Appreciation of The Beautiful

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This was the sole school aim for a long time.  When the current five aims were framed early in my time, I was adamant that this nugget would find its place in the current aims, as it does in Aim 3, (To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful).

This awareness informs each assembly, which begins with music; it certainly informed my assembly on Wednesday, as I begin with Raphael’s Madonna della Seddia and ends with Helen Dunmore’s poem to her newly born daughter, Tess, (All The Things You Are Not Yet).  It informs daily decisions, whether those be about the curriculum, a flowerbed or the balance in an individual student’s life.  And this impulse is animating the lives of Old Bedalian scientists, writers, engineers, inventors, musicians, designers, dancers and actors daily.

But what about utility, I hear you (sensibly of course) say?  How handy (crafty too perhaps) to have our Arts & Crafts heritage, because Morris & Co reverenced what was beautiful and useful; therefore it’s unsurprising that furniture and architecture should be at the heart of the Arts & Crafts movement, with the hand crafting of wood at the centre of both its furniture and its architecture.

Good therefore to learn this week that the suite of furniture at the office for the Secretary of State for Education was designed and made at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in 1960.  I am delighted to hear this from our local MP and now Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.  Edward Barnsley, apprenticed to Lupton after leaving Bedales, made some of the Library furniture.  Edward, carrying on the proud Barnsley tradition of his father Sidney who built the Library to Gimson’s design, carried on working into the 1980s and would no doubt have had a personal hand in this important government commission.  You will recognise the distinctive design of his most famous chair, below.

Edward Barnsley chair - BedalesLeft: chair designed by Edward Barnsley in memory of Basil Gimson and used in the Bedales library. Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, by Roy Wake and Pennie Denton (1993) p.306






Below: the suite of furniture designed by the Barnsley Workshop and used by the Ministry for Education, reproduced by kind permission of the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Barnsley Workshop

New views

Gemma Klein Photography

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday morning and I am sitting on a hard bench in the Lupton Hall listening to the music that precedes our Open Day panel.  I am looking up over the stage out of the Oriel window behind the stage at Scots pine branches that are swaying within this stark round frame.  This is the first time I have sat, listened and looked within the newly reborn Lupton Hall.  With the old curtains stripped away and the original stark beauty of the Lupton Hall now evident, its original conception is clear – and it’s stunning.

The New Hall, as it was originally called, is an integral part of Bedales’ founding, being a product of the friendship and early professional partnership of three of the master-craftsmen of the late Arts and Crafts movement, Geoffrey Lupton, Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley.  In 1911 Lupton asked Gimson to draw up plans for new buildings at Bedales – a hall, library, gym and labs around a large open quadrangle.  The New Hall became the Lupton Hall because Lupton supervised the building  and did most of the work himself; it is also thought that he paid for it himself.   The majesty of our Memorial Library, Gimson’s design but built by Lupton and the Barnsleys (Sidney and his son Edward), has overshadowed the Lupton Hall, but the refurbishment of the latter will, I suspect, re-balance matters.

Our architect, Richard Griffiths, has re-captured the original uncompromising conception of the building: the old curtain and the sloping stage have gone, re-capturing the original volume of the room and enabling the stage to be used for music ensemble practices and for concerts across all three schools.  The view I now enjoy over the stage and out that Oriel window hasn’t been enjoyed for a good 90 years because of the curtain.

Reflecting on this I remember another new view: in April 2006, hard hat on, climbing up amongst the scaffolding to the top floor of the Orchard Building site,  I looked across to the Library and could see the Library’s shape from above and the clerestory windows that you wouldn’t know existed without that perspective. Only birds and passing balloonists had seen that before.

It feels just as good to see a wonderful old building restored as it did to see a new one, like the Orchard Building, opened.

Governors’ Farewell

Our wonderful Memorial Library, setting this morning for an act of commemoration, is a place as serious and beautiful as anywhere here. It is used sparingly for things other than study.  Friday evening was one of those rare other occasions: the Library became the setting for the Governing Board and members of my senior team to say thanks and goodbye over dinner to a quartet of departing governors who had completed their eight years’ service.

Useful and timely therefore to be reminded about what governors do: they appoint heads and bursars; they are the trustees of the school’s values; they oversee the financial management of the school; they bring specialist knowledge in areas like education, property, law, finance and risk; perhaps above all they provide wise and humane sounding boards on all matters.

Way back when (as my American uncle says), a governors’ lot was a relatively ceremonial one and was confined to three full board meetings a year.  Not so now.  Inspection regimes require governors to have a good knowledge of our stack of policies and of the implementation of curriculum and safeguarding; therefore, they need to be more fully involved and more knowledgeable.  They also all serve on sub-committees and some take responsibility for individual areas, such as risk and staff welfare. Within our departing quartet, Francesca Bayliss and Brian Johnson had both chaired our Education Committee which has been such an important element in the development of teaching and learning across our schools.  Daniel Alexander and Tim Parker have likewise made considerable contributions in areas that their expertise in law and business have equipped them so well to do.

These are immensely well qualified and in demand people who are all volunteers.  It was wonderful to have such a fitting opportunity to express the community’s appreciation to them for all they have done for us over the past eight years.

Sixth form choices

Library interior

When Nick Tait, the architect of the AS system and latterly head of Winchester College, laid his AS plans in the late 1990s, the idea was that many students would do five AS Levels. The government really believed this and soldiered on its belief in spite of schools looking at the syllabi, shaking their heads and saying that four would be it. Breadth was everything, as was the desire to give more sixth formers something to take away at the end of a truncated (one year of) sixth form. Modular was king and ruled, allowing many bites at the cherry – so if it’s January or June, you are taking or re-taking exams. Of course, it all settled down after the heady early days – grade inflation roared away. Universities were only ever interested in three good A Levels and for the majority of students, taking four AS Levels in Lower Sixth became a way of having, yes, a teeny bit more breadth but mainly a means of ensuring the you ended up with the right three A Levels in your final year, so people started on four and narrowed to their best three.

It is with this awareness very much in mind that last week’s subject fair for Block 5 (Year 11) parents and students takes place. Things have become much more complicated; this is not because the system is complicated – it will eventually be a simpler system and one that most parents of teenagers are familiar with because they sat it themselves – but because the old AS system and the new A Levels are running alongside each other for several years. In with the new – no modules or re-takes and a test at the end of two years = linear. Out with the old (as above…) but not quite yet.

So, it is Friday and we are all in our beautiful library and on the hunt for the perfect combination – here is Economics – and it’s linear, all shiny and new, so let’s get a sense of what new Peston-like complexities are involved. There is Maths – familiar chap, still waiting in the wings to fledge from modular to linear, but it may not be until 2017 that he is ready to fly, so OK for the time being. The fair is new to us – and we find it useful; so, it seems do our parents. We will do it again next year as next year will still be complicated and there will be yet more subjects which are linear but still some soldiering on as modular.

At half time and over some delicious cakes that our catering manager Dave Greenman and his team have conjured up, I reinforce the mantra that universities will continue to be looking for three good A Levels – and that nothing should get in the way of that.

Encouragingly, Block 5 students and their parents are taken by the idea of the enrichment courses that we will be running alongside the A Levels. This works through a simple principle: the narrower your examined programme, the more enrichment you are required to do – so the three A Levels (from the start) people do maximum enrichment, those doing four A Levels and an extended project, would do very little additional compulsory enrichment as their programme is already broad and full. Many will want to opt into enrichment courses voluntarily, it seems.

The other additional feature that is shaping up well is the three week pre-sixth form session for Block 5s after their IGCSEs are finished in mid-June. This will allow them to take five subjects for that period, enabling them to gain a proper taste of what an A Level is really like. At that same time it will allow their teachers to have them do plenty of skills-based work which will ensure that they are going to be able to manage the technical side of the syllabus. I think that in all it is going to work rather well for us.

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.