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Meet your boarding school family: Head of Boarding, Housemaster and teacher

Steven Head with three international students at Sutton Valence school

At a UK boarding school, the head of boarding oversees staff and student welfare, ensuring the boarding school runs smoothly and offers a supportive environment for its boarding students.

Steven Head is Head of Boarding at Sutton Valence School, a co-educational school in southeast England with around 500 pupils. He is also a Chemistry teacher, sports coach and Housemaster of St Margaret’s House, a boys’ house with 55 pupils aged 13 to 18. The school has around 160 boarders across four boarding houses: two for boys only, one for girls and a mixed junior house for pupils aged 11 to 13.

'I have spent nearly 10 years working in a boarding environment across two different boarding schools. I have worked with a wide range of students with many different backgrounds, and many different nationalities. During this time I have greatly enjoyed learning new things from the students themselves, and helping them to develop their skills in what is often an unfamiliar and challenging environment. My varied roles as a teacher, Housemaster and coach put me in a good position to find out positive things about all of the students in my care.

'I am often the first port of call for guidance for all students, and I regularly find myself helping students from different cultures settle in more easily. I like to promote adaptability in all of my students, whether they’re from the UK or overseas; I believe this creates an atmosphere of mutual respect which breaks down cultural barriers and helps to create lifelong friendships. It also helps our students pick up new skills and access opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them.'

Sports on campus: Boarders play a game of rounders, left, and basketball, right  (©Sutton Valence School)

'We work hard as a boarding community within the school to provide a range of activities so that students with all strengths and interests, from anywhere in the world, will be able to find something they enjoy doing and share their passions and talents with others. An example of this was a successful Chinese New Year celebration meal, when our Chinese students took over the kitchens and cooked a fantastic meal for all their schoolmates.

'Our staff who live in the boarding houses provide a wealth of knowledge, experience and guidance for all students. We understand that it can be daunting for pupils coming from overseas to an unfamiliar culture, and we have become very accomplished at making this transition as painless as possible.

'We make sure we engage directly with students through our student forums. These are held twice every term with two representatives from each house, and we try to make sure at least one international student takes part. I chair the meetings, and they allow us to very quickly identify areas of concern before they become unmanageable – as well as plan trips and activities for boarders, hear about any improvements to facilities that they would like to see, and even find out if there are any special foods they’d like us to provide.'

Tucking into a barbecue feast after all the activities  (All photos ©Sutton Valence School)

'Often one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is seeing students enjoying each other’s company outside of day-to-day school life. A good example of this is when I take the entire boarding house out for a meal in a local restaurant. It always amazes me to see young people acting with respect and responsibility, and I am proud of the way they represent the school so positively.

'In short I believe that a boarding education in the UK provides a fantastic start in life and gives young people a range of opportunities that are too good to miss. We work hard as a school to include everyone, and I for one am a great believer that everyone has something to offer and something interesting to say.

'International students gain an immense amount from their time with us, and in return the variety and enrichment that they bring to the boarding house and school cannot be overstated. All students – from the UK and across the world – are improved by boarding in an international environment.'

Next: Meet Angela Mathews, Housemistress and Teacher at Sutton Valence School

The essential guide to boarding schools in the UK