Creativity benefits

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Amongst the good places to be in Britain, the National Theatre and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon are up there.  What I see or do when in these places is almost secondary to being there.  Soaking it up in the National Gallery is a close second.

Why? Because being in places which celebrate the creative power of the human spirit heartens.  Knowing that this country once had the courage to provide the necessary subsidy to create a national theatre; it is daily fillip to see what a beacon our two great theatres are for work that makes us think about how we live.

This feeling is compromised by knowing what is going on in maintained schools at the moment.  Why are we squeezing creativity out of our schools?  Asks Director of the NT, Rufus Norris, in The Guardian.   I would add to Norris’ hard-nosed statistics about the benefit to the UK economy of the creative industries (which are of greater value to the UK economy each year than the automotive, oil, gas, aerospace and life sciences combined) the view that a major factor in keeping Brexit-sensitive highly paid jobs in London will be the strength of the capital’s cultural life, as well as the quality of its independent schools.

The practical benefits of the so-called creative industries in the world after school are mirrored in schools.  In thinking about what schools should offer, it is fun/scary to imagine a school stripped of something so central and life-enhancing that we currently do: so imagine a school with no music, art, dance, design or drama.  No bewitching glimpse yesterday of the forthcoming Dunhurst Blocks’ play (Curious Children) as the stage heaving with most of its 100+ actors brimmed with life; no Daniel Preece art master class on cityscapes; no stream of potential designers heading off to art and design schools;  no scholars’ concert; and no musical performances at assemblies and Jaws.  It’s a dystopian vision akin to imagining a school without Maths and Science.  In short, misery!

Here is Yeats to sum up:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

– W.B. Yeats Among School Children

Mid-term musings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Approaching mid-February, the academic year’s mid-point and that welcome time when the black dog that scampers in front of you is visible as you stride out into the dawn light before breakfast.

This week leading up to half-term has our spirited Valentine’s Ball as a highlight for sixth formers. Invitations to the V Ball pop up, sometimes in early morning Notices, sometimes in German, sometimes dramatically choreographed. Meanwhile our Block 3s are musing on the grotesqueness of the industrialised mass killing as they survey the Flanders battlefields.  Alongside all of this our 6.2 theatre studies students produce their devised pieces – 30 minute creations of their imaginations, influenced by the practitioners they study and honed into dramatic form with acute negotiation and teamwork amongst their teams of five or six.

Over the years, I have seen the most gorgeous medleys of absurdism, tragedy, kitchen sink realism, mime, comical-fantastical – you name it, this is the theatre of the possible.  Here’s the recipe: take human minds at their most fervently creative; provide stimulus (a polaroid picture this year); encircle with sufficient expert teacher structure; and finally, give space, light, sound and audience.  Result? Pieces that make you think – both about how we live but also about what can happen dramatically when ingenuity, verve and skill collide.  Over recent years I have seen these plays enacted in live graves dug by the theatre; I have seen the most stinging dramatising of how it feels to be objectified as a young female; and this year’s trio was as powerful and expert as I can remember.

In their own way, plays like these are part of something that all good schools need to be doing constantly, alongside the necessary granular work of academic pursuit: exploring what it is to be human.

What better mid-week treat then to have a Jaw given by Gary Wade, a man who (lucky fellow) knew Seamus Heaney personally.  It is a masterly account – in tender admiration – of (arguably) the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century writing in English.

A lover of Heaney myself, I find myself rootling amongst his poems late at night after the Jaw and a subsequent meeting. I am taken back to some of the classes that I taught Heaney to a long way back – Death of a Naturalist, North and The Haw Lantern. But there is so much more. Gary concluded with his favourite Heaney poem, Postscript. Its final lines describe so beautifully what human insight through art can do (“catch the heart off guard and blow it open”).  But, as the days lengthen and we need to at least nod to that V day, here’s a poem that is its own distinctive love song – to a person, place and creature:

The Otter

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer’s back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you’re out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.

– Seamus Heaney

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful – all have been in good evidence this weekend.

My amble round (accompanied by singular dog) takes in A2 devised drama rehearsals in the theatre, BAC design and Outdoor Work.  The dancers have had a productive weekend choreographing their pieces and are content as I catch them on their way out.  Designers in evidence include Charlie whose beehive-inspired spice rack has been a fiendish thing to create, initially on the computer: now the CAD (computer aided design) machine is in its sixth hour of toil, bringing Charlie’s vision to life.  Chris’ concentration over the metal lathe is palpable as he makes the delicate little legs for his piece. Over in the wood corner, students work in oak and chestnut – here, for example, Izzy’s table is shaping up well as she smooths the legs – there’s an island etched into the top.

Upstairs in Fashion Design and ingenuity is also afoot – who would have thought of a dress with a sumptuous oil spill weaving its way down it?  Nellie has. And doesn’t that Art Deco dress – striking in black – have a beautiful gold-etched design at the top?  Its inspiration is the Chrysler building in New York, I learn, from Emily.

Over in Outdoor Work and they have had a productive weekend too.  The Bridge across to the Lake is becoming a reality, thanks to Talulah, Dylan and Henry S; it looks elegant and sturdy.  I recommend both a plaque and a formal title.  Other fruits of the weekend include a fine piece of hazel fence weaving – courtesy of Ed and Henry F, whose magnificent duck house looks all set to take its place in Marie Antoinette’s garden – and, over by the Black Barn, clever work with the classy pig sty and the egg incubation unit.

But even ahead of all of this in my mental scrap album is a Saturday evening at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield where the Bedales Cecilia Consort joins with Southern Pro Musica.  Conductor Jonathan Willocks, formerly Director of Music at Bedales conducts the combined group in Mozart’s Dixit Dominus, Ave verum corpus and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our choir to work with a professional orchestra, performing to a packed audience in a building with a fine acoustic.

But the evening belongs to the young Bedales cellist, Caleb, whose performance of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C is breathtaking in its virtuosity.  I have seen a number of very fine individual performances in schools but nothing can match this. His performance is the product of a year’s intense practice and focussed learning. It is a stunning result and the encores roll on. Bravo, Caleb!

Readying the set to go

Returning home past our oak-clad theatre from a very respectable display by the Bedales Ist XI footballers (against the distinctively named Corinthian Casuals) as the dusk gathers late on Saturday afternoon, I notice a side door open on the flank of the theatre and slip inside into a golden glow.

Here is an Aladdin’s cave of activity: under the watchful eye of our theatre designer, Joanne Greenwood, the tech and stage crew are working at the set for the forthcoming main school production: Sound of The Night Feather.  I will not spill dramatic secrets here, but the set involves a novel configuration and I understand that when the cast had the run of the freshly minted set for the first time early this week, there was warm admiration for what Joanne and her crew had created.

For me these moments, when you see the process that underpins a production, are as stirring as the business of seeing the final performance itself.  Without the devoted efforts of this team over the course of many weeks, the vision for the production would be stillborn.

So there is Oli with his dinky control tablet testing all the lights.  Harry and Chris are our other tech-meisters. Hilda is sorting out a seam of masonry, whilst Tom is brandishing a drill and looking for a place to plant a hook.  Others will be busy in the lighting box.

I am told that there will be a reveal – great! But no, I certainly do not want to see it now, but greatly look forward to its revelation next week.

Students immerse themselves

BedalesStock18  BedalesStock19

It’s a big weekend for all-ins, when Design and Drama students are free of the limitations of the 35 or 70 minute bitesize chunks we call lessons and can immerse themselves in true making with long stretches of time. So, Sunday afternoon and it’s all go in Design. Upstairs amongst the Block 5 BAC design fashionistas, Oli is mastering the intricacies of PVC as he crafts a space-age-looking concept dress whilst Charlotte A’s dress has intricate veiny patterns, Barny’s has a Brazilian cathedral as inspiration for its jagged, pixie tassels and Scott is ironing on 70s style crystals. All are working to demanding designs born out of their own inspiration and in materials that require patience and skill in the making. Downstairs where the materials are resistant, Ottoline is at the lathe fashioning the base for her light whilst Josh is in a haze of beeswax as he smooths his elegant disc. Keen football and tennis men, Taye and Orlando are creating bespoke, elegant homes for their kit, whilst Yoji is working metal to shape the roof on his model of his Utopian new Bedales music school. The workshops have the productive hum of people immersed in what they do – self-generating work of the best kind.

Over in the theatre the weekend is working towards its finale with the 6.2 drama students – a “tech” session then a first run through at 7pm of the two devised A2 pieces. Each group has been working throughout the weekend, with the help of director-in-residence, Georgie Sampson and head of drama Phil King. On Sunday afternoon the students have the additional benefit of a visiting practitioner, Lucy Ellison of Mapping 4D, who watches each piece, bringing “fresh eyes” and additional advice. Although the craft will result in a more ephemeral creature when these pieces are staged on Wednesday and Thursday, the hard work in shaping stubborn material into a finished shape is born of the same impulse and discipline that pervades nearby design. Tough but good work.


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.

Big glad day

A whirligig of happenings over the past few days, starting on Friday evening. First jolly – it’s the BPA fundraising party and I am dressed like an old-fashioned, properly messy artist (it being dress, artistic, you see) with a paint patina-ed apron and a droopy silk handkerchief, calling everyone out of the evening sun into the marquee where things are auctioned (sheep, attendance at film premieres, a holiday in Barbados) and Bedalians raise the tone through playing their music, with their mums and dads bopping in front. (Stop press: circa £60K raised – hoorah! and a huge thank you to the brilliant parent volunteers, student helpers, catering staff and generous donors and buyers of prizes.)

Saturday morning, Parents’ Day proper and we’re off: one of the best hours of the year is the first – my quiet, pad around the Art & Design exhibition before anyone else is there and so I can see it all without needing to be polite and, being of course a unitasker, therefore being distracted. So, here’s an amazing face in oils with the most bewitchingly ugly lips, there’s some semi-melted pottery, there (Gallery now) is a molten face shape with a painted face behind, here (Workshop now) is a chair inspired by I.M. Pei (Mr Louvre, I see) and not just any old ruff and bodice but Marie Antoinette-inspired women’s wear.

I could stay here all day, there being so much that is intriguing and beautiful, but no, off to the Dance display where, as an unagile person who had only been coaxed into the briefest of shuffles in my apron, I watch 70 minutes of pieces conjured from the minds of dance students and their inspiring teachers – Rosie Nash and Liz Richards. But, can’t dawdle too long because it is well after noon and Moony and I are scampering over the Mem Pitch to be part of the opening of the Kadian Observatory – the bit of the day that I will always remember: Kadian’s friends, builders of this observatory, now well grown up, stand proudly in front of this beautiful mini rotunda as Peter Coates, Michael Truss, Thomas Harding speak before Kadian’s sister Sam cuts the ribbon and it is open – a wonderful memorial to Kadian and one that will inspire more wonder.

Then, scuttling back to the Theatre to find it hosting the scratch drama Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, a powerful piece using actors across the community, with an urgent message about the prevalence of Aids and its continuing impact. Lunch will need to wait as the drumbeat summons us to the farewell to Tony Layzell, drum teacher here for 27 years and former drummer with The Bachelors, a group who my parents shuffled to, I think. Music of another kind beckons and past the massed picnics of the Orchard we go to the Library where, amongst the fine exhibition of OB maps and photos, we find Clare Jarmy‘s madrigalists singing to us from the upstairs balcony: timeless, ethereal…But, though the spirit is buoyed up and willing sustenance is needed and a brief pit-stop required, but brief it must be because, although there is a light shower, the musicians are probably singing by Steephurst now, which they were, but truncated by a refreshing shower. The roaming barbershop quartet (dressed in their bespoke waistcoats designed by singer-designer Alex Y) helpfully sing to the assembled marquee to help still them so I can announce the Swaziland raffle winners. Then it is OBs in the pigeon-hole cafe for a quick welcome and pep talk – will see them later at their 10th and 25th year reunions – and presentations to four long-serving colleagues who have reached the 25 year watershed – John Barker (Arts Coordinator), David McClunan (Sports Facility Maintenance Technician), John Scullion (Deputy Managing Head) and Peter Coates (Head of Outdoor Work).

The last daylight stop is to the Summer Concert where we start in the Quad with the guttural chords of Carmina Burana and end in Boys’ Flat courtyard with the delicacy of Sir John Taverner’s ThLamb. The most striking feature of the concert is the series of virtuoso performances by a quartet of outstandingly capable musicians who have given so much to school music over their four or five years. Here is Olivia B’s melodically lamenting Cleopatra; there is Daniel R, rapt with concentration over his double bass (Vivaldi’s Sonata III), Callum A, feet and hands a blur on the organ (J. S.Bach’s Toccata in F); Josh G tackling a clarinet piece designed to be of fiendish complexity to challenge the most able (Messager’s Solo de Concours) and Immy W bringing across Bernstein’s complex blend of classical pastiche and contemporary musical styles (Glitter and be Gay). A big, glad day.

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.

Miscellaneous but engaging matters

Summer’s lease is starting promisingly, with sunny weather presiding over the weekend and its miscellaneous but engaging matters: on Saturday, a Block 3 parent-teacher meeting with the double doors of the Library open and a spring in most steps as younger siblings took advantage of the Orchard; on Sunday, the annual Gentlemen of Bedales XI vs the Bedales Schools’ Teachers’ XI on the Mem Pitch; the final run through of the Summer Production (sneakily observed by me and, yes, it is definitely worth seeing) in the Theatre; and a memorable reading of Troilus and Cressida on the patio (stoep if you like Afrikaans) of 50 Church Road by the Shakespeare Society, followed by the traditional pizza and ice-cream and plenty of discussion about all those different versions of the Trojan story and its associated, titanic characters.

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.