Spectator interview with Bedales Headmaster

Posted on 14th September 2016

In a recent article in The Spectator, Keith Budge unpicks the ethos of Bedales – beloved by some but baffling others, according to the author.

Keith explains that as Headmaster he is liberal in the sense of wanting education to offer the individual as much freedom as possible. However, despite there being no school uniform, students calling teachers by their first names, and the absence of both GCSEs and prefects, Keith hesitates to agree that  Bedales is ‘the anti-public school’.

He says: “We’re an independent boarding school, so we have more in common with Marlborough or Eastbourne than we do with the maintained sector’. However, he observes that Bedales founder and Victorian visionary John Badley had established the school in order to do things that his own school, Rugby, had been unable to do. Bedales, he says, “mines into a different seam of British national life, with a progressive, radical element linking up with the start of Fabianism.”

Whereas in the context of the Victorian public school individuality was deemed a problem, at Bedales it is, he says, “encouraged institutionally”. Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) replaced non-core GCSEs in 2006, and are taken alongside IGCSEs. There are 12 BACs in all – including subjects as varied as Global Awareness, Classical Music and Outdoor Work.  Bedales “pressed the button” on the BAC project when outline plans were well received by universities. Keith explains: “Schools in the independent sector imagine that there are more constraints placed on them with the curriculum than there are.”

Finally, a major difference with more conventional independent schools is structure. Whilst life at Bedales has structure, says Keith, the school tries to keep it hidden and to give students a sense that they live uncluttered lives. He says: “The tendency of school hierarchies is to operate to keep people in their place. Very little of that happens here.”

Read a profile of Keith Budge here.