An evening at the RGS

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Ever been to the Royal Geographical Society?  Well I hadn’t until Monday – it’s amazing, the RGS, as I now say confidently.  For those brimming with quips about it being a place given over solely to the pursuit of Geography teaching in schools – with attendant cheap comments about elbow patches on musty tweed jackets – think again.  Saunter round its splendid rooms on the edge of Hyde Park in South Kensington; admire the portraits of Stanley, Livingstone and Speke.  This is the nursery and inspiration to our great British explorers.  Admire the cabinet containing the instruments that guided Darwin’s skipper, Fitzroy to the Galápagos and, yes, there it is, the simple form recommending Fitzroy for membership of the RGS.

Paul-Turner (Large)I was at the RGS for a Bedales first: to see our Head of Geography, Paul Turner, awarded one of the two National Teaching Awards for Excellence in Secondary Geography Education.  This award, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey, was given to Paul as part of the RGS’s annual awards ceremony – a grand occasion (string quartet, serious canapes, with Speke/Stanley looking on).  So, above all it’s a cause for loud congratulations for Paul who is clearly a much admired figure in geographical circles for the innovative way in which he has taken Geography – in particular his online presence (website, Twitter, Vimeo amongst other things) and influence amongst the Geographical education community.

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Claire Power (RGS award winner), Ordnance Survey CEO Nigel Clifford and Head of Geography at Bedales Paul Turner

Another highlight of the evening for me is the award of a Patron’s Medal  (winner last year: Bob Geldof) to Lindsey Hilsum, the Channel 4 News Editor, for her work in reporting from the world’s most challenging places and in particular the way she highlights the plight of refugees.  Her brief speech is the evening’s most powerful piece of oratory: she quotes Warsan Shire’s poem, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” and concludes by wondering how long it will be before a refugee gains an award at the RGS.  Ever keen to bring voices like hers to Bedales I catch her afterwards and ask her to come and speak here. I think she will.

To add to the excitement, I see the RGS President, Nicholas Crane, whose book The Making of the British Landscape: From the Ice Age to the Present was one of my best Christmas reads and is a strong recommendation.  As well as being a scholarly account of our islands’ stories, it is written with a tenderness towards the landscape that surprises.

Final thought: the more teachers connect professionally to other educators, the stronger the collaboration and the greater the opportunities for our students.  It is a daily tonic for me and many here to know that so many of my colleagues have such a strong presence in their professional circles.

By Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

Read the full poem here.


The beginning of summer

It’s Tuesday afternoon and summer feels as if it is trying to appear: some brave students are sitting in a circle on a rather damp Orchard and the sun is slanting into Reception giving it that indoor piazza feel. Summer terms, which begin here with the clunk of 6.2 mock exams and the sure knowledge that public exams face 60% of our students, have a far from leisurely feel to their start. But there is plenty to look back on with satisfaction, with six educational school trips taking in Turkey (Classics), Iceland (BAC Geography), Spain (Block 3 & 4 tennis), Nice (French), Russia (6th form History) and Scarborough (6th form Drama Festival) occurring happily and productively over the holidays. Teaching a poem about summer is one way to try to think your way into the season and my first outing to the classroom is at Dunhurst with a wonderfully responsive Block 1 English group who make good hay with Larkin‘s great lyrical poem Cut Grass, with its stunning first line (Cut grass lies frail…) and its celebration of summer’s arrival. Tuesday evening’s sunlight is inviting enough for a first early evening walk to the Poet’s Stone, pondering on the debating activity’s topical subject matter – This House regrets the passing of Margaret Thatcher – which I have just attended and which provoked some pungent views and rather lurid images of what life was like in the northern England in the 70s when and where, as it happens, I was trying to grow up. Domestically, there is much interesting to reflect on too: in the holidays we revisited California – somewhere I spent a happy year on teaching exchange nearly 25 years ago and where our daughter is now at university for the year – more on this and in particular visits to UCLA and UC San Diego.

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.