Thinkin’ ‘n doin’

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Starting out as a teacher, I was lucky to find myself in an English department which did a lot of thinking and a lot of doing: an inventive and adaptable programme of study and activities was combined with an ethos of hard work and high achievement.  A formative memory for me is the way that we collaborated and framed ideas as a department; every Wednesday we had a convivial working lunch (hosted in turn by each of us) which was our department meeting. Ideas (sometimes wacky) were knocked around and tested; good practice shared; there was lots of laughter and it was stimulating and productive. We agreed what we should do, planned carefully ahead and then made sure that our thinking resulted in the right kind of doing.

As this was my first job, I found myself running junior debating – a pretty sleepy little corner affecting a handful of devotees.  With my colleagues’ support I decided to turn this into an activity that every student in their first year had to experience.  I devised a scheme which meant that we had a series of mini-debates running across the school at the same time each week.  It involved my persuading a number of colleagues to help voluntarily with it, which they did and off we went.  It ran for several years, lasting for a year after I had left.

Being nosy and a bit pushy from an early age, I found myself observing the headmasters at the various schools I worked at:  here’s an ideas person (rare); there’s someone who gets things done.  In talking with heads I found that sometimes they themselves even talked in those terms about the business of headship, with all the dangers of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reflecting on what headship is here, in our favoured nook of Hampshire, there is no doubt: it’s a role where the thinking and the doing have to work alongside each other.  Indeed, I suspect that the innovation and distinctiveness gene at Bedales is such that the school thrives through the sense that its routines and activities are being thoughtfully scrutinized and re-shaped continuously.  This is not quite John Badley’s injunction that the school should be re-built every seven years, but it is very  much  that spirit.

I found myself thinking (there we go again…) about this last night at the end of a stimulating Jaw debate: “This house would serve no meat” (decoratively done below).  Jaw, the time when the school engages in something that has a moral or spiritual dimension, has adapted from being a Sunday evening religious observance with a broad-ranging talk at its centre (up to 1981), to a non-religious event on a Sunday evening  (up to 2005) to its present incarnation – a fortnightly programme of talks, mainly from external speakers, with a Jaw debate each term.  Last night’s one evoked memories of the community-wide debate that led to us having one no meat lunch each week.  I suspect that this one will lead to a further debate about the amount and provenance of the meat we eat.

Thoughtfulness naturally sits within all elements of the school’s leadership, just as it does within its vibrant communal life.  Effecting consequent change likewise must.

This house would serve no meat

Middle East questions

Last night’s student-led Jaw re-told the stories of Syrian refugees – four poignant accounts of trauma and loss, culminating in that of Abdullah Kurdi whose family drowned and whose son, Aylan, became such a powerful image in turning the world’s sympathy more fully towards the plight of people fleeing Syria.

This was the second time that the community’s attentions have been focussed on the Syrian tragedy: an assembly two weeks ago by our two librarians featured John Badley’s watercolours of Palmyra and his journal entries. These fine paintings will become better known as they are reproduced as cards and sold to support Syrian refugees.

When I had a sabbatical in summer 2009, I chose to spend most of it in the Middle East. It was a part of the world I did not know and was interested in. I am glad that I did. The demanding and fascinating bit was trying to make as much progress as possible with Modern Standard Arabic through doing a beginner’s course at a language school in Cairo. Two of our children joined us when their summer term ended. They spent some time with us in Cairo before we travelled through Jordan and then into Syria. We didn’t visit Palmyra but stayed in Hama (where Assad’s father is reported to have killed anywhere between 1,000-40,000 Muslim Brotherhood), Damascus and Aleppo. Amongst all the pre-Arab Spring fascinations, Syria was the most fascinating and alluring: Damascus’s Umayyad mosque ranks in my mind amongst the most beautiful holy places I have visited. Damascus itself, arguably the oldest continually occupied city in the world, was bewitching. Aleppo, more bustling and deservedly legendary in its historic role as a great trading city. Unsurprisingly, the Syrians we encountered, although immensely hospitable and friendly, wisely would not be drawn on any of the less attractive features of living in a police state.

It is salutary and poignant to think now about the state of Libya, Egypt and, above all, Syria almost five years after the start of the Arab Spring.

The debate is well under way here as to what the community’s response should be to the refugee crisis.  These will certainly not be the only events which focus on the Middle East and the refugee crisis this term.

Paris and schools

Je suis Charlie

Usually the start of a new term and a new calendar year in school has a predictable and inward-looking dimension; this term began in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. At the school’s first meeting on Tuesday morning, a backdrop of a pencil-gun cartoon was on the screen throughout Notices and my first words were about our need to be attentive to these horrific events and the threat they pose to the values that underpin Europe – the very liberal, democratic values of liberty, adherence to rule of law and tolerance that for me were captured in the banner Je suis Charlie, je suis flic, je suis Juif. The attacks on Press, Police and Jews should leave us in no doubt about the nature of the menace.

When on Wednesday evening, Clare Jarmy spoke at Jaw about this, there was a strongly-attuned attentiveness amongst the audience – a sense from the students that this was vital stuff – as complex as it was important. It is not just that all of us as citizens have a responsibility to engage with the issues, but that we as a school are particularly committed to these values, given that, unusually certainly for independent boarding schools, we put a strong emphasis on the values of a liberal democracy in the way in which our school life is fashioned. It is no accident that the Nazis infiltrated and bullied progressive German schools, such as L’ecole d’Humanitie, out of Germany to its current home in Switzerland.

Clare’s Jaw, a fine example of communication of really difficult ideas to a young audience, alerted us to the two concepts of liberal values. The first is where freedom means individual freedom and development is a good thing in and of itself – the idea that citizenship means having shared liberal values. The second where freedom means the government not interfering in what people do unless they have to, so guaranteeing diversity and the ability of different communities to live different lives within the same society without sharing the same values. So, the Enlightenment ideas of the freedom and autonomy of the individual vs post-modern pluralism.

This led on naturally to the nature of causing offence, especially within the Shi’ite tradition of Islam and the quandary that newspapers and TV channels have had over whether, for example, to show illustrations of the latest Charlie Hebdo cover with its images of Muhammad.  Again, we were being asked to engage with the complexity of issues and the competing values – freedom of the Press vs respect for religious sensitivities – that have different emphases in different liberal democracies. Clare’s Jaw ended with a statement from the Muslim Council of Britain which captures this tension.

These conversations need to go on – in classrooms, boarding houses, over meals at home and at 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.

A busy but not atypical five days

What would the the Sage of Hull (Larkin) have thought of all this water? This is just one of the fruitless unanswerable questions that occurs as I hear my footsteps crunching and squelching beside two panting dogs on an early morning stroll across the Estate’s undulations and their accompanying frost pockets, Cobb’s Field being the chilliest, this morning. Here is another hopeless question: will the new quartet of Budge hens survive, given that, unlike their predecessors, they do not recognise the value of shelter, but sit out in the rain with their eyes shut? This would not be a good policy at any stage but in a year when we have had 254% of our usual rainfall it is unwise. I blame these two relatively gloomy thoughts on some early morning reading of Edward Thomas’ short stories, where all the protagonists seem to be variants on himself – moody and gloomy fellows who roam amongst the Hangers, occasionally with an old pistol.

But Spring is clearly on the way, not only because the crocuses and daffodils are coming up in the Orchard or because the 6.1s have done their mocks or because the birdsong is more and more prolific each morning, but also because Moony and I hosted the concluding feast of the academic year last night, entertaining 30 or so Block 4s whose efforts with their last Review were being celebrated. The Feast, a new but now fully enshrined Bedales tradition, was a suggestion of the student Teaching and Learning Group – something that they felt would be a good way of recognising hard work and good progress. We enjoy doing them, but feasting is a winterish activity, even if the mead is an elderflower cordial and the sweetmeats a chocolate brownie; so here comes the Spring and, as the days lengthen, that signals the end of the feasting season.

There are plenty of other things to celebrate too – a packed week: beginning with a Shakespeare Society reading of Antony and Cleopatra on Sunday; moving on to the Sixth Form Maths Society’s Pi Meeting (Monday) when, yes, pies may be served; progressing through Bedales Dance Performs (hot on the springy heels of Sunday’s Dance Platform), the Green Ribbon Club (Thomas Harding discussing his enthralling book, the account of his uncle who arrested Auschwitz’s horrible commandant), the Jaw Debate (University Education should be free?) – answer, “Why of course!” (a little appreciated Larkin quote); then a Philosophy Society meeting and our newly re-formed student Art & Design consultative group meeting with the architects to start discussing the interior of the new Art & Design Centre, whose successful planning permission we will be celebrating on Thursday evening. A busy but not atypical five days.

As for Larkin and water, he would have been fine with it.  Water, he wrote about and –  in the poem of that name – he reveres: his description of “a furious devout drench” has a new currency after the drenching winter.

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.

Challenging accepted truths

The best kind of education challenges accepted truths and invites us to see see the world from different perspectives: two talks this week have done that. On Tuesday, Dr Peter Frankopan‘s  Civics talk on Byzantium challenged our Eurocentric view of history through sharing his knowledge and love of all things to do with the Byzantine Empire, warning us that the history we read today may make sense but often “it doctors the past” and that Byzantine history has been “the victim of a hatchet job”, its name expropriated to mean opaque and deliberately difficult. The massive achievements of the Islamic Renaissance, the civilization and wealth that led in 1300 to Istanbul/Byzantium having a population of half a million and Baghdad a million (set against London and Paris being in the 30-50K region) and the transfer of mathematical and scientific knowledge from the East to the West were all fluently marshalled. As an invitation to try and see other people and other civilizations differently Peter’s talk was a brilliant exhortation akin to Shahidul Alam‘s Global Awareness lecture, Humanising the Other. “There’s no reason to have barriers as to what you should know; ask yourself, what questions am I not asking? Find something you love, find out more about it and then ask yourself where you stand.”

Rosie W’s Jaw, Creativity in Education, did a similar thing, except her aim was to challenge the accepted view of education. Basing her talk around Ken Robinson’s RSA YouTube video on this subject, she interwove the visual with her own argument for a more enlightened approach by governments to education. Scary though it is to address 500+ people, especially when you are talking about an area of specialism for teachers, Rosie showed how you can challenge the accepted view in a compelling and lucid way.

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.

Celebrating Badley and his values

Mr Badley or the Chief, as he was often known, was such a strong presence in the school that it must have seemed unnecessary to commemorate him with anything like the Badley Celebration Weekend, as we will shortly. Arriving here 12 years ago, it struck me as curious that there was no specific occasion in the year when the school’s founder and the values he stood for were celebrated in ways that reminded us all of the school’s founding ideals. Indeed there was nothing that carried his name explicitly. The Whole School Effort was then about a decade old and naturally became the central, communal event at the heart of the weekend. We placed the weekend close to the start of the school year, rather than in the summer term, because we wanted students new to the school to be experience it early on. Since the first Badley Weekend 8 years ago, the event has evolved –  very much in the Badleyan spirit of regularly re-fashioning things. As well as the communal efforts (which have led to things as diverse as the landscaping around the Orchard Building and a much improved path to Petersfield) we have had in recent years the 6.2 Legacy Project, without which we would not have the re-modelled Cecily’s Garden or the Sotherington Outdoor Theatre. This year  the 6.2s are landscaping the area around the Music School and building a pergola. Over recent years outreach and performance have also been strong features. It was good to see that this year’s celebrations will conclude with a community created performance in the form of a ceilidh – outdoors, in keeping with the theme of the Natural World, on Steephurst Lawn. As you would expect, as well as there being a strong communal element to the weekend there is plenty of choice of activities when it comes to choosing the one you sign up for. At the annual Badley Jaw at Dunhurst on Friday I will use this excerpt from Badley’s Jaw of July 1914: it says it all.

Another thing that I hope Bedales has grown to mean is the habit of service; of work done, I mean, not only for the pleasure of the doing (though that is a great thing), nor for any personal gain, but for the school’s good, to raise rather than in any way to lower its standards, and to leave it, if in any way we may, better than we found it; for those who have had this feeling at school, and worked for it in this spirit, will carry it with them, and find, wherever their lives are laid, many opportunities in service of their fellows.

J H Badley

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.

Reflecting on 33 years of teaching at Bedales

There are all sorts of ways that a community listens to itself – one is through assemblies and Jaws from people who bring a long perspective and accrued insight to bear. I think back to former head Tim Slack’s Jaw when he talked about what it was like being a young head at Bedales with Mr Badley living in Fairhaven. Another such occasion was last night when Graham Banks reflected on what has changed and what has remained the same since he joined Bedales 33 years ago. These are rare occasions – a teacher thinking aloud about his time in a way uncluttered by disenchantment or the need for any self-aggrandizement. One of the strong early influences on Graham was an older teacher called George Smith with whom Graham only briefly coincided but who, as a Quaker, encouraged reflection – partly through his style of talking to the school but also through his use of silent reflection at the end of his assemblies.

What has changed? Buildings – mainly for the better, a theatre which has transformed the school’s creative life and new classrooms where you are no longer very cold in winter and too hot in summer. The size of the school (from about 350 to 455) and where we meet – the Quad was an open space, used mainly for socializing, with only occasional seats and all assemblies happened in the Lupton Hall. All boarding boys were in the main school building and looked down into the Quad. The weekends – most boarders stayed at school for each half of the term.

What has stayed the same?  The quality of music – still happily very high. The generosity of spirit towards helping others – something that Graham has in his final years here worked very hard to foster, especially through his work as head of Outreach with the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative and the fundraising initiatives that have followed it. The warmth of relationships and the friendly, informal atmosphere which he noticed, even at interview in the summer holidays almost 33 years ago, and which attracted him to the place. Is a tendency amongst some students to look to cut corners and take advantage of the trust and friendly atmosphere a necessary price to pay? Perhaps. The enduring quality and impact of visiting speakers, especially at Civics, has led to Graham missing few – even before he took over the running of these thought-provoking and humanising talks. So, students, take advantage of these things. Finally, another evergreen thing – the self-absorption of the adolescent nature which, provided that selfishness is kept at bay as much as possible, provides the backdrop for the swift changes that occur during teenage years and which make working with adolescents so fulfilling and intriguing.

Sitting and listening to Graham’s final assembly and touched on his behalf by long applause afterwards, I found myself wondering if, in 32 years time, a departing member of staff will refer back to the impact that hearing a legendary older teacher talk to the school in a reflective and wise way had on him or her.

Graham Banks

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.