Eleanour Doughty

Talking heads: The individuality machine

The first in a new series of interviews with head teachers

Bedales. A school known for its lack of uniform and its policy of pupils calling their teachers by their first names, it is beloved by some but baffles others. To add to the confusion, its headmaster isn’t the happy-clappy chap you might expect. ‘I’m far from being some kind of trendy character,’ insists Keith Budge, who describes himself as ‘Celtic fringe — half Scots, half Welsh’. Budge — I should probably refer to him as Keith, since his students do — has been the headmaster of the Hampshire school since 2001. ‘I’m just liberal in the sense of wanting education to offer the individual as much freedom as it possibly can,’ he says.

Bedales certainly does this. The students don’t wear uniforms (these disappeared in the 1960s) and the teachers have gone by their first names since it caught on during a camping trip in the 1930s. They also don’t do normal GCSEs, and there’s no prefect system. Is Bedales the anti-public school?

Budge — or rather, Keith — isn’t sure. ‘Well, we’re an independent boarding school, so we have more in common with Marlborough or Eastbourne than we do with the maintained sector,’ he says.

But given that the Victorian visionary John Badley established Bedales in 1893 ‘in order to do things that his own school, Rugby, hadn’t been able to do’, there’s a suggestion that it might well be. Although Rugby had been reformed by Thomas Arnold, Badley’s school ‘mines into a different seam of British national life’, according to Keith. This is the Arts and Crafts Movement — ‘more progressive, with a sort of radical element to it, linking up with the start of Fabianism’. As such, he describes Bedales as ‘tolerant. Teenage communities are not naturally tolerant places … [In the Victorian] public-school context, individuality was deemed a problem.

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