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.

125 years on

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

5708 Bedales-125-Logo-CMYK BROWN UPDATE 22.11 (Large)It was 125 years ago this Saturday that three boys joined John Badley and his six members of staff at a rented house called Bedales in Lindfield on the outskirts of Haywards Heath.  The school would move to its present home in Steep in 1900 – 76 students in total by then, with just seven girls, co-education having started in 1898.

As we set out on our 125 anniversary celebrations, it is interesting to reflect on what drove John Badley to found the school, what impelled him to lead it as headmaster for its first 42 years and what he might think of us now.

A charismatic 28 year old athlete and classical scholar with a top education (Rugby and Cambridge) and enough family money not to worry too much about making a living, he was inspired by the ideas of the late Arts and Crafts movement and thinkers such as Edward Carpenter and Cecil Reddie, founder of Abbotsholme and exponent of the New Schools’ movement.  Badley’s early experience teaching with Reddie convinced him that he wanted to start his own school and that the conventional public schools “simply wouldn’t do.”  The negative reasons revolved around not being narrowly focussed on the traditional classical curriculum and the cold, hierarchical disciplines of the Victorian public school.  The positive reasons had to do with wanting his school to embrace a more enlightened vision for humanity – where the outdoors, the Arts, reason, head hand and heart in equilibrium, friendship, mutual  respect between teachers and their charges and the feminine influence all held sway.

The school quickly grew, especially when established in Steep. By 1922 the total number had reached 194, including those at Dunhurst, which was started in 1902. The school filled with many families that Badley knew personally. The First World War, although a source of great sadness with the loss of life of so many of his former pupils, galvanized the building of the Memorial Library and Badley’s idealism about international cooperation, was envisaged with the League of Nations.

What would he think of us now?  I am sure he would regard life as very soft and indulgent: the Bedales he grew was physically austere and unashamedly frugal.  The cold baths were an article of faith and kept going until the late 1950s.  He would be surprised by the lack of any religious observance:  although his focus on what he regarded as the eternal truths of Christianity meant that non-conformist and Jewish families felt happier here than at schools where Anglicanism was central, there was a clear religious thread to the school, comparable to Unitarianism.

I think he would recognise and welcome many things.  Here are some: the emphasis put on inquisitiveness and inspiration; the warmth of relationships; the equality of opportunity between genders; the unusual tolerance for a community of adolescents; and the prominence of outdoor work.

I like to think that in a week which has seen a female head of sciences interviewed on national radio for her contrarian views on the use of sarcasm in teaching, warm appreciation of a Theatre of Cruelty play by a touring Norwegian company, a Jaw led by the school’s LGBT society and a series of rehearsals for the students’ annual rock show, he would feel that the creative and daring spirit flourishes.