Seasonal cycles

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early before the day bakes up;  literal black dog is jaunty as we walk  from Church Road, through the semi-natural Steep woods and up to the base of the Hangers, enjoying the whiff of wild garlic and a family of Canada geese in the small pond above the mill lade; we return via All Saints’ churchyard’s cluster of wild poppies and our own domestic creatures – russety pot-bellied pigs rootling and Black Rock hens taking the late dawn air as we return home via Outdoor Work’s handsome vernacular family of buildings, now joined by their big svelte cousin, Art & Design.   Agricultural cycles and care for the land been always been in my family’s marrow: the resonances with the educational world I inhabit are especially striking at this juncture in the year.

Last week I spent half an hour with the 10 new teachers who will join Bedales in September at the start of their induction day.  I talk, as I did with the new head student team, about trusteeship: so, we are all trustees of something much larger than we can ever be – a school’s culture, its better habits and instincts – and our responsibility must be to hand it on in better shape than we found it.  As well as giving them confidence in keeping to the high standards that most of them have established already in the craft of teaching, I alert them to the particularly high expectations that our students have of mutually trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their teachers.  This is, I say, the most important and influential thing we have and something that they can and will in time find powerfully nourishing.

There is a palpable sense of expectation in the room – this talented crop of teachers with their energy, optimism and passions!  Of course, as the obscure saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding, but I leave the room feeling buoyed up, thinking that the school is lucky to attract such people and I am lucky to be able to see them start their Bedales journey.

“Life is a casting off”, so says Linda Loman in Miller’s great reflection on working life, Death of a Salesman, which I am delighted to see our Block 3s writing about as I nose around amongst their end of year exams on Monday morning.  These young people, less frisky but a bit more knowledgeable than they were in September,  have entertained their parents to a Saturday lunch virtually all grown or raised (“Happy Pigs” – see photo, above, which accompanies the barbecue) during this academic season by each tutor group under the careful, farmerly and pastoral eye of their Badley tutor.

Casting of a different kind is being contemplated as news of next term’s school play being a musical filters out.

Teachers retire and move on or back to places from where they came.  And we are now in the season of staff goodbyes, which are going on out of the public eye before the more formal, collective events of the end of term.

Amongst the students, the Block 5s have returned following their GCSEs and are having a week of taster lessons so that they have the best chance of choosing the right (generally) three A Levels.  I find myself in one such lesson where the class is being asked to match Greek statues of different eras with vases of a similar age.  Discussions of musculature, naturalism and the constraints of each  genre are a taste of how gripping and formative great sixth form teaching can be.  Plenty of good stuff for us all to look forward to.

Today’s eye

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Up early this morning and catching the end of the farming programme, where discussion is all about how to sell food to millennials, who relish the authentic, unlike smug baby boomers like me who have occasional cravings for those sweetly synthetic sausages that on a good day you found in your beanz.  Reading yesterday’s paper on the train I finally read an article by George Monbiot on the connection between immersion in a virtual world and the rise of fascism and racism (our greatest peril? Screening ourselves off from the real world).   Thinking about the way the natural world impinges on our lives, I read in Country Diary’s account from Wenlock Edge that the origin of our homely word daisy is from the Anglo Saxon daes eage or day’s-eye and that a group of nuthatches is called a gidding.  I find delightful links like this as reassuring as crumbling soil between my fingers or hearing our Head of Outdoor Work, Andrew Martin, refer to the birth of his own daughter  in the same breath as our sow’s farrowing (“our little piglet has been joined by other little piglets…”).  The pungency of the world of real experience surpasses the virtual.

Reassuring too, to think over the cheering encounters of my week; yes, of course, alongside some more quotidian concerns, but reminding me of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

A Monday evening that finished listening to our senior literary society discussing Paradise Lost under the guidance of Head of English David Anson in his house.  For many it was their first encounter with Milton’s magic and insights were strong.  Tuesday evening brought a gathering of former students at the Royal College of Surgeons who are making their careers in STEM areas, from those in the higher reaches of academe to recent leavers tussling with Maths degrees or about to start out on their first engineering job.  Wednesday brings the two Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) devised Drama performances.  Based on the ideas of Space and Time, their exploration of complex and difficult ideas (mental illness, drugs, identity, perspective) is brought across with an impressive grasp both of theatre’s many resources but also of the power of collaboration. Rough magic at work, with brain and heart mining into the soil of experience to powerful effect.

All this is shot through with lots of conversations and other messages about my decision, announced on Monday, that in July 2018, I will pack up this particular kitbag and saunter off to pastures new.  Lots of heartening and flattering things, yes.  However, premature nostalgia is almost as bad as premature goodbyes, so here’s a resolution: to do my best to avoid the sentimental and any further mention of leaving in these missives in the intervening 17 months.  There’s much to do and relish in the interim.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.

Live things

Being away can be stimulating; being back always is.  Evening events and livestock seem to be the two themes of the last few days.

Take last night’s Global Awareness Jaw. Led by Block 5 reporting back on their visit to Woodstock School, Mussourie, India; it began with an extraordinary piece of music composed by Richie and music teacher Giacomo Pozzuto, with Richie on the tabla* and Giacomo on the oboe.  All of the students who went to this remarkable spot, perched on the Himalaya, have a hand in the composition of the presentation and three head it up.  Amongst the various memories that will anchor in the young minds watching, I suspect the spell cast by the sight and sound of tabla and oboe – the interplay of  East and Western musical traditions – will feature most.

Other evening excitements included Sunday’s Professional Guidance department presentation to 6.1 parents on Higher Education: primarily about university entry, it’s an encouraging picture that we present – not only of some of the most sought after universities being able to offer more places to candidates who gain ABB or above at A Level, but of the increasing proportion of our students gaining places at Russell Group universities.  It is the start of the cycle for the new 6.1s.  Next week I will give my annual assembly to the school on higher education, as the most important message is the old adage:  hard work + passion for your chosen subjects + working closely with your teachers = success; and the earlier that starts, the greater the success – and the more enjoyable the journey.

Tuesday evening and I am entertaining a group of fellow headteachers (collective name possibilities, a swelling of heads or a lakh of principals), initially to a meeting and then to dinner at 50 Church Road.  The 86 Group, 20 years old now, comprises 16 schools from across the south east who have enough in common and who enjoy each other’s company enough to meet termly to discuss things of common interest.  Trust and humour are the glue. Meetings of heads of 86 group schools’ departments also happen and are generally handy.  Sitting in the alcove at No 50, the evening light on the great oak tree is particularly wonderful and the birdsong stunning.

Which takes me on to livestock.  The new lambs are in Butts’ Field now and (yes, honestly) are gambolling in the evening sunlight as I walk back from home after Jaw and chat to some Block 3 boys about why lambs like going into the wooden shelter that our alpacas so scorned.  We will all feel easier about the lambs’ transition along the food chain (mint sauce is the clue here) when the time comes, because they have not been named.

This is not the case with the new quartet of 50 Church Road hens, who have recently been named.  Unlike their predecessors, who were uniformly brown, either Waitrose rejects or rescue hens, depending on how you spin it, these are proper, svelte and gorgeous young creatures, a mere few weeks old and full of adolescent preening, with a good three of four years of productive laying ahead.   Given the hopes that we pin on them, the capital outlay (x 6 of their predecessors) and their splendid distinguishing plumage and general pomp, we take the bold step of naming.  Following a brief and entirely frivolous What’s App consultation with our own offspring, they are named: Snowy (the white one), Bluebell (bluish and that’s her breed and its bluebell time in Steep woods), Chicken (brown and looks like one) and Chardonnay, after the memorable character in Footballers’ Wives, Series 1, who was herself named after the over-worked varietal type of the extravagant 80s.  I trust that they are all going to behave, especially Chardonnay.

 

*NB The left hand plays the bass on the wider drum called the “dugga” and the right hand plays the lead drums on the “tabla”. Together, the drums are also called “tabla”.

Classy Dawns

Out early with singular black dog into the most spectacular crisp morniKEITH BUDGE 8.3.16ng and dawn light.   The corny term, roseate glow, does actually (and I suppose literally) apply as I see for the first time the five clean cut gable ends of the new Art & Design building sharply defined against the backdrop of a most stunning dawn sky, layered in strips of red and grey, behind them – the big gable neighbouring Steephurst first then the four smaller ones beside.

Ambling past the theatre there is a clunky splash as eight Canada geese shuffle off their bank roost and onto the lake.  Walking along by Emma’s Walk, I applaud the fine work the pigs have done in clearing up the scrubby land beneath the trees and – again, pig-induced good stuff by our Outdoor Work department – the classy, arts and crafts sty that sits alongside the Black Barn, where, in another snug sty, Angelica is standing admiring her eight piglets who are in a big snuggle in the corner.

Up on the Mem Pitch the first sun is on the Hangers and the singular black dog is playing her only game of collecting tennis balls. Whilst some dogs are said to mourn the loss of a long-time companion, she doesn’t seem to have noticed: ball and food and all is well.  Her bygone companion Ailsa managed at least 13 out of the 15 Ullswater trips that have happened in my time – a sound attendance record and, as they say, a good innings.

Walking back, that stunning red sky has gone and I think back to another great dawn – Ullswater 2014 – when those of us lucky enough to be camping high up above the lake woke to a blanket of cloud beneath, as seen here with dogs providing foreground.