Leading independent thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bewitching days here now – steady heat and even a nightingale singing in one of the trees between 50 Church Road and the Village Hall as Moony and I sit on the terrace / patio / stoep as dusk gathers.

Even in the teeth of public exams, there has been fruitful stuff happening in terms of student voice and engagement.

On Monday evening, Josh, a 6.2 student who is close both to the end of his A Levels and to the end of his time at Bedales, gave a talk to the Pudding Club – the gathering of our 3i group.  Josh had chosen to talk about ‘How we learn and what makes us tick’.  His talk reflected on his decade spent within the Bedales Schools and how well he felt that these environments worked  alongside the innate drivers that help us learn and underpin our behaviours: valorisation – the values and behaviour of teachers which students naturally copy and which creates the self-confidence and “willingness to do what’s good” in the students;  the need to find out about the world and how it works, reflecting the “intelligent thinking” that lies at the heart of our education; and finally the sense of wonder, “innate curiosity” that is so closely linked with creativity.

The power of Josh’s talk was shown in the quality of discussion it evoked – clearly what he said had resonated with many of the students in the meeting.

Wednesday’s Jaw was taken by Richie (6.1) and was about music – its use for propaganda and protest.  Beginning with a remarkable film from 1908 of the Marseillaise being sung and the use by the French government of this rousing song (inspired by the need to defend Strasbourg), he went on to talk about the role of the piano in middle class European life, before crossing the Atlantic and involving us in the role of music in the Vargas 1930-42 Brazilian government.  He then made protest music the thread, with Bob Dylan, Martin Garvey and then the extraordinary story of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, set up in Nigeria in the 70s and destroyed by the Nigerian government in February 1977; this was partly in response to the popularity of his protest song Zombie which attacked the mindlessness and power of the Nigerian military.

Student initiatives and talks of this kind are the best kind of inspiration for other students – and all the more powerful coming at a time of year when schools and students tend to be thinking exclusively about exams.

Bluey moods

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last Monday was said to be one of the most depressing days of the year in the annual cycle of morale – any tonic effect of the festive season has dissipated, the days are still short and the costs of Christmas are coming home to roost in credit card bills.  In schools, the harsh reality of mock exam results outline a demanding path ahead.

Here there are some major reasons to perk up and appreciate what we have.  Step out at first light and look up – here are hoar frost mornings in our National Park setting which boost the spirits; walk back across the Orchard at four in the afternoon and admire the warmest of glows on the red-brick Memoral Library front as it catches the last of the day’s sun: “duskily glowing,” to transpose an Edward Thomas phrase.

The other big reason to be cheerful is the annual Rock Show and the final stages of the work that leads up to it.  I will leave a full, music critic’s account to others better qualified, but having now seen all the Rock Shows since they started early in my time – 2004, and with my senses still pleasantly abuzz with last night’s fantastic performance – 2 1/2 hours of sustained music –  here are a few thoughts.

Most importantly, I have no doubt that this event has become one of the most important catalysts and crucibles for student creativity and its accompanying disciplines; and that is saying a lot in in a school often associated with creativity.  The Rock Show is spur and showcase for hours of song writing, music tuition and practice; it is also a vehicle for exploration of how human ingenuity and technology connect.

It is a display of a pretty full spectrum of contemporary music, with jazz, blues, folk and most kinds of rock.  This year, perhaps above any, had an extraordinary range of moods and styles within the individual vocalists.

The Rock Show is an illustration of how well instruments and skills associated with the world of classical music work alongside the contemporary music staples of electric guitars and drums.

It provides the best kind of laboratory for experimentation: take, for example, the moments this year when music whose origins seemed more from the laptop than  the keyboard was being conjured by its creator  (James) with an ingenuity and panache that had as much in common with Gothic sorcery as conventional music.

Lastly, if there is a collective operation that requires teamwork of the highest order and the orderly control of human ego, curiously it is this.

Bravo, musicians, the supporting technical crew and Neil Hornsby.

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful – all have been in good evidence this weekend.

My amble round (accompanied by singular dog) takes in A2 devised drama rehearsals in the theatre, BAC design and Outdoor Work.  The dancers have had a productive weekend choreographing their pieces and are content as I catch them on their way out.  Designers in evidence include Charlie whose beehive-inspired spice rack has been a fiendish thing to create, initially on the computer: now the CAD (computer aided design) machine is in its sixth hour of toil, bringing Charlie’s vision to life.  Chris’ concentration over the metal lathe is palpable as he makes the delicate little legs for his piece. Over in the wood corner, students work in oak and chestnut – here, for example, Izzy’s table is shaping up well as she smooths the legs – there’s an island etched into the top.

Upstairs in Fashion Design and ingenuity is also afoot – who would have thought of a dress with a sumptuous oil spill weaving its way down it?  Nellie has. And doesn’t that Art Deco dress – striking in black – have a beautiful gold-etched design at the top?  Its inspiration is the Chrysler building in New York, I learn, from Emily.

Over in Outdoor Work and they have had a productive weekend too.  The Bridge across to the Lake is becoming a reality, thanks to Talulah, Dylan and Henry S; it looks elegant and sturdy.  I recommend both a plaque and a formal title.  Other fruits of the weekend include a fine piece of hazel fence weaving – courtesy of Ed and Henry F, whose magnificent duck house looks all set to take its place in Marie Antoinette’s garden – and, over by the Black Barn, clever work with the classy pig sty and the egg incubation unit.

But even ahead of all of this in my mental scrap album is a Saturday evening at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield where the Bedales Cecilia Consort joins with Southern Pro Musica.  Conductor Jonathan Willocks, formerly Director of Music at Bedales conducts the combined group in Mozart’s Dixit Dominus, Ave verum corpus and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our choir to work with a professional orchestra, performing to a packed audience in a building with a fine acoustic.

But the evening belongs to the young Bedales cellist, Caleb, whose performance of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C is breathtaking in its virtuosity.  I have seen a number of very fine individual performances in schools but nothing can match this. His performance is the product of a year’s intense practice and focussed learning. It is a stunning result and the encores roll on. Bravo, Caleb!

Big glad day

A whirligig of happenings over the past few days, starting on Friday evening. First jolly – it’s the BPA fundraising party and I am dressed like an old-fashioned, properly messy artist (it being dress, artistic, you see) with a paint patina-ed apron and a droopy silk handkerchief, calling everyone out of the evening sun into the marquee where things are auctioned (sheep, attendance at film premieres, a holiday in Barbados) and Bedalians raise the tone through playing their music, with their mums and dads bopping in front. (Stop press: circa £60K raised – hoorah! and a huge thank you to the brilliant parent volunteers, student helpers, catering staff and generous donors and buyers of prizes.)

Saturday morning, Parents’ Day proper and we’re off: one of the best hours of the year is the first – my quiet, pad around the Art & Design exhibition before anyone else is there and so I can see it all without needing to be polite and, being of course a unitasker, therefore being distracted. So, here’s an amazing face in oils with the most bewitchingly ugly lips, there’s some semi-melted pottery, there (Gallery now) is a molten face shape with a painted face behind, here (Workshop now) is a chair inspired by I.M. Pei (Mr Louvre, I see) and not just any old ruff and bodice but Marie Antoinette-inspired women’s wear.

I could stay here all day, there being so much that is intriguing and beautiful, but no, off to the Dance display where, as an unagile person who had only been coaxed into the briefest of shuffles in my apron, I watch 70 minutes of pieces conjured from the minds of dance students and their inspiring teachers – Rosie Nash and Liz Richards. But, can’t dawdle too long because it is well after noon and Moony and I are scampering over the Mem Pitch to be part of the opening of the Kadian Observatory – the bit of the day that I will always remember: Kadian’s friends, builders of this observatory, now well grown up, stand proudly in front of this beautiful mini rotunda as Peter Coates, Michael Truss, Thomas Harding speak before Kadian’s sister Sam cuts the ribbon and it is open – a wonderful memorial to Kadian and one that will inspire more wonder.

Then, scuttling back to the Theatre to find it hosting the scratch drama Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, a powerful piece using actors across the community, with an urgent message about the prevalence of Aids and its continuing impact. Lunch will need to wait as the drumbeat summons us to the farewell to Tony Layzell, drum teacher here for 27 years and former drummer with The Bachelors, a group who my parents shuffled to, I think. Music of another kind beckons and past the massed picnics of the Orchard we go to the Library where, amongst the fine exhibition of OB maps and photos, we find Clare Jarmy‘s madrigalists singing to us from the upstairs balcony: timeless, ethereal…But, though the spirit is buoyed up and willing sustenance is needed and a brief pit-stop required, but brief it must be because, although there is a light shower, the musicians are probably singing by Steephurst now, which they were, but truncated by a refreshing shower. The roaming barbershop quartet (dressed in their bespoke waistcoats designed by singer-designer Alex Y) helpfully sing to the assembled marquee to help still them so I can announce the Swaziland raffle winners. Then it is OBs in the pigeon-hole cafe for a quick welcome and pep talk – will see them later at their 10th and 25th year reunions – and presentations to four long-serving colleagues who have reached the 25 year watershed – John Barker (Arts Coordinator), David McClunan (Sports Facility Maintenance Technician), John Scullion (Deputy Managing Head) and Peter Coates (Head of Outdoor Work).

The last daylight stop is to the Summer Concert where we start in the Quad with the guttural chords of Carmina Burana and end in Boys’ Flat courtyard with the delicacy of Sir John Taverner’s ThLamb. The most striking feature of the concert is the series of virtuoso performances by a quartet of outstandingly capable musicians who have given so much to school music over their four or five years. Here is Olivia B’s melodically lamenting Cleopatra; there is Daniel R, rapt with concentration over his double bass (Vivaldi’s Sonata III), Callum A, feet and hands a blur on the organ (J. S.Bach’s Toccata in F); Josh G tackling a clarinet piece designed to be of fiendish complexity to challenge the most able (Messager’s Solo de Concours) and Immy W bringing across Bernstein’s complex blend of classical pastiche and contemporary musical styles (Glitter and be Gay). A big, glad day.

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.

A spectrum of cultural influences

Central to John Badley’s view of education was the idea, unusual for the time, that a civilizing environment was integral to a child’s development; so surrounding yourself with good things – conversation, music, architecture and art – was vital. As well as feeling that he would have approved of the stimulating range of activities that made up the recent Badley Celebration Weekend, I feel that the spectrum of cultural influences brought to bear on Bedales students already this term, simply through visitors, would meet the most demanding Badleyan criteria: Sir Terence Conran talking design last week and OB concert pianist Martino Tirimo last night; less mainstream but still influential would be a Civics one man show, dramatising the life of poet and cleric John Donne and the inimitable talk in the theatre prior to the debate on GM foods on Saturday night by forager  Robin Harford. The influence of experiencing talks like these is, of course, immeasurable, but at the very least you come away with a sense of the multiplicity of human talents and the range of different ways through which livings and lives are made.


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.

Reflecting on 33 years of teaching at Bedales

There are all sorts of ways that a community listens to itself – one is through assemblies and Jaws from people who bring a long perspective and accrued insight to bear. I think back to former head Tim Slack’s Jaw when he talked about what it was like being a young head at Bedales with Mr Badley living in Fairhaven. Another such occasion was last night when Graham Banks reflected on what has changed and what has remained the same since he joined Bedales 33 years ago. These are rare occasions – a teacher thinking aloud about his time in a way uncluttered by disenchantment or the need for any self-aggrandizement. One of the strong early influences on Graham was an older teacher called George Smith with whom Graham only briefly coincided but who, as a Quaker, encouraged reflection – partly through his style of talking to the school but also through his use of silent reflection at the end of his assemblies.

What has changed? Buildings – mainly for the better, a theatre which has transformed the school’s creative life and new classrooms where you are no longer very cold in winter and too hot in summer. The size of the school (from about 350 to 455) and where we meet – the Quad was an open space, used mainly for socializing, with only occasional seats and all assemblies happened in the Lupton Hall. All boarding boys were in the main school building and looked down into the Quad. The weekends – most boarders stayed at school for each half of the term.

What has stayed the same?  The quality of music – still happily very high. The generosity of spirit towards helping others – something that Graham has in his final years here worked very hard to foster, especially through his work as head of Outreach with the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative and the fundraising initiatives that have followed it. The warmth of relationships and the friendly, informal atmosphere which he noticed, even at interview in the summer holidays almost 33 years ago, and which attracted him to the place. Is a tendency amongst some students to look to cut corners and take advantage of the trust and friendly atmosphere a necessary price to pay? Perhaps. The enduring quality and impact of visiting speakers, especially at Civics, has led to Graham missing few – even before he took over the running of these thought-provoking and humanising talks. So, students, take advantage of these things. Finally, another evergreen thing – the self-absorption of the adolescent nature which, provided that selfishness is kept at bay as much as possible, provides the backdrop for the swift changes that occur during teenage years and which make working with adolescents so fulfilling and intriguing.

Sitting and listening to Graham’s final assembly and touched on his behalf by long applause afterwards, I found myself wondering if, in 32 years time, a departing member of staff will refer back to the impact that hearing a legendary older teacher talk to the school in a reflective and wise way had on him or her.

Graham Banks

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.

AS drama and three schools music

Sunday sees our AS Drama groups in from 10 working with Phil King and Lyndsey Turner, an assistant director from the RSC, who is bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the monologues and duologues that these 6.1 students are preparing for the examiner’s assessment on Tuesday. A busy week for them as they have their scripted pieces on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as well. I arrive as Vincent Z’s Aston (from Pinter’s Caretaker ) is giving us his harrowing account of being lobotomised. Inspired thinking to bring someone else in to give these final stages of preparation additional edge and fizz. Lyndsey’s approach is to encourage them to relax into their own performance and their own interpretation, rather than their thinking that somewhere out there is a perfect musical score that they should be following. A musical score of a different and more gregarious kind is in evidence on Monday as, for the first time for a while, we assemble strings players from across the 3-18 spectrum to play together in the Quad. You cannot underestimate the effect of having to look up and play “up” to a senior expert student in your field. This kind of occasion is designed to deploy that kind of powerful effect and to capture it on film.

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.