Seasonal cycles

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early before the day bakes up;  literal black dog is jaunty as we walk  from Church Road, through the semi-natural Steep woods and up to the base of the Hangers, enjoying the whiff of wild garlic and a family of Canada geese in the small pond above the mill lade; we return via All Saints’ churchyard’s cluster of wild poppies and our own domestic creatures – russety pot-bellied pigs rootling and Black Rock hens taking the late dawn air as we return home via Outdoor Work’s handsome vernacular family of buildings, now joined by their big svelte cousin, Art & Design.   Agricultural cycles and care for the land been always been in my family’s marrow: the resonances with the educational world I inhabit are especially striking at this juncture in the year.

Last week I spent half an hour with the 10 new teachers who will join Bedales in September at the start of their induction day.  I talk, as I did with the new head student team, about trusteeship: so, we are all trustees of something much larger than we can ever be – a school’s culture, its better habits and instincts – and our responsibility must be to hand it on in better shape than we found it.  As well as giving them confidence in keeping to the high standards that most of them have established already in the craft of teaching, I alert them to the particularly high expectations that our students have of mutually trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their teachers.  This is, I say, the most important and influential thing we have and something that they can and will in time find powerfully nourishing.

There is a palpable sense of expectation in the room – this talented crop of teachers with their energy, optimism and passions!  Of course, as the obscure saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding, but I leave the room feeling buoyed up, thinking that the school is lucky to attract such people and I am lucky to be able to see them start their Bedales journey.

“Life is a casting off”, so says Linda Loman in Miller’s great reflection on working life, Death of a Salesman, which I am delighted to see our Block 3s writing about as I nose around amongst their end of year exams on Monday morning.  These young people, less frisky but a bit more knowledgeable than they were in September,  have entertained their parents to a Saturday lunch virtually all grown or raised (“Happy Pigs” – see photo, above, which accompanies the barbecue) during this academic season by each tutor group under the careful, farmerly and pastoral eye of their Badley tutor.

Casting of a different kind is being contemplated as news of next term’s school play being a musical filters out.

Teachers retire and move on or back to places from where they came.  And we are now in the season of staff goodbyes, which are going on out of the public eye before the more formal, collective events of the end of term.

Amongst the students, the Block 5s have returned following their GCSEs and are having a week of taster lessons so that they have the best chance of choosing the right (generally) three A Levels.  I find myself in one such lesson where the class is being asked to match Greek statues of different eras with vases of a similar age.  Discussions of musculature, naturalism and the constraints of each  genre are a taste of how gripping and formative great sixth form teaching can be.  Plenty of good stuff for us all to look forward to.

Inspiring futures

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m talking at the Inspiring Futures conference tomorrow and am mulling over what I might say.  I need to provide the schools’ perspective on how we should be preparing our students for the future – in particular 4IR – or the Fourth Industrial Revolution – aka the Digital Revolution.   I have 20 minutes and, at my request, it is the final slot.  So, I plan five slides.  Here’s a shrinklet version, slide by slide.

A cheesy crystal ball: we humans love predicting the future and we will so often be wrong.  The hapless verb “to future-proof” is a notable example of this.  Yet, human beings are remarkably adaptive and, in spite of our poor planning for the future, are often fleet-footed in response.   Preparing for 4IR may be too late – but how can we best prepare for whatever 5IR and 6IR are going to look like?

A frontispiece of Silas Marner, showing how the sad, miserly spinner has become part of his loom: work has made him into a machine; tempting to think this is all about preparing our young people for work, but it is also about preparing them to live enriched, fulfilled lives.  In this respect, we need our students to have an understanding of the ancient verities of philosophy and literature and to appreciate the Arts, as well as having a strong science and maths base.

The rear view mirror of a car: our educational systems prepare us for the world that has just passed.  My schooling prepared me well to serve the needs of the British Empire, just as it had gone.  Education ministers tend to hanker after the past – the fixations of Michael Gove and poor primary school children’s subsequent current fixation with adverbial clauses, for example.

A set of ball bearings beautifully balanced:  how to achieve this balance?  The state needs to limit what it requires of school children, especially in those formative GCSE years, and provide much greater freedom within the curriculum; so cut the requirement for so many GCSEs – Maths, English and Science are the only ones that the government needs to assess.  If you allow head teachers in schools to exercise their independence, you create space and therefore flexibility in the curriculum.  Such an approach challenges the current sclerotic, silo mentality of the curriculum.  How can you expect students to develop the necessary flexibility of mind and creative thinking if the curricula they encounter are often so dull and formulaic?

A blossoming chestnut tree:  how to give our youngsters the best chance of living the most fulfilled lives?  See W B Yeats’ image of the chestnut tree (“great rooted blossomer” from Among School Children). Here is a list of some of the qualities we need to help bring out in our students:

  • Capacity for independent thinking and problem solving
  • Appetite for lifelong learning: establish a love of learning early and it stays
  • Enjoyment of teamwork and collaboration
  • Understanding of other cultures – enjoyment of international links
  • Sense of wonder: to inspire and be inspired

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.

Gove unbound

Increasingly, it seems Michael Gove is wanting to re-make the educational world into a mixture of the 1970s Aberdeen of his youth and an imagined version of an independent school nirvana.

Talking to other heads over recent days, I find that I am not alone in my bemusement.   Having rejected the one element of the reform made to A Levels in 2000 that enjoyed strong support from across the educational sector – the breadth provided by 4 subjects in 6.1 – he is now brandishing elements of independent education that are seen within the sector as antique or even archaic. So, he is praising the Common Entrance exam which is fast being superseded and recommending writing lines as a punishment – something that even the most determinedly conservative independent schools stopped doing a long time ago. Although I admire his forthright determination that children in the maintained sector should have comparable opportunities to the independent sector, there is something faintly embarrassing about hearing him talk of the virtues of 10 hour days and playing fields when there is no political will or public cash to enable these things to happen in the maintained sector.

Although I see the MG world as dressed in flares and gingerly sipping McEwans Tartan, here is a more forthright view of the MG world as one of imagined 1950s values.

http://www.newsbiscuit.com/2014/02/04/50s-stereotypes-welcome-reintroduction-of-common-entrance-exam/

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.

What lies ahead for Sixth Formers?

Wednesday brings our annual open day for potential Sixth Formers and the first 6.1 Review meeting when we go through the year group, assess individuals’ progress and ensure that good progress is recognised and problems are addressed. Some reflections on what lies ahead for these two cohorts – our current 6.1s who will take A Levels in 2015 and the embryonic one that will take them in 2016: the pattern is reasonably predictable for these students, as they will continue with the slightly reformed current system, the only reforms being the taking away of January modules (which the current 6.2s are the first cohort to be affected by) and the tightening of grade boundaries, making it more difficult to get the top grades; so students currently in Year 11 (Block 5) will be the last to have the merits and demerits of the current system whereby most students take the AS exam on the way to achieving their final A Level, having taken A2 in their second year in the Sixth Form. Although the exam hurdles are a bit tougher, I suspect that the availability of places at many of our universities is likely to remain in line with the 2012 and 2013 entries.

So, what lies ahead in the brave new Govian world for those currently in Year 10 (Block 4) who will start in the Sixth Form in 2015? Well, assuming that a change of government does not scupper the current plans, from 2015 all A Levels will be fully linear, meaning that exams are all taken at the end. AS is to be de-coupled as a stand alone qualification. It is not yet clear what shape this will take but it looks as if a return to something like the old AS, whereby it was as difficult as the A Level but did not require as much material to be studied might be on the cards. Sounds familiar? It will come as no surprise that the post 2015 landscape is eerily like the one that some of us went through – the pre-2000, old linear A Level.

A complication as far as the launch of subjects in 2015 is that those subjects requiring a significant change to curriculum content will be delayed until September 2016 or later – so, Maths and Further Maths, for example, are in this category. Where curriculum content needs to be revised the Russell Group of universities will have considerable influence on the changes.

If you want to delve more into all this, have a guddle in www.ofqual.gov.uk

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.

The consequences of the end of January A-Level modules

For many sixth formers up and down the land this weekend will have been one of revision for January A Level modules – as it has been for the past 12 years, since the AS/A2 system became fully fledged in 2000/01. But, with this group of mainly 6.2s (in our case) sitting January modules, it is the last time that modules will be available in January. What will be the consequences? Four spring to mind – two that directly affect students’ choices and two which are more pertinent to school organisation. The pressure to perform up to scratch at the first sitting in the summer of your 6.1 year will increase. For those who were going to take a gap year anyway, the relatively painless re-take option post A Levels goes, as you would now have to wait a year to re-take your modules. As far as our organisation goes, not having January modules increases uninterrupted teaching time – a welcome change. Less welcome is the further impact that will be felt because of all the marking now being concentrated in the summer months when the marking has been less reliable than in January) and therefore yet more effort and time spent in trying to ensure that the quality of marking is what we need it to be. On balance, it is a welcome move, although the reliability of marking remains a big bugbear.

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.

HMC warns: Gove’s exam reforms will be “built on sand” unless Britain’s decayed examining system is remedied

On Monday I touched on the marking scandal.  Here is a summary, posted by HMC.  You can download the full report and see the full scale of the dissatisfaction.  As you can imagine, we have contributed to the report.

HMC warns: Gove’s exam reforms will be “built on sand” unless Britain’s decayed examining system is remedied
26 September 2012   Posted by Heidi

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) warns today that the Government’s proposed reform of public examinations will be “built on sand” unless deep-rooted problems within the examining system are addressed.

HMC, which represents 250 leading independent senior schools, has today published a detailed report uncovering endemic problems with marking, awarding, re-marks and appeals at GCSE and A level between 2007 and 2012.

HMC welcomes recent Government proposals to overhaul GCSEs and A levels, especially moves to increase rigour in subject studies, reduce the burden of assessment on students aged 15-18 and differentiate student achievement more clearly across the grade range.

But in its report, which has been sent to ministers, HMC says these changes to qualifications (the ‘superstructure’) are almost certain to be undermined by long-standing failings in how young people are examined (the ‘foundations’).

“Unless examining is reformed substantially, the introduction of revised qualifications will amount to new houses built on existing sand,” says the report.

The report details key examples of what goes wrong and why – though much remains unexplained due to a “culture of secrecy” in the exam boards and lack of focus in Ofqual – and the wider implications of each of these failings.   

Specifically HMC detail seven failings of the current ‘examinations industry’ in England, grouped under three headings:

  • Poor quality marking: over the last five years, one school has had to challenge marking standards in 48 separate cases, covering 19 different subjects at GCSE and A level.
  • Inexplicable inconsistencies in the awarding of grades: one highly-selective school saw its English GCSE A* grades fluctuate between 11% and 65% over a decade.
  • Obstructions to redress: re-marks and appeals: the appeals process allows the boards to hide behind protocol rather than account for poor marking.

The authority for the findings derives from several sources: national data; collaborative work with schools and subject associations in the maintained sector; internal HMC surveys; and data from HMC schools, particularly from heads of departments.

In national terms the staff in HMC schools are exceptionally well qualified in subject knowledge and its schools are part of an independent sector that government research shows to be the most expert in the country at predicting student grades accurately.  

Christopher Ray, High Master of Manchester Grammar School and Chairman of HMC, said today: “The state of the examinations industry is truly shocking and is clearly no longer fit for purpose. The problems go far deeper than this year’s disastrous mishandling of the English language GCSE grades.

“We are publishing this evidence today on behalf of all students in state and independent schools in England who do not receive the marks or grades that accurately reflect their performance and achievement.  As Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL says, the findings are important and are ‘likely to have uncovered the tip of an iceberg’.”

HMC welcomes recognition by ASCL of the significance of the enquiry and looks forward to discussing the report with the Secretary of State

Source: http://www.hmc.org.uk/hmc-warns-goves-exam-reforms-will-be-built-on-sand-unless-britains-decayed-examining-system-is-remedied/


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.