Teaching: place and people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Teaching’s especially on my mind as the term’s start coincides with summer warmth.  Sunday’s assembly for freshly returned boarders allows me to talk about the way this place can spur us to engage both with each other and to think differently.  My seasonal higher education talk mid week is about how inquisitiveness – fostered here and then furthered in higher education – is the motor for lifelong learning: being interested in stuff makes you more interesting, both to yourself and to others.  Take advantage of these amazing opportunities – Roger Penrose ‘n all.

Teaching is important to headship – for your own wellbeing as well as showing others that you are as much a teacher yourself as someone gesturing in the distance in order to get others to do things and (you trust) make the right things happen.  So by Thursday lunchtime, I have met two new classes (a Block 3 and a Block 1) and taught some Chaucer (suitably enough “When April with his shoures soote…) and some Larkin  (Cut Grass).

I have also done some learning as finally I manage to coincide with sausage-making, seeing the outdoor work team and a Block 5 student in action in the Bakehouse.   Here is the pork (double minced), the rusk (gluten-free) and the seasoning – all nicely mixed in water and ready to be fed into the proverbial sausage machine – delicate job this bit and best not described too intricately so I will move on.

Last thing and I am watching Living with the Brainy Bunch (BBC), which, although billed as an interesting account of the effect of parental influence on students’ progress, is as much about the power of patient, encouraging, determined teaching.  Jack is something of a detention king (105 last year, he says with a smile) and Holly goes walkabout in her lessons, more through fear of failure than anything else.  Both are moved from their low expectation homes to the homes of high-performing students with whose parents have high expectations.  Academic achievement and self-esteem improve.  Jack’s smile and demeanour at the end say as much as his much improved Maths score.

But most on my mind is the telling conjunction of two extraordinary Bedales teachers, sadly now dead, who were Bedales teaching colossi and who inspired generations of students:  Ruth Whiting, who died last Friday and who taught History here from 1963 to 2000, returning after that to invigilate and do amazing work with the archives, in particular commemorating the OB dead of the First World War; and John Batstone,  Head of English from 1968-1993, who died in December but whose memorial service takes place tomorrow.   Testimony to the power of great teaching abounds in the way in which these two are remembered by their students.

New England colours

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Sharp early morning: clear skies, true red dawn and a decent frost as floppy Labrador, relieved that the worst of the fireworks are over, scampers over the fields.  Trees have stopped pretending they’re in a New England Fall and become more authentically Old Hampshire.

It’s a big day over there and I am thinking about USA current and past: the pineapple that my Scottish ex-pat great uncle used to send us from Hawaii each Christmas and which used to look forlorn and dismal sitting on our dining table when it arrived eventually in Lancashire, often well after Christmas. It was as exotic as it was unappetising: I think it found its way to the compost heap, only nominally nibbled. One of my Scottish uncles had followed that great uncle, starting on his pony supervising the pineapple fields and, after time fighting in Okinawa, ended up in a senior position in head office in dreamy San Francisco.  Today, we have our inaugural Kadian Harding Lecture – as it happens a Professor of Astronomy from the University of Hawaii, Gareth Wynn-Williams.

Like many people, I have found myself drawn to the USA – in my final year at school an English Speaking Union scholar became one of my best friends and I travelled around the USA with him the following year, seeing his country through his eyes as well as mine.  When I had the chance to do a year’s teaching exchange I went to California and visited a whole range of schools and universities, both in the West and East. Educationally I think that much of the best thinking is going on over there.

Returning in 2007 (the glory moment of $2 to £1) to New York with my family I saw it through the eyes of my children.  In 2012 I went back in order to visit a number of New England schools, but in particular to attempt to set up exchanges with two – Groton and Putney.  This visit also involved visiting schools which are part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Research Schools International (RSI) network.

So, with the additional purpose of firming up links with Manhattan schools which now qualify as feeder schools, Moony and I spent the five days of half term over there in the glorious bright late October sun and colours: as well as visiting two feeder schools, Groton and Putney (where we saw our Block 4s in action) we visited five higher education places: Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University (NYU), Brown University and Yale University.  There is something about being in that part of the USA, with Boston as its epicentre, which arguably has no rivals as being the cauldron of world scholarship, which is stimulating.  It is not just that the resources are so phenomenal, but it is the work ethic that goes hand in hand with it and gives one such a strong sense of opportunity.  Financial support, even for overseas applicants, is generous at Yale and it is difficult not to see time as an undergraduate or a graduate in any of these places as very desirable.

The OB network gives you a particular insight into this: Robbie Ward (2007-16) in his Freshman year at NYU in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Kate Teale (1978-80), artist and teacher at Parsons; Jonathan Klein (1978-79), Chair and Co-Founder of Getty Images; Ben Polak (1975-80), Provost of Yale.

Whatever happens today, the educational colossus that is New England will power on – and I imagine that there will be nothing but growth in the number of Bedales students who look in that direction.

The careers of Old Bedalians

OBs keep popping up in unexpected places. Thursday early evening, Gym-time, springing (well, almost) onto the treadmill for a circuit run between wrestling with sundry machines, there on Meridian is Freddie Green (left 2007), taking part in an item that follows a group of young people who have been seeking work over the past year and who have been discussing their plans with Meridian and various employers. Freddie looks every part the clean-shaven proto-executive, which is, happily, what he is on the way to becoming: now armed with his Imperial Physics degree, he has a job with IBM. Congratulations, Freddie.  Saturday evening and, unexpectedly, Moony and I find tickets for the Mark Rylance Twelfth Night at the Apollo; so there we are watching Johnny Flynn (left 2001) playing Viola/Cesario in this all male production that had its creative genesis in the Globe in 2002. Strongly recommended, by the way. That afternoon he was playing Lady Anne to Rylance’s Richard III, so on the versatility stakes, it is also quite a feat. Then, back here, again having a static run on Sunday morning, I find Sophie Dahl (left 1994) repeated from Saturday Kitchen telling me about her ideal indulgent day’s menus. Top nosh for breakfast is the Arnold Bennett omelette, which sounds very appealing. Before we get to lunch, however, sadly, another machine  has beckoned and I miss out on the next two pieces of culinary exotica. Sophie’s plans are very appealing – she looks set to inherit some of the kingdom of Nigella, I think; but although my lotus-eater side is intrigued by that mixture of haddock, cheese and an omelette that thinks it might be a souffle, the outdoorsy me finds the draw of Valentine Warner’s hands on catch-it-cook-it approach yet more attractive.

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.

Cymbelines and cinema

The weekend is dominated by several Cymbelines and plenty of Cinema: English teacher Diana Walsgrove’s production at Havant is seen by a number of students on Friday and Saturday, some of whom are at the Shakespeare Society’s reading of the play at my house on Sunday. Sunday evening and anyone who’s anyone is in the Lupton Hall at the Bedales Film Festival 2012 where at least 15 films are watched by an appreciative audience and panel of judges including me. Some have been carefully put together over months; some, more Blair Witch Project than high budget, have resulted from the determined and frantic efforts of a wet Sunday afternoon. The range is therefore wide but the standard is impressive and shows a significant tick up from last year. Toby G’s remarkable account of the time he and his two OB brothers spent in the wilds of the Yukon is the  winner. Tarquin R’s sensitive account of an old man’s fading musical powers and the spoof silent melodrama involving Celeste M, Georgie D and Rufus R are also deservedly in the top 3. Entirely student-led, colourfully and cleverly masterminded by Fred A and, now in its 3rd year, the Film Festival is one of many beacons to student initiative and creativity.

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.