Living history

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

James GS and Mike Sadler cropIf a 97 year old man tells 15 year olds what he was doing when he was at Bedales in 1935  (aged 15, being taught Latin by John Badley) he is recounting his experience from 82 years ago.  If one of those 15 year olds lives to be 97 and talks about this (hearing the 97 year old in 2017) he or she will be talking in 2099 about hearing of the events that happened 164 years before, on the eve of the  Second World War.

The first bit of this scenario happened on Tuesday evening in my house when Mike Sadler, not only an Old Bedalian aged 97 (which puts him in a smallish club), but also one of the earliest members of the SAS (which puts him in an even smaller club).  I have listened to many intriguing people with extraordinary things to tell, but I cannot think of anything that could match this.

Mike, a slim and remarkably jaunty figure (pictured, right with Head Boy, James Grout-Smith), is surrounded by nine students and seven adults listening to him recounting his experience – from the latter stages of his Bedales career, through his initial contact with David Sterling, Paddy Mayne and the other founding members of the SAS, to the expedition to the Antarctic he undertook (with Mayne) following his war service.  We start shortly after 6pm and finish just before 9pm, with a brief break for something to eat.

Mike’s lively mind, interest in others, courtesy and sense of fun are palpable.  He has a brief tour of the school.  Interesting to think that the Memorial Library would have just opened when he was born.  He tells me that in his day there was a rather smelly generator where our smart reception now is.  His memory for where things are is legendary – as befits someone who was a brilliant navigator, who could direct a raiding party 100 miles across the desert in the dark simply by using the stars.

He shares his stories with a twinkle and, yes, a sense of fun.  His account of escaping from the white- hatted Afrika Corps and managing to get his jeep back to the Qatarra Depression was “an amusing incident”.  He describes his famous 100 mile, four day walk from Gabes to Tozeur, with only a goatskin tied together with bootlaces as a water container with an insouciance and twinkle that make light of it.  Other incidents, which sound as scary as scary gets, are described with a sense of fun and adventure.

When asked what he misses most about those days he says “so many interesting people”.    Mike’s independence of mind, willingness to question, delight in innovation and enjoyment of teamwork all found their home in those formative early years in the SAS.  It was the biggest of privileges for all of us lucky enough to meet him and hear him at his old school.

Young creatives’ thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I finished my ramblings last week saying that the Young Creative Leaders session at the HMC conference was for me the most stimulating.  Why?

Three entrepreneurs, who had left school in the last 12 years or so, talked about the so-called millennial generation’s aspirations – what are young professionals looking for in their lives and how can we prepare them?  Lizzie Fane, founder of Third Year Abroad and Global Graduates, Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble and Charlotte Pearce, founder of Inkpact made up the panel.

The threads that emerged from their session resonated strongly with what I hear from their contemporaries who are OBs and my own three children who are of that generation.

  • Do something you love, something that you find fulfilling, that makes you feel alive
  • Find something that gives you the satisfaction of seeing something through
  • Spend as much time as possible seeking out different experiences, especially through travel: this will help you spot a problem that you could solve through your business
  • Look out for the ways that “digital nomads” make their livings – people who have found ways of earning money whilst living in different places: technology transforms things
  • Enjoy having control over your time; you can share working space with other creatives
  • Look for all opportunities whilst at school to take new things on, take risks, work out practical solutions for yourself, even if you seem to be one of the awkward squad
  • Building a business is all about being able to inspire people with an idea and keep them motivated – look for chances to do this at school
  • Schools need to help students understand the business basis for schools through showing them how a school needs to operate.

Interesting to reflect on the influence of their parents in all this.  The cultural, social and financial capital of their parents has been a factor in enabling them to take these risks and start their businesses. But what is also interesting is that the millennials’ determination to have greater autonomy over their lives and give greater emphasis to their personal fulfilment is partly a reaction to seeing their parents disgruntled by their work – within the corporate world in the cases cited here.

All the above are handy reminders as we look at how the Bedales experience evolves and especially how we create the right spaces to enable our students to take responsibility and risks within a safe environment.

Being as open with students as possible concerning how their school is run and how decisions are reached is part of that.  An element of this is our annual Governors’ Question Time.  Mirroring Headmaster’s Question Time which happens termly, the Governors’ one has three governors in the panel with me in the Dimbleby role.

Last night most of the questions take the three governors – Matthew Rice, Tim Wise and Michele Johnson – into suitable areas which help show their role – areas such as how the school spends its income, reviews decisions I make and what are the next building projects.  Afterwards, School Council has a session with them.  These things should help increase our students’ understanding of how their school works – and by extension give them a better insight into how complex institutions and businesses operate.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers Matter

In the wake of Professor Stephen Hawking’s testimony to the influence of his Maths teacher from St Alban’s School, we have our very own Professor Alan Lucas, former student of Dunhurst and Bedales, giving us a powerful account of how an inspirational Bedales Biology teacher, Andrew Routh, changed his life.

The occasion was Civics, when Alan Lucas, speaking to students and parents, told the story of his extraordinary journey of ground-breaking research into paediatric nutrition.  In the audience was Andrew Routh, aged 91, the Biology teacher who had particularly inspired Alan during the later stages of his time at Bedales in the early 1960s.

Gemma Klein Photography

OB Alan Lucas with his former teacher, Andrew Routh

Alan’s description of the Damascene moment when his weak academic trajectory started to climb was particularly telling: his Physics teacher, Bill Crocker, sees him dawdling over a piece of work and gives him a strong verbal prod – “Who do you think you’re doing it for, me? No, you’re doing it for yourself.”  That comment changed his whole approach to school, making him an early riser and hard worker: it changed his life; he then went on to outstrip the two other undergraduates on the same course at Clare College, Cambridge who had been to a school with a much more “coercive, carrot-dangling ethos.”  Alan put his success down to this formula:  “inspiring teaching + life-changing self-motivating remark + freedom to develop in my own way.”

Currently Chair of Paediatric Nutrition at UCL and Fellow of Clare College, Alan has been instrumental in changing the way that babies all over the world are fed through alerting the medical world, not only to the importance of breast-feeding but to the effects of early nutrition on long term health and development.  The advice being given to nations across the world – whether by their own governments or by the World Health Organisation – is influenced by his work.

Like Stephen Hawking, Alan extolled the importance of inspirational teaching – both the kind he had here but also at university where university academics need to have the excellent presentational skills that the best teachers deploy. His advice to the students “If a teacher inspires you, try to analyse how they do it, because that is a great thing to learn.”

Alan spoke briefly last night about what he did when he won the James Spence medal for life-time achievement in British paediatrics.  When I talked with him in the autumn he told me the full story.  As soon as he had won this award, he phoned up Andrew Routh and told him “We’ve won a medal.”  He then drove down to Hampshire to see Andrew to show him the medal, congratulate him, thank him and, as he said last night: “We had a moment then.”

For any of us lucky enough to spend time with Alan and Andrew last night, it is difficult to feel anything other than gratitude for the power of great teaching and life-altering scientific research.

biology Andrew Routh 446 (002)

Andrew Routh during his teaching days at Bedales

Nailing it

Want straight-talking no-nonsense advice on looking after yourself or, if you have stumbled or waltzed into parenthood, your child?  Call Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading adolescent and child psychologists.  We are lucky: he has chosen to visit his old school – Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst – 51 years after he left, after a brief but happy stay as (yes..) a seven year old boarder.

Having spent Monday evening with Michael, heard the positive ripples from the seminar he led with Bedales and Dunhurst pastoral staff in the afternoon and seen him in action in his illuminating lecture in the Bedales theatre in the evening, I can see why he is such an influential and sought after figure in the topical area of adolescent wellbeing and mental health

Like the best teachers, he clearly likes, understands and relishes working with young people.  There’s no whiff of condescension.  There’s no beating around any bush or ducking any issue.  That look on the face of an outraged teenage girl when her parent has told her that she cannot have what she wants is memorably named by Michael in the title of his best-selling book – Princess Bitchface Syndrome.  We might think it – he says it.  In his clunky terminology, nailed.

Parents’ occasional, supine feebleness over things digital is also nailed: “Find your digital spine!” he exhorts; if what your youngster is telling you s/he should be able to do is clearly against their wellbeing, forbid them!

Likewise nailed are things that anyone who has worked with children and been a parent knows intuitively.  For me, one powerful truth is foremost in my mind: the value of what he calls “islands of competence” or sparks.  This is what educators see on a daily basis: the impact on a young person’s life – and therefore wellbeing in the broadest sense – of something catching their interest, energy and ultimately passion.  Michael talked with typical humour about his son’s passion for leg-spin bowling. It could just as easily be the violin or blacksmithing or tennis or Beowulf or the guitar or cross-country running or running your own car-washing business.  The role of schools and parents is to create the environment which gives children plenty of choice – and then to allow the child to fan the spark into a fire, cheering on what they do.

Sometimes it takes a while to see the effect of those islands of competence or sparks.  Intriguing then on the night following Michael’s talk to be at one of our first Old Bedalian gatherings based on a particular career area – in this case Art and Design.  So, I and colleagues far better qualified to be there – Art and Design teachers above all – have such an enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours in a (stylish, hipsterish) place under a rumbling arch by Waterloo.   Here are around 100 OBs – aged 19 upwards –  who have made their ways in areas connected with Art and Design.  Many conversations go back to those moments at school when a spark caught – and the fires keep burning and burning.

Trains of thought

It’s Percy, of course, I now realise, as I have a quick search for what the green one is called – the Tank Engine, of course – that I nearly trod on when I came across it lying on its side when going towards Emma’s Walk this morning: a stray, be-dewed green engine, dropped from a passing stroller or by a toddler. I lift the lost toy reverentially and stand it off the path on a nearby tuft so that the bereft youngster has a chance of a joyful reunion. Having seen with one of our offspring how Percy, Thomas & Co were instrumental in spurring him initially into speech, I hold these toys in high esteem. The first time we heard anything spoken by him from a book was when he came out with an impromptu chunk from Thomas the Tank Engine. Well done Rev Awdry.

Inspiration is a funny old thing and I find myself musing on this in the light of a series of events over the past week.

The first is an occasion that I don’t attend, because it might cramp the participants’ style; that is the evening that our 6.2s have with nine Old Bedalians who are ten years on. I hear – both from 6.2s and from the 6.2 housestaff – that this was inspirational and thought-provoking, dealing as it did with the passions that students seek to follow and the challenge we all have of trying to match your passions with a way of making a living and feeling that you are doing something worthwhile. The range of OBs included roles which people (wrongly) don’t always associate with the school, such as lawyers with top London firms and a fast-track civil servant.DSC_0012 (Large)

The second is a conversation I had with an OB who was back for the reunion of those who left the school between 1963 and 1967. Eminent now in his own scientific field, he talks about how it was a single reprimand from his biology teacher that set him going. Trying to make excuses for not having done a prep, as if he had failed to do it for the teacher, he was met by a gruff riposte: “Well who do you think you are doing the work for? It’s not for me, it’s for you…”  The further, inspirational teaching from another biology teacher was what gave him the momentum that carried him through his degree at Cambridge and then his research.

The third is seeing Lela & Co, a new play by Cordelia Lynn (who left Bedales in 2007) at the Jerwood Theatre (Royal Court). This is a powerful piece of work which has been extremely well reviewed. You will need to work hard to get a ticket as it finishes on 3 October. Dealing with sex-trafficking, the effect of war on human relations and the nature of relations between men and women, it is a beautifully nuanced piece which cleverly avoids being preachy and maintains such a fine balance between the cheeriness of the central female role and the ghastliness of her experience. Catch it if you can. If not, look out for the next play from this rising OB talent.

25 year celebration

Bedales-Gallery-25-daniel-day-lewisSunday brought both a celebration of 25 good years and a foretaste of the forthcoming week.

In our Gallery, a convivial lunchtime gathering initiates the celebration of 25 years of exhibitions. On view is a suitably eclectic and high quality range of artefacts from the last 25 years’ exhibitors: from a Richard Seymour motorbike, Blakes (Peter and Quentin) to the exquisite ceramics of Felicity Aylieff, who taught at Bedales in the early 80s. It is a fitting reminder of how unusually lucky we have been as a school to have the opportunity to host such a range of artists and designers.

Then to the Olivier Theatre to see it in its most lively phase of the year, as well over a hundred Dunhurstians congregate under the alchemist spell that is Simon Kingsley-Pallant’s direction in the final stages of The Land of the Flying Dragon, the Blocks’ play. Stephen Yorke’s design and Ben Harlan’s music are additional reasons to look forward to the performances later this week. In the meantime, the oak-framed crucible that is our theatre hums with productive activity of a remarkably calm, co-operative and harmonious kind, given the nature of the challenge and the complexity of the moving parts.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis, Ireland, 1989 photographed by Alistair Morrison.
(exhibited in Bedales Gallery 25)


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.