“The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – William Wordsworth

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It is a curiosity of Bedales that the youngest entrants, the Block 3s, start their time here by arriving in verdant Hampshire before any other students – on the Thursday before most arrive on the Sunday – spend two nights at school and then head off to the Lake District, returning into circulation on the second Monday of term.  Why?

Enabling your youngest students to have their induction into school life and, for example, the mysteries of IT logins and classroom locations, before they are crowded out with lots of big and alarmingly adult looking teenagers makes sense.  Whisking them away to the North of England requires more explanation – it is a long way, 330 miles in fact and, like any expedition away from school, complicated to plan and resource-hungry; this is especially so as we take the Block 3 (Badley) tutors who accompany their tutor groups (usually with 8-10 students in each group).

Sitting in a very smart octagonal shed in the grounds of the Outward Bound’s centre on the edge of Ullswater (by Glenridding, the most flooded village in Britain), I am reminded why.  In this snug super shed or pod are the nine members of a tutor group,  an Outward Bound tutor and the Bedales tutor; they are all grouped around a table and surrounded by sheets of paper pinned to the walls which reflect the Block 3s’ journey over the first few days of their five day course.  The sheets from their first day reflect what they were hoping to get out of their time at the centre – their hopes and fears.  More recent ones show how the Outward Bound instructors tailor the students’ experience to our school aims.  I notice one sheet which has resulted from a discussion on how their time in Ullswater might mirror the Bedales aims:  HEAD: Think! HAND Do something! HEART Self-belief.

I am there for a couple of nights and, because the expeditions into the mountains this year takes place when I have to go south, I am able to spend plenty of time seeing the groups in action around the centre and, crucially for me, pinning names to faces, mannerisms, quirks of speech and all the other ways one tries to remember who the new students are.

I love going out into the hills, so it is with envy that I watch them all getting ready for their expedition on the Wednesday morning.   Even these preparations are done thoughtfully.  The comparisons with the quasi-military approach to expeditions that I grew up with – here’s your kit, pack it, off we go – are stark.  Students sit in their octagonal pods and are asked to think of all the different activities and needs when they are up on the hills.  There are discussions and debates and gradually a list is created.  Of course, the instructors will not let them go off without the essentials – and safety measures are second nature to Outward Bound – but the decisions and that kit list are shaped and informed by what the students discuss.

Culturally, this is a foreign land to most of our students: that’s not just the business of wild nature, but it’s also the North – little rivers called becks, different accents and meretricious weather.  It’s also a brilliant social mixing pot, with boarders and days, students from Dunhurst and many other schools all finding themselves in dorms or tutor groups with each other.  You get to know your fellow travellers pretty well.  Likewise, time on the hills or seeing youngsters overcome fears helps the tutors understand what makes them tick.

An additional bonus is that their return journey on Friday is broken by a sortie into Stoke for lunch, some painting of mugs and a tour of the Emma Bridgewater factory, thanks to the generous hospitality of Emma Bridgwater and Matthew Rice.

What with their time in the place that inspired the Romantic poets, their own journeys of self-discovery and this dotting into a thriving modern business in the former industrial heartland of England, it is well worth the journey.

 

Timely reminders

Having been unavoidably away for much of last week, it has been good to spend some time reminding myself of the important constants of school life – the equivalent perhaps for a farmer of getting in amongst the stock and crops – and of the energy that animates a school.

First stop is Outdoor Work, where you usually see the best of people and where there is always something new – in the polytunnel great care is being taken by the Block 3s to make an A frame up which beans will grow and I see a student’s face light up in a way that I had not seen before. In the barnyard I find two Block 5 boys, Ed A and Henry F and their BAC ODW project, a duck house. I had already taken the liberty of giving Ed a little context on the political resonances of duck houses which he has taken on board, so this conversation was much more granular and, of course, admiring, because this is going to be some duck house, but I still needed to be reassured about waterproofing and also buoyancy. It is going to be like a lake palace – lucky ducks.

Watching Maths being taught is another calming and anchoring activity. I take a wander round Block 3 Maths groups, noting a sympathetic and “no fear” approach to helping the students understand the concepts behind what they are doing, rather than simply feel it is about being right or wrong.

As we have our first Block 3 Review of the term and, hearteningly, many Block 3s’ efforts need to be recognised through congratulatory cards or brief meetings with me (“seeing” to use the vernacular), I am busy congratulating first thing on Thursday morning.  It is great to hear first hand from these students what they are particularly enjoying and any other thoughts they have about their first half of term at Bedales.

The only sadness is I arrive at Dunhurst too late for their Agincourt assembly, which I am very sorry to miss. It cannot match the way Dunhurstians commemorated the anniversary of Waterloo (with much colour, bangs and ingenuity) but it had clearly animated attendees. However, I catch Lisa Whapshott as she is taking her pupils in to their Design lesson. What are they doing this lesson? I ask.  Designing a trug, they answer. Trugs are wonderfully esoteric things (having that badge of honour of not being recognised by spellcheck) and sounding as splendid as they are reassuring to carry; it is very comforting to know that someone is working at designing and then making them in an English school.

So, trugs and duck houses – their future is safe with us.

New beginnings starting up

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Schools are refreshed each year by at least a quarter of their students being new.  The process of moving those (135 in Bedales’ case) students from being new to feeling part of the community takes a bit of thought and requires different kinds of (for want of a better word) induction.  This has been the case over the past 12 days with our new Block 3s and 6.1s, who comprise the great majority of those 135.

What are we wanting to accomplish through these inductions?  Three things: familiarity with places and systems; understanding what our values are, in particular the emphasis on close collaboration between teachers and students; and opportunities to get to know the others in their cohort.

So here is how it happens.  Three days before term begins, when teachers are still enmeshed in their in service training, in come the (95) Block 3s – just over half from our prep school, Dunhurst, just under half from about 35 different schools. I talk in the theatre to their parents about what they might expect of the next stage of their children’s education and what we expect of them.

The students then spend just under two days at Bedales when we are able to focus entirely on them and where they have the freedom of the school, enjoying for example a few skittish moments in our sunlit orchard, without any of the big people who can seem very big when you are a smallish 13 year old.  Then, strange though it seems, we whisk them away in two large buses to Ullswater in the Lake District, where, as has now happened for almost 25 years, they have a 6 day course which is specially tailored to the things we most want them to develop in their early time at Bedales – resilience, self-reflection and the ability to work in a team.  Each tutor group has its Badley tutor – the teacher who will work most closely with them – accompanying them, along with the Outward Bound leader.  It is a great 6 days and highly influential, both for them as a group and as individuals.  I (and my two wayward dogs) spend two nights there, one accompanying students on an overnight camp.

For the 6.1s, the journey is very different.  Although the majority of the cohort are students who are continuing through from Block 3 and have therefore been here for three years already, the assimilation of the new 27 students and the fact that the sixth form is a new start for everyone means that you need to give everyone an induction.

Their induction is more cerebral than the Block 3s’ and shorter, with a return a mere 30 hours before the rest of the school and the induction course focussed on the need for increased independent working and leadership.  Whilst the Block 3 induction is mainly focussed on doing, the 6.1s are reminded that good sixth formers are thinkers, readers and questioners.

In many ways the finale of the 6.1 induction is the student-led “Philosophy Of…” conference which, thanks to the good leadership of Becky G and Patrick N, came off splendidly on Saturday morning. More on this next time.

A bundle of virtues and vices

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“Pig – let me speak his praise – is no less provocative of the appetite, than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate. The strong man may batten on him, and the weakling refuseth not his mild juices. Unlike to mankind’s mixed characters, a bundle of virtues and vices, inexplicably intertwisted, and not to be unravelled without hazard, he is – good throughout. No part of him is better or worse than another. He helpeth, as far as his little means extend, all around. He is the least envious of banquets. He is all neighbours’ fare.”

Once you have read Charles Lamb’s A Dissertation upon Roast Pig it is difficult to munch a roast pork sandwich without thinking of that sad genius and his brilliant essay, which crackles with his own delight in the various cooked manifestations of said roasted beast – all neighbours’ fare.

My roast pork sandwich is delicious, definitely good throughout. It is modest in size, leaving room for my plate to be packed with portions of vegetables – two types of beetroot (one simply chopped and another in a sauce), some salad potatoes, some ordinary boiled potatoes, some lettuce and a sweetish piece of onion; and yes, apple sauce. The noteworthy feature of this healthy, homely but delicious platter is that it has all been produced by my hosts – the Block 3s – who have in their tutor groups, under the sway of their Badley tutors and the benign presence of the 6.2s assigned to each group (Badley Seniors), grown and bred this fare. My paper plate sags, especially when a passing pair of Block 3s add a scone with jam and cream on it. (Yes, I know the cream is imported…)

The scene is the grassy outdoor Sotherington theatre, sculpted by 6.2s a few years back and a good suntrap spot for an outdoor gathering.

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Block 3 parents are there; off in the corner is the delicious but diminishing pig too, looking sadder and sadder in his roaster, but still smelling good and tempting us all to return for more. The meal is the product of each group’s project, which was quite simply to grow the food for it.

The earlier part of the day has entailed each student in the tutor group telling the assembled parents about their individual projects – so one has made a poker, with a classy stand, in the school’s forge; another has done a cycling expedition and written about it; and another has got smitten by Arthur Miller and The Crucible in particular. The project is a preparation for the independent work habits that we expect with the Bedales Assessed Courses in the following two years, but also an age-appropriate version of the Extended Project which many of our 6.1s will do.

Some of the Badley Seniors are there too. They have been an integral part of this Block 3 experience, acting as older brother/sister figures to those youngsters who are navigating their way through their first year at Bedales. Leadership roles that are based on mentoring seem to work well here – as well as mirroring a contemporary belief that leadership is more about influence than conspicuous exercise of authority. It is great to see these mixed characters, enjoying the intermittent sunshine and this genial spot in time and in a student’s Bedales journey.

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Agricultural cycles

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Part of Mr Badley’s genius (I muse, taking an early morning stroll as a proper, warm June summer’s day takes shape) was to twig how close we humans are to the seasonal cycles of the agricultural year.  After all, a Western European is only a maximum of a mere ten generations or so away from living on the land and being bound by the cycles of sowing, growth and harvest.

In Mr Badley’s case, there were additional specific reasons why having a school within a farm made sense: what greater emblem could there be of Work of Each for Weal of All than communal haymaking? And of course he wanted his students to “know a hawk from a hernshaw” and to avoid a situation where “the rotation of the crops [is] as much a mystery as the procession of the Equinoxes”. This was partly to avoid the helplessness that he saw as resulting from young gentlemen who expected “to be at one end of a bell-pull with a servant at the other.”

Alongside this was his conviction that the education of head, hand and heart needed to work in conjunction- agricultural hand work (which was innately “useful work”) was, alongside archery, drawing and woodwork, a vital part of this educational elixir.

Here we stand at the start of June and the educational cycle is about to go through one of its seasonal turns, with an additional twist this year: the Block 3s are coming towards the end of the first cycle of a curriculum which we re-shaped and introduced in September last year.  Central to this re-jigged programme was a much greater commitment to Outdoor Work and in particular the growing of food. We wanted these young men and women to learn more about the countryside that they are part of; so they have been growing vegetables and raising pigs.

This week the first of the Block 3 tutor groups will host their parents to a meal which features their handy work. They will also tell their parents about their individual and group projects, many of which are based in the land that surrounds us. Of course, we will be eliciting feedback from this first group of students and ensuring that next year’s cohort benefit from the refinements we will introduce as a result, but the initial indications are good and it is heartening to see this vital element of Bedales life having such a positive impact on young lives.

In the meantime, along with some new facilities for next year’s piglets – luxurious sties being built as an Outdoor Work Bedales Assessed Course project- 30 handsome hens have occupied their new home, the aptly named Jurassic Park hen enclosure, perhaps the best fortified such encampment in Hampshire.

Arts and Crafts – Why bother?

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In discussing with our Block 3s what they are doing at the moment, I was glad to hear that clearing their tutor group’s area in the polytunnels and planting their winter vegetables feature prominently. As an earthy activity well away from the classroom, it may be a more lasting influence than what happens within the traditional academic curriculum. Likewise, a chance visit to our theatre to hear Blind, a one person beat boxing show on Friday night, could have a profound influence.

Over the last couple of weeks UK broadsheet newspapers have given space to news of a group of Swedish academics and their long-standing bet concerning their respective abilities to quote Bob Dylan lyrics in their research articles. Thus, science and the arts coincide in an entertaining way that, clearly, is seen as exceptional in some way. And yet are they really such unlikely bedfellows?

The late Steve Jobs, perhaps the best known popular innovator/entrepreneur of recent times, explained that he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were also big Dylan fans. However, Jobs’ involvement in the arts extended well beyond simple appreciation: rather, he is on record as seeing artistic sensibilities such as intuition as central to the business of technological innovation.

To continue on this theme, Einstein explained how the music of Mozart revealed to him a harmony he believed existed in the universe, and that he was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. Albert Schweitzer, as well as being an eminent physicist, was an organist and Bach scholar. Besides being a highly successful author, Beatrix Potter conducted highly respected work on the reproduction of fungi spores. So far, so anecdotal – but there is more compelling evidence emerging that those working successfully in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) benefit from the development of a facility in the arts and crafts.

In 2008 a study[1] of large numbers of scientists found that the most eminent were significantly more likely to spend some of their time in productive arts and crafts pursuits, with the resulting skills being of direct professional benefit. This not a new phenomenon – in the late 1900s JH van’t Hoff investigated several hundred historical figures in science and concluded that the most innovative of them practised in the arts and crafts when they weren’t hard at work on the day job.

A study by LaMore et al published in 2013[2], and drawing on the testimonies of a sample of science and technology graduates from Michigan State University, challenges any assumption that arts and crafts should be considered optional extras to ‘serious’ subjects. Instead, findings supported what the more anecdotal material seems to tell us – that people working successfully in STEM professions are far more likely to have arts and crafts experience as calibrated through numbers of company start-ups and patentable inventions, and that their innovative capacity is directly stimulated by arts and crafts knowledge. This brings to mind Steve Jobs’ observation that the team that developed the Macintosh desktop computer were musicians, poets, artists, historians and zoologists who just happened to be the world’s best computer scientists.

At Bedales, we are of the view that there is considerable intrinsic value to be had in an education that is rich in the liberal arts, including the visual arts and design. But for those who are persuaded only by instrumental arguments of value, the question as to why we should bother with such things can be answered simply and emphatically: the creative industries comprise a significant and growing proportion of GDP and so offer great opportunities, whilst the influence of an artistic/crafts sensibility and attendant skills appears to go hand-in-hand with successful scientific and technical innovatory careers.

This being the case, the questions we should be asking are why the arts and STEM subjects have come to occupy such very different places in policy thinking, and why the former have been so significantly downgraded in the priorities of the current government? It is of note that the arts-sciences dichotomy has not always been as unshakeable as it appears to be today. Jung’s ‘Artist-Scientist’ archetype united these supposedly disparate elements in the wonders and dangers implicit in curiosity; more recently, the sociologist Richard Florida posited a ‘creative class’ made up of scientists and engineers as well as poets and people in design and the arts – something that I suspect would have found favour with Steve Jobs and Einstein alike. Life at Bedales very much reflects a similar belief.

[1] Root-Bernstein, R.S., Allan, L., Beach, L., Bhadula, R., Fast, J., Hosey, C. & Weinlander, S. 2008. Arts fosters success: Comparisons of Nobel Prize winners, Royal Society, National Academy, and Sigma Xi members. Journal of the Psychology of Science Technology. Vol 1(2), pp.51-63.

[2] LaMore, R., Root-Bernstein, R., Root-Bernstein, M., Schweitzer, J.H., Lawton, J.L, Roraback, E., Peruski, A., VanDyke, M. and Fernandez, L. 2013. Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation. Economic Development Quarterly. Vol 27(3). Sage.


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.

Reflections on parent/teacher afternoons

Parent/teacher afternoons should be encouraging occasions: for parents, teachers and students. Even if a student is struggling to make progress or being plain idle, there should be a sense that the problem is being gripped and a constructive way forward agreed. Thinking back to my many afternoons as a proper teacher when I had 20 or so parents to see, I always remember coming away with a much better understanding of the students I was teaching – and in particular the pressures on them. Appreciation, which doesn’t always flow naturally from the teenager, sometimes comes more readily via the parental proxy. In the cycle of Bedales parent/teacher afternoons, one of the most rewarding and illuminating contrasts is the seasonal one just past: between the Block 3 parents in early September, understandably nervous at the start of their child’s Bedales voyage, and this point, well through the first term, when, Ullswater under their belts, friendships and a working rhythm established, the students have gathered momentum and traction; relationships with teachers are firming up and passions for subjects ignited. Talking to a good number of parents during the course of the afternoon, it is great to see and hear of so many Bedales careers being launched so fruitfully.

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.