Avebury and Stonehenge 2017

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By Christopher Grocock, Head of Classics

Avebury, West Kennet and Stonehenge are special places, and the Ancient Civilizations BAC visited them on 26 September. It isn’t any old school trip. Eating on top of a communal grave over 5,000 years old was just a part of it. Then going inside and looking where the bones were laid out, and getting close enough to touch the actual stones dragged into position about 3,000 BC – you can’t get closer to the past than that. Coming face to face with an Outdoor Work project, which took decades to complete and did not even involve any metal tools – just animal bones and sheer sweat, helped bring home the determination and organisation that must have existed in ancient societies. Student efforts to pull a replica stone in the visitor complex at Stonehenge didn’t make the item shift an inch (or centimetre, if you prefer) and showed what muscle was needed in the original task. Unless you believe that Merlin did it . . . .

The visit gave the class a great opportunity to soak up the atmosphere that the sites exude. Stonehenge may be safely roped off, but at Avebury and West Kennett you get a real sense of the massive effort made and the awe which the stones may have inspired in those who first put them in place. Sadly we can’t fit in a quick visit to the Great Pyramid, but this annual trip has always fulfilled its aim – of putting things studied in class into a broader context – and this year was no exception. Even the weather conspired to make it a useful and fun day out!

Creative coppicing – the Bedales way

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By Carter Clothier and Oscar Goldblatt, Block 4

On Wednesday, we, and seven other students got an amazing opportunity to take part in a workshop with The Creative Coppice Company. It was a really fun and productive day and we now have the skills we need to carry out our final BAC project.

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Carter Clothier

For our BAC, Oscar D, Olav and I are making a post and rail fence to surround a new meadow which we will create between the Art & Design building and Outdoor Work. We started the day by learning how to split a piece of chestnut using a hammer and wedges, and we all managed to complete this with ease. We then progressed a little and learnt how to split a much longer bit of chestnut using the same method, but this time we had to split it into four. This was a little trickier and we all ended up with a lot more wasted wood than we would have liked, but nevertheless we all got the hang of it after a few hours.

WP_20170510_14_29_59_Pro cropAfter a well-earned lunch we went back to learn how to finish off the posts and rails. For the posts we had to mark out the location of the mortice and drill 12 holes into the post, this then needed cleaning up with a very sharp chisel. We created six slots for the rail to go into.  This brings me onto the most difficult bit – making the tenons, which is basically a practice of shaping the end of the rail to make it fit into the post. This is usually done with a chainsaw, but in true Bedalian fashion we had to do it the traditional way: using an axe and draw knife.  This slow and painful process consisted of chopping the corners off the quartered bits of chestnut with an axe and then shaving of vast amounts of leftover wood with the draw knife.

This took a long while to get the hang of, but we eventually got it down to about one rail every 25 minutes. By the end we completed around five or six rails. Only 98 more to go…!

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Livi, Jamie and I are building a terrace / balcony around the new ODW office as part of our BAC project – the office was refurbished from a grain store by last year’s BAC students.

WP_20170509_10_53_50_Pro cropWe began working on our project by showing Dave, from The Creative Coppice Company, some of our rough sketches and ideas and then we started measuring out some of the sides. Once we had all the sides measured we then calculated that we needed six poles for our design. As a group we started to scrape the bark off the 2 .75m chestnut logs in preparation for marking-out and cutting. Getting set up and trying to ensure all measurements were in the correct orientation on a round pole is very satisfying, yet quite intensive and time-consuming.

However, we feel we picked up enough information to start our projects with confidence. The next step in our project is to dig the holes and position the poles so we can start putting the decking on. We all benefited a lot from this day and I think we would all agree that we would do it again.

Prose, poetry and coursework in the English department

By David Anson, Head of English

It is a busy season for the English Department; 6.2s have been beavering away at a very important piece of coursework and the Block 5s are working towards the final hand-in of their coursework folder. Nevertheless, we have found the time for some superb enrichment. On Tuesday 15 November we had the pleasure of welcoming two visiting writers. Our first was acclaimed children’s author Jon Robinson who joined us to be our annual writer in residence. Jon’s Nowhere trilogy is highly acclaimed and has been awarded a number of notable prizes as well as receiving a nomination for the Carnegie Medal in 2014. Jon spent the morning with our colleagues at Dunhurst helping young writers in Block 2 and then in the afternoon Jon worked with 6.1 students who are taking the creative enrichment course – this year run by Jen Moore. Jon’s one-to-ones were extremely valuable and year on year we find this attention generates the most astonishing creative writing – look out for the 2017 ‘Poet’s Stone’ and our creative writing celebration in the Spring term.

In the evening we had the treat of poet, playwright, novelist and critic Glyn Maxwell reading in the Olivier Theatre as part of the Bedales Poetry Series. Glyn has won some significant awards for his work over the years and has extensively edited the work of Derek Walcott who is a particular favorite of mine. It was really quite special to hear both his poetry and prose being read in the theatre. Glyn had supper with some of our Sixth Form English Literature students at 50 Church Road beforehand; something we try to arrange every year. Our students had a rare opportunity to ask some very candid and insightful questions of a writer at the peak of his career.

How the market prevails where the state has failed

This Wednesday I gave my first assembly at Bedales. I found myself strangely nervous at the prospect of addressing the young Bedalians, but not because I felt intimidated speaking to so many people all at once, or because I was nervous of slipping up and embarrassing myself. No, rather, I was unsettled because I was going to talk about something very close to my heart, something that would bring to the surface thoughts from my past, possibly sending me on a roller-coaster of emotions that would take me back to another time – you could say another world.

I wanted to tell young Bedalians about this other world: a hidden Britain that very few of them know of, despite it being a life that a substantial proportion of their national peers lead.  I grew up on a council estate in a deprived and impoverished ex-mining community – welcome to life in the benefits-class: an industrial splinter of the working classes, a thorn in the nation’s side, an apparent plague sweeping the nation and robbing our taxes. The media demonises it, acting as a fascist vehicle in a bid to earn ratings from the latest reality TV concept. I wanted to tell the youthdem ‘don’t believe the hype’, I wanted to tell them the truth that Britain so often ignores – our class system is one of the worst in Europe. In fact, I feel it would be more appropriately defined as a satanic-caste system (i.e. no caste mobility) where Krishna has been replaced by Lucifer and we dwell in a socio-economic hell. This is a hell I have experienced first-hand and I feel I have come to understand it as it is, rather than what the hype would lead you to believe. Sadly, it is perpetuated by both our outdated education and political systems. I wanted to make Bedalians aware of this, and furthermore, I wanted them to know that they all have the power to affect change in the world.

It may seem strange that a Doctor of Chemistry and qualified teacher who works at one of the country’s top public schools associates himself so strongly with the precariat, but as my dad said, class is defined by where you are from. My mum on the other hand, believes class is about education. Whilst I agree that both statements have their own value, I lean towards my dad’s definition. As we say in the valleys, ‘you can take the boy out of the valleys but you will never take the valleys out of the boy’. As a result of my childhood experiences, I strongly associate myself as working class; for me it’s cultural – and a large part of my identity, an identity that has led me down this career path. I am not a teacher out of a desire to teach Chemistry, rather, I went into teaching to help inspire, motivate and enable the working-class youth and show them by example that they can succeed – despite both their government and education system being against them. However, I soon realised I was fighting a losing battle trying to force 21st century students into a 19th century model of education. I left dispirited, wounded and literally swearing I would never teach again: it felt like a waste of my own education.

So how on earth did I end up here, teaching kids at one of the most prestigious schools in the country? Well I met my colleague, Liz Stacy, who along with some friends, convinced me to give teaching (albeit at Bedales) one more go.  Now it almost seems like fate; I have never enjoyed teaching so much and I feel both lucky and proud to be an active member of this community. More pertinently, I feel on-track to help the disadvantaged youth more than ever.

Ironically (and rather sadly), the private sector has provided me with opportunities that the state was just not geared-up to deal with. Bedales has not only reignited my passion for teaching and learning, it has also provided me with more efficient fuel and power to affect change. For example, you wouldn’t be reading this now if I were still working for the government in the state sector; neither would I be in the process of formulating outreach work with Hampshire’s inclusion unit, I wouldn’t have met Mike Fairclough, Bill Lucas and Sir Michael Wilshaw, I wouldn’t have been inspired by our Bedales Assessed Courses to see that there is more we can do as a society to side-step the totalitarian bureaucrats of Westminster and Whitehall.  I wouldn’t be talking about the situation to parents who have children at Eton. In fact I probably wouldn’t be a teacher at all!

So when people ask me how I can claim to be a teacher to help the disadvantaged youth, considering I work at such a privileged school, I tell them simply that I am here because this market provides more opportunity for educational reform than our out-dated democracy does. That said, I want to make it clear that I think making all schools into academies would have been a disastrous move, more to follow on that…

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry
Read Scott’s Huffington Post articles

 

Block 4 fire-up new pizza oven

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The boys dismantle the old oven

Just before the half term break, Jay Emery from Bushman Wood Fired Ovens came to Outdoor Work to build a pizza oven with Raffy Henry and Goose Milton from Block 4. The oven forms the basis of the boys’ BAC project for ODW, where they learn about building and using a traditional clay pizza oven, growing the chillies and tomatoes for the pizza sauce, and learning how to make the right dough. Baking in a sealed wood fired oven is a unique experience, imparting unique flavour and texture to the food cooked inside.

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Materials arrive

Jay spent the whole day with us, assembling a base and then layering different insulators over the basic oven shape. We finished the oven in a clay/vermiculite, and will paint it with a lime paint. We fired it up with a gentle fire (reaching around 200 degrees) last week to allow the layers to set, and will have an inaugural firing-up this Saturday evening. The oven will then reach a top temperature of around 350-400 degrees – perfect for cooking crispy flavoursome pizzas in around 90 seconds!

To honour Jay’s great day with the boys, he has a special offer for Bedales parents and friends: a family sized Bushman Wood Fired Oven with a rustic wooden stand, basic toolkit and free delivery, £2799 incl. VAT, saving £450. In addition for every oven he sells to someone quoting ‘Bedales’, he will donate £100 to ODW to help pay for the boys’ project. Email fcharpentier@bedales.org.uk for more information.

By Feline Charpentier, Teacher of Outdoor Work

An Inspector Calls…

On Wednesday, Bedales held an education conference as part of its series of ‘leading independent thinking’ events. Two years ago the subject was innovative education, whilst this one focused on leadership. These are, arguably, the two most important facets that the ‘industry’ needs to address in the early 21st century, a time when traditional educational models seem to be breaking down and the respective authorities seem unwilling, too-slow or even incapable of making the changes required – a theme that very much came out of the day.

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Sir Michael Wilshaw

Kick-started by a keynote address from Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the title of this year’s conference was ‘Liberating Leaders’. The day was designed for people across both age ranges (student and teacher) and did what it said on the tin! At least that’s my experience given that, writing this the next day, I now find myself feeling a breeze of liberation which has seemingly put me on a track that I was struggling to find.  This article is the first of several, in it I will provide an introduction to the day, the speakers and the initial effect on me. In later articles I will discuss the messages of each speaker, my thoughts and inspired actions.

As you may have guessed, Bedales, a school with a long history of innovation, did not stick to the educational-conference norms, with one speaker pointing out that this was the first one she had been to that involved students as well as teachers. Later in the day, the conference split into two programmes, with the students splitting off to take part in leadership workshops. They later re-joined us for the educational debate. Below is a brief account of each adult session.

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That knighted rebel, Sir Michael Wilshaw, started the programme of events and called for more “Mavericks” in state education. He defined ‘Mavericks’ as being extraordinary, flamboyant, colourful and slightly strange characters. Characters have long been a traditional facet of the independent sector but largely lacking in the state sector. He went on to give examples of what sort of characters these Mavericks might be, giving several real life examples from his own experience (he’s a lucky Knight to have been exposed to such a rarity).  He then went on to talk about the ‘act’ that these Mavericks need to put on, to facilitate a good education.  However, I got the sense that Mike’s idea of a good education is different to mine. For him, it seems, a good education is about tradition, imperialism, discipline to authority, GCSEs and A-levels, and this is where the Mavericks in him and me vary. Mike is, what I would class, a pseudo-maverick, a traditionalist who uses un-orthodox measures to achieve orthodox aims, whereas the Maverick in me is less of an oxymoron. I am the type of Maverick who believes current education is inadequate and that we need major changes in-line with the modern world, instead of measures that attempt to hold on to imperialistic values of a once ‘great’ Britain. Thankfully the room was largely full of delegates who had a similar vision to mine, as final questions and Twitter revealed. Moving on we heard from some other Mavericks who are doing great things in schools.

Firstly, two scholars from the States (where education is much less restricted by government) gave two extremely inspiring talks about their Maverick journeys. Barbara Oakley talked about her inspirational story in education and ‘learning to learn’, turning academic research into tangible metaphors, thus delivering exemplary content. Danielle Harlan gave some entertaining anecdotes with strong and powerful underlying messages that have helped shape her into the Maverick leader she has become. In her second year of teaching, she was able to get her Special Educational Needs (SEN) class up to either the peer-group’s grade or above, simply by redesigning the curriculum in small but measurable increments.

Bill Lucas tweetAfter lunch, complete with Bedales sausages, focaccia, chilli chutney and onion jam – all produced by the Outdoor Work department – we heard from Bill Lucas -a Maverick, pioneer and founder of the Expansive Education Network. It seems to me that Bill’s contributions to education already surpasses the Knight’s, but whilst Bill was involved in British education during Labour’s tenure, the Conservatives have sent him to the ’naughty corner’. Nowadays, or rather nowayears and despite being based at Winchester University, the Welsh Government is the only political force in the UK that seems to value him; internationally, he is dealing with the Australian Government as well as many other schools around the world, including England! Bill gave his 14 top tips for improving future education that left me dreaming of a rational world in which our political leaders understood the needs of the people.

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Keith Budge and Geoff Barton welcome Mike Fairclough to the stage

Next, we heard from three Maverick Headmasters, two from the state sector: Geoff Barton and Mike Fairclough, as well as Bedales’ own, Keith Budge. Geoff, who bravely called Ofsted a “Monster”, took to the stage first. It was a shame that Sir Mike had already left the building, as I feel he needed to hear Geoff’s extremely good argument about the problems of Ofsted’s model of inspection and the bullish role it has in education. But I doubt Geoff would have had much of an impact, the Government does not always respect the opinion of stakeholders such as professional educators – as Gove proved with his A-level reforms. Moving on, Mike Fairclough’s story was my favourite, he is so Maverick he’s off the scale! With his innovative school, containing a farm and a Bronze Age site, where they make arrow heads, use paddle boats, learn country management skills and have a partnership with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that aims to dispel media health and safety myths (how ironic that HSE takes more of a supportive role than Ofsted). But what really brought a tear to my eye was the fact that this was done on a council estate, a demographic in which education is known to fail. Finally, and being left short of time, Keith concluded the talk by discussing the recent innovation that is the Bedales Assessed Course (BAC), giving the audience an insight into the history of the BACs, what they have taught Bedales, and our future aspirations for them.

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Education panel

To close, there was an educational panel debate involving Keith, Geoff and four students: Flora and Charlie from Bedales and two girls from King Edward VI School. I must say I was particularly impressed by the ability of all four students to talk intelligently and respond so well and quickly to questions they had only just heard. The debate was not only a nice close to the day but also highlighted to me just how lucky I am to be able to work in an institution that creates free, open-minded and independent adults – something we do here, we are certainly doing right.

View speaker’s biographies and presentations from the conference here.

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry

Why exam boards must keep theatre live

Try to imagine a performance of Hamlet in which the play within a play – staged by the Prince to establish Claudius’ culpability for the death of the King was delivered not live, but through a TV set hooked up to a DVD player. Would Claudius betray himself in the same way, and would it matter so much?

I ask because recently it was announced that the drama GCSE syllabus is to change so that teachers can show pupils recordings of theatre performances rather than taking them to see live shows. This is to ensure that all students get to experience live theatre, with Karen Latto of awarding body OCR telling the TES that geography and financial constraints need no longer be prohibitive as a consequence. I don’t think anybody would argue with the intention here – like Karen, I want to see every young person able to experience theatre. However, like many others, I am concerned that the legitimisation of the DVD option will mean that some drama departments – already too often at the back the queue when it comes to school resources – will find money for theatre trips even harder to come by.

Recordings used in the way proposed may well increase students’ exposure to theatre – but is it an acceptable substitute? If, like me and many other practitioners, you believe that the experience of theatre is more than the ostensible content, then the answer has to be no. Performances are heavily dependent on the audience – not a generic audience, but the audience in the theatre for each particular show. When Bedales students write about theatre they have attended, they are critiquing something of which they were an active part – a factor we encourage them to consider.

We must also be aware that through the use of recordings we risk heaping a whole different set of interpretations upon students. Here, they must take into account not only the direction of the play, but also that of the recording. It would be worryingly uncritical of us to assume recordings of live theatre to be benign representations – some streamings of performances from the National Theatre, the Barbican and other venues have been complex multi-camera presentations that, for all of their merits, must be considered different experiences. Each audience member at the live event has his or her unique perspective – they all occupy a different space, and are free to give their attention to whatever they please. For those watching the associated recording, much of this work is done for them. It is performance and it can be brilliant – but it is of a different order.

The direction of travel in terms of what constitutes meaningful exposure to theatre must be considered with care. If it is considered acceptable for students to make critical judgements on the basis of exposure only to facsimiles, then might we expect the same to become true for examiners? As things stand, examiners are partly reliant on DVDs or a weblink as the basis for their appraisals, and we might consider whether we would be comfortable with this becoming their exclusive basis of assessment. If the answer is no, then we must reflect carefully on the implications for doing the same with students.

Let’s do what it takes to get students into theatres rather than risk confining more and more of them to the classroom. Let’s fund national and regional centres to offer discounted access for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to go. I know from my own experience that theatres are more than happy to open their doors to this end. Awarding bodies would be excellent administrators of such programmes, and I believe it would be good for them – and for their relationships with both theatres and schools – to be advocates for live theatre in this way.

By way of an afterthought, it occurs to me that Claudius might prefer the DVD option, but then of course he has a vested interest.

By Phil Tattersall-King, Head of Drama