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.

Picking people

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Macbeth may be a peculiar starting point for a piece on picking the right people, but having seen the National’s latest (Anne-Marie Duff and Roy Kinnear) and being reminded of the nightmare vision of what happens when you make some wrong decisions in personnel, it is fresh in my mind.

In that little played parlour game when you imagine a school as run by a Shakespearean character, Headmaster Duncan isn’t doing so well,  although he realises “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”  he dies as a result of a bad choice: his most recent appointment to Cawdor House (previously Glamis) has, in breach of more than Health and Safety policy, done him in and now it’s Headmaster Macbeth (nickname, Mac the Knife, motto Dirk of Each for Weal of All).  Macbeth is, like the previous Earl of Cawdor, “a gentleman on whom I [Duncan] built / An absolute trust”; and he is very much The Boss.

As outlined elsewhere in this week’s Saturday Bulletin, there have been a series of appointments recently.  I am directly responsible for all of these except the Dunhurst deputy head, in which I was closely involved in the final stage interview.  Unusually, they cover the full 3-18 age range; unusually I will not be around to see how they prosper, as I am sure they will.

Heads need to be good at picking people: if you aren’t – or don’t become so quickly – things will go awry.  As in so many areas, I have learnt a lot from my Bedales experience.  So what are those lessons?

Involve plenty of other teachers, but remember it is your responsibility: pick a winner and all will celebrate; pick a loser and the fact that it is your choice will rest with you, so listen to others but remember to trust your own instincts as well.  See them in action: their craft is teaching and communicating with young people, not being plausible at interview.  Have them walk around the school with different people – watch how they react to different, sometimes surprising situations – a flock of sheep crossing the Orchard, for example.  Devote all the time and resources you need to the process: get it wrong and it takes much longer to unravel and your pupils’ progress suffers.  If you have any sinking feeling at all, don’t pick anyone – go round again.

Remember that they need to combine a passion for what they do or are applying to do (whether Art, housestaffing, headship or deputy headship) with sufficient nous, method and craft to make their ideas a reality.   Avoid Peter Pans or people with some preconceived sense that they can come to our schools to indulge their whims and wear a particularly outrageous pink corduroy suit, for example (true story…).

Apply the tests: would I like my own child to be taught / congratulated / looked after / told off by this person?  What would I feel like after half an hour’s train journey in their company?  Are they going to make people feel more or less cheerful after a chance encounter in school?  This is sometimes known as the radiator/drain test.  Will they light fires in young hearts?  Will they still be cheerful in their own way at the end of a 12 hour day?

Enough! Now evaluate the respective benefits of Headmaster Prospero, Headmistress Cleopatra, Headmaster Caesar or Principal Lear’s Academy for Young Ladies.


Numbers, Keiths and Keith numbers

Those of you who are Mike Leigh fans will know that the unglamorous reputation of the name, Keith, received a further kick when the unbelievably annoying protagonist of his early film,  Nuts in May, married to Candice Marie (almost as tedious) was given the Keith moniker. “K-e-e-ith” she would say in her dreary voice, as he indulged his officious enthusiasm for knowing the codes of individual trunk roads during their ill-fated camping holiday in Devon. I suspect that being a Keith was moderately unfashionable when I became one. Mike Leigh helped consolidate the process. When a Keith (say, this one) meets another, he will often share a moment or two of Keith kinship – along the lines of “How is it for you, being a Keith?” Sympathetic looks are exchanged amongst the fraternity.

Well, imagine my delight when, during the presentation being given by the Mathematics department to the Bedales  Schools’ Governors on Friday afternoon, I discover that there are things called Keith numbers. I have been so dazzled by the Italianate splendours of the Fibonacci sequence, not to mention the homely Grecian charm of Pythagoras and the wallowing of Archimedes in his bath that I have overlooked the genius of Keith numbers.  OK, I need to let slip now that the Keith whose eponymous numbers caused me such excitement has a surname which is Keith but author (Mike) Keith- can still count an achievement for the clan of Keiths.

Most of you will no doubt be familiar with Keith numbers but for those who aren’t, here goes – and thanks to Darran Kettle (Head of Blocks’ Maths) and Su Robinson (Head of Groups’ Maths) at Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, for the worksheet we were all given on Friday afternoon so that we could keep doing some Maths over the weekend.

Keith numbers have a property which is like this. To see if an n-digit number is a Keith number, write out the sequence that starts with the n-digits of the number; then, to get each new term, add the previous n terms.

Here is an example: 197 is a 3 digit (Keith) number, so we form the sequence:

1, 9, 7,     1+9+7= 17,   9+7+17=33,   7+17+33 = 57, 107, 197.

You will notice that we had to work out the last two, but this will help you appreciate the magic that leads to this unusual property whereby you start with 1, 9, 7 and end up with 197. So, now have a go at proving that 47 is a Keith number…

Right, smarty pants, you have done that, so now find all the other Keith numbers less than 100.  (Clue: there are five.)

Discovering things like this can be called recreational maths. How widely that term is used, I don’t know, but this chance encounter has got me thinking about Maths and Maths teaching: it seems to me the great feat of good Maths teaching is to show people that all Maths can be recreational – i.e. fun and useful. Since I started teaching, I have always tried to see as much good Maths teaching as possible. In my year’s teaching exchange amongst the lotus-eaters of California in Pebble Beach, I quickly learnt that there was a legendary Maths teacher by the name of Senuta. I went to see him in action. It was a brilliant revelation – students were laughing, learning, questioning and discovering. Senuta walked round the class helping people – with a smile on his face. The fear and paralysing solitariness of too many Maths classrooms was nowhere to be seen.

My father was a history graduate and started off teaching that subject, but early on in his teaching career started teaching Maths to some of the less quick Maths sets at a senior school. I remember him explaining to me that because Maths hadn’t come naturally to him at school but he had worked away at it and become quite competent, he felt in a good position to help those who didn’t find it easy to master it. My first bursar here, Bruce Moore, was taught by him and produced one of my father’s splendidly brief and spidery reports for me to see.

So, were reincarnation to be a possibility and were I able to express a preference, then learning how to make Maths as approachable as I now often see it taught would be up there on my preferences.

Reflecting on 33 years of teaching at Bedales

There are all sorts of ways that a community listens to itself – one is through assemblies and Jaws from people who bring a long perspective and accrued insight to bear. I think back to former head Tim Slack’s Jaw when he talked about what it was like being a young head at Bedales with Mr Badley living in Fairhaven. Another such occasion was last night when Graham Banks reflected on what has changed and what has remained the same since he joined Bedales 33 years ago. These are rare occasions – a teacher thinking aloud about his time in a way uncluttered by disenchantment or the need for any self-aggrandizement. One of the strong early influences on Graham was an older teacher called George Smith with whom Graham only briefly coincided but who, as a Quaker, encouraged reflection – partly through his style of talking to the school but also through his use of silent reflection at the end of his assemblies.

What has changed? Buildings – mainly for the better, a theatre which has transformed the school’s creative life and new classrooms where you are no longer very cold in winter and too hot in summer. The size of the school (from about 350 to 455) and where we meet – the Quad was an open space, used mainly for socializing, with only occasional seats and all assemblies happened in the Lupton Hall. All boarding boys were in the main school building and looked down into the Quad. The weekends – most boarders stayed at school for each half of the term.

What has stayed the same?  The quality of music – still happily very high. The generosity of spirit towards helping others – something that Graham has in his final years here worked very hard to foster, especially through his work as head of Outreach with the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative and the fundraising initiatives that have followed it. The warmth of relationships and the friendly, informal atmosphere which he noticed, even at interview in the summer holidays almost 33 years ago, and which attracted him to the place. Is a tendency amongst some students to look to cut corners and take advantage of the trust and friendly atmosphere a necessary price to pay? Perhaps. The enduring quality and impact of visiting speakers, especially at Civics, has led to Graham missing few – even before he took over the running of these thought-provoking and humanising talks. So, students, take advantage of these things. Finally, another evergreen thing – the self-absorption of the adolescent nature which, provided that selfishness is kept at bay as much as possible, provides the backdrop for the swift changes that occur during teenage years and which make working with adolescents so fulfilling and intriguing.

Sitting and listening to Graham’s final assembly and touched on his behalf by long applause afterwards, I found myself wondering if, in 32 years time, a departing member of staff will refer back to the impact that hearing a legendary older teacher talk to the school in a reflective and wise way had on him or her.

Graham Banks

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.

How do you ensure that your school has a strong teaching and learning culture?

Interviewing potential new Maths teachers and thinking about the Teaching and Learning Parent Forum we are running on Saturday, I find myself reflecting on how much has moved forward in the way that independent senior schools in particular view teaching and learning. Put simply, it is now central to everything we do. Go back 25 years and it was very different – many independent sector teachers operated much more in a bunker mentality – there was little observation of teaching and little collaboration. Underscoring all of this was a very British phlegm – “if you are any good as a teacher, you get on with it and do your stuff..and really the character-building stuff happens outside the classroom.”  As a new teacher you were expected to sink or swim – your classroom was very much your own business – your bunker or oubliette. Happily things have changed markedly. Although a major factor behind this has been inspection, which now puts pupil progress very much at the centre, much credit must also go to teachers who have emerged from really strong teacher training over the past 10 years or so brimming with good ideas. They have been much more wised up in the science of how people learn and the importance of understanding how different people learn differently. So, how do you ensure that your school has a strong teaching and learning culture – and ensure that it keeps bubbling? Here are some thoughts – not comprehensive and in no particular order. 1) Welcome opportunities to appoint new teachers – and ensure a fair number have recent maintained sector experience; don’t be afraid of a healthy level of staff turnover – say in the 10% range. 2) Create a reflective culture where teachers and students talk together about teaching and learning – a student Teaching and Learning group and a staff one. The more students understand the process, the more motivated they will be. Teachers need time in department meetings to share ideas – about teaching and learning. 3) Observation and sharing of good practice: create a culture of observation – not just of formal lesson observation and not just within a subject, but encourage teachers to buddy up and watch each classes across subjects – you always learn something new. 4) Celebrate learning as something which flies strongest out of the classroom and is to be cherished for its own sake – ideas often bubble best when taken outside, whether in an academic society, visiting talk or trip. 5) Keep adding to the brew and keep the pot bubbling: our own inquisitiveness and our capacity to develop our minds know no boundaries, so let’s keep pushing out and thinking about how we can do things better – working with outside agencies through INSET or research partnerships, for example. One final thought: sometimes people confuse a fervent interest in teaching and learning with academic hothousing – they are very different things. More on this on Saturday.

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.

Initial thoughts on the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc)

So, Michael Gove’s announcement that the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) courses will begin in 2015 under a single examination board has signalled a major shift in government policy on the middle years curriculum – the biggest since O Levels were binned. Modularity at GCSE, already shooed to the sidelines, is definitely out; coursework is gone and a single, terminal paper will be sat in Maths, English and Science by all students at the end of Year 11 (Block 5). June 2017 will be the first sitting – so that makes students currently in Year 7 (Block 1) the first takers. With consultation and a general election to come before the courses start, there is much distance to travel, but here are a few initial thoughts.  
As a citizen, I am glad that someone is giving these forlorn middle years of the curriculum their due attention. I am also pleased that a whiff of international competition is being brought in – and that the waste of teaching time, teaching to the test and endless fudges allowed by modularity have been curtailed. 
From an independent school point of view, the Ebacc looks like a strong endorsement for what we as a sector have been doing; in fact Michael Gove is encouraging maintained schools to switch to the IGCSEs that now comprise the core of our middle years curriculum. But as a citizen, the line that these new exams provide something for the bottom third of students nationally simply doesn’t wash. In that respect, in spite of the reassurances of Nick Clegg, the one size fits all element of these exams looks like a profoundly illiberal dress. For those who disparage the independent sector, although the most extreme may see this move as yet another attempt by the maintained sector to ape what we do, many will have to acknowledge that without many of us using our independence to move away from the mess that the state supplied middle years had become, the government would have no domestic model to follow. As for Bedales, we are happy with our mix, but will keep a careful eye on what the Ebacc will look like.

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.