All about boarding

Independent Education Today editor Dave Higgitt talks to Simon Smith, housemaster and science teacher at Taunton School

As housemaster of boys’ house Fairwater, science teacher Simon Smith is responsible for the wellbeing of close on seventy boys, most of them in the sixth form and representing a mix of nationalities, including German, Italian, French, Belgian, Nigerian, Chinese, Russian and more.

IE: Engineering and the sciences are very much key to the school, aren’t they?

SS: For a strange reason, when I came here as the head of science, I was amazed at the numbers that take it up post-16. It’s still very, very popular. That’s probably a consequence of enforcing three sciences right up to GCSE. I teach physics and we probably have a disproportionate number of girls, and that probably bucks the national trend. Again, I don’t know why. The international element helps – I think there are more international girls doing physics than British girls, because a number of them do think about engineering, and do think more about sort of scientific jobs.

IE: To turn to the boarding school, what are the main issues? What’s changing?

SS: Cultural differences and the way people work, sleep, times they’re up, eating habits – all that has changed massively, so you’ve always got to keep an eye on the fact that you can quite often get Africans who get bombarded with fast food chains and quick food, and that becomes a luxury – a readily accessible thing for them here. So we’re always trying to prevent that. And not just them, the whole house. Encouraging them to eat the good food we have here. So diet is one area. Also, sleeping habits – you’re dealing with hormonal boys who want to get up at eleven o’clock and go to bed at two o’clock in the morning, and we’re fighting against that. Which is difficult. A lot of them are seventeen or eighteen, so you’ve got to understand that a lot of them have to make their own decisions in life. So you point out the repercussions of their decisions, and sometimes it takes them a while to realise that actually, you know, you are making sense.

IE: How does a day go for you being the housemaster rather than the physics teacher?

SS: Well, keeping an eye on sixty-six, seventy boys – it’s difficult and you can’t. You’d be up all hours – well, I probably pretty much am up all hours. I’m up at quarter to seven in the morning and I won’t go to bed until gone midnight. It has an impact on my family – I’ve got a twelve-year-old and an eleven-year-old, and whilst they’re very busy and I rely on my wife picking them up, I don’t get to see them play sport– they pop into my study and I see them off to bed. That’s tough at times, but my wife works at the school as well – she’s a secretary – so we know that in the summer, for example, we’ve got nine weeks off together.

 

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