The theme of this year’s Head Masters’ Conference, which I attended last week at St Andrews, was “looking forward”. Rohit Talwar, futurologist and writer of “The future of business”, kicked off by describing a world run by data and robotic machines, a world where employment levels for human beings would reach new lows, a world necessitating a complete restructure of how we live our lives economically, socially and politically. It was, to be honest, rather a depressing start to the conference, though one could choose to agree with all of it, some of it or none of it. However, the overriding point was clear: we are preparing children now for a future which is uncertain and unwritten. Many of the jobs that they will undertake in the future do not even exist today; and careers that we take for granted now will look very different in a couple of decades’ time.  Indeed, if Rohit Talwar is correct, the whole fabric of society will be entirely different.

Interestingly, I came away thinking that there may never have been a better time for a Bedford School education.  Uncertainty surrounding the future, it seems to me, serves simply to underline the extreme value of an education which concentrates more on character than grades, more on people than curriculum content.  I strongly suspect that the values which underpin our Bedford School education will be as relevant for our children’s careers as they have been for our own.  Strong and constant values underpinning nimble minds and a good work ethic will hold our boys’ futures in good stead; and an inner sense of belonging, of self-worth and security in what will be a rapidly changing world, will give our children the maximum chance of life happiness and success.

The conference took a more upbeat turn with the introduction of Matthew Syed, sports writer for The Times and a truly phenomenal speaker.  Having under his belt a 1st in PPE from Oxford, two Olympic campaigns as Britain’s number one table tennis player and a national sports journalist of the year award, he has been keen to explore the notion of success.  He claimed that people fall into two camps – those who see success as primarily a result of talent and those who see success as primarily a result of hard work.  The problem with the former is that talent without hard work is rarely realised; and indeed the very notion of talent as the driver excludes almost everyone from achieving high level success.  As most successful people will acknowledge, hard work is a far more important driver.  This has a profound effect on how we might speak to the young: describing a 15 year old as very bright or very talented may not be as effective in the long term as congratulating them for working hard at whatever they are succeeding in.  So Matthew Syed’s book “Bounce” is on my half term reading list; and for those of you who have read it and liked it, he has a new book out called “Black Box Thinking”.

I like to think that we, too, have been working hard, living our values and looking to the future this term.  I am excited by our new careers provision, which I think will turn ground-breaking for the independent sector after half term when we host a “Direct Route” event for major companies who are looking increasingly to schools as well as universities for their recruitment.  Exciting, too, as part of an extensive OB programme, was a gathering of about 60 Old Bedfordians over a glass of wine in London around a scaled model of 67 acres of Kings Cross’ current and future redevelopment, the finance for which is run by an Old Bedfordian – a good number of those present have offered their time and expertise to boys back at the school.  I am excited, too, by the emails I have received from those who have left the school in recent years saying how well they felt that Bedford had prepared them for the next stage.  I am excited that a boy new to the school in the Fourth Form said to his mother, unbidden, after three weeks with us, that he had “not heard a bad word said about anybody”.  And I am excited by the numerous achievements of our boys already this year.  The list is really quite extraordinary.   

But also as I write, the 1st XV has won all its games handsomely and is preparing for a key cup match against Sherborne; the choristers are preparing to sing as the only robed choir at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall (in front of the Queen and live on the BBC, on the evening of November 7th); the Quarry Theatre is hosting a marvellous exhibition of Andy Gotts photographs of BAFTA award winners; 34 out of (no fewer than) 63 events detailed in this term’s “What’s On” guide have still to take place; the first compilation of a new, entirely pupil run, magazine, “MDLII”, has been produced; record numbers of Gold Duke of Edinburgh boys are preparing for their half term expedition; our excellent catering team, having won the UK independent schools section of Sodexo’s annual awards, is waiting to hear if it has defeated all other sectors too (don’t believe your boys if they say that the food is not excellent!); and the whole school is preparing for its favourite event of the year, House Singing. 

It has indeed been a busy, purposeful and fun start to the academic year. 

With best wishes

James Hodgson
Head Master

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