By Will Goldsmith, Deputy Head (Academic)
Starting a new school presents challenges and starting a new school mid-year more so, but starting a new school in a global pandemic feels like throwing yourself in at the deep end. And yet, here I am, just over three weeks in to my first term at Bedales and the water’s lovely.
I have been ‘courting’ Bedales for three years and am excited to have arrived. For me, the most immediately powerful thing I’ve appreciated has been the people who have made me feel so welcome: students, staff, parents and the local community in Steep and beyond.
Something I was inspired by three years ago when I first visited and I’m delighted to see very much alive today is the spirit of the students here. For example, in my first (online) assembly, I introduced myself and asked the students to say hello to me as I walked around the campus; I was candid enough to confess to feeling a little nervous, being a new arrival. Some might have thought it unwise to admit such blatant vulnerability to an adolescent audience; however Bedales is no ordinary school and, for the next week, I was treated to delightful greetings from students of all ages. Outwith their warmth and kindness, I’ve had many interesting discussions with students on topics as diverse as prohibition, gender and whether or not we need school rules. I am filled with excitement about working with such lively and engaged young people.
I’ve been equally delighted to meet colleagues with whom I have so much in common, both in terms of our professional values, but also our broader concerns and beliefs. It’s been fun, for example, getting to know Andrew and his team in Outdoor Work who’ve taught me about their late-night vigils watching over the pregnant sheep, introduced me to Favour and Tasty (two of the delightful school cows) and finding myself amused at the sunburnt piglets grunting away in the spring sunshine. I also loved celebrating Beltane around a camp fire, while wearing a crown of ivy.
My new colleagues have patiently talked me through their work and begun teaching me the poetic, if baffling, vocabulary of the place. I can confidently say that I know the quickest way to ‘Peef’ and have enjoyed my first ‘Jaw’. David over in the English department has already shared with me some insights to Edward Thomas’ time living and working at the school which have brought his poems to life anew. I’ve even been able to sing in the church choir (socially distanced and COVID-safe, of course).
In the classroom, I’m particularly excited about the work we’re doing on project-based learning with our Block 3 students – something we’ll be finessing next year now that we’ve run nearly a full cycle of our new venture into cross-curricular learning. I’m also loving the variety and depth of our BACs which are now in the final stages of moderation.
While there is so much to enjoy about living in Hampshire at a school like Bedales, there are, of course, challenges: coming out of lockdown and slowly reducing the measures in place to combat COVID-19 is particularly frustrating for a school which values so highly the interpersonal (handshaking is still not allowed); our Block 5 and 6.2 students are working their way valiantly through the final weeks of assessments to provide evidence for their GCSE and A Level grades; and we do not underestimate the time it will take to bring our whole community fully back together again. Luckily, with the people, the environment and the traditions that make up this school, we are ready to make the most of what we have here.
For me, it is such a privilege to already feel part of this community and I’m so excited about the months and years to come.