Writing about Bedales

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This happened from early on.  In 1896 Edmond Demolins, the French educationalist, visited Bedales.  In two of his subsequent books, A quoi tient la superiorité des Anglo-Saxons? (1897) and L’Education nouvelle he said that the national success of the English was due to the public school system and that the logical outcome of that system was to be seen in the “new schools” such as Bedales.  Never mind the supremacist premise of his first book and the poor logic of his thesis, Demolins’ books were widely read in France and amongst the educated classes in continental Europe.  As a result, there was an influx of students from there, including various exotic Russian aristocrats.  Schools based on the Bedales model had sprung up in places as various as St Petersburg, Hilversum (Holland) and Lake Geneva.

Last December I hosted Julian Astle of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).  Julian has subsequently published his research The Ideal School Exhibition.  The RSA has a strong tradition in educational advocacy.  In his book Julian seeks to “expand the conversation to the purpose and essential character of school-based education” which he sees as increasingly being focussed on “education’s narrow instrumentalist’s value”.  Pointing to the broader value of education and the way that authoritarian regimes – such as Victor Orban’s in Hungary – will seek to close down educational institutions that make people think broadly, Astle has toured the country to find schools that are high in conviction and that manage to be successful whilst holding fast to their values – educational missionaries.

Bedales is one of these.  Here is the full report, and an executive summary can be found here.

An excerpt reads:

“Bedales, a fee paying school in Hampshire, defines itself by its humanity (the school was established to provide a humane alternative to the regimented austerity of Victorian schooling) and through its holistic educational philosophy, summed up by its motto “to educate the Head, Hand and Heart”. It strives to introduce its students to what is true (academics), what is beautiful (creativity and making) and what is right (morals and ethics).”

The other school that Astle sees falling strongly into this category is a state school founded in 2012, School 21 in Stratford, East London.  Its head and founder, Peter Hyman, visited on Thursday, met a range of teachers, toured with students and had a good chat with me.   Fascinating and stimulating to talk with someone who, against the grain of so much of the current arid educational orthodoxy, is making such a success of a school that promotes a very different and utterly humane vision.  Here are his ten points for what a school should do.

Have a look at what he says in the executive summary and also in the section where he writes about our school aims.

It is great that an enlightened organisation like the RSA, so wedded to enlightenment thinking, is taking such an important stand in what Michael Oakeshott called “the great conversation of mankind”.

 

 

New horizons

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Music is as central to school life here as it is in any school other than specialist music schools.  How brilliant then to have such an enjoyable and vibrant first major school concert under our new Director of Music, Doug McIlwraith?  We were treated to a new range of ensembles and a welcome breadth of pieces: cello, woodwind, brass and percussion ensembles accompanied the traditional Concert Band and School Orchestra (Sousa Marches and Water Music).  Barbershop and School Choir, embraced Asika Thali (traditional Zulu High-Life Song) and De Animals A-comin’ (Negro Spiritual), whilst the Chamber Choir  thrived on the customary and majestic sacred music of MacMillan (O Radiant Down) and Purcell (Thou Knowest Lord). The Jazz Band, formed just this term, capped the evening.  Enjoyment in music making and in creating pieces that the audience would relish were palpable.  Hats off to Doug, his colleagues and our young musicians.

Mortar boards off to two teachers, one current one past, who will be moving on to new horizons.  Congratulations to Nick Robinson, Dunhurst Deputy Head, who will be taking up the reins as Headmaster of the Preparatory School at West Buckland School.  We will miss Nick when he moves to his new post in April but it is healthy and good for all when talented colleagues gain promotion and new challenges.

Former Bedales Deputy Head, Leo Winkley, now Headmaster of St Peter’s, York, will be moving in September to become Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, nursery of talents as various as Darwin and the founders of Private Eye.  As well as being a wonderful contributor to the school in his leadership role, he was also the architect of the much admired Philosophy, Religion and Ethics BAC.  Congratulations to Leo on his new role.

 

Question time

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday brings Headmaster’s Question Time (HQT to be snappy).  It’s slow to get going, with gender change leading, but then the hands are up and I am facing all sorts of questions: choosing the new head, Saturday school, student self-evaluation, but the most unexpected question is the shortest: “Are you a feminist?”

In this admirably questioning school, I have been asked most things before but I haven’t been asked this question.  Although I have interrogated myself pretty firmly on whether I believe in equal rights for men and women I haven’t felt the need to make the further declaration.  I suspect my (no doubt not very thought through) position might have been influenced by seeing Ed Miliband grinning inimitably in a This is what a feminist looks like t shirt.

My response to the question in HQT was that, although I had been brought up by a mother with admirably strong views on women’s rights, I would consider it presumptuous to call myself a feminist, as, although I believe firmly in equal rights, I don’t consider myself ardent enough to describe myself as a feminist.  My response has evoked a good range of reactions – some quite strong – and I am meeting some of those who have expressed their concern to discuss things further.

I have since been finding out a bit more about the history of the feminist movement and the range of meanings attached to the word feminist. This article from the British Library looks handy.

There have also been a number of interesting conversations with colleagues and students about the degree to which any individual should feel that he or she should want to be categorised and identified with particular movements, however much they like or are interested in those areas.

I suspect that we have hit a rich seam and that there will be plenty further exploration.  I hope so.

Time on and off the treadmill

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Having spent too much time sitting, some of it eating, I find myself in the gym on the treadmill watching snippets of Anne Robinson’s Britain which looks at parenting and the first of that erstwhile autumnal favourite, The Apprentice.

My sitting and eating has been matched by listening (a lot) and talking (a bit) at the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in  its appropriately heart of England location, Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was a very stimulating three days when we were encouraged to think about creative leadership, which may be why, no doubt under the influence of a shock of endorphins,  I find myself speculating about the respective worlds of Robinson and Sugar.

Crosspatch Anne’s exploration of families’ values – from the ‘gentle attachment mother’ to the one who describes herself as more lioness than tiger – could be nicely applied to schools  (boarding schools especially), which after all have family-like characteristics and embody their values in the upbringing of children.  Look here – this family even has written policies and timetables: all set for a good inspection.  I think Anne likes that.  Anne would have an entertaining time doing such work in our schools.  When two parents swap and look at each others’ lives, I am reminded of the value of exchanges, even my swap with my colleague, Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds in summer 2015.

Then, in the wake of the imperious and hatchet-faced Sugar come the latest batch of apprentices, who must surely be coached in how to outdo each other with the absurdity of their hubristic brags and the lurid nature of their imagery.  One contestant’s tasteless boast that “the only things I fear are tsunamis, volcanoes and Ebola” takes, so to speak, the biscuit.  Apprentice-speak has crept into the world of job interviews, I fear, albeit rarely garnished with quite such sickly figurative dressing.

It would, I speculate, be good entertainment to put a group of headteachers through an Apprentice-style exercise, having asked them to talk about themselves in the obligatory argot; not least because we like to feel we are open to ideas and experiences – as we were in Stratford this week.  Here is just a sample of the goodies we had:

Will Gompertz on why everyone should think like an artist.  If ever there was a talk that gave 285 headteachers a stack of ideas for a term of assemblies, it was this one.  Watch out for them popping up, ranging across the need to ensure our students could think creatively enough both to avoid being replaced by “snazzy algorithms” and to have “a lovely life.”   So, we had Cezanne, Baudelaire, Titian, Manet, Hirst and Ai Weiwei.  Artists have to be collaborative, entrepreneurial and properly sceptical – qualities that our young need much more than in their post school lives than the ability to pass exams.  Rubens was a compelling salesman of The Three Graces to aristocrats who didn’t really think they needed one until he spotted just the ideal spot in the banqueting hall.

Greg Doran, director of the RSC’s King Lear, its Artistic Director and possessor of a leonine mane that must make A C Grayling envious, talked to us about how the RSC’s work with schools and communities aims to change young lives and make us think about our lives.  Their new Roman series will ask such questions as this:   Is politics inherently unfair and can it work for the benefit of the many?  Ask Caesar, yes, but let’s spread the debate as well and avoid too much fighting in parliaments as well.

We have the chance to learn through doing (hoorah!) and I sign up for a class with one of the RSC’s voice and movement coaches – a very good two hours and lots of good advice about how to make better use of our voices and to take better care of ourselves to boot.  We are taught about cat and dog gestures – the welcoming palm (Labrador, tail wagging) and the keep-your-distance over turned hand (cat, tail swirling).

But the best session  – and one I will write about next week – was the Young Creative Leaders panel when three young (millennial, we can say) female entrepreneurs talked about their careers, the aspirations of their generation and what schools can do to promote creative leadership.   No Apprentice-speak there.

Fulfilling and enjoyable headship

If as a youngish teacher you decide to have a crack at being a head, no one tells you about governors or (slightly spooky abstract noun) governance – and why should they? Governors are up there in the constellations, whirring mysteriously. But the best kind of relationships between heads and governors have a powerful effect on a school and are a major part of making a headship fulfilling and enjoyable.

This is partly on my mind because of a governors’ meeting coming up this weekend, but also because I found myself talking on the issue yesterday at a conference run by HMC and AGBIS (i.e. the independent heads’ and governors’ associations) in order to help heads and governors understand each other better and work together more fruitfully.

Reflecting on school governance and leadership and hearing the issues surfacing both in the session I was part of and in the other sessions, I am reminded what a significant job it is that governors – all by definition unpaid volunteers – take on. The undoubted compensation for the responsibility and hard work is that it should be interesting and fulfilling 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.

Midsummer Moomin

Invigorated from seeing so much activity at the Dunhurst Parents’ Day on Saturday – dancing, drama improvising, pottery and weaving (and that’s merely a fraction of what’s on offer) – I find myself drawn into the big tent and into the world of the Moomins, for the Harlan (music and lyrics) and Kingsley-Pallant (direction) production of Tales from Moominvalley, a wonderful meeting of creative talents and a show for the mental scrapbook. What a creation is Moomin! And how brilliantly have Simon and Ben captured it! Entranced by the performances by the evocatively named and intriguing characters – Little My, Sniff, Fillyjonk etc – I am putty in their dramatic hands. There is something about this wonderfully quirky and vulnerable performance that captures the anxieties, bizareness and (often baseless) fears of early adolescence beautifully. Stephen York’s stylish and clever set is scampered over nimbly by scores of young actors as Simon manages his usual feat of everyone’s involvement. It is an extraordinary happening – and one that it is difficult to imagine happening at any other school.

Moomin is now so much in my head: how did it pass me by first time round? Was it barred from the Fylde Coast, like much that was culturally interesting? I suspect not, but perhaps I missed the first wave as the books were only translated into English in the early 1960s and maybe I was thought to be post-Moomin when they finally emerged in the North; or perhaps I was already putty in the hands of Willard Price (African Adventure etc) and Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy.

The other person who is very much in my head is Alan Bennett – more than usual that is, as I am a big fan. This is partly because I was so tickled by Harry Enfield’s rendition of Alan Bennett playing Stalin in his and Paul Whitehouse’s excellent comic take on 50 years of BBC2, but also because Bennett has had another go at private schools, saying that they are not fair. Reassuringly, he says, the revolution will be a gradual one with the “amalgamation of state and public schools at sixth form level”. Well, well. More pertinent but as misleading is the spin put by the BBC on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Ofsted report on competitive sport: it is recounted as if it is somehow the fault of the independent sector that 40% of the British medal winners at the London Olympics were privately educated, rather than, as the report suggests, a major failure of the maintained sector that competitive sport is so patchy there.

Excitement about Moomins, Bennett, Wilshaw, Wimbledon and even end of term reports will, of course, be sidelined by the prospect of Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie Summer Party this Friday, when, having bought your ticket, you can bid for experiences as various as a week at a house in Barbados or Norfolk, two tickets to the world premiere of the next Bond film, the Bedales gypsy caravan or even a Bedales Jacob sheep – dead or alive.

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.