Bedales represented at Round Square International Conference

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English 

Bedales was delighted this year to be one of the schools represented at the 51st Round Square International Conference in India. Al McConville and I were joined by two 6.2 students, Freya Leonard and Anton Ellis, on the trip. It was Bedales first delegation to the five-day conference, which this year was attended by 1000 people – 700 students and 300 staff – from all five continents.

For three days, the conference was hosted at the Emerald Heights International School, a boarding school on the outskirts of Indore that has 4000 students in total. Student delegates from around the world slept in the school dormitories. Over the course of three days, we saw all the keynote speakers, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner who works to end child slavery, a Government Minister (in opposition to Modi) and Madam Ghandi, a feminist musician.

Other highlights included a presentation with an AI robot. In between speakers, the students broke into Barazza groups to discuss issues relating to this year’s conference theme, ‘the world we wish to see’. We also spent time meeting other delegates, learning about the Round Square organisation, and meeting representatives from other schools that might wish to arrange international exchanges with us in the future.

We spent a day sightseeing at the city of Mandu, where we visited a beautiful mosque which is now a historical site of interest, rather than a working mosque. We also saw some impressive forts and palaces overlooking lakes and hills. We spent nearly six hours travelling to and from Mandu, which gave us time to observe Indian life and culture from the windows of the bus. It was fascinating – families of four riding on mopeds, Tuk-Tuks behaving like pushy, rude teenagers, and cows sitting on the road. At one point, our coach had to reverse to allow a chicken and six chicks to cross safely!

Another day was spent doing service in the morning and sightseeing in the evening, and there was one very early start with a run for charity alongside Blade Runner, the first Indian to run with a prosthetic foot! Al, Freya and Anton got up early to join him, and a tree was planted to honour the occasion.

We had a very long journey there and a long journey home, so we are now looking into carbon off-setting for the trip, which seems particularly fitting as climate change and air travel was a hot topic amongst delegates.

First Duke of Edinburgh expedition of the year

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

When 37 students in Block 5 headed out on their qualifying Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition, they might have been extras in John Keats’ seminal poem, To Autumn. Last weekend on the South Downs, the world was rich in “mellow fruitfulness”. They plucked ripe blackberries from hedgerows, scrumpt apples from “moss’d cottage-trees” and in the evenings you might have come across the odd corn on the cob cooking alongside Wayfarer’s meals and pesto pasta.

On Friday morning it took a while to organise routes and check kit at the Triangle Car Park near the Trundle. As classic cars drove past on their way to the Goodwood Revival, assessors made a note of who had packed particularly carefully, and made sure those that needed an extra compass or water bottle were looked after. Routes were checked and starts were then staggered so as to make sure the groups were not tempted to mass together, before they headed off in different directions: east towards Graffam or west to Treyford.

There was no doubt that the participants had the weather was on their side, and navigation was considerably easier than on the practice expedition in the New Forest. That said, the West Sussex terrain presented the groups with different challenges, and many arrived in camp on Friday sore and exhausted from 400 metre climbs past fields of “full-grown lambs” and nosy herds of cows. After a glorious sunset, the full moon lit up the campsites making the night colder than expected and thus the tents were drenched in moisture on Saturday morning.

As the weekend bore on, it was clear that all 37 participants had personal challenges to meet. Some found the walking very tough, others had to manage their frustration with slower members of their group. Some had to share their food and kit, others to manage sore ankles and painful blisters. It was impressive to see groups leaving relatively early on their second day, and even earlier on the third, determined to get the bulk of the walking done in the morning. It was even more impressive to watch groups share out the load, so that all could complete the walk. All did and can hold their head high, having successfully completed this section of their Silver award.

A big thank you must go to Allen, David, Gordon and Rob for bringing wisdom, humour and years of experience to the trip. A thank you also to Duncan Selmes, who joined us from Dunhurst on Saturday afternoon, bringing more DofE expertise and enthusiasm to the team.

Arvon attendees reunite for writing workshop

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

Last Wednesday, 14 students who attended the Arvon Creative Writing course in Shopshire over the Easter holidays attended an afternoon writing workshop. We held the workshop partly so they could collect The Lighthouse (the anthology of their writing from the course), but also to celebrate seeing their work in print and practice writing techniques they learnt on the course.

To get themselves in the writing headspace, they began by carrying out a free writing task to some serious music, which quickly led to much fast scribbling! The students then attempted some ‘Golden Shovels’, a technique devised by the American poet Terrance Hayes in honour of his fellow compatriot Gwendolyn Brooks.

The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often from another poem; the original Golden Shovel is The Pool Players / Seven at the Golden Shovel by Brooks. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone and texture from the original poem, depending on the ingenuity and imagination of the poet composing one!

In honour of the incoming Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage – who visited Bedales last September – students chose lines from his poems Poem and I Am Very Bothered, and had a lot of fun sharing the new poems that evolved from his lines. The intention is to keep the writing momentum going with monthly writing reunions next year and include new work in The Poet’s Stone.

Engaging Arvon Creative Writing trip

On 15 April, English teachers Lucy Mcilwraith and Julia Bevan accompanied a group of Bedales students to the Hurst Arvon Centre in Shropshire for a five-day residential creative writing course.

Set in the former home of the late playwright John Osborne and led by tutors Malika Booker and Colin Grant, both of whom are published writers, the course saw the group take part in a series of workshops designed to “ignite a life-long love of creative writing”.

Over the course of the five days, group writing workshops saw students take part in a range of exercises, including keeping haiku diaries as a way of focussing observation skills; free writing as a means of ‘loosening up’ and increasing the flow of ideas; exploring ways of creating images to express emotions; using memoir writing as a way of recording not only facts but also atmospheres; and practising writing dialogue where each new speech had to start with the sequential letter of the alphabet.

In addition to workshops, one-to-one tutorials and readings with guest speakers, the group were given the freedom to develop their own written work and explore the beautiful remote environment.

The independent living experience formed a significant part of the retreat, and students spent time in small groups in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal and washing up – something which promoted rather than stifled creativity.

In an email to parents during the trip, Lucy and Julia wrote: “As we’re in the home of John Osborne, a writer of kitchen sink drama, I think it’s particularly appropriate that the washing up crew indulged in kitchen sink poetry. We tried one word each, then rhyming couplets, then answering each other only in rhyme. For some reason we kept coming back to ‘feet’ and ‘beef’, but it certainly made the washing up go more quickly!”

The students, who will now produce an anthology of their written work from the course, praised the way the course offered them the space to write creatively with minimal distractions.

As many of the students particularly enjoyed the writing exercises in the mornings while on the course, Julia now intends to keep the group going following their return to school, through monthly writing sessions.