Suzie-Louise has been a don at Radley for 23 years, having joined the Common Room as one of only eight female teachers in 2000. She is currently Head of Academic Music and PSHE. We sat down with Suzie and asked her about her first days here.
I arrived from Bradfield College, where I’d taught music for four years. Before that I worked with children with severe learning and physical impairments and really wanted to become a music therapist, but at the time, Cambridgeshire didn’t have the funding, so I decided to get my PGCE and found I loved teaching.
Having arrived at Radley, I began to find my feet and make friends in my first few years here by putting on community shows, involving boys, dons and partners. We had a wonderful small theatre where the Coffee Shop now is. It wasn’t very high-tech, so we were able to put on shows on our own. One I remember fondly was Gershwin’s Crazy For You which we did with an orchestra, it was great fun and I remain really grateful to the likes of Niall Murphy, Garry Wiseman and Simon Carr who were very supportive.
Tell us about the various aspects of your busy role.
I teach academic music to the Shells and also GCSE and A-Level Music. In fact, I’ve taught in the same classroom for 23 years! I also look after PSHE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic education). I really enjoy the PSHE side, which involves building up relationships with external specialists who then come in and deliver talks or resources to boys. It’s great to work with knowledgeable professionals who have their fingers on the pulse in a particular area, like Karl Hopwood, an expert of digital safety, and Chloe Combi, who we work with on our ‘Respect’ partnership with Downe House. PSHE covers a huge range of issues, including areas like mental health, sex education and e-safety. It can be daunting but is equally fascinating and very important.
Another aspect that I’m proud of is Radley’s commitment to partnerships, and I especially love to see our fantastic facilities used by partner schools and organisations.
In 2008 we started the programme of taking music into the local community; specifically nursing homes, hospitals, sheltered accommodation and schools for children with severe learning difficulties. Fifteen years on, Wednesday afternoons are still the most important part of my week. We pack up the van, and the boys give a concert and then chat to the audience. It’s not always easy for a 16-year-old boy to sit with an elderly lady with dementia and have a conversation, but Radley boys do it, week in and week out – it’s incredible. You can’t learn these skills in the classroom. The work John Sparks and the team are doing is brilliant; Partnerships is definitely one of the best things I do here at Radley.
What makes Radley special?
The boys and my colleagues. One of the very special things about Radley is our commitment to full boarding and providing the boys with an exciting seven-day-a-week experience which meets their needs. On a Sunday you can walk around the school and see boys rehearsing with their band, a group cuddling chameleons in the Biology department, another group in the Art department – I feel that every boy can find his niche here, whatever it might be.
I’ve loved my experience of boarding life here, although I can’t believe how spartan the Socials were when I first arrived – very different to now! I started off in F Social with an amazing Tutor called Ian Davenport who contacted me even before I arrived here to see if I could help with D of E Gold and Silver expeditions, which I’d been involved with at my last school. I did four years in F before becoming a residential Sub-Tutor in C Social – I was the second woman to take on this role. We had a really talented and creative group of boys in C – lots are still in contact with me and have gone on to become musicians, actors and journalists. I was in C with Roger Shaw and then John Sparks and after four years went to join Ben Holden in D Social, and have remained there ever since.
I’ve made some wonderful friendships and it’s very rewarding to go to the reunion events and see boys again, to hear that they’re doing well and are happy.
Away from the campus, where might we find you?
I sing in two choirs, one Oxford-based and one in London and I really enjoy my monthly book group at Abingdon Library. I’m an avid reader and get a lot out of meeting with this local group of interesting people who are not remotely connected with Radley!
Can you pick out a highlight from the last 23 years?
I’ve had many unforgettable opportunities to travel with boys: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, watching a boy teach conversational English to a group of 40 children in Japan, performing at St Mark’s in Venice, travelling on the overnight train from St Petersburg to Moscow. However, one day I will never forget was a bit closer to home, at Henley. In my first year here, Garry Wiseman invited me to Henley Royal Regatta to watch the second VIII crew he coached in the finals of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup. It was an extraordinary day and an incredible experience to be a part of.
Can you describe Radley in three words?
No ordinary place.