Young creatives’ thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I finished my ramblings last week saying that the Young Creative Leaders session at the HMC conference was for me the most stimulating.  Why?

Three entrepreneurs, who had left school in the last 12 years or so, talked about the so-called millennial generation’s aspirations – what are young professionals looking for in their lives and how can we prepare them?  Lizzie Fane, founder of Third Year Abroad and Global Graduates, Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble and Charlotte Pearce, founder of Inkpact made up the panel.

The threads that emerged from their session resonated strongly with what I hear from their contemporaries who are OBs and my own three children who are of that generation.

  • Do something you love, something that you find fulfilling, that makes you feel alive
  • Find something that gives you the satisfaction of seeing something through
  • Spend as much time as possible seeking out different experiences, especially through travel: this will help you spot a problem that you could solve through your business
  • Look out for the ways that “digital nomads” make their livings – people who have found ways of earning money whilst living in different places: technology transforms things
  • Enjoy having control over your time; you can share working space with other creatives
  • Look for all opportunities whilst at school to take new things on, take risks, work out practical solutions for yourself, even if you seem to be one of the awkward squad
  • Building a business is all about being able to inspire people with an idea and keep them motivated – look for chances to do this at school
  • Schools need to help students understand the business basis for schools through showing them how a school needs to operate.

Interesting to reflect on the influence of their parents in all this.  The cultural, social and financial capital of their parents has been a factor in enabling them to take these risks and start their businesses. But what is also interesting is that the millennials’ determination to have greater autonomy over their lives and give greater emphasis to their personal fulfilment is partly a reaction to seeing their parents disgruntled by their work – within the corporate world in the cases cited here.

All the above are handy reminders as we look at how the Bedales experience evolves and especially how we create the right spaces to enable our students to take responsibility and risks within a safe environment.

Being as open with students as possible concerning how their school is run and how decisions are reached is part of that.  An element of this is our annual Governors’ Question Time.  Mirroring Headmaster’s Question Time which happens termly, the Governors’ one has three governors in the panel with me in the Dimbleby role.

Last night most of the questions take the three governors – Matthew Rice, Tim Wise and Michele Johnson – into suitable areas which help show their role – areas such as how the school spends its income, reviews decisions I make and what are the next building projects.  Afterwards, School Council has a session with them.  These things should help increase our students’ understanding of how their school works – and by extension give them a better insight into how complex institutions and businesses operate.

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.

Top degree corrections

Red faces at the Higher Education and Funding Council of England (HEFCE) as our professional association, HMC, confronts them with a rookie error in the report that they published in early September.  When they published the report, the data seemed to point to a significant and unfavourable difference in degree outcomes between students from the independent sector and their state sector peers.  Now – aha! – it turns out that the headline statistic published by the HEFCE contained a basic mathematical error. Those interpreting the report had got their columns mixed up, claiming initially that 73% of independent school entrants received a 1st or 2:1 compared to 82% from state schools and 6th form colleges – in fact it is the other way round.

You can make your own conclusions about what the HEFCE wanted the research to show, but a clue might lie in the fact that the HEFCE silently changed the mistake in the numerical appendix to its online document but not its overall interpretation in the body of the report which continues to maintain that evidence points to generally higher performance achieved by state school graduates compared with independent school peers entering with like for like grades.

Since the error came to light, Professor Alan Smithers from the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham has analysed the report further and produced his own paper, which shows that students’ performance in entry qualifications is the single strongest predictor of subsequent degree performance, which is why the proportion of students getting a 1st or 2:1 degree is much higher for independent school students – 82% versus 73% for the record.

Although it was HMC who did the heavy lifting with this and made HEFCE admit its error to the media, hats off to the eagle-eyed parent who spotted the error and alerted a member school.

Trains of thought

It’s Percy, of course, I now realise, as I have a quick search for what the green one is called – the Tank Engine, of course – that I nearly trod on when I came across it lying on its side when going towards Emma’s Walk this morning: a stray, be-dewed green engine, dropped from a passing stroller or by a toddler. I lift the lost toy reverentially and stand it off the path on a nearby tuft so that the bereft youngster has a chance of a joyful reunion. Having seen with one of our offspring how Percy, Thomas & Co were instrumental in spurring him initially into speech, I hold these toys in high esteem. The first time we heard anything spoken by him from a book was when he came out with an impromptu chunk from Thomas the Tank Engine. Well done Rev Awdry.

Inspiration is a funny old thing and I find myself musing on this in the light of a series of events over the past week.

The first is an occasion that I don’t attend, because it might cramp the participants’ style; that is the evening that our 6.2s have with nine Old Bedalians who are ten years on. I hear – both from 6.2s and from the 6.2 housestaff – that this was inspirational and thought-provoking, dealing as it did with the passions that students seek to follow and the challenge we all have of trying to match your passions with a way of making a living and feeling that you are doing something worthwhile. The range of OBs included roles which people (wrongly) don’t always associate with the school, such as lawyers with top London firms and a fast-track civil servant.DSC_0012 (Large)

The second is a conversation I had with an OB who was back for the reunion of those who left the school between 1963 and 1967. Eminent now in his own scientific field, he talks about how it was a single reprimand from his biology teacher that set him going. Trying to make excuses for not having done a prep, as if he had failed to do it for the teacher, he was met by a gruff riposte: “Well who do you think you are doing the work for? It’s not for me, it’s for you…”  The further, inspirational teaching from another biology teacher was what gave him the momentum that carried him through his degree at Cambridge and then his research.

The third is seeing Lela & Co, a new play by Cordelia Lynn (who left Bedales in 2007) at the Jerwood Theatre (Royal Court). This is a powerful piece of work which has been extremely well reviewed. You will need to work hard to get a ticket as it finishes on 3 October. Dealing with sex-trafficking, the effect of war on human relations and the nature of relations between men and women, it is a beautifully nuanced piece which cleverly avoids being preachy and maintains such a fine balance between the cheeriness of the central female role and the ghastliness of her experience. Catch it if you can. If not, look out for the next play from this rising OB talent.

Professional Guidance

So, we have a new department, I tell the Bedales students last Friday, and it is called Professional Guidance. Conveniently, if unflashily, situated in the bit of the Academic Village that looks out (enviously) on the Lupton Hall, it comprises Higher Education, University Liaison, Careers and Alumni matters. Through putting these overlapping functions under one roof under the leadership of our Higher Education Advisor, Vikki Alderson-Smart, we should help all the different elements work yet better together and be able to offer a range of new opportunities to students. There we have these people and functions: Sarah Oakley (overseeing Art College applications and also academic departments’ liaison with university departments in the UK and non-UK universities – apart from North American ones); Alison Mason (Careers and North American university liaison); and, new person on the block, Leana Seriau, our Alumni Officer. Leana will lead a significant expansion in our contact with Old Bedalians – in particular, she will be organising events when OBs in a particular career sector – let’s say, careers to do with Art and Design – can meet in a festive contact; such occasions and the contacts they provide will also be excellent opportunities for current sixth formers – or young OBs who are studying Design or Art at university – to meet people who are further down the career track.

Turning back to the name of this newly fledged department, it is both about guidance given professionally whilst at school and about guidance from outside school – from the professions that a student is interested in pursuing.

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.

Higher education advice for 6.1s

Sun shines briefly over the weekend – on Saturday on our last open day of the year (marked by a certain amount of dressing up by 6.2s taking their final tours), the Block 4 parent-teacher talks; and on Sunday’s South Downs Sustainability Fair, whose concluding parade is led by a group of Bedales teachers and students, again suitably togged and face-painted. Sunday evening is a tad more prosaic as colleagues involved with higher education and I meet with 6.1 parents to talk about this crucial concluding phase of the students’ careers. As well as outlining what we do to help and when, we look at previous years’ trends – where our students went and what they chose to study. There are some clear trends, such as more students each year looking at universities overseas, but the tight clutch of most highly favoured universities are the same a generation on. In many cases, this is for very good reasons, such as the quality of the university and how much other Bedalians have enjoyed their experience there.  Important nonetheless to do all we can to erode some prejudices which can limit choice, for example against certain very strong Midlands’ universities – Sheffield and Nottingham in particular. We’re publishing more pages on the website to show exactly what we are doing when. Meanwhile, once AS exams are over, the 6.1s will focus on all of this, with an intensive Higher Education day in mid June and then the Old Bedalian HE Fair when we bring 20-30 OBs back from the full range of courses and universities and set the current 6.1s loose on them. It is very productive.

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.