Hawks and handsaws

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

 

Badley Celebration Weekend focuses the mind on what our schools’ values are.  The past month’s series of events  introduce new students to the place and what it means, whether that is Dunhurst’s climb to the Poet’s Stone or its camp, Block 3 in Ullswater, the Whole School Effort,  Bedales’ own take on a harvest festival or Sunday’s community festival.  It is interesting to step back and reflect a little on how we interpret the Badleyan vision – how it is, let’s say, incarnated.

Thinking of the sweep of history first of all: here are five perspectives for starters:

  • 1900: John Badley brings his new school to Steep (from Lindfield near Hayward’s Heath). 69 boys and 7 girls.  First task is to finish the main school building.  Lots of hand work.
  • 1909: Old Bedalian Camp. See the illustrations above.  The list of campers gives you some indication of what the chat must have been like.  Gimson and Lupton, for example, to whom we owe so much of our architectural heritage.  Eckersley who, along with his brother, more or less invented sound engineering and was a founding father of the BBC.  Rupert Brooke wasn’t at the 1909 camp but was a great friend of his namesake, Justin Brooke, and sometimes joined the group.
  • 1922: John Badley’s Notes and Suggestions for Staff Joining Bedales: “Teaching is not telling but helping to find out.”
  • 1966: The first year group where a student could have joined Dunannie and gone all the way through to Bedales. It is this cohort (of 55), the class of ’66, who returned to school last weekend.  Many of them spent the better part of 10 years together – in school most weekends as well.  They are in remarkably good shape and full of alarmingly distinguished people.
  • 2016: Block 3s start out – their “50 year on” reunion will be 2071.

 Activities from the last few weeks mirror the Badleyan desire that his pupils should not be feeble or ignorant about the world that surrounded them – they should know a hawk from a handsaw – and know how to use the latter, as a good number found out last Saturday in clearing an area of scrub by the Roman road.

But I suspect that what acts in its own mysteriously cohesive way – across these times and will continue to exert its spell – is the emphasis on relationships.    So here is how The Chief put it in his 1922 leaflet mentioned above:  “Our whole system at Bedales is based on intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.  For the full value of co-education especially we must have in large measure the condition of family life.”

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Badley

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This coming weekend helps us celebrate the vision of the school’s founder, John Badley or, to his pupils and colleagues, Mr Badley or the Chief.  Its activities range from the Whole School Effort at Bedales (when 500+ students and teachers will create potential pasture from raggedy scrub) to the Bedales Community Festival on Sunday when we work with three charities and offer a range of activities to the wider community.

Amongst all this we have (on Saturday afternoon) a reception for donors and (on Sunday) a reunion of Old Bedalians who left 50 years ago. For me the weekend really gets going when, on Friday evening, I don my tweed plus twos and a red tie and go to Dunhurst to do my annual Badley Jaw.

Each year there is something new to add to the life of this multi-faceted and visionary man:  last year I showed slides of the very fine watercolours he did when he visited Palmyra on his Middle East tour.  This year I am going to talk about his penchant for skiing – he took skiing trips of current and former students well into his 60s.

But amongst all his many writings, it is his advice to teachers which rings as true as anything.  Here are some to ponder:

We shall do more by encouragement and the stimulus of example.

Planning a scheme of work is to be done for at least a year ahead.

Our whole system at Bedales is based upon intimate individual knowledge and personal influence.

I know that the happiest work is done when there is felt to be freedom.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Mating tunes

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The last week has been a combination of much getting to know new students, quite a bit of talking, signpost work outside the Orchard Building and listening to some stimulating talks – most of which have been in school.

Last Saturday’s Philosophy Of…  conference is led by students (6.1s when they started planning it a year ago, 6.2s now) and is designed to get us to think – a handy prompt for sixth formers especially at the start of an academic year.

Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London, showed how areas traditionally dominated by humanities graduates are now being taken over by scientists and how scientific methods of data analysis are being used to identify musical and literary trends and the ingredients that make a hit song or a best seller.

Tunes can mate, he posits:  the Darwinian process of natural selection, speeded up by computers and aided by human beings eliminating the hopeless tunes and allowing the better ones through, causes random sounds to be created initially and then, through this process of continuous adaptation gives us some passable tunes at the end of the process.   OK, it is like a melodic ringtone but a computer has done it.   Watch out for Google’s Deep Minds project which has enabled a robot generated piano sonata.  Artificial intelligence can make a similar formula for a best seller.  The process that precedes it is the distant reading (meaning a computer doing the reading) of the five thousand best selling works of fiction of recent years  in order to identify particular types of plot and recurring ideas  (by spotting key words).  The model thriller/science fiction/Greek billionaire seduction (by rather than of) novel can then be constructed.  Yes, the latter is a popular genre.

Out with the English graduate, in with the data scientist, he says.  This writer, an English graduate, then goes over to the theatre to hear James Harding, History graduate, Head of BBC News and former editor of The Times: like Leroi he is another speaker with a gift for making us think.  Asked the question, “what will the world will look like in 2026?” he answers “I don’t know.”   Sensible, he argues, because the world is particularly unpredictable at the moment.  Four reasons why:

  • Inequality and interest rates: massive shift in wealth inequality as the rich can borrow what they want; asset prices rise, the poor get relatively poorer: the politics of anger prevail.
  • Islamic extremism competing with secularism.
  • The pace of technological change and the impact of everything from driverless cars and dating apps on human wellbeing and behaviour.
  • Identity politics: individuals are more likely to be influenced by what seems true to them and what they feel than by tribal loyalties to, say, political parties, which only 30% of us support.

But, he is upbeat when asked questions by students about whether they should be fearful of the future; and he is the first person for a while I have heard saying it’s a great time to start out as a journalist.

Lots to take on board and it’s only Saturday lunchtime.  Monday brings a conference run by the House of Commons Education Committee on The Purpose and quality of education in England, a consultation to which Bedales has made a submission.

Again, much food for thought, but it is Mary Beard, whose promotion of Classics and interesting thinking makes me a big fan, who has the last word.  Don’t think passionate disagreement about what people should learn is anything new: Socrates met his death through choosing the wrong curriculum – “corrupting the youth”.  Read Aristophanes The Clouds for a satire on a new curriculum and just remember if the twin drivers of education are ever increasing measurement (via exams) and regulation (because no one can be trusted) then it will all eventually collapse.  Abandon a good number of GCSEs as a starter, she suggests.  Well, yes, Mary…

 

Lakeside beginnings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

keith-budge-and-dog-ullswater1This was the scene early yesterday morning at Hayeswater by Hartsop, close to Ullswater in our magnificent Lake District.  If a dog could use a selfie stick I imagine that this is the kind of photo it might take.  My collaboration is indicated by the stockinged leg in the left foreground.

Hayeswater frames Zazu who is looking unusually thoughtful after a watchful night sleeping between the inner and outer layer of my neat one person tent (disconcertingly called Banshee); if she is reflecting on anything other than breakfast, it is probably on the possibility of more swimming in Hayeswater, hoping that each of the stones thrown by the Block 3 campers will turn into a branch that she can retrieve.  The lake is treeless – stones sink, but Zazu will paddle on in hope.  The two Block 3 groups that I accompany for supper and breakfast will have two nights on the hills and the better part of three days – demanding stuff, I think, as I leave them on Wednesday morning in order to be back at school to take assembly in the evening.   The group I am with walk at a pretty brisk pace; once again the weather looks as if it will be kind to them.

Having spent two nights accompanying our Block 3s on their annual six day visit to Ullswater, I come back to Bedales as struck as ever by the way that the Outward Bound instructors, working closely with our own Badley tutors (each there with their Block 3 tutor group) and four 6.2 students (Badley Seniors who are attached to tutor groups) guide the students.  The Outward Bound learning style constantly pushes things back to the students for their consideration.  You see them grow as individuals and as a group consequently.   The big outdoors is itself a wonderful tutor.

A clever new building  development means that the geography of the Outward Bound centre has even been developed to help this process:   a series of stylish small wooden buildings, called thinking pods and designed to spur yet better reflective learning, now abuts  the main building .  The absence of mobile phones, the breath-taking beauty of Ullswater and Helvellyn and the presence of so many new people to get to know do the rest.  When the Block 3s enter ordinary Bedales life on Monday they will have a reference point and a way of thinking that should serve them well.

 

May ideas swim

Mizzling is the word, I think, for the gentle rain that greets me and my fellow Poetry Society breakfasters as we gather by Steephurst, ready to head up to the Poet’s Stone for our annual May breakfast.  The celebrants all bring poems and we have a good range:  plenty of Edward Thomas of course, some Shelley, Browning and a jewel of a Robin Robertson poem, Swimming in the Woods, which I read and I can’t resist copying in below.

The rain stops; early sun lights up Steep woods, which we admire from our vantage point on the Hangers’ flank by Thomas’ sarsen stone.  Magical stuff.

The week’s big external facing event has been our Liberating Leaders conference which we ran in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement and King Edward VI School Bury St Edmunds.  Most conferences have at least one soggy item; I could not spot one in our line-up.  So, here are some very personal highlights.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills) reminiscing in a finely wrought speech about the maverick headteachers who had shaped his professional life and the need for schools to enable the best characteristics of the maverick to inform teachers’ work.  Look out for the cross backlash from educators who feel that this is a bit ripe given his time at Ofsted.

Danielle Harlan (Founder and CEO of the Centre for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential) on authenticity as a leader, employee engagement (which is – sad fact – stuck at 13% worldwide) and unleashing creativity.  An extraordinarily lucid but profound presentation that was in itself a masterclass in clear and memorable communication. New verb alert – to “geek out” over someone = state of admiration and adulation of a senior, august academic figure by a scholarly acolyte/admirer.

Barbara Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan) on re-making  your brain and lessons learnt from her creation and co-teaching of the world’s most popular (1.5 million students) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  She is very keen that Bedales launches a MOOC – we will explore this.  An account – as scholarly as it was homely – of her distinctive path, her own learning and some of the ways in which we can improve our learning. Key tip: buy a Pomodoro (tomato shaped timer) or set one up as an app and work in 25 minute chunks; give yourself rewards after each 25 minutes; sleep and exercise aplenty.  That classy organ, the brain, loves these rhythms.  Get it right and, like Barbara, you start with Russian and end up a leading Professor of Engineering – and meet your future life partner at the South Pole.

Happily for our students, a number of them were able to attend the conference.  Most will have heard Danielle’s assembly on Monday and many also heard Barbara talk about girls and STEM subjects. You can view the speakers’ presentations here.

In all, the many of us who heard these inspiring people can justly feel lucky ducks (as they say in Lancashire).

So here is that poem: enjoy the half term break, and maybe some wild swimming.

Swimming in the Woods by Robin Robertson 

Her long body in the spangled shade of the wood
was a swimmer moving through a pool:
fractal, finned by leaf and light;
the loose plates of lozenge and rhombus
wobbling coins of sunlight.
When she stopped, the water stopped,
and the sun remade her as a tree,
banded and freckled and foxed.

Besieged by symmetries, condemned
to these patterns of love and loss,
I stare at the wet shape on the tiles
till it fades; when she came and sat next to me
after her swim and walked away
back to the trees, she left a dark butterfly.

 

 

 

 

Random remembrance

Curious business being ill, especially in a place so full of activity as a boarding school where the sense of your own immobile hopelessness is so marked by comparison with the activity that surrounds you – and that you are missing out on.  The flu lurgy confines me to bed during the day and to doing little but sleeping, half listening to Radio 4 and trying to be patient. In the evenings, I give way to the Christmas present box set of the Wire and start that journey – dangerously compelling, I have been advised.  I soon see why – and it has an intriguing educational sub-plot.

Whether it is because my dopey mind is especially alert to past remembrance or the simple happenstance of what’s on the radio, but I find myself being drawn back into childhood memories.

Here is Joan Bakewell, talking about the Arts and her role in bringing discussion of them onto television. In taking the time to listen to her story, my mother’s admiration for her in the early 1970s as representative of a new kind of woman makes yet more sense.  Then there are more Wogan tributes and I find myself back in my first study at school – which seemed to my 15 year old mind like a pasha’s chamber but was no doubt a horrid little box – listening to Radio 2 and loving the dry, suave Terry wit.  And (here we go again), most poignant of all, now it’s the radio adaptation of The Forsyte Saga and I am back watching my parents watching the ITV series on Sunday evenings in 1967.  I see some of it – very much over their shoulders.  They are clearly transfixed and have mixed feelings about my interest: my 10 year old self can’t quite understand why on either score, but I am aware of their discomfort over something horrible that Soames does.  The word “affair” seems to be around a lot, accompanied by many adults looking at their shoes.  Hasn’t Eric Porter/Soames got an unnaturally lined cheek?  And don’t those lovely women (Susan Hampshire and Nyree Dawn Porter) look far too nice for those opinionated men?

I think I read somewhere that you can only start to see your parents’ lives fully as history when both are dead –  have ‘turned to past’, as that master of unrosy remembrance, Philip Larkin puts it.  Having therefore been in that category since mid October, I can see the truth of that.  I also suspect that we prepare our young people too little for the shut of loss that comes with losing loved ones – and here is a pledge to do more on that front at Bedales.

Which brings me to a little furry fellow I didn’t love but was fond of and has been a bit player in this blog – the small whitish West Highland terrier, Ailsa, who joined us shortly after we moved here in September 2001 and who met a peaceful end yesterday having just managed her morning constitutional and climbed the hill in Cobb’s Field for the last time.  She has featured in my annual dog assembly every June for the past few years, most notably when I began the assembly holding her (freshly barbered and unnaturally white) up to the troops with the words “I do not love this dog!”  My statement was met by sighs whose verbal equivalent was: “Keith you hard-hearted fellow.”    I think the assembly was about the stretch in the word ‘love’ and a dogs’ role in helping us understand what and who really do matter.

School and The Future

How much should schools be refuges from the realities of the adult world?  To what extent should we alert our students to the challenges they will face in adult life?

Starting here in the early noughties, I felt that Bedales offered too much of a warm bath of reassurance – too impermeable a bubble.  A formative early experience was the outrage I faced from students when telling a 6.1 cohort that they weren’t working hard enough and that it was simply no good for them to compare themselves with their contemporary here, but they needed to think about the person they were competing against, who was at Manchester Grammar, King’s Canterbury or a high performing sixth form college.  I was roundly told that they regarded their school as somewhere that needed to keep that world at one remove – I had no right to be trying to frighten them into action like this.

Things have changed – within the school and outside it.  The zeitgeist out there is different, now we realise that the la-la land of continuously rising living standards and secure-ish jobs is no longer a fixture.

I gave an assembly last night which looked at the speed and extent of automation – the fourth industrial revolution that the World Economic Forum is telling us about – in the light of humankind’s striving for the ideal; so there is Utopia, Brave New World and, almost contemporaneously, G.M. Keynes’ famous essay, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren where he envisages the world of 2030 where the leisure which “science and compound interest” have won for the imaginary grandson will enable him “to live wisely and agreeably and well.”  In Keynes’ high-minded view, it is not just that we will have enough money not to need to work for much of the time, but that we will have moved beyond money – that’s another topic, albeit an intriguing one.

I then paid court to Moore’s Law and the likely impact on middle class jobs that this speedy wave of automation will bring – using one of my favourite pieces of holiday reading, Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots; but what I was most interested in sketching out was what schools need to do to prepare their students for this rapidly changing world.

So, this was my list:

  • Cross-disciplinary thinking – working across subject disciplines, especially Science and Humanities.
  • Collaboration – interconnectedness will put this at a premium. The place of the lone scholar with his quill is limited.
  • Communication – hand in glove with what’s above and below.
  • Empathy and respect for people from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Love of learning and with it an appetite for life-long learning.

Although I think we do a lot of this quite well, there is more that we can and should do.  I am sure that our independent-minded students will happily join the debate.