Evening at Chalk Farm

RIBA Twitter crop

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last time I was at the Round House, I was watching Bob Hoskins in all the pomp of his stage villainy plot the downfall of the Duchess of Malfi.  Tuesday evening and I am sitting at a fancy table, well dined, in a Round House adapted for the RIBA awards, surrounded by architects, listening to Louise Minchin describe the four buildings that are shortlisted for Client of the Year: Bedales School Art & Design Building being one of them.  The judge opens his envelope and – wow! – Yes, we have won.

Up onto the stage we go for the presentation of the award and my brief, sob-free, acceptance speech.  Big thanks are due to Tom Jarman of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios who nominated us for the award and to the home team: Matthew Rice whose vision for the building informed the project;  our bursar, Richard Lushington, who held all the different dimensions together; Nigel Hartley, the project manager; and the heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw.

Cameras flash etc and we troop off to leave the stage free for the Stirling Prize – Hastings Pier, which is firmly on my list of places to visit.

The RIBA Client of the Year has been awarded since 1998 and we are the first school to win the prize – you can see the previous winners here.

So, this is good for Bedales, for the independent sector and for schools in general.  Building well, works – great design and a great process is often no more expensive than the grimly utilitarian. And you have a building that will inspire for a century or so.

For me, there are three major lessons that come from the Client of the Year accolade.

The first is the power of ethos.  The RIBA booklet describes it as “a building after a philosophy of being”. In the same way that we have tried to ensure that the ethos permeates the curriculum, so the best of our buildings embody the ethos.  Appreciation of the beautiful, making and doing and the influence of the school environment are all key elements of that ethos which the building reflects.

The second is the power of consultation: students, staff, parents, OBs, the local community were all consulted.  The initial plans were rejected – “too big, too dark, too close to Steephurst” – and the revised ones then consulted on further.

Finally, it is the strength of collaboration. RIBA described is as “co-authorship in the truest sense”.  Architects and school understood, liked and respected each other, with a brilliant result.  Hoorah!

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.

Student involvement in new Art & Design building

Much to be excited about here over recent days – not only a new BDaily, an enthralling Civics talk by multi-award winning OB author Kate Summerscale and last night’s debate at Jaw on whether private education should be abolished (defeated, but valiantly proposed by Block 4, Cameron C and Block 5 Juliet P) – but also the appearance in Reception of six A1 boards from six architectural practices with their initial design concepts for a new Art & Design building. Student involvement in how Bedales looks and feels has a long and good pedigree here. This is not only evident in student hands-on involvement in their work, for example building barns, but also in student involvement in our major building projects, such as the Orchard Building. With the new Art & Design building, students are being invited to take time not only to look at the designs but to read the boards carefully and to write down their observations about how well they think the individual practices understand the school and the particular needs of art and design students. There has already been some student feedback elicited through all the architects being given their tour by a pair of art and design students. There will be more opportunities for all members of the school community to be involved when the chosen architect produces a design. But, at this first stage, the ideas need to be harvested before the group (chaired by Matthew Rice) that selects the architect meets next Thursday. Heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw, will be bringing groups of students from their classes and talking them through the process that the architects are engaged with – each board is a lesson in itself. Meantime, I am working with Simon and Ben on the full brief, which we expect to give to the winning architect next week.

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.

Students question the governors

I wonder if any other independent school puts its governors in front of the school and invites the students to ask them questions. Governors’ Question Time last night had Nick Vetch, Avril Hardie and Matthew Rice facing the troops – albeit reduced in number by exam absence and piratical preparations for the final night of Treasure Island. Questions covered the full range and were generally (as I would expect) searching: why a new Art & Design building rather than a new Music School? Why are trees being felled and shouldn’t we be planting more? Big plans for the future?  How much longer will the academic village stand? How much does parental pressure count? Should students’ views, for example, on drugs testing, be taken into account more by governors in reaching decisions? Is a school like ours by definition elitist and how does this sit with our ethos? Afterwards, School Council, bolstered by some additional willling voices subbing for exam casualties, had a further discussion session over juice and sandwiches with the governors to complete the evening.

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.