Getting our hands dirty

Posted on 13th February 2017

In a recent blog for HMC (the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference), Keith Budge explains why students getting their hands dirty outside with practical work is key part of a Bedales education. 

The school has a long-standing commitment to outdoor work. Encouraging a connection with nature was central to the mission of founder John Badley to educate the whole person – ‘head, hand and heart’. Today, Bedales takes great pride and pleasure in seeing students develop their knowledge, confidence and appreciation of the natural world through a sustained involvement in outdoor projects.

Does this put the school outside the educational mainstream? No, argues Keith. Instead, he suggests that the dominant educational orthodoxy has broken loose from its historical moorings. As long ago as 1904, government regulations for elementary schools stressed the value of practical work as part of a wider emphasis on educating the ‘total being’ rather than simply imparting knowledge. A quarter of a century later, the 1931 Hadow Report proposed that the primary school curriculum be thought of in terms of ‘activity and experience’. What is now understood by some to be a woolly 1960s permissive educational orthodoxy – that of learning at one’s own pace through discovery rather than the mechanical transmission of facts through instruction – was welcomed by policy makers half a century earlier.

Today, Bedales continues Badley’s work by encouraging students to develop a facility for understanding their subjects, and indeed their worlds, from as many different perspectives and experiences as possible. Keith explains: “Doing and making are key to this – not because we direct our students necessarily to these pursuits as professions (although we’re happy when they do), but because they offer engagement of a particular nature, exercising those parts of ourselves different to those used in more obviously cerebral pursuits. The kind of facility with learning that we seek to foster, I believe, goes hand in hand with wellbeing for young people and adults alike – surely the one constant legitimate purpose of education.”

He concludes: “We must trust young people, working with their teachers – far more than policy makers appear willing to – as they work out what education, and indeed the world, means for them. If we do our work as educators well, we will give students the space and wherewithal to do this, a key component of which is getting our collective hands dirty outside, and on a regular basis.”

Read more about the history of Bedales here. Read a profile of Keith Budge here. Keith blogs regularly during term-time – visit his blog here.