Keith Budge gets practical in The Telegraph

Posted on 04th February 2016

In a recent article in The Telegraph, headmaster of Bedales Schools, Keith Budge argues for the place of practical and vocational subjects in the educational mix.

Picking up on a debate as to their respective merits, Keith Budge observes that the government appears to favour academic over vocational subjects, and questions what he sees as their crude categorisation by perceived difficulty and academic utility. He laments the driving of wedges between arbitrary categories, which he says risks unhelpful polarities – academic versus technical, science versus arts and humanities. Too readily, he says, schools become obsessed by such easy polarities.

He explains: “We all accept that our buildings must be designed by highly qualified people; and yes, many would-be architects study art as an A Level, yet too often A Level art suffers condescension as a ‘non-academic’ or practical subject that isn’t really worthy of the attention of the brightest and most ambitious.”

At some schools, including Bedales, students build their choices around the subjects for which they feel the greatest passion. Whereas in many schools the very capable mathematician might choose maths, further maths, physics and chemistry, at Bedales, explains Keith Budge, he or she is just as likely to put art, English or history into the mix. Even in cases where a student’s career choice leads them to choose two sciences and maths at A Level, the Bedales enrichment programme, running parallel to A Levels, invites them to build a cross-disciplinary element into their programme. Thus, the proto-engineer might find herself taking Russian for beginners or doing an introduction to philosophy.

There is scepticism amongst employers and young people alike as to the ways in which schools prepare their students for the world of work. Discussions at the World Economic Forum confirm an informed conviction that the skills most useful to young people as they pursue fulfilling and successful working lives have a practical flavour – collaboration and teamwork; communication skills; an ability to work in a cross-disciplinary way; the facility to work with people of different cultures and backgrounds; and an appetite for life-long learning.

Keith Budge concludes by pointing out the “zigs and zags” in the careers of many people whose lives we regard as the epitome of success – the result of an appetite for doing plenty and crossing boundaries. He says: “No-one smacked Leonardo’s hand and told him not to be so silly drawing helicopters; Steve Jobs roamed across disciplines; Heston Blumenthal has strayed beyond chemistry into a very practical subject and endeared himself to our taste buds. What matters most is that schools develop students who love thinking inquisitively and have the gumption to make things happen.”

Keith Budge writes regularly on matters relating to education and Bedales on his blog