Dogless he meanders

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early this morning.  Curious still being dogless – indeed being creatureless at 50 Church Road, our hens having been ravaged by the fox and our hairy black dog having been lodged with a family who will give her a much more active life over the next few years on the edge of the Firth of Forth (Gullane, pron Gillan) where she is scampering over the links and loving swimming on a daily basis.  So, dogless I will go to the ‘Badley Behaved’ Dog Show & Fête on Saturday; and dogless I take my early morning quick stroll before settling to the reading, writing and thinking necessary before the public bit of the day starts.

This truncated week looks pleasantly varied but with good hefty features: three governor sub-committee meetings, two external speaking events, three relatively routine internal small talks, one half day’s interviewing for a new teacher, lots of prospective parents, an evening housestaff meeting plus supper at home, an open day and, of course, the great Dog Show.

So, here I am on my dawn meanderings: along Emma’s walk, past the Jacob ewes and their lambs, looking in on the adolescent black pigs and up on to the Mem pitch, bathed in the day’s first sunlight and then back down past slumbering adult pigs, admiring the great job they’ve done clearing undergrowth.

I’ve taken a vow against nostalgia, but it is going to get increasingly difficult to hold out.  This is a place that invites reflection and creeps into your senses; having now been in Badley’s chair for longer than anyone other than Mr Badley himself, I should have a few thoughts about this school and the curious business of leading it.  Therefore, here’s a plan for the next half dozen blogs – OK, my last clutch of miscellaneous offerings: six brief reflections on different dimensions of Bedales.  I hope that they might be useful to someone at some stage.  First one (next week): place.

Picking people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Macbeth may be a peculiar starting point for a piece on picking the right people, but having seen the National’s latest (Anne-Marie Duff and Roy Kinnear) and being reminded of the nightmare vision of what happens when you make some wrong decisions in personnel, it is fresh in my mind.

In that little played parlour game when you imagine a school as run by a Shakespearean character, Headmaster Duncan isn’t doing so well,  although he realises “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”  he dies as a result of a bad choice: his most recent appointment to Cawdor House (previously Glamis) has, in breach of more than Health and Safety policy, done him in and now it’s Headmaster Macbeth (nickname, Mac the Knife, motto Dirk of Each for Weal of All).  Macbeth is, like the previous Earl of Cawdor, “a gentleman on whom I [Duncan] built / An absolute trust”; and he is very much The Boss.

As outlined elsewhere in this week’s Saturday Bulletin, there have been a series of appointments recently.  I am directly responsible for all of these except the Dunhurst deputy head, in which I was closely involved in the final stage interview.  Unusually, they cover the full 3-18 age range; unusually I will not be around to see how they prosper, as I am sure they will.

Heads need to be good at picking people: if you aren’t – or don’t become so quickly – things will go awry.  As in so many areas, I have learnt a lot from my Bedales experience.  So what are those lessons?

Involve plenty of other teachers, but remember it is your responsibility: pick a winner and all will celebrate; pick a loser and the fact that it is your choice will rest with you, so listen to others but remember to trust your own instincts as well.  See them in action: their craft is teaching and communicating with young people, not being plausible at interview.  Have them walk around the school with different people – watch how they react to different, sometimes surprising situations – a flock of sheep crossing the Orchard, for example.  Devote all the time and resources you need to the process: get it wrong and it takes much longer to unravel and your pupils’ progress suffers.  If you have any sinking feeling at all, don’t pick anyone – go round again.

Remember that they need to combine a passion for what they do or are applying to do (whether Art, housestaffing, headship or deputy headship) with sufficient nous, method and craft to make their ideas a reality.   Avoid Peter Pans or people with some preconceived sense that they can come to our schools to indulge their whims and wear a particularly outrageous pink corduroy suit, for example (true story…).

Apply the tests: would I like my own child to be taught / congratulated / looked after / told off by this person?  What would I feel like after half an hour’s train journey in their company?  Are they going to make people feel more or less cheerful after a chance encounter in school?  This is sometimes known as the radiator/drain test.  Will they light fires in young hearts?  Will they still be cheerful in their own way at the end of a 12 hour day?

Enough! Now evaluate the respective benefits of Headmaster Prospero, Headmistress Cleopatra, Headmaster Caesar or Principal Lear’s Academy for Young Ladies.

 

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.

Writing about Bedales

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This happened from early on.  In 1896 Edmond Demolins, the French educationalist, visited Bedales.  In two of his subsequent books, A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? (1897) and L’Education nouvelle he said that the national success of the English was due to the public school system and that the logical outcome of that system was to be seen in the “new schools” such as Bedales.  Never mind the supremacist premise of his first book and the poor logic of his thesis, Demolins’ books were widely read in France and amongst the educated classes in continental Europe.  As a result, there was an influx of students from there, including various exotic Russian aristocrats.  Schools based on the Bedales model had sprung up in places as various as St Petersburg, Hilversum (Holland) and Lake Geneva.

Last December I hosted Julian Astle of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).  Julian has subsequently published his research The Ideal School Exhibition.  The RSA has a strong tradition in educational advocacy.  In his book Julian seeks to “expand the conversation to the purpose and essential character of school-based education” which he sees as increasingly being focussed on “education’s narrow instrumentalist’s value”.  Pointing to the broader value of education and the way that authoritarian regimes – such as Victor Orban’s in Hungary – will seek to close down educational institutions that make people think broadly, Astle has toured the country to find schools that are high in conviction and that manage to be successful whilst holding fast to their values – educational missionaries.

Bedales is one of these.  Here is the full report, and an executive summary can be found here.

An excerpt reads:

“Bedales, a fee paying school in Hampshire, defines itself by its humanity (the school was established to provide a humane alternative to the regimented austerity of Victorian schooling) and through its holistic educational philosophy, summed up by its motto “to educate the Head, Hand and Heart”. It strives to introduce its students to what is true (academics), what is beautiful (creativity and making) and what is right (morals and ethics).”

The other school that Astle sees falling strongly into this category is a state school founded in 2012, School 21 in Stratford, East London.  Its head and founder, Peter Hyman, visited on Thursday, met a range of teachers, toured with students and had a good chat with me.   Fascinating and stimulating to talk with someone who, against the grain of so much of the current arid educational orthodoxy, is making such a success of a school that promotes a very different and utterly humane vision.  Here are his ten points for what a school should do.

Have a look at what he says in the executive summary and also in the section where he writes about our school aims.

It is great that an enlightened organisation like the RSA, so wedded to enlightenment thinking, is taking such an important stand in what Michael Oakeshott called “the great conversation of mankind”.

 

 

Precepts for good health

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I’m glad that Wednesday evening’s assembly, led by our senior deputy, my colleague, Louise, is centred around the School’s founding values.  Louise has asked students to read excerpts from John Badley’s book, A Schoolmaster’s Testament (1937).  The chords struck resonate.  Here is a selection.

  • There can only be thoroughly good work- good in its indirect as well as its direct results- and there can only be a thoroughly healthy life where there is a general feeling of happiness.
  • [On the balance between freedom and discipline…] without a sense of freedom there cannot be the happiness that is a condition of the fullest health.
  • In every branch of school work there should be abundant opportunity for original effort and the delight that comes from creation and discovery.
  • [On the need for full happiness…] only if all sides of their nature, physical, intellectual, and emotional, find satisfaction, can they have the full sense of wellbeing which is at once a condition of health and its mental counterpart.

These precepts are running through my mind as I think about two events this week and one to come after half term.

The first is Dunhurst’s assembly yesterday morning when director of teaching and learning, Andy Wiggins, talked about precepts – mainly from books and films – engaging the audience wonderfully with sayings that are designed to help us live more happily. I am watching the assembly through a series of luggage labels hanging on a rack, each with its writer’s pledges – in effect, pupils’ own precepts to themselves – which range from the desire to eat more carrots to more general wishes to be more kind.

The second event was seeing the sixth form play, The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol.  Could there be a better example of “the delight that comes from creation and discovery”?  Cast and crew, under director in residence, Jamie Wood’s expert guidance, have woven John Berger’s tale into 80 minutes of engrossing drama, with the energy and imagination of the young actors at its heart. A cracker.

Finally, the event being planned for after half term is a whole school symposium on 8 November.  Led by the four head students – Scarlett, James, Ritchie and Maisie – it aims to answer a question:

How can we achieve the right balance between the benefits of students’ personal digital devices and the broader needs of the community?

The symposium, which takes the place of tutor time and assembly, will be preceded by an online questionnaire which will be sent out immediately after half term.  The fact that the symposium takes place in Mental Health week is fitting.  Badley’s precepts about  wellbeing will be at the forefront of our minds as we debate the issues and decide what measures might be taken.

 

Today’s eye

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Up early this morning and catching the end of the farming programme, where discussion is all about how to sell food to millennials, who relish the authentic, unlike smug baby boomers like me who have occasional cravings for those sweetly synthetic sausages that on a good day you found in your beanz.  Reading yesterday’s paper on the train I finally read an article by George Monbiot on the connection between immersion in a virtual world and the rise of fascism and racism (our greatest peril? Screening ourselves off from the real world).   Thinking about the way the natural world impinges on our lives, I read in Country Diary’s account from Wenlock Edge that the origin of our homely word daisy is from the Anglo Saxon daes eage or day’s-eye and that a group of nuthatches is called a gidding.  I find delightful links like this as reassuring as crumbling soil between my fingers or hearing our Head of Outdoor Work, Andrew Martin, refer to the birth of his own daughter  in the same breath as our sow’s farrowing (“our little piglet has been joined by other little piglets…”).  The pungency of the world of real experience surpasses the virtual.

Reassuring too, to think over the cheering encounters of my week; yes, of course, alongside some more quotidian concerns, but reminding me of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

A Monday evening that finished listening to our senior literary society discussing Paradise Lost under the guidance of Head of English David Anson in his house.  For many it was their first encounter with Milton’s magic and insights were strong.  Tuesday evening brought a gathering of former students at the Royal College of Surgeons who are making their careers in STEM areas, from those in the higher reaches of academe to recent leavers tussling with Maths degrees or about to start out on their first engineering job.  Wednesday brings the two Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) devised Drama performances.  Based on the ideas of Space and Time, their exploration of complex and difficult ideas (mental illness, drugs, identity, perspective) is brought across with an impressive grasp both of theatre’s many resources but also of the power of collaboration. Rough magic at work, with brain and heart mining into the soil of experience to powerful effect.

All this is shot through with lots of conversations and other messages about my decision, announced on Monday, that in July 2018, I will pack up this particular kitbag and saunter off to pastures new.  Lots of heartening and flattering things, yes.  However, premature nostalgia is almost as bad as premature goodbyes, so here’s a resolution: to do my best to avoid the sentimental and any further mention of leaving in these missives in the intervening 17 months.  There’s much to do and relish in the interim.

Then and now

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Events over the past week or so have led to some thinking about how schools have changed over the last few decades; so I have found myself thinking about how independent schools seemed to someone starting out on his career – as I was – in the early 1980s.  What’s changed? How and why?

Within the sector that I have been working in, which is boarding, the big change has been from it being boys only to being co-educational.  The changes effected by this have been profound culturally, changing the typical group of teachers (“common room” in school speak) into a much more balanced, less clubby, less male dominated group of people.   Sherry before lunch in the common room gradually petered out during the 80s.  The old breed of schoolmaster, for whom schoolmastering was a lifestyle choice and who had sufficient private money to enable him to take some foreign holidays became a rarity.

Alongside this the commitment to high quality teaching and learning, which struck me as haphazard and dependent on outstanding individuals when I started, has become an expectation.  The English department I joined in 1980 remains in my mind the epitome of a brilliant department, but it happened because of a coincidence of extraordinary teachers, not because there was any top-down expectation or because of educational policy in the school.

This brings me to the effects of inspection and regulation, which have been profound.  Schools now are highly regulated places: heads are responsible for policies and systems that should make it very difficult for there to be marked areas of poor delivery within a school for any length of time.  Has this rubbed out some of the more colourful elements?  Probably, but it has improved the general standard considerably.  Lesson observation and appraisal – foreign concepts 30 years ago – are standard now.  When I started as a housemaster in 1991 I cannot remember having anything to do with a policy; now all teachers’ lives are underpinned by policies.

But the biggest and best change has been in the safety of students under our care.  The impact of the Children Act 1989, subsequent statutory requirements and the sea-change in schools’ awareness of the risks facing young people have been profound.  Accompanying this has been a cultural change in the recognition given to listening to young people and involving them in their own education – something I suspect that Bedales has always been particularly good at.

I suspect these changes mirror what’s happened in many other areas of our national life as institutions and professions have become more accountable and as successive scandals have shown the Emperor not to have as many clothes as he thought: Shipman was to Medicine as Savile was to Church and School.  The City no longer runs on booze, trust and a good measure of insider dealing.

Creeping greyness is the danger.  Passionate and inspirational teaching remains the elixir which lies at any good school’s heart.