flexibility offered by the American system: although he will major in Psychology his minor, which is in Film, may come to be in the most influential part of his degree in terms of a future career. He is going to be taking advantage of the ability to pick up additional courses, in his case with languages and will be adding to his current facility with French and Spanish through spending next year in Brazil and Denmark, thus giving himself Portuguese and Danish as well.  The scope for work placements alongside your degree looks to me to be unparalleled both at UCLA and at UCSD. Turning to Lara and her fellow Edinburgh undergraduates who are also at UCSD my sample of 3 – History, English & Philosophy and Bio-technology respectively – all rated the quality of the teaching they are having at UCSD higher than what they were receiving at Edinburgh. They are also more aware of the number of their professors who are making waves on the world academic stage. Plenty of food for thought – more on UK vs US university choices later this term.

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.

Envision…and chillax

Surprise myself by finding that envision, a word I am keen to use but have never warmed to and avoided using, is not a late 20th century invention, but is almost 100 years old; so, welcome, envision (meaning ‘to imagine as a future possibility’) to your first use in my lexicon (now that’s a classy, chunky word), as today is the day when our 6.1s (Lower Sixth form students in non-Bedales-speak) spend the morning meeting Old Bedalians from the next stage of their lives – which is mostly university, Art College or straight into work. In the Memorial Library, the 6.1s have a chance to browse and talk to former students – initially by academic course (here a gaggle of engineers, there a float of linguists..) and then by destination (here a gang from Bristol, there a cluster from Falmouth); and so, along with the exchange of ideas about what those courses are really like come the exchange of numbers and email addresses. So, our 6.1s, who are mostly 17, are looking over the brink into a year when they will make decisions about what they will do until they are (fearsome thought) 22,3 or 4. Envisioning (yes, managed it again) yourself these years on is not a natural human activity, certainly not a natural teenage activity, but the OB Higher Education Fair helps. Let’s trust that the morning gives them a good chance of achieving that thing, before they, envisaging the weekend ahead think about (now this really is going to hurt) chillaxing.

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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Higher education advice for 6.1s

Sun shines briefly over the weekend – on Saturday on our last open day of the year (marked by a certain amount of dressing up by 6.2s taking their final tours), the Block 4 parent-teacher talks; and on Sunday’s South Downs Sustainability Fair, whose concluding parade is led by a group of Bedales teachers and students, again suitably togged and face-painted. Sunday evening is a tad more prosaic as colleagues involved with higher education and I meet with 6.1 parents to talk about this crucial concluding phase of the students’ careers. As well as outlining what we do to help and when, we look at previous years’ trends – where our students went and what they chose to study. There are some clear trends, such as more students each year looking at universities overseas, but the tight clutch of most highly favoured universities are the same a generation on. In many cases, this is for very good reasons, such as the quality of the university and how much other Bedalians have enjoyed their experience there.  Important nonetheless to do all we can to erode some prejudices which can limit choice, for example against certain very strong Midlands’ universities – Sheffield and Nottingham in particular. We’re publishing more pages on the website to show exactly what we are doing when. Meanwhile, once AS exams are over, the 6.1s will focus on all of this, with an intensive Higher Education day in mid June and then the Old Bedalian HE Fair when we bring 20-30 OBs back from the full range of courses and universities and set the current 6.1s loose on them. It is very productive.

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.