Outside and the education of the whole person

Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales SchoolsIn a recent article for The Telegraph, Sir Ken Robinson exhorts parents to get their kids outside and playing over the half-term holiday, stressing the great developmental benefits of fresh stimuli and self-directed activity. Schools, he suggests, also have an important role in protecting playtimes and organising learning beyond the confines of the classroom. I find myself nodding in assent by way of response, although this is tempered with some dismay at how this perfectly sensible, obvious and freely available educational good should need promoting in this way. Surely, we know all this!

Bedales has a long-standing commitment to outdoor work. Encouraging a connection with nature was central to the mission of Bedales founder John Badley to educate the whole person – ‘head, hand and heart’. Today, we take great pride and pleasure in seeing our students develop their knowledge, confidence and appreciation of the natural world through a sustained involvement in outdoor projects. The time they spend identifying birds, growing vegetables and caring for lambs is as much a part of them growing into their adult selves as is time spent in the classroom and library.

Is Bedales out of step with the educational mainstream? I would argue not – rather, the dominant educational orthodoxy has broken loose from its historical moorings. As long ago as 1904, government regulations for elementary schools stressed the value of practical work as part of a wider emphasis on educating the ‘total being’ rather than simply imparting knowledge. A quarter of a century later, the 1931 Hadow Report proposed that the primary school curriculum be thought of in terms of ‘activity and experience’. Thus, what is now understood by some to be a woolly 1960s permissive educational orthodoxy – that of learning at one’s own pace through discovery rather than the mechanical transmission of facts through instruction – was welcomed by policy makers half a century earlier.

Outdoor Work 1Today, Bedales continues Badley’s work by encouraging our students to develop a facility for understanding their subjects, and indeed their worlds, from as many different perspectives and experiences as possible. Doing and making are key to this – not because we direct our students necessarily to these pursuits as professions (although we’re happy when they do), but because they offer engagement of a particular nature, exercising those parts of ourselves different to those used in more obviously cerebral pursuits. The kind of facility with learning that we seek to foster, I believe, goes hand in hand with wellbeing for young people and adults alike – surely the one constant legitimate purpose of education.

We must trust young people, working with their teachers – far more than policy makers appear willing to – as they work out what education, and indeed the world, means for them. If we do our work as educators well, we will give students the space and wherewithal to do this, a key component of which is getting our collective hands dirty outside, and on a regular basis.

Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools