Steve Rathbone presides over academic life at Radley but has had a number of roles during his time here. Ahead of his retirement in July, we asked Steve to take us back to when he first arrived at Radley.
I came from Haileybury College in 1990 and stayed here until 2008. In that time I was an Assistant Master serving in C Social as Resident Sub-Tutor for six years, then became Head of Community Action (a prototype Head of Partnerships), Head of History and was then A Social Tutor for five years. In 2008 I decided I wanted to go back to university, so I left to do a full time MA degree in International Relations & Security at King’s College, London. I returned in September 2011 and started as Academic Director in September 2012.
What does the job of Academic Director entail?
It’s about the academic life of the school and managing over 30 Heads of Department. Big moments for me each year are A-level and GCSE days in August when we get results for over 300 boys – a lot of analysis, administration and post-mortems come with that. Radley prides itself on its excellent academic output and our credibility in this area is very important to the future of the school. As Academic Director, I must use a range of skills simultaneously: for instance, being strategic but also interested in the detail; being a good diplomat but also prepared to have very difficult conversations. The key is keeping standards high and maintaining the attitude that we can always be better next year.
What has been your ethos in your time as Academic Director?
I’ve always tried to remind the school that we must keep looking outside our gates to ensure we keep a sense of perspective. One way I’ve sought to do this is by bringing in speakers with different opinions on all sorts of things. I also strive to cultivate relationships with other organisations and in other fields and I’m passionate about the importance of technology in education – in recent years I have advocated for the introduction of academic Computer Science and the MakerSpace in the Design Engineering Department. I think it’s vital in my role to have a genuine rapport with the boys and an interest in them – which is beyond mere data – to be sure they don’t feel that all we are interested in is results. My experience as a Tutor was invaluable in developing those skills. The most exciting thing for me is trying to work out what’s over the horizon, and what we need to prepare for next. Our world is being turned upside down and one of the lessons of history is that most people are asleep most of the time…
Is there a highlight you can pick out?
I’m very proud of establishing the annual Holocaust Conference. At its heart it aims to illustrate to the students the importance of having the moral courage to speak out when terrible things are happening. On an everyday level, that is what we are focusing on with our emphasis on challenging ‘bystander culture’ with regard to bullying and other forms of unpleasantness. I was asked to Westminster a few years ago to join a discussion on the proposed (now confirmed) Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens and was introduced to Dame Helen Hyde (Trustee of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum) and we built up the conference together.
What makes Radley a special place?
Radley continues to attract very good people; boys, parents and staff. I have huge affection for the College and always will have – it’s an extraordinarily good school, with a particularly united and very warm Common Room. Now and again, I’ve been lucky enough to have these tremendous surprises where boys have come up to me many years later as men and say ‘do you remember when you said X to me?’ I usually can’t remember at all, but they will tell me that it changed their view or it was what they needed to hear at the time – that’s really rewarding.
What changes have you seen academically?
We’ve got through various reforms to exams over the years, and of course reorganising the school during Covid, which was difficult. One thing that’s really changed is the way in which neurodiversity is now understood. The attitude towards learning difficulties and differences has changed immeasurably. Boys are more open-minded about university and course choice. Creative arts and Design Engineering now have the respect they always deserved. Under John Moule in particular, the school was made to see it can achieve so much more – and be so much more – than it thought possible.
Tell us a bit about your life outside work?
I used to do a lot of fell-running. It’s a good sport for older blokes, even if that seems counterintuitive. I enjoy field sports, particularly shooting and I think I could have been a good sniper. I have two classic Massey Ferguson tractors which I love driving. People ask: why? I reply: why not? Chainsawing is another passion – as, oddly, it is for a number of colleagues. My father was a vicar, and I grew up in a rural parish where I became fascinated by farming and developed a deep love for the countryside. Farmers sometimes get bad press and I think that is very unfair indeed. My childhood is responsible for my love of history, which will always remain a hobby and a passion. I love reading and have discovered I have about 100 metres of books which I shall need to house after Radley. Getting rid of books feels like chopping off my fingers – I can’t do it.
Can you describe Radley in three words?
Civilised. Sane. Purposeful.