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.

New beginnings starting up

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Schools are refreshed each year by at least a quarter of their students being new.  The process of moving those (135 in Bedales’ case) students from being new to feeling part of the community takes a bit of thought and requires different kinds of (for want of a better word) induction.  This has been the case over the past 12 days with our new Block 3s and 6.1s, who comprise the great majority of those 135.

What are we wanting to accomplish through these inductions?  Three things: familiarity with places and systems; understanding what our values are, in particular the emphasis on close collaboration between teachers and students; and opportunities to get to know the others in their cohort.

So here is how it happens.  Three days before term begins, when teachers are still enmeshed in their in service training, in come the (95) Block 3s – just over half from our prep school, Dunhurst, just under half from about 35 different schools. I talk in the theatre to their parents about what they might expect of the next stage of their children’s education and what we expect of them.

The students then spend just under two days at Bedales when we are able to focus entirely on them and where they have the freedom of the school, enjoying for example a few skittish moments in our sunlit orchard, without any of the big people who can seem very big when you are a smallish 13 year old.  Then, strange though it seems, we whisk them away in two large buses to Ullswater in the Lake District, where, as has now happened for almost 25 years, they have a 6 day course which is specially tailored to the things we most want them to develop in their early time at Bedales – resilience, self-reflection and the ability to work in a team.  Each tutor group has its Badley tutor – the teacher who will work most closely with them – accompanying them, along with the Outward Bound leader.  It is a great 6 days and highly influential, both for them as a group and as individuals.  I (and my two wayward dogs) spend two nights there, one accompanying students on an overnight camp.

For the 6.1s, the journey is very different.  Although the majority of the cohort are students who are continuing through from Block 3 and have therefore been here for three years already, the assimilation of the new 27 students and the fact that the sixth form is a new start for everyone means that you need to give everyone an induction.

Their induction is more cerebral than the Block 3s’ and shorter, with a return a mere 30 hours before the rest of the school and the induction course focussed on the need for increased independent working and leadership.  Whilst the Block 3 induction is mainly focussed on doing, the 6.1s are reminded that good sixth formers are thinkers, readers and questioners.

In many ways the finale of the 6.1 induction is the student-led “Philosophy Of…” conference which, thanks to the good leadership of Becky G and Patrick N, came off splendidly on Saturday morning. More on this next time.

Unextended Sixth Form musings

AS Mocks, 6.1 parent-teacher discussions, some gubernatorial chats about the post-2015 reforms to A Level and the first evening of 6.1 Extended Project presentations have set some thoughts running about where we are now and what the A Level landscape might look like here from 2015 onward. It is certainly strange that the current 6.1 cohort is the penultimate one to have the AS/A2 experience that has been a fixture since 2000; so, I find myself having unexpected moments of premature nostalgia about the AS system, especially as there is still a good deal of uncertainty about how the post-2015 landscape will shape up.

So, what do we hope to keep from the current system?

1) The sense of purpose and urgency that it gives to life in 6.1

2) The breadth of a 4 subject programme in 6.1

3) The ability to make a decision as to which subject you drop at the end of 6.1

What did we need to lose? The loss of teaching time that came with the original modular vision – so, exam sessions in January and June.

With January modules already disappeared, the original vision of the post-2015 change was that June modules would go entirely too. The outcry against the loss of “co-teachable” AS exams (i.e. ones that you can teach alongside the full A Level) has meant that we will in fact have something resembling the current AS exam from 2015. The blessing and curse here is that it will not count towards the full A Level, but it will be an entirely standalone certificate. So, there is the danger that schools, understandably nervous that without a meaty end of 6.1 exam their 6.1s will revert to the lotus-eating idlers that my generation were in 6.1, will insist that this is taken, even though it will a) be meaningless in certification terms in 75% of cases;  b) throw away the main advantage of the abandoning of modularization, i.e. the increase in teaching time in the summer term. Quite a conundrum!

More on this anon – and on the excellent Extended Project 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.

A busy but not atypical five days

What would the the Sage of Hull (Larkin) have thought of all this water? This is just one of the fruitless unanswerable questions that occurs as I hear my footsteps crunching and squelching beside two panting dogs on an early morning stroll across the Estate’s undulations and their accompanying frost pockets, Cobb’s Field being the chilliest, this morning. Here is another hopeless question: will the new quartet of Budge hens survive, given that, unlike their predecessors, they do not recognise the value of shelter, but sit out in the rain with their eyes shut? This would not be a good policy at any stage but in a year when we have had 254% of our usual rainfall it is unwise. I blame these two relatively gloomy thoughts on some early morning reading of Edward Thomas’ short stories, where all the protagonists seem to be variants on himself – moody and gloomy fellows who roam amongst the Hangers, occasionally with an old pistol.

But Spring is clearly on the way, not only because the crocuses and daffodils are coming up in the Orchard or because the 6.1s have done their mocks or because the birdsong is more and more prolific each morning, but also because Moony and I hosted the concluding feast of the academic year last night, entertaining 30 or so Block 4s whose efforts with their last Review were being celebrated. The Feast, a new but now fully enshrined Bedales tradition, was a suggestion of the student Teaching and Learning Group – something that they felt would be a good way of recognising hard work and good progress. We enjoy doing them, but feasting is a winterish activity, even if the mead is an elderflower cordial and the sweetmeats a chocolate brownie; so here comes the Spring and, as the days lengthen, that signals the end of the feasting season.

There are plenty of other things to celebrate too – a packed week: beginning with a Shakespeare Society reading of Antony and Cleopatra on Sunday; moving on to the Sixth Form Maths Society’s Pi Meeting (Monday) when, yes, pies may be served; progressing through Bedales Dance Performs (hot on the springy heels of Sunday’s Dance Platform), the Green Ribbon Club (Thomas Harding discussing his enthralling book, the account of his uncle who arrested Auschwitz’s horrible commandant), the Jaw Debate (University Education should be free?) – answer, “Why of course!” (a little appreciated Larkin quote); then a Philosophy Society meeting and our newly re-formed student Art & Design consultative group meeting with the architects to start discussing the interior of the new Art & Design Centre, whose successful planning permission we will be celebrating on Thursday evening. A busy but not atypical five days.

As for Larkin and water, he would have been fine with it.  Water, he wrote about and –  in the poem of that name – he reveres: his description of “a furious devout drench” has a new currency after the drenching winter.

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.

Professional Guidance

So, we have a new department, I tell the Bedales students last Friday, and it is called Professional Guidance. Conveniently, if unflashily, situated in the bit of the Academic Village that looks out (enviously) on the Lupton Hall, it comprises Higher Education, University Liaison, Careers and Alumni matters. Through putting these overlapping functions under one roof under the leadership of our Higher Education Advisor, Vikki Alderson-Smart, we should help all the different elements work yet better together and be able to offer a range of new opportunities to students. There we have these people and functions: Sarah Oakley (overseeing Art College applications and also academic departments’ liaison with university departments in the UK and non-UK universities – apart from North American ones); Alison Mason (Careers and North American university liaison); and, new person on the block, Leana Seriau, our Alumni Officer. Leana will lead a significant expansion in our contact with Old Bedalians – in particular, she will be organising events when OBs in a particular career sector – let’s say, careers to do with Art and Design – can meet in a festive contact; such occasions and the contacts they provide will also be excellent opportunities for current sixth formers – or young OBs who are studying Design or Art at university – to meet people who are further down the career track.

Turning back to the name of this newly fledged department, it is both about guidance given professionally whilst at school and about guidance from outside school – from the professions that a student is interested in pursuing.

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.

What lies ahead for Sixth Formers?

Wednesday brings our annual open day for potential Sixth Formers and the first 6.1 Review meeting when we go through the year group, assess individuals’ progress and ensure that good progress is recognised and problems are addressed. Some reflections on what lies ahead for these two cohorts – our current 6.1s who will take A Levels in 2015 and the embryonic one that will take them in 2016: the pattern is reasonably predictable for these students, as they will continue with the slightly reformed current system, the only reforms being the taking away of January modules (which the current 6.2s are the first cohort to be affected by) and the tightening of grade boundaries, making it more difficult to get the top grades; so students currently in Year 11 (Block 5) will be the last to have the merits and demerits of the current system whereby most students take the AS exam on the way to achieving their final A Level, having taken A2 in their second year in the Sixth Form. Although the exam hurdles are a bit tougher, I suspect that the availability of places at many of our universities is likely to remain in line with the 2012 and 2013 entries.

So, what lies ahead in the brave new Govian world for those currently in Year 10 (Block 4) who will start in the Sixth Form in 2015? Well, assuming that a change of government does not scupper the current plans, from 2015 all A Levels will be fully linear, meaning that exams are all taken at the end. AS is to be de-coupled as a stand alone qualification. It is not yet clear what shape this will take but it looks as if a return to something like the old AS, whereby it was as difficult as the A Level but did not require as much material to be studied might be on the cards. Sounds familiar? It will come as no surprise that the post 2015 landscape is eerily like the one that some of us went through – the pre-2000, old linear A Level.

A complication as far as the launch of subjects in 2015 is that those subjects requiring a significant change to curriculum content will be delayed until September 2016 or later – so, Maths and Further Maths, for example, are in this category. Where curriculum content needs to be revised the Russell Group of universities will have considerable influence on the changes.

If you want to delve more into all this, have a guddle in www.ofqual.gov.uk

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.

New headboys and headgirls: ambassadors, advocates, do-ers and conduits

Headboys and headgirls (the head student team) perform a crucial role in the life of Bedales: along with being ambassadors, advocates, do-ers and conduits between students and staff, they need to be the senior students who represent the best of the Bedales ideal – so, people who live it –  Head, Hand and Heart. Yesterday, following a student advisory vote and much discussion amongst teachers, housestaff especially, the new team was selected. Congratulated initially by their predecessors (who have done a cracking job incidentally) they are then acclaimed by the school, who have played a large part in the selection of the team, at evening assembly as the team does its first “shush”. So, hats off to Oscar C (head boy), Cecily K (head girl), Katie S (deputy head girl) and Harley M (deputy head boy).

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.