Digital divergence

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Get 15 heads in discussion about the use of mobile phones in their schools and you will get 15 views; get 467 Bedales students in a symposium and you will certainly have plenty of divergent views.

On Tuesday, at the meeting of our heads’ cluster group (the 86 Group) each head described the policy towards daytime use in each of their schools: the range is from prohibition to full acceptance.

On Wednesday, we had our first whole school symposium for a long time.  I started symposiums off here as a replacement to the whole school meetings which had taken place from time to time. The shortcomings of the whole school meetings was that there was no method to garnering the views of all and the voices of the most confident and vocal older students would be bound to predominate.  This symposium, led by Head Students Maisie, Ritchie, James and Scarlett, was preceded by an online questionnaire which engaged students in the issues and provided some very useful findings which were produced at the start of the plenary session and helped shape the debate that ensued.

The next stage will be for some of the key proposals to be discussed in School Council over the next few weeks.  What is clear is that there is sufficient  appetite for some change.  As with the best change here, it will occur because there has been informed discussion with the community’s welfare at its heart – in this case through the questionnaire, symposium and the resulting discussions.

The best kind of behavioural change happens when there is a consensus about what is reasonable, considerate and decent behaviour towards other members of the community.  At the heart of this must be the primacy of the living, breathing people that surround you in the flesh, not the distracting digital image or text.

Listening to the Bedales community

In assembly on Wednesday, I talk about different ways that a community like ours listens to itself: lots that happens internally via School Council, student committees, students on staff committees, head’s and governors’ question times etc; but the new kid of the block is the whole school and whole parent survey (thank you Survey Monkey), whose results are now complete. So I do some feedback, in particular on areas where there is strong agreement between the parental view and the student view, such as the reasons for choosing boarding. My feedback to parents will initially be via a presentation I will give at the BPA AGM on Saturday 1 March; then through an email to all parents in the ensuing week.

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.

Students quiz the governors

Wednesday night is the annual Governors‘ Question Time at Bedales – a unique event in UK independent schools (to my knowledge, at least) when the senior school is able to quiz a panel of three governors, in this case Seona Ford (curriculum advisor, OB and on the Education Committee), Daniel Alexander (OB and intellectual property lawyer) and Nick Vetch (current parent, businessman and chair of the Finance and General Purposes Committee). Questions cover an impressive range and are generally pitched at the right level – i.e. to do with strategic decisions and broad policy, both educationally and on finance. It is good to hear clear assurances being given on consultation with all stakeholders on the new Art & Design Building. We conclude on the sometimes vexed matter of the hurdle into the sixth form and whether in certain cases deserving students haven’t been allowed through when they should – something I will want to discuss with School Council as a follow on. The evening ends with the three governors having time with School Council afterwards, so other issues will also come to light via that.

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.

Consultative bodies important for ensuring voices can be heard

The week closes with meetings of two of our venerable consultative bodies – School Council (99 years old this year) and the BPA – Bedales Parents’ Association. Both are important for ensuring that voices – student and parental – can be heard; both are influential sounding boards as well. For School Council this week’s topics include IT (blocked websites), late nights for working out of house (6.1s wanting more), Saturday Bulletin (yes, please circulate to students too) and (the most expansive item, this) the breadth of opportunities for musicans (JFP = great, but let’s have more informal performance chances for less confident musicians). BPA matters on Saturday include an update on governor business from new Chair, Matthew Rice, consistency of tutoring and AS results – marking (of which more later this week) and transparency, communication on staff departures, as well as feedback from the individual groups of Friends (of Bedales, Dunhurst and Dunannie). At home it is departure for university time for our #2 son: inflation-adjusting the allowance and thinking about the year ahead (year 4, Hispanic Studies); very probably the final year of formal education and some discussion about potential job applications: huzzah!

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.

Students question the governors

I wonder if any other independent school puts its governors in front of the school and invites the students to ask them questions. Governors’ Question Time last night had Nick Vetch, Avril Hardie and Matthew Rice facing the troops – albeit reduced in number by exam absence and piratical preparations for the final night of Treasure Island. Questions covered the full range and were generally (as I would expect) searching: why a new Art & Design building rather than a new Music School? Why are trees being felled and shouldn’t we be planting more? Big plans for the future?  How much longer will the academic village stand? How much does parental pressure count? Should students’ views, for example, on drugs testing, be taken into account more by governors in reaching decisions? Is a school like ours by definition elitist and how does this sit with our ethos? Afterwards, School Council, bolstered by some additional willling voices subbing for exam casualties, had a further discussion session over juice and sandwiches with the governors to complete the evening.

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.

Increasing international awareness

Things work best here when they come out of consultation with the school community, with staff and students in particular; so I use my first assembly to start a consultation – on how we can increase international awareness amongst our students; emphasising that this isn’t just about spending time overseas, but it’s also about ensuring that influences brought to bear here (mainly within the curriculum) are fostering an international awareness. We do very well on the range of our educational visits, both subject-specific (geographers in Morocco, physicists to CERN, Russian historians to Moscow and St Petersburg) and general (Swaziland, China and explorers’ trips, say to Peru this summer) – all extremely good stuff; but what I broach is the idea that, in addition to these excellent educational visits, we develop ways for students to have time overseas when they are thrown back more on their own resources and have to immerse; exposing them, usually for a longer period and often cut off from their mates, to another culture through living amongst people and (often) working alongside them. This is a different kind of experience. So, the conversation will continue via our International Committee (staff and student reps) and School Council; aiming to have a plan by April.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools