6.1 Politics students visit Westminster

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By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government and Politics

On 4 March, Bedales 6.1 students were invited to take part in a livestream Question Time event at Westminster. We combined our visit with a tour of the House of Commons, which we were originally due to undertake in the summer, the House of Lords and the Lobby Hall, where ordinary citizens can go and lobby MPs.

We were fortunate to have the tour at a time when Parliament was in sitting, as usually school tours take place when Parliament is in recess. We saw David Davis, Hilary Benn, Diane Abbott, Dame Patricia Hodge and John Bercow, Speaker of the Commons, controlling the debate. The topic was initially on housing and communities, leading to urgent questions on weapon control.

The House of Lords was rather more a slow-moving affair, with bowing to the empty throne one of the quaint conventions we witnessed. Students may have also been surprised to see on the order paper that the morning and afternoon sessions began with prayers.

After our tour, we went to a lecture room where we and one other school were the student audience assembled to address a panel of MPs on two topics: ‘Are referendums good for democracy?’ and ‘Does the House of Commons exercise enough control over the executive arm of the government?’

The MPs on the panel were Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North who was on the BBC Question Time panel last week; Carol Monaghan, Scottish National Party member for Glasgow North West; Nigel Huddleston, Conservative member for Mid-Worcestershire; and Chris Matheson, Labour MP for Chester.

After a brief explanation of their positions on Brexit (they were all remainers), Bedales student Jonathan Greenfield asked the first question on referendums, which centred on the possibilities of tying referendums to specific constitutional points and making them more legally binding. The panel generally agreed this would be a good idea, with Carol Monaghan explaining that the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014 had been better prepared so issues were well understood by the time of the vote, and there was therefore less argument about the referendum afterwards.

The second question came from another Bedales student, Mack Cowling, who asked a question about the ‘shelf-life’ of referendums – a very good question in which he even cited the correct date of the previous referendum.

On Parliament’s control of the Executive, most argued that there is control, particularly with a minority government as at present, as well as Select Committees and Prime Minister’s Questions, where the incumbent does not know the questions beforehand. Barry Gardiner disagreed, however, seeing the control as limited even in current times. He pointed to the government’s use of ancient means (‘Henry VIII clauses’) to push things through.

The trip was an unparalleled opportunity for the students not only to see Parliament in action but also to be able to debate face-to-face with current politicians. Watch the live debate here.

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Politics students attend Westminster conference

By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government and Politics

A group of 6.1 Politics students went to an A Level Politics Conference held in the vast Methodist Hall at Westminster on Monday, 3 December.

As the hall is very near Parliament, well known politicians come across and speak to the audience of approximately 2,000 students. The format is that the politician addresses the hall on a particular issue for ten minutes and then takes questions, some of them difficult (there is no vetting procedure!) for 20 minutes.

The conference started with an address by Sir John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, who explained how he saw his role and he spoke very clearly. He was asked a question about bullying culture in the House; he himself has had his name raised on this issue, which he hotly denied.

Sir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave an erudite exposition of his line on Europe and the audience was broadly sympathetic. He responded honestly to an inevitable question about broken promises on tuition fees.

Nigel Farage drew a lively response, claiming along the way that he alone was responsible for the disappearance of the far-right British National Party (BNP). He challenged the audience to name the current leader of UKIP – and one student knew the correct answer, Gerrard Batten.

Chuka Umunna spoke smoothly – some felt a little too smoothly – for Labour and was followed by perhaps the least effective speaker, Emily Thornberry. In response to a question about Jeremy Corbyn’s links to terrorists, she lost her temper and unfortunately turned on the student posing the question. It was, after all, a perfect opportunity for her to refute the charge.

Nicky Morgan (former Minister for Education) spoke in a balanced way about Brexit.

Perhaps the most persuasive speaker was Jess Phillips, the feisty Labour MP who campaigns tirelessly and fearlessly for women’s rights. She dealt with some mildly chauvinist questions effectively and was persuasive, honest and fun. Her book, Everywoman, would make a good addition to anyone’s Christmas list.

The afternoon was rounded off by the inimitable Jacob Rees-Mogg, who answered questions directly and honestly, including one on his views on abortion which were not in sympathy with the student body. I need not remind you of his views on Brexit!

This was a most worthwhile and enjoyable day, but unfortunately there were not enough tickets for all the 6.1 students, which was a shame as I could have filled the allocation three times over.

Lyrical Ballads: exploring Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley

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From 4-7 February, 6.2 English students studying Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) visited Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley. We explored a number of sites that were important to the early Romantic poets and that were depicted throughout their poetry, and learnt about the poems’ historical and contemporary critical reception.

Below is our poetic response to the trip, which draws on the various forms and meters experimented with by Wordsworth and Coleridge. There is no “gaudiness and inane phraseology” as seen in many “modern writers” though, as Wordsworth continued, to say:

“Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.”

By Ed’s English Set, with thanks to Ed Mason and Clare Lock for an incredible trip!

A Romantic Road Trip

How to begin? What a wonder:

We rose with the dawn one Friday morn

And headed to Kilve’s shore;

Taking in Somerset’s landscape and croissants

on our Bedales bus to the rumbling of its core.

 

On the beach we contemplated Wordsworth’sIMG_8699

‘Anecdote for Fathers’, found fossils,

And maxed out on photographs

The rock formations afforded us.

 

To Watchet, to its harbour, to its sculpture

Of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

To coffee, cake and reading

‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Lime Tree Bower’.
Then arriving in Wells, the smallest city in the land,

The Good Earth provided us lunch and warmth of conversation

We met Agnes in her eighties

She is full of energy

Conversation turned to Bedales and she recognises the name

She mentions ‘riotous’ behaviour whilst chuckling into her soup.

Upon leaving we’re told to ensure we see ‘Quarter Jack’

Who, in Wells Cathedral, in his glorious mechanisation kicks

A chime from the bells each quarter hour.

 

Food filled, we ventured a cavern of vast size

The Wookey Hole.IMG_8714

Tracking the neoclassical footsteps of Alexander Pope,

the group entered an ancient Jurassic world guided by a Wookey enthusiast,

special effects enhanced tales of witches, Celts and cheeses

then out through a mirror maze and Victorian penny games

and away from the Bizarre.

 

Down the rained cobbles of the most complete medieval street in Europe,

In Wells. We entered the rib cage of the Cathedral

Following its high white bones arching upwards

To prettily painted veins of decoration,

Hearing the high notes of Wells choir rehearsing

For Handal’s Messiah in some hidden chamber.

 

Upon the hour, in the vestry we witnessed

Jack’s musical movement in all its glory

Thanking Agnes quietly.

 

Travelodge and shower

went another hour.

 

Out for food to be filled again!

Then Tesco for face masks and ice cream

Bed time. Sweet dreams.

 

We rose with the rain

Bus and breakfasted again.

To Tintern and its rustic ruinIMG_8755

Dancing in the rain drops

We frolicked among its

Battered buttresses

And tried to recreate Turner’s perspective

And Wordsworth’s words

‘with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy

We see into the life of things.’

 

Tintern Abbey to Clifton’s cave

Limboing we descended down a rocky oesophagus

To a viewing platform made from the cave’s mouth

Looking out toward the suspension bridge-

Sending us whistled complaints in the wind.

And there we read of how Coleridge struggled to define

the difference betwixt beautiful, picturesque and sublime.

 

Lunchtime.

 

Bristol – a tapas bar

Hummus, chicken, pesto, carrot and coriander

A market selling silver from Northern India

The seller selling Bristol

For the beauty of its people.

Beautiful.

 

We regrouped at the Arnofini Gallery

Watched John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo’ which showed

Humanity’s repeated history of atrocity

Aiming to encourage our sympathy.

A brisk walk in the rain to food

Quinoa and avocados-

Eating al-fresco in Nando’s,

To a show at the Wardrobe theatre-

‘The hours before we wake’ Prophetic and amusing;

A pill for dreaming in the 22nd century.

Bus, bed and lie-in until 9:30. Luxury.

 

We rose with the bright sky

Then drove into Glastonbury

And headed up the tor, losing ourselves in the breeze

Thinking of ‘these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door.’

Somerset and more.

Picturesque.

 

Then to the last

Stonehenge. our final pilgrimage

paying homage to the scene where Tess lay,

the stones of ceremony and great debate.

Those stones which seem to defy man’s possibility

On nature’s wind-wild verdant vast plateau.

Sublime.

Shuttling back to the Bedales bus,

we beetled home under one grey sky

on roads where two great Romantics roamed

along the Valley of the Wye.

Touring the Palace of Westminster

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Politics is something that affects us all but I wonder how many people, old and young, have a true understanding of how Parliament actually works. It turns out that a trip to the Palace of Westminster is a great way to gain an insight; what’s more, as British citizens we are all entitled to a free tour of the Houses (just contact your local MP). On Wednesday, I accompanied 6.1 Politics students and Alan, the Acting Head of Department, to Westminster.

As always the Bedalians impressed me with their mature behaviour, excellent questioning, humour, knowledge and creativity, the combination of which made me smile, laugh and even at times shed a happy tear or two!

We’ve just finished our tour of Parliament and have moved into the new education centre, opened just this autumn. I’m sat here in front of them, observing their participation in a parliamentary workshop, which they are fully engaged with. Sitting in two teams, red and blue, two primary colours that apparently have nothing to do with the parties. To my left are the reds and to my right the blues.

Starting with a guess the country game, to warm up, the teacher calls out some bizarre laws such as it being illegal to kiss someone with a moustache.

Moving on to the more serious stuff students were taken through the whole law making process via role play, with one student taking centre stage as speaker.

Parliament started with a vote on which bill to debate, each party submitting their own choice to the ballot: the blues choose EU exit whilst the reds choose (in response) to burn the nationalists! Needless to say, the EU exit bill got voted in, under closed eyes to add anonymity.

Had I kept my eyes shut, I might have been forgiven for thinking that the youngsters had been replaced by professional actors. The debate was excellent; well informed and serious despite its humour. George was leading the debate, it was a blue initiative, and he opened with an extremely strong and convincing argument about the freedoms and benefits associated with leaving the EU. The reds, however, were quick to come back with a counter argument based around immigration, asylum and equality for all.

Post debate, more questions were posed to the students, all designed to inform or rather (with these students) test their existing knowledge. After which, we left Westminster and headed back to Waterloo where students shared their thoughts, proving that it was a great and educational day.

‘As someone who has a passion for politics it was certainly a great, eye-opening day, which enabled me to gain a really good insight into the political world’ – George

‘It was good to see how the British government works, now when I see British politics on the news I will know what they are talking about’ – Malik, Putney exchange student.

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry

Politics visit to the Palace of Westminster

The Politics department organised a trip to London on Monday this week, the main feature being a tour of The Houses of Parliament, our knowledgeable guide made this a particularly rewarding visit. We started in Westminster Hall which has survived since the 11th Century, where both The Queen Mother and Churchill lay in state, and Charles the First was tried. The tour continued through Lobby Halls to the green-seated House of Commons and the red-seated House of Lords, illustrated by some very entertaining stories and references to current politicians. We also visited the old St Stephen’s Chapel; the place of Parliament in the 17th century where Charles had overstepped his prerogative by bursting in and demanding the arrest of five Members in 1642. It is also where the Suffragettes chained themselves to statues after the current Palace of Westminster had been rebuilt in the Nineteenth Century (following a fire). After lunch we visited the Supreme Court opposite Parliament which had only come into being in 2009, superseding the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal. Although there was not a lot to see, our guide kept the students’ attention with some fascinating debate on ethical and legal issues in which everyone joined in. The exhibition, though small, also entertained us with stories including the legal landmarks which followed the discovery of a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer! All the students really enjoyed the day, some commenting that it was the best school trip they had been on. They were a delight to be with.

By Jonathan Selby, Teacher of Government & Politics, and History


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Examining US and UK politics

Over recent weeks, Politics students from both 6.1 and 6.2 have enjoyed full-day immersive experiences in “academic politics from an examiner’s perspective”, in the novel locations of places of worship in London, chosen specifically to encourage students to be reflective. 6.2 students, following a course in applied US politics and government, were led through talks whose titles ranged from the relevance of the Electoral College as a means of electing modern Presidents through to an assessment of whether the US Supreme Court has too much power for an unelected body. The talks led to lively debate and conversation on the train back to school, with students particularly focusing on whether the UK would benefit from a more presidential-style of government. Happily for David Cameron and the Con-Lib Coalition, they voted to keep the status quo. The course for 6.1 politics students is firmly centred in the politics and governance of the UK. Their talk titles covered a range of fascinating topics, examining the role of pressure groups such as Frack Off, Action for Children and Fathers for Justice and the balance of power between the Commons and the Lords, amongst others. The clarity of the speakers, combined with their excellent insight into the examinations system and consequent focus on essay technique and the requirements of forming a balanced argument, meant that both days were a resounding success.

By  Ruth Tarrant, Head of Government and Politics

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Students discuss Politics and Parliament with MP Damian Hinds

Last Friday, the local Conservative MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds visited Bedales to discuss with students the mechanics of Parliament. After joining a group of Bedalians for lunch, Damian spoke to a collection of Politics students and those who were curious to find out what the MP had to say. The talk provided an insight into the true procedures of Parliament allowing for a Q & A in which many Bedalian’s main focus was towards current affairs. This led to in-depth discussions with the MP which shed particular light on events including the present relationship between the Coalition and the Opposition, which led to Damian revealing the series of events contributing to David Cameron’s failed attempt for possible military action in Syria. This helped us to question the Government’s relationship with Parliament from a unique insider’s perspective. Overall it was a talk in which all the students left with a more rounded view of our government today.

By Henry Rice, 6.1

MP Damian Hinds and Bedales students

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.