125 years on

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

5708 Bedales-125-Logo-CMYK BROWN UPDATE 22.11 (Large)It was 125 years ago this Saturday that three boys joined John Badley and his six members of staff at a rented house called Bedales in Lindfield on the outskirts of Haywards Heath.  The school would move to its present home in Steep in 1900 – 76 students in total by then, with just seven girls, co-education having started in 1898.

As we set out on our 125 anniversary celebrations, it is interesting to reflect on what drove John Badley to found the school, what impelled him to lead it as headmaster for its first 42 years and what he might think of us now.

A charismatic 28 year old athlete and classical scholar with a top education (Rugby and Cambridge) and enough family money not to worry too much about making a living, he was inspired by the ideas of the late Arts and Crafts movement and thinkers such as Edward Carpenter and Cecil Reddie, founder of Abbotsholme and exponent of the New Schools’ movement.  Badley’s early experience teaching with Reddie convinced him that he wanted to start his own school and that the conventional public schools “simply wouldn’t do.”  The negative reasons revolved around not being narrowly focussed on the traditional classical curriculum and the cold, hierarchical disciplines of the Victorian public school.  The positive reasons had to do with wanting his school to embrace a more enlightened vision for humanity – where the outdoors, the Arts, reason, head hand and heart in equilibrium, friendship, mutual  respect between teachers and their charges and the feminine influence all held sway.

The school quickly grew, especially when established in Steep. By 1922 the total number had reached 194, including those at Dunhurst, which was started in 1902. The school filled with many families that Badley knew personally. The First World War, although a source of great sadness with the loss of life of so many of his former pupils, galvanized the building of the Memorial Library and Badley’s idealism about international cooperation, was envisaged with the League of Nations.

What would he think of us now?  I am sure he would regard life as very soft and indulgent: the Bedales he grew was physically austere and unashamedly frugal.  The cold baths were an article of faith and kept going until the late 1950s.  He would be surprised by the lack of any religious observance:  although his focus on what he regarded as the eternal truths of Christianity meant that non-conformist and Jewish families felt happier here than at schools where Anglicanism was central, there was a clear religious thread to the school, comparable to Unitarianism.

I think he would recognise and welcome many things.  Here are some: the emphasis put on inquisitiveness and inspiration; the warmth of relationships; the equality of opportunity between genders; the unusual tolerance for a community of adolescents; and the prominence of outdoor work.

I like to think that in a week which has seen a female head of sciences interviewed on national radio for her contrarian views on the use of sarcasm in teaching, warm appreciation of a Theatre of Cruelty play by a touring Norwegian company, a Jaw led by the school’s LGBT society and a series of rehearsals for the students’ annual rock show, he would feel that the creative and daring spirit flourishes.

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.

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.

Celebrating The Chief’s 150th Birthday

Gemma Klein Photography

1865 saw the births of two men, W.B.Yeats and John Badley, whose lives affected how people feel and think now: Yeats as one of the most influential poets in the English Modernist movement; Badley as an educator whose vision of how our education system could be made humane created a school which has influenced many others. Although Badley could turn a passable piece of verse and no doubt a school set up by Yeats would have been entertaining for a few weeks (quite a lot of marching, sometimes in a nice brown shirt and a lot of learning about bizarre mythologies), I am glad that their respective vocational bias followed the courses they did. Yeats’ politics and his personal beliefs (think gyres and Rosicrucianism) were at best just odd, but often unpalatable, but his poetry was sublime and even visionary (think, Second Coming).

John Badley, aka The Chief, had his 150th birthday in half term (21st) and so yesterday, as soon as we could, we celebrated it by doing something I trust he would have approved of: cakes were baked, including a specially gorgeous multi-layered and beautifully ornamented birthday cake (made by colleague Diana Robinson, Dunhurst Matron) and we cut the ground for the new Art & Design building. In this respect the spade work was done by eight young men and women from across the schools – four Block 4s, two Dunhurstians and two Dunannie pupils (whose hard hats stubbornly wouldn’t stay on). They had the tough manual work; I merely had to sit in a (rather wonderful) machine and take some simple instructions. Here are some photos which give you a flavour. Many thanks to the patient men from our contractors, Beard. The good-humoured group of supporters who had witnessed the new building’s start disappeared into the February gloaming, with Chairman Matthew Rice’s suitably practical words, “See you again in 18 months’ time when we open!”

Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography Gemma Klein Photography

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.

Passing muster

Wednesday evening’s assembly brings an unlikely combination of threads that need to be woven together: the announcement of the new head student team, the publication of our ISI inspection report and the annual appearance of at least one dog. The first is relatively straightforward as, by tradition, the new team merely appear and do their first “shush”, so big cheers (literally too) for Rob M, Margaret R, Esme A and Roly B who have been chosen after a long process, which began with their agreeing to be put forward, a school vote and then plenty of staff discussion. Then we at last receive the final version of our ISI inspection report: happily, not too much of the inspectors’ warm enthusiasm for the schools has been tempered by that shadowy figure, the Editor, and both the reports – the Bedales one and the Dunhurst & Dunannie one – read glowingly and take me back to the wonderfully heartening 2 1/2 hours of verbal feedback we had on the final day of last term.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the dog? I am already slimming the canine element down as last year the annual dog assembly featured about 8 labradors and culminated in the appearance of the most cuddly of labradoodle puppies. So, the need to tell the school about the inspection and to introduce the idea of criteria means that we are confined to one dog – the unwisely named Budge dog Zazu – who, carefully managed by former deputy head girl Freya D, allows herself to be used as an example of labradorness. With the aid of the 18 Kennel Club criteria for what makes for the ideal labrador, I make a quick series of judgements on her various dimensions and characteristics: so, well done on not being cow-hocked and yes, you look close-coupled with half decent withers, but, oh dear,  bad luck with the feathery tail – not ottery enough, so merely good, certainly not excellent.

On to the report itself: above all I want the students to know that their close engagement with the their work and their warm, mutually respectful relationships with their teachers over recent years have been a massive factor in enabling this; also, their love of learning, inspired by their teachers, is evident not only in what the inspectors observed but also in the work that the inspectors scrutinized and in the results achieved – it is not just a matter of turning on the charm and the brains for a few days. Also, I want them to see that this has all been done within the Badley ideals, so we close with a picture of The Chief, looking suitably thoughtful, with his rather labradorish eyes.

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.

Outdoor and indoor making and doing

Whilst John Badley’s view on earth closets, admired from afar by Tolstoy in a private letter, no longer prevails, his adamant views on learning through doing certainly do – and this is the season for seeing such a powerful educational tenet at close hand.

Taking a brisk walk around the Estate on Tuesday in the company of the fleet-footed Peter Coates, I see the BAC Outdoor Work projects at close hand and interrogate the makers and doers of Block 5 about their handiwork on their projects’ completion. So here are Alex H, Chris B and Fergus P caressing their proud Land Rover; it’s been a long haul and much has been learnt about its trusty mechanical guts. Just the bonnet to come. Wander towards where the chickens used to be and there is the loveliest of bee huts, where Issy and Tilly C have done painstaking and thoughtful work, restoring the hut and the bees; they even have their beeswax products on display. Then, quick, zip over to the Kadian Observatory to find Nav, Xav, and Tamara: how did you manage those round walls? 1,000 bricks? And yes, I can see how the brick-laying improves as the wall grows. Sadly, we don’t have enough time to explore the glories of the walnut door or the mechanical operation of the dome.

In Drama it has been neat adrenalin time for the 6.1s as they bring their AS scripted pieces to fruition. This is serious doing and making as well, even if it is a bit more evanescent, but there’s a different kind of glory. Sunday afternoon and I was seeing the process in action, calling in on three of the groups as they rehearse in drama studio, gym and theatre. Head of Drama, Phil King has brought in author and director, Chris Thorpe to provide fresh eyes in these crucial stages, so adding to the good work already done by Phil and Jay Green.  Seeing the finished products on Wednesday night and talking to some of the students about the process that was going on over the weekend, I am struck by the pride taken in effort committed, advice taken and the final things themselves – 6 powerfully gripping short plays that hold the audience and show how far these students have travelled through this particular learning voyage. It is a very similar sense of having learnt through doing that I encountered in my Outdoor Work tramp: I suspect in both cases the students will retain a very strong and positive sense of the fulfilment of their own work well done.

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.

Celebration of the inspirational Headmaster Tim Slack

Imagine a headmaster who, when he starts, is a mere 15 years older than the oldest student in the school – 32 to the eldest student’s 17; and he is younger than most of the teachers. That was what it was like for Tim Slack when he started here in 1962, as we were reminded when we celebrated Tim’s life at a genial Thanksgiving Service in the Lupton Hall on Sunday. Consider also the fact that the school’s founder, The Chief, Mr Badley, was living in Fairhaven (overlooking what is now the astroturf); and that you would preside over his 100th birthday celebrations (in 1965 with a production of A Midsummer NIght’s Dream produced by Gyles Brandreth) and his death in 1967, when, because of the differences of opinion amongst Old Bedalians about John Badley’s religious beliefs, there was something of a controversy about what should happen to his remains.

It was such a privilege for me to get to know Tim, especially during the last few years of life when he returned to live in Steep. He came back to Bedales to talk to the school and to parents on several occasions and was irrepressibly energetic and upbeat. It was a particular treat to hear him talk about his relationship with Mr Badley and how supportive The Chief was of Tim when, against the wishes of many in the community, he needed to develop and enlarge the school from 240 to 340. The school that Tim took on in 1962 had uniform, prefects and still carried many of the vestiges of the austere, Fabian Society-influenced school of the 20s and 30s; the school he handed on in 1974 was recognisably what it is now and very much influenced by the tide of change that had swept through Europe in the late 60s. Tim was an inspiration to me – not least because he was determined to enjoy the business of being a head and he had the courage, tenacity and energy to move things on.

You can see here a short film of Tim Slack talking about John 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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.