It’s hard to imagine Radley life without our capable, caring and adaptable Pastoral House Mistresses. PHMs provide holistic pastoral support to our boys. From day one, they ensure they are safe, happy and well-looked after, and are the first port of call when difficulties arise. There is no typical PHM. Each brings unique talents and experiences to the role, and their broad range of life experience helps them to build strong relationships with boys, staff and parents.

To shed light on this important role, we met with Jane Morgan (A Social), Joanna Taylor (G Social) and Anna Coates (J Social). Jane is currently the longest-serving PHM, having arrived in A Social to work with then-Tutor Tom Ryder eleven years ago. Anna is the newbie of the group, having started in J Social in September 2023. Jo is now in her fifth year in G Social but began her career at Radley as B Social’s PHM in 1999, staying until 2005. She returned in 2019 to see ORs as dons which was definitely ‘an odd feeling!’

We started by asking Jane, Anna and Joanna to describe the PHM role.

Jane: It’s a bit like being a Mum to 70 boys. My children went to boarding school, so I find it helpful to have the experience of being a Mum to boarders. We need to be approachable, trustworthy, liked, fun. Our role is different to that of the Tutor and Sub-Tutor. Boys may come to us first if they’ve done something wrong, and we can be there to help, guide and advise. I hope the boys feel comfortable coming to talk to us about anything.

Anna: It’s such a privilege to find yourself in that position.

Jo: I think those are the days when you feel this is what you’re here to do. When you have helped to sort something out that is important to the boy but not necessarily a huge issue in the grand scheme of things. Those are the really good days.

Anna: I think it’s the balance that’s key – to be able to have fun with the boys but also to know the point at which to stop. To me, it’s a bit like spinning plates; keeping in mind all the tasks that need doing, reminding and jollying boys along and thinking of all their different needs.

Jane: Part of the role is the relationship we build with parents – I’ve made some lifelong friends with parents of boys from my Social.

Anna: Building trust with parents is so important and I’ve been very mindful of it as a new member of staff. It’s vital to work with parents to build that trust and show that their son is being really well cared for.

Jo: The quality of the relationship between boys and staff at Radley is something I’ve not experienced anywhere else. I’ve worked in three schools now and I don’t think anywhere compares.

Jane: And the boys genuinely love it here. You can feel it and see it everywhere. Their wellbeing and happiness is our priority.

Tell us about your background before you joined Radley and the skills you have found helpful in your PHM role.

Jane: I think all eleven of us bring different things to the role. I did many different things before this job – I was in the police, cabin crew, a classroom assistant in primary schools and a personal trainer, but I never felt I’d really found my niche. My children always told me they thought I’d make a great matron. I saw the job advert in The Lady and came for the interview – I’d only been here a matter of hours and I already knew I wanted the job. I packed up my home and moved here two weeks later and it was the best decision I ever made.

Anna: I’m trained as a Youth and Community Worker and worked for the local authority for 25 years, mainly in personal social education around drugs, alcohol and sexual health with teenagers across Essex. For the last five years I worked for The Children’s Society with teenagers in social care. It was an exciting role but very challenging and having spent thirty years working in this area I felt ready for a change. Friends of mine had worked in boarding schools, in both teaching and pastoral roles, and I’d always been intrigued by it. From their experiences I knew what I was letting myself in for, so the long hours and expectations of the role haven’t come as a shock. When my partner retired recently the time felt right to do something different. I love the bustle of it and the sense of community which is so strong here at Radley – it’s like a family. That really appeals to me.

Jo: I boarded at school and absolutely loved every minute of it. Before I went, I’d never stayed away from home because I got so homesick, so I understand what homesickness is like. After university I went to work at News International in marketing and advertising but realised the job wasn’t for me. I ended up back at home needing to find something else to do and saw the advert for the PHM role in The Lady. My father told me I was too young, at 27, so I applied partly just to prove him wrong!  I loved my five years in B Social, but I felt I ought to have a bit of a change and get some different experiences. I always said I would love to return and my friends told me I was at my happiest when I was doing the PHM role. In 2019 the time was right, and an opportunity came up in G Social.

What makes a boarding education special?

Jane: Boarding helps with boys’ independence and resilience – learning to live and get along with people is such an important lesson. The fact that all the boys board here at Radley means everyone is in the same boat. We become their family and this is their home when they’re at school.

Jo: It is very rare that the boys fall out with each other. And if they do, they tend to sort things out very quickly.

Anna: If there’s an issue and we need to be involved, it’s important to be able to address a situation, say what needs to be said, and then draw a line under it and move on.

Jane: Definitely – I can be in Sergent-Major mode, getting everyone to strip their beds and get their dirty laundry taken down one minute, and dancing around to a song on the radio the next.

Jo: Radleians have a great ability to push the fun and high jinks right to the brink and then stop before they’ve gone too far. Cocoas, downtime – those times are my favourite, the boys come out with such gems that really make you laugh. I have a book of quotes and remind them of the funnies at their 6.2 leavers’ dinner. Traditions are also one of my favourite things about Radley.

Jane: And all the events – The Haddon Cup, Spens Trophy, Partsong and Declamations.

Jo: Especially supporting the Social at sporting events.

Anna: I loved hearing my boys rehearsing for Partsong – it gave me goosebumps.

Jane: The last night of the Michaelmas Term is one of my favourite nights – Secret Santa is brilliant fun.

What qualities and skills do you feel you bring to the role? 

Jo: Empathy, a sense of fun and getting to know the boys.

Jane: Fitness is really important to me, so I do talk to the boys about keeping fit and nutrition. Parents are encouraged to send the boys back with healthier tuck boxes. We also talk a lot about the importance of sleep and the effect of things like caffeine. I take the Shells on early morning runs when we have the lighter mornings.

Jo: For the new boys, tuck is a novelty when the first arrive and if we’re not careful they’ll have eaten it all in the first week!

Anna: Awareness is important – knowing who needs a bit of a closer eye kept on them for whatever reason. You need to use your intuition and initiative to work out the best time to talk to someone.

Jane: The boys often ask us about our own younger lives. Every Wednesday, I gather the Shells together at bedtime and tell them a story about my life; they love it!

Anna: I feel I’ve been able to help boys who have been feeling the pressure of exams – we can help them see the bigger picture and offer a different perspective if they’re getting overwhelmed.

What has made you stay or brought you back?  

Jo: It comes back to that word again: community.

Anna: Coming up the drive and spending the day here when I came for my interview – I didn’t know what to expect and I did have some pre-conceptions. What struck me was the friendliness from everyone on campus, everyone smiled – it felt warm and positive.

Jane: We genuinely love the job.

Jo: You couldn’t do it otherwise! I feel lucky to be here.

Jane: We’re proud to be part of Radley.

“Boarding helps with boys’ independence and resilience – learning to live and get along with people is such an important lesson. The fact that all the boys board here at Radley means everyone is in the same boat. We become their family and this is their home when they’re at school"