In February 2020 Bedales formally became a member of the Round Square organisation, an international network of over 200 holistically-minded schools, after sending an observer delegation of two students and two staff to their international conference in India in 2019. See our news announcement here.
The history and ethos of Bedales have been intriguingly intertwined with those of Round Square. The founder of Round Square, Kurt Hahn, cited Cyril Reddie as a major inspiration, who was also Bedales founder John Badley’s main influence and mentor during his time at Abbotsholme. Hahn, who founded the progressive school, Salem, in Germany, and then Gordonstoun in the UK amongst others, corresponded with Badley during the 1930s, and the archive shows that Badley invited Hahn to visit following Badley’s 1934 address to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. Like Badley, Hahn made much use of the John Ruskin ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ adage, and this philosophy of balance underpins the Round Square approach, which is captured in their ‘IDEALS’: Internationalism; Democracy; Environmentalism; Adventure; Leadership and Service.
Whilst the IDEALS acronym may be new to Bedales, the sentiments embodied therein are not, and the aspirations resonate strongly with our own understanding of a desirable education. Below are some ways in which we already strive for these IDEALS, as well as some opportunities presented by being part of this new extended community.
Our student body is itself highly international in make-up, and we celebrate this diversity not only through special events, such as International Day, but also through the curriculum; most obviously we have a thriving Global Awareness department which runs its own popular Bedales Assessed course. Being part of Round Square will open up a range of exchange options around the world, as well as access to collaborative service projects. We are keen to enable our first student exchange once COVID restrictions allow.
Our Student Council is the oldest school council in the world, having existed for over 100 years. Student voice remains central to our decision making, and, amongst other things, prospective staff encounter a student panel as part of their interview process.
Bedales has always had a close connection with the environment, most obviously through Outdoor Work, and the farm, which students participate in running; we grow food, tend livestock, manage woodland, and are increasingly ambitious about minimising our environmental footprint.
We are instinctively adventurous, not only within our curriculum, in which we run our own Bedales Assessed Courses instead of following the usual UK qualifications path, but also in terms of expeditions and outdoor education. A large number of students take the Duke of Edinburgh Award – another Kurt Hahn-inspired organisation, and others embark on ambitious adventures quite independently of this. We regularly host explorers and adventurers at school assemblies.
Student leadership is really important to us. We do not have prefects, but we do have a Head Students Team comprised of four elected students. We also have a large team of ‘Dons’, sixth form students who represent different areas of school life, both academically, and in other central areas of school life, from food, to Outdoor Work, to those Dons responsible for Round Square.
Our founder, John Badley, spoke of the ‘joy of service’. We continue his emphasis on this. Our students read with local primary school children, work alongside adults with learning difficulties at their site at the Sustainability Centre; we support young people excluded from mainstream education, volunteer with the local countryside management team, and help run a local community café. We also understand the need to serve our own school community, and once COVID restrictions allow, we are planning for students to play a part in the running of the school at a practical level, whether that is helping in the kitchens, supporting the gardeners, or managing the farm.
We are excited at the opportunity Round Square affords us to learn from other schools who think broadly like we do about a rounded and motivating experience for young people. We are very much looking forward to playing our part in the International Conference in 2022, which will be hosted in the UK! Watch this space.