By Clare Jarmy, Head of PRE

It is a well-known nugget of information, with credibility somewhere between an archaeological theory and an urban factoid, that handshaking developed as a way to show that neither you nor your counterpart was bearing arms. An open hand connecting with another open hand is a gesture of equality, of agreement, of mutual ground. For many teachers and students at Bedales, this gesture that we share twice a week at assembly and Jaw is one of the things that really makes Bedales special.

Handshaking has been part of Bedales since the beginning, when the Chief (Mr Badley) and his staff would wish the students good night. What must have been a fairly simple process in the days where there were 30-40 students is now quite an endeavour, with some 470 students to say goodnight to! 

So, why do we do it? From the outside, it is unusual. A well-known educationalist, Trevor Cooling said that there are a lot of things we can’t understand by observation alone. A Muslim friend of his once pointed out to him that if you walk into the back of a mosque, and don’t understand what ideals lie at the heart of Islam, all you see is lots of bottoms in the air! 

To understand why we shake hands at Bedales, you have to understand our ideals.

  • Teachers and students are in partnership, working together on teaching and learning
  • Bedales is built on these relationships
  • Students and teachers work together to create the community and ethos of the school
  • Respect is not something to be expected because of status, but something that everyone deserves by virtue of being part of the school community

Shaking hands is an indication of everything that we believe in – that the school is founded on relationships and collaboration between students and teachers. It is a way of re-establishing a relationship when a student has forgotten a prep or played up during the day, and it is a way of establishing a relationship with students whom you don’t teach.

More than this, however, it is our way of greeting students new to the school, and sending them off into the wider world when they leave us. Seeing the faces of Block 3s who are new to Bedales Schools at their first handshaking is very amusing – they are unsure of quite what’s going on, and they are thrilled when a member of staff says goodnight to them by name. As we get to know them in the first term, gradually more and more names are learned, and a few weeks in, they are totally integrated into the community.

Handshaking is one of a student’s first experiences of Bedales, and is also one of their last. Leaves-taking, which happens at the end of summer term each year, is an elongated version of handshaking. This is meant quite literally, in that those students leaving us join the end of the line of staff, and say goodbye to the school as a whole. It is indicative of how important relationships are here, between staff and students, and students of the same and different year groups. Handshaking frames a student’s time at Bedales, from the first scared experience at the end of assembly, to the emotional goodbyes when it is time to move on.