“The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – William Wordsworth

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It is a curiosity of Bedales that the youngest entrants, the Block 3s, start their time here by arriving in verdant Hampshire before any other students – on the Thursday before most arrive on the Sunday – spend two nights at school and then head off to the Lake District, returning into circulation on the second Monday of term.  Why?

Enabling your youngest students to have their induction into school life and, for example, the mysteries of IT logins and classroom locations, before they are crowded out with lots of big and alarmingly adult looking teenagers makes sense.  Whisking them away to the North of England requires more explanation – it is a long way, 330 miles in fact and, like any expedition away from school, complicated to plan and resource-hungry; this is especially so as we take the Block 3 (Badley) tutors who accompany their tutor groups (usually with 8-10 students in each group).

Sitting in a very smart octagonal shed in the grounds of the Outward Bound’s centre on the edge of Ullswater (by Glenridding, the most flooded village in Britain), I am reminded why.  In this snug super shed or pod are the nine members of a tutor group,  an Outward Bound tutor and the Bedales tutor; they are all grouped around a table and surrounded by sheets of paper pinned to the walls which reflect the Block 3s’ journey over the first few days of their five day course.  The sheets from their first day reflect what they were hoping to get out of their time at the centre – their hopes and fears.  More recent ones show how the Outward Bound instructors tailor the students’ experience to our school aims.  I notice one sheet which has resulted from a discussion on how their time in Ullswater might mirror the Bedales aims:  HEAD: Think! HAND Do something! HEART Self-belief.

I am there for a couple of nights and, because the expeditions into the mountains this year takes place when I have to go south, I am able to spend plenty of time seeing the groups in action around the centre and, crucially for me, pinning names to faces, mannerisms, quirks of speech and all the other ways one tries to remember who the new students are.

I love going out into the hills, so it is with envy that I watch them all getting ready for their expedition on the Wednesday morning.   Even these preparations are done thoughtfully.  The comparisons with the quasi-military approach to expeditions that I grew up with – here’s your kit, pack it, off we go – are stark.  Students sit in their octagonal pods and are asked to think of all the different activities and needs when they are up on the hills.  There are discussions and debates and gradually a list is created.  Of course, the instructors will not let them go off without the essentials – and safety measures are second nature to Outward Bound – but the decisions and that kit list are shaped and informed by what the students discuss.

Culturally, this is a foreign land to most of our students: that’s not just the business of wild nature, but it’s also the North – little rivers called becks, different accents and meretricious weather.  It’s also a brilliant social mixing pot, with boarders and days, students from Dunhurst and many other schools all finding themselves in dorms or tutor groups with each other.  You get to know your fellow travellers pretty well.  Likewise, time on the hills or seeing youngsters overcome fears helps the tutors understand what makes them tick.

An additional bonus is that their return journey on Friday is broken by a sortie into Stoke for lunch, some painting of mugs and a tour of the Emma Bridgewater factory, thanks to the generous hospitality of Emma Bridgwater and Matthew Rice.

What with their time in the place that inspired the Romantic poets, their own journeys of self-discovery and this dotting into a thriving modern business in the former industrial heartland of England, it is well worth the journey.

 

New beginnings starting up

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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.

A mixing/mucking in/getting to know each other week par excellence

A while back adventure training seemed to take its cue from the military and the instructors gave the impression of itching to wear khaki; now, happily, it is very different and the gentle-spirited instructors taking our Block 3s at the Outward Bound Centre in Ullswater are far more likely to want to enlighten their students about the homeopathic qualities of a particular plant we encounter on our walk to our campsite at the Patterdale end of Ullswater than to inculcate the martial spirit. In the venn diagram of teachers and instructors they overlap the eco-warrior rather than the paratrooper, which is fitting, given that we are enjoying the landscape that inspired Wordsworth and it is a pleasantly pacific place. Not that there isn’t plenty of physical and mental challenge, but it is done through quiet encouragement without a whiff of compulsion. Maybe unsurprisingly, virtually all of our Block 3s want to climb that trapeze or leap in the lake without much prompting, so the competitive spirit thrives but it is from within. For me and one eager young black Labrador, Zazu (the Westie Ailsa, feeling her years, stays at home), it provides an opportunity to see how the various groups of Block 3s fare. It is the mixing/mucking in/getting to know each other week par excellence. Camping is a highlight: sitting by my tent overlooking Ullswater, one hardy group is “bivvying” (so, covered from the worst of the rain but very much in the fresh air) and the other are more securely tucked up, I think that there are few better places to be. After we have packed up our camp and are all ready to walk back to the pick up point, the instructor asks each one of the students to go to a different part of the stunning area of ancient woodland that we have been occupying and to spend the last ten minutes of our time there, sitting, looking and thinking. Wordsworth would be nodding his approval.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Ullswater


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 poetic day

Poetic day, Tuesday, waking up in an ancient wood above Ullswater to the honk of greylag and strong early morning sun on the water. The Block 3 campers, tired out with scary bed time stories and an instructor-led night walk around the lake’s edge, take some rousing and sorting; where there is grumpiness, it usually is dissipated by quiet coaxing of the Outward Bound instructors, the need for activity and, of course, the surroundings. Gold star for Zazu overnight, curled up in the porch of my tent. Back to Bedales to meet the Poetry Society and English department colleagues who have come to chat over supper with the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and musician, John Samson. Having felt a bit nervous about how a combined poetry and music performance would work, the result for me is an enhancement of the poetry, whether that is through John’s intriguing musical interludes or his additions during the reading, for example the strains of the Christmas Carols that accompany Carol Ann’s poem about the Christmas truce of 1914.  The evening finishes with discussion about Edward Thomas in the White Horse where, arguably, Thomas’s poetic journey began.

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.

Ullswater’s rough magic woven amongst Block 3s

Ullswater‘s rough magic is already being woven amongst our Block 3s. Arriving at  bedtime on Sunday, I encounter tired but  fulfilled youngsters who have all already been in the water – not even a late arrival on Saturday could deter them from the traditional run and dip, in this case very much a gloaming one. For the Block 3s, finding yourself in the dorm or in the group of someone you haven’t encountered before is all part of it. By the time they return to Steep on Friday the pack will have been well shuffled. Proper weather too – rain always in the offing, especially when camping is in prospect, as it is today when enthusiastic almost-not-a-puppy Zazu and I join two groups on the mountain for a blowy night’s camping.

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.

Striking a chord at assembly with Wordsworth and Forster

With the Block 3s back and seasoned by their time away in Ullswater, there is a sense of the student body shaping up for the year ahead. Dominic Oliver’s assembly last night strikes as important a chord as any: the importance of kindness and the need for its rehabilitation – as a strength, not a sign of vulnerability. His talk ranges from Marcus Aurelius to David Hume and beyond – writers and thinkers affirming and articulating what people know intuitively – ending up firmly here in our own community. Two of my favourite kindness quotes are from Wordsworth and E.M. Forster. “The best portion of a good man’s life – his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love, ” writes WW; and in A Passage to India EMF has Aziz refer to the need for “kindness and more kindness and kindness again.”

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The Ullswater experience

Ullswater never disappoints: raw beauty, proper weather and Block 3s discovering what they can do – both working in teams and individually. In their groups of ten, expertly led by an outward bound instructor and overseen by a Bedales teacher, they spend the first day learning about working together – some relatively simple problem-solving exercises in the beautiful grounds of the outward bound centre on the edge of Ullswater soon give way to more stretching ones – the physically and mentally challenging high pole and Jacob’s Ladder – both difficult anyway but made more so by winds gusting to 40 mph+ on Monday. Away from the centre, gorge-walking gets the thumbs up. Camping this year happens but because of the weather it’s either in a tent, close to a farm and some proper shelter (in case the tents can’t take it) or higher up with with a basic mountain refuge for shelter rather than a tent. The formula has evolved over the 25 years we’ve been going there but, year in year out it often proves to be a galvanizing experience for the year group – there’s nothing like having to work together to get to know people, so boarders and day, Dunhurst and other feeder schools – a good jumble. For me, it’s a chance to see them in action and start to get to know them over the better part of two days I am there. A real treat for me and for two dogs who have an even more interesting time than they do at home – lots of people to meet and, if your instincts incite you, sticks to pull out of a very choppy Ullswater.