Seasonal cycles

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early before the day bakes up;  literal black dog is jaunty as we walk  from Church Road, through the semi-natural Steep woods and up to the base of the Hangers, enjoying the whiff of wild garlic and a family of Canada geese in the small pond above the mill lade; we return via All Saints’ churchyard’s cluster of wild poppies and our own domestic creatures – russety pot-bellied pigs rootling and Black Rock hens taking the late dawn air as we return home via Outdoor Work’s handsome vernacular family of buildings, now joined by their big svelte cousin, Art & Design.   Agricultural cycles and care for the land been always been in my family’s marrow: the resonances with the educational world I inhabit are especially striking at this juncture in the year.

Last week I spent half an hour with the 10 new teachers who will join Bedales in September at the start of their induction day.  I talk, as I did with the new head student team, about trusteeship: so, we are all trustees of something much larger than we can ever be – a school’s culture, its better habits and instincts – and our responsibility must be to hand it on in better shape than we found it.  As well as giving them confidence in keeping to the high standards that most of them have established already in the craft of teaching, I alert them to the particularly high expectations that our students have of mutually trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their teachers.  This is, I say, the most important and influential thing we have and something that they can and will in time find powerfully nourishing.

There is a palpable sense of expectation in the room – this talented crop of teachers with their energy, optimism and passions!  Of course, as the obscure saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding, but I leave the room feeling buoyed up, thinking that the school is lucky to attract such people and I am lucky to be able to see them start their Bedales journey.

“Life is a casting off”, so says Linda Loman in Miller’s great reflection on working life, Death of a Salesman, which I am delighted to see our Block 3s writing about as I nose around amongst their end of year exams on Monday morning.  These young people, less frisky but a bit more knowledgeable than they were in September,  have entertained their parents to a Saturday lunch virtually all grown or raised (“Happy Pigs” – see photo, above, which accompanies the barbecue) during this academic season by each tutor group under the careful, farmerly and pastoral eye of their Badley tutor.

Casting of a different kind is being contemplated as news of next term’s school play being a musical filters out.

Teachers retire and move on or back to places from where they came.  And we are now in the season of staff goodbyes, which are going on out of the public eye before the more formal, collective events of the end of term.

Amongst the students, the Block 5s have returned following their GCSEs and are having a week of taster lessons so that they have the best chance of choosing the right (generally) three A Levels.  I find myself in one such lesson where the class is being asked to match Greek statues of different eras with vases of a similar age.  Discussions of musculature, naturalism and the constraints of each  genre are a taste of how gripping and formative great sixth form teaching can be.  Plenty of good stuff for us all to look forward to.

Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.

Seasonal shifts

It was another bright, breezy morning as people set off from around the country to come to our conference on boarding yesterday. We are at that time in the year when the annual shifts in student lives take me by surprise, however much I have seen it a few times before – in particular our 6.2s have their last normal working week, with routine teaching stopping for them on Saturday in advance of their A2 exams beginning in earnest after half term.

For my quartet of tutees – the two head boys and two head girls – there is inevitably a sense of reflection on the past as we chew the cud on how the experience of being student leaders has been for them.  Last Wednesday, when my job swap fellow head and now friend Geoff Barton did the Bedales side of the equation (I having visited his school in Bury St Edmunds earlier in May), was one of those days when we saw glimpses of ourselves through the eyes of someone who had no prior direct experience of a boarding school. Last Wednesday provided one of those glorious English summer late afternoons, so the four head students sat on the 50 Church Road patio chatting with Geoff, whilst I dotted around pouring tea and chipping in – even the wisteria was playing its part.

Tutor time at Keith's

Geoff had a packed day at Bedales – plenty of touring, both with Block 3s and with me – a variety of meetings (Curriculum Policy Group), a Block 4 Review (discussing the progress of that cohort over the past 6 weeks) and, following assembly (me on student leadership) and handshaking, a housestaff strategy meeting which ended with supper with the dozen or so colleagues.  Now we both have to sit down, think about our experiences of looking into each other’s worlds and write our pieces for the Times Educational Supplement.

In the meantime, Geoff has been busy defending maintained school headteachers against some of the easy political gestures that our politicians make. Here he is sparring with John Humphreys on The Today Programme (scroll to 53 minutes).


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.

Unextended Sixth Form musings

AS Mocks, 6.1 parent-teacher discussions, some gubernatorial chats about the post-2015 reforms to A Level and the first evening of 6.1 Extended Project presentations have set some thoughts running about where we are now and what the A Level landscape might look like here from 2015 onward. It is certainly strange that the current 6.1 cohort is the penultimate one to have the AS/A2 experience that has been a fixture since 2000; so, I find myself having unexpected moments of premature nostalgia about the AS system, especially as there is still a good deal of uncertainty about how the post-2015 landscape will shape up.

So, what do we hope to keep from the current system?

1) The sense of purpose and urgency that it gives to life in 6.1

2) The breadth of a 4 subject programme in 6.1

3) The ability to make a decision as to which subject you drop at the end of 6.1

What did we need to lose? The loss of teaching time that came with the original modular vision – so, exam sessions in January and June.

With January modules already disappeared, the original vision of the post-2015 change was that June modules would go entirely too. The outcry against the loss of “co-teachable” AS exams (i.e. ones that you can teach alongside the full A Level) has meant that we will in fact have something resembling the current AS exam from 2015. The blessing and curse here is that it will not count towards the full A Level, but it will be an entirely standalone certificate. So, there is the danger that schools, understandably nervous that without a meaty end of 6.1 exam their 6.1s will revert to the lotus-eating idlers that my generation were in 6.1, will insist that this is taken, even though it will a) be meaningless in certification terms in 75% of cases;  b) throw away the main advantage of the abandoning of modularization, i.e. the increase in teaching time in the summer term. Quite a conundrum!

More on this anon – and on the excellent Extended Project evening.

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.

The consequences of the end of January A-Level modules

For many sixth formers up and down the land this weekend will have been one of revision for January A Level modules – as it has been for the past 12 years, since the AS/A2 system became fully fledged in 2000/01. But, with this group of mainly 6.2s (in our case) sitting January modules, it is the last time that modules will be available in January. What will be the consequences? Four spring to mind – two that directly affect students’ choices and two which are more pertinent to school organisation. The pressure to perform up to scratch at the first sitting in the summer of your 6.1 year will increase. For those who were going to take a gap year anyway, the relatively painless re-take option post A Levels goes, as you would now have to wait a year to re-take your modules. As far as our organisation goes, not having January modules increases uninterrupted teaching time – a welcome change. Less welcome is the further impact that will be felt because of all the marking now being concentrated in the summer months when the marking has been less reliable than in January) and therefore yet more effort and time spent in trying to ensure that the quality of marking is what we need it to be. On balance, it is a welcome move, although the reliability of marking remains a big bugbear.

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.