Strutting your mutt


By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday afternoon and there is only one place to be – the Badley Behaved Dog Show and Fête on the Dunhurst pitches.  Zazu (usually benign, although sometimes dramatically not so, but always unthinking, black labrador) and I arrive a little late to find it all well under way.  There’s so much to do – much sniffing and greeting: gloating bulldogs, spry labradoodles, dopey Afghans (or it that a coat?) and even some mutts who look as if they have been specially coiffured up for the occasion.  Aha!  And there is little Toby, the most popular male mammal in the Petersfield area and one of the main reasons for visiting Bedales reception, where he presides. Another youngster wags in the distance – it’s Diggerty Cross.   And there is so much for dogs and their owners to do: Waggiest Tail, Cutest Puppy, Best Veteran, Best Pedigree Gundog, Dog Most like its Owner (steer clear of that one…) and Best Fancy Dress.  As for we two legged ones, the cream teas are beguiling, the Dalmatian Bouncy Castle inviting and as for the Waterfight Zone, well it’s soaking them up.

Zazu and I are having a nice, tranquil time: I am meeting people whom I generally know – or have met – she is meeting all sorts of new friends and is yet to have one of her cross / snarly moments.  I am not taking too many chances, having her on a (literally) very short leash.  Then, our quietish afternoon is suddenly changed by the request from the now hoarse chair of governors, Matthew Rice, that I take over the commentary from him. Whoops!  From being in gentle post-prandial, smallish talk mode to needing to sound canine-savvy amongst the doggy cognoscenti.  I haven’t even checked over breeds or warmed up the dog anecdotes. I’ve never listened to those legendary cricket commentators who can talk about nothing endlessly.  Never mind, just crack on.  It reminds me of when I was asked to  give a pep talk to a school pipes (ie bagpipers) and drums band one summer evening with about ten seconds’ notice.  I summoned up the “up and at ’em” and tried to avoid St Crispin Day echoes.

Off we go: and there is a soppy looking collie-ish creature, but what do I call it? And how can I say something not entirely fatuous about that fancy dress without it upsetting someone, probably the bearer? Things settle down after a bit. Funny how you discover – for better of worse – a kind of style.  Some of the old yarns come back.  There’s a seasonal factor here: in the summer term I need to think about dogs in advance of my annual dog assembly, so I am reminiscing about previous ones – the march of the labradors, and five things you can learn from a dog, being talks that spring to mind.  So, we have a bit of labrador breed history thrown in – and I have to break off to advertise those delicious cream teas before we get to the bit about that buoyantly woolly breed the Newfoundland.  Did you know…  Best thing is to give the microphone to the winners and to hear their stories – the rescue dogs’ owners’ being the best.

The sun continues to shine and our visitors depart, leaving the wonderful volunteers – parents and colleagues – to clear up.  More people now know about the John Badley Foundation: it enables children to come to our schools from families whose circumstances mean that a Bedales education would otherwise be completely out of reach. Perhaps they will associate it with panting geniality and cuddly hounds. There’s also something about this cranky and colourful afternoon that chimes with that fragile but precious thing, our ethos.  A medley of human and canine colour, it is a celebration of what we hold dear and of those wonderfully eccentric and precious bonds that tie us to our four legged companions: cheerful, a little quirky, certainly genial, inclusive, celebratory, colourful and proud to carve its own path.

Bursaries: view from Glasgow

Am in what used to be described as the “second city of the Empire” for the annual Boarding Schools’ (BSA) Conference and a strong thread running through the first 24 hours has been the benefits of having a strong bursary programme; and by this I mean the benefits to the schools as well as to the children who hold the bursaries. Running alongside this is a “grit” thread – i.e. the idea that the resilience and self-reliance built up by boarding are as critical to the life chances of 100% bursary holders as their improved chances academically.

Two charities that specialise in placing children in boarding schools, who might otherwise need to go into full time care, are represented here; both are charities that we have been working closely with and both either currently support a student with us or will shortly – The Buttle Trust  and Springboard Foundation.  We have been closely involved with Buttle, who have extensive experience in identifying and helping vulnerable children.  Springboard has developed from the visionary Arnold Foundation, set up by Patrick Derham of Rugby; it aims to take the principles established by the Rugby scheme and create a nationwide system whereby children whose lives will be transformed by gaining a place at a UK boarding school can find suitable places. Their fundraising case has been greatly helped by the results of a pro-bono McKinsey study which evaluated, pound for pound, the effect of the Arnold Foundation bursary holders on their life chances and the associated impact on their families.  A similar exercise is underway with Buttle which has teamed up with the Royal National Children’s Foundation to run a 3 year research programme to evaluate the impact of boarding as an intervention for vulnerable children.

Turning to the benefits to the schools, the beneficial impact of increasing the social diversity of the school populations of boarding schools in particular is clear, even with relatively small numbers. Although it is early days for our involvement with the two trusts mentioned, our own, homegrown, John Badley Foundation, has made five awards and aims, like Buttle and Springboard, to bring students into the school who would not otherwise have considered an independent school education. Our membership of the HMC Projects Eastern European scholarship scheme means that we generally have at least one scholar from a very different cultural setting. Teachers here still talk about the impact of one of these scholars, a Bosnian boy, who recounted his experience of growing up being besieged in Sarajevo at a 6.2 time meeting. Our community is slightly less likely to be complacent, inward-looking and self-absorbed if there are people within it whose perspective on life is very different from the highly-advantaged social group from whom most of our youngsters come. Teachers are naturally well inclined towards such schemes and having an enlightened financial support policy, providing as it does a good badge of a school’s social and moral conscience, can be a good draw for the right kinds of teachers.

Finally, although the numbers involved are a drop in the ocean at the moment, we are doing something to address the malaise of declining social mobility which is such a sad indictment of British social policy over the past 30 years.

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.