A personal view of Boarding from the Housemaster’s perspective by Mr. Tristan Hymers – Senior Girls’ Housemaster, Pocklington School
Our first year as joint Housemaster and Housemistress of the senior girls’ boarding house at Pocklington School has been something of a whirlwind magical mystery tour.
In any school the role of Housemaster brings with it a great number of challenges and responsibilities. For my wife Helen and I the lifestyle change has been significant. Becoming the surrogate parents for 40 teenage girls is by no means an easy feat. It is an emotionally involving job and we have worked hard to strike a balance between being sensitive to the girls’ needs while at the same time setting clear boundaries. Our teaching and pastoral skills have been tested beyond what we thought capable and a great deal of our time has been spent supporting the girls with academic, social and emotional issues, but when you see them emerge from this and go on to do great things it is extremely rewarding.
I had grown up in boarding albeit at a time when there were 16 boys in a dormitory lined with steel framed beds, and for the most part sixth form boys ruled the house. It wasn’t quite Tom Brown’s Schooldays, but the ‘Children Act’ was just coming into force and you could say that the ghost of Flashman lingered somewhat. It toughened me up a little, and taught me something about respecting my elders, and how to earn a living through ‘pizza runs’ and ‘selling toast’ but I am glad to report that things have changed considerably in boarding since then.
Most boarding schools seem to follow a similar routine, but on taking up my new post at Pocklington I was initially surprised by the flexibility, freedom and independence that our boarders enjoy. At Pocklington, the traditional rigid daily structure (and being ruled by a school bell) has been replaced by a more homely and flexibly structured environment in which boarders are encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives and are entrusted with a great number of privileges which empower them to become people who have the capacity to think on their feet in what is becoming a dynamic and fast changing environment around them.
Pocklington boarders have a great deal of choice with how they organise their work and free time outside of the school day. We encourage them to take responsibility for their own independent learning and we are flexible with where and how they choose to go about their prep on an evening. Upon completing their prep, many boarders choose to join in with a scheduled activity e.g. cooking, swimming, sports, textiles, or spending time doing their music practice. Birthdays are often celebrated with a group of friends over a meal in a local restaurant, with prep being fitted in around the occasion. This is the stuff of normal life and although at times it can be a challenge to the management skills of both staff and pupils we firmly believe this ultimately provides a better experience away from home and that learning to cope with the unscheduled is an important life skill which should be part of a well rounded 21st century boarding education.
We can be more flexible with our students because we are a small, close knit community where pupils know, and are known personally, to all of the staff involved in their daily care. We are able to devote more time and attention to each individual and consequently, very little escapes our notice. This enables us to deliver a more personalised approach towards supporting pupils and their families. First time boarding parents can sometimes need as much reassurance as their daughters about their anxieties, and our size enables us to do devote time to building trust. Ultimately a boarding community is about relationships, not just the boarders’ relationships with each other but with all those who are involved in their care. Central to these relationships is the interests of each and every individual boarder.
A silent House at the end of term is as eerie and unsettling as it is a relief. In the days that follow the end of term we are left with what can only be described as an empty feeling. Something is missing from our lives but not for long, as we know that when September comes, the house will be buzzing again with the sound of enthusiastic young voices.