Tony Phillips has been a houseparent of the Upper Sixth boarding house Heden Hall for the last ten years. During this time, he has had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of many students, with one former pupil describing him ‘as possibly the most inspirational person I have met in my life.’ Another former student said: ‘he gave me the confidence and the drive I have today; I could not be where I am today without his help and guidance.’
How does one become an ‘inspirational’ houseparent? We caught up with Tony Phillips to find out, and to discover what life is like for students who board at Heden.
What is the most important thing about your role as a houseparent?
I see my first and fundamental priority as ensuring that each and every student comes through the Upper Sixth safely and happily. By safely I mean that they are not subjected to any forms of bullying or any negative or detrimental peer pressure, and by happily I mean that they are achieving their potential. My overall role is to make sure that they achieve their academic potential.
What do you enjoy about being a houseparent?
I make a difference to the lives of young people, and I make a positive difference to the lives of the individual. It’s the best job in the school. Part of my role is about moral leadership. I try to make the students believe that in order to get fulfilment, it is important to live their lives not just for themselves, that they must strive to help others. There is no fulfilment in living life for oneself. As humans we have a duty to right wrongs, serve man, and do justice.
How do you go about being a houseparent?
I do try to treat the students like adults. In that way there is a sense of empathy, and we build up a feeling of trust. I like to converse rather than dictate. So I will explain why they can’t do something and the consequences of their actions, rather than telling them simply ‘no.’ I also have an open door policy; the students know they can come to talk to me with a degree of confidence, and there is always the support of the excellent pastoral staff.
What opportunities are there for boarders at Heden?
There are opportunities for leadership in the Heden Cabinet, which is a student body we have in the boarding house. They meet and come up with various ways of changing the environment around them. I appoint students to various roles: head of a particular wing, head of a corridor, head of social events, head of international students and fulltime boarders. Everyone’s views are heard. Full-time boarders go into Chichester every Saturday afternoon, and every Sunday there is cultural/shopping trip to places like Winchester, Guildford and Brighton.
What is the routine like in the Heden boarding house?
We have reading time at 4.30 to 5.30pm every day, and prep is between 7 and 9.30pm every evening. There are no mobiles allowed at prep time. Some students may like working after 10pm, and we accommodate that. We are flexible at Heden, but we do enforce prep time, because it has to be done and that time is sacrosanct. We have a guideline for the house to be quiet by 11pm. There should be no television, or loud music; it should be a quiet time of calmness.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the younger generation?
Life is more complicated in terms of the balance they can give to life. When I was their age my entertainment was sport and like them, the television, which only had three channels. I loved my encyclopaedia and my atlas. Whereas now there is a lot of pressure in terms of technology, websites, and computer games. Young people nowadays don’t read. At Heden, we have a reading hour between 4.30 and 5.30pm every day, where students are encouraged to read novels, biographies, and autobiographies: not textbooks and magazines! Also, society today is more liberal, young people have a social life I wasn’t allowed to enjoy until I left home.
What do you think students get from their time at Heden?
For many students boarding at Heden is their first experience of boarding. The consistency and routine helps many to produce better results than they otherwise would have had expected. Heden is also excellent preparation for university. It is a halfway house between school and university, which to my knowledge is unique. Life at Heden encourages self-reliance and a degree of independence.
Many students leave Seaford as well-balanced, talented and ambitious individuals. Why do you think Seaford has been so successful in producing this calibre of student?
Many of the pupils have to work hard to achieve, and many of them do achieve. They often come here with low expectations, and through hard work and the sacrifice of their parents, they leave here not believing that they are better, or indeed worse, than anyone else.
Follow the link to read an interview with Harry Collins, a boarder at Heden Hall http://www.seaford.org/2015/01/the-sixth-form-boarding-experience/