Angie Prince-Iles is Head Houseparent of Mansion, the Girls Boarding House at Seaford College. Parents of pupils have thanked her for ‘all the wonderful care, love, and support’ she has shown to their children, commenting how it is ‘really reassuring knowing that she is a mother figure in our absence.’ We had a conversation with Angie about what it’s like to be a houseparent and to look after the 24 girls in the boarding house, as well as finding out what life is like for the boarders at Mansion.
What opportunities are there for boarders at Mansion?
We have a Head of House, a Deputy Head of House, and House Prefects. The girls can air their opinions at the Girls Boarding Meeting, which is run by the Prefects and the Head of House. We give our boarders life skills; for example we have a kitchen rota and girls are asked to keep their rooms’ neat and tidy which teaches the girls how to take responsibility. We promote other life skills like cooking; recently we baked cakes for charity, as well as giving the girls the opportunities to join in evening clubs and events such as Greenpower, Music and Drama performances. We also like to celebrate different cultures in the evening, so the girls can get a good understanding of different backgrounds.
Are there any activities for boarders at the weekends and in the evenings at Mansion?
We have a lot of weekend trips. On Friday nights the students go to Sainsbury’s to stock up on their basics, and then Saturdays are usually shopping trips to places like Chichester. On Sundays, we visit places of cultural importance like Stonehenge. The weekend activities we offer are very good; other schools just don’t offer the things that we do. The girls really appreciate the trips, and they have a say in where they get to go. At the beginning of the year we have a house bonding trip, and this year we went bowling. Some evenings the girls have a pizza night or go to the cinema. We also do pilates, yoga, and aerobics in the evenings. We have a beauty night coming up; one of the teachers is also a beautician, so the girls will learn how to do manicures and facials. We are also looking into having a sign language workshop.
What do you think the students get out of their boarding experience?
I think they’re very settled at Mansion. The boarders don’t have a journey home in the evenings, and they have an environment in which they can relax and also know that they can get their prep done. We monitor academic performance closely within the house, using boarders challenge grades to set individual targets every few weeks. As a Housemistress I read all of my boarders’ reports and discuss both these and any other feedback I receive from their teachers with them. There are also lots of staff on site to help them with their prep too. If they are struggling, I promote group work, and they really bounce off one another then. The older girls really like to help the younger ones; one of our Year 12s is a great mathematician and helps out the other boarders. Also, the girls get a social aspect in the evenings that they just wouldn’t get a home, building some very solid friendship skills.
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?
I think the school and the teachers have a very down to earth nature. We are very honest at Seaford. So if a pupil does something wrong, we are very quick to guide them and help them learn from their mistakes. I think the pupils at Seaford have an understanding and respect of what we are trying to do here. Students believe in themselves because their teachers believe in them, and so they are encouraged to achieve and reach their personal bests. I really believe in my boarders and I know they will all achieve with the support and guidance that is offered here at Seaford. One of my boarders was singing at the piano one day and I said that she should go to choir. She didn’t believe she was good enough before, but she went along and she got in.
What is the most important thing about your role as a houseparent?
The most important thing is to create a happy, safe, homely, environment in which the girls can prosper so that they are really able to get the most out of their time here. I want to ensure that their welfare is looked after, and that I accommodate the needs of all the boarders, whether full, weekly, or flexi. I was Resident Assistant at Mansion for three years before I became a houseparent, I quickly realised just how important it was to get to know each boarder as an individual, giving them the time and attention they truly need. It is such a rewarding experience knowing that that you are a figure that students can come to and that you are making a difference to their lives by guiding them through school.
What’s it like looking after the 24 girls who board at Mansion?
We very much see it as an extension of our own family. My partner and I aim to provide our boarders with a home from home experience, and I do feel a bit like a mother to all of them! I bear in mind that the girls will be going through a lot in their teenage years, so I try to read a situation before anything develops; if a girl is upset about something minor, I try to find out what’s going on behind that. The girls come to chat in my office on a regular basis, and I think that really helps them. Mansion also has a fantastic prefect structure and a peer-mentoring system, so there is a really good atmosphere in the house. It feels like the girls can talk about anything to each other. Having such a range of ages (Years 9-13) can be a challenge, and you have to tailor the boarding experience for each age range. So for example, we give the Year 12s a degree of responsibility and privilege because they are that bit older.
Did you board at school? Would you have liked to have boarded at Seaford?
I didn’t board, but I would have liked very much to have boarded here. I think it would have given me a lot more confidence; I was very shy. I didn’t have a very good experience at school; but boarding here, having my friends around me, would have been fantastic.
How did you get into teaching?
Teaching wasn’t my first career choice! I was working in Brighton as a jeweller and silversmith for eight years, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. I became a teacher in DT and it felt like I’d come home. But I think my life experience really helps my teaching; I have an awareness of how precious life is. I talk often talk to the girls about what they want to do and I try to share this awareness with them.
What’s it like balancing having children with a busy teaching and pastoral role? Do you ever bring Evie to the boarding house?
The boarders love Evie. They say it must be hard but I love it. Evie and I get a lot from the school, Evie is very confident because she has 24 sisters to play with! When I take Evie into the boarding house the girls really show their nurturing side, and it is so nice to see that side of them. It helps those girls who perhaps are a bit quiet to open up. It’s funny what effect children and animals have! The girls do care about her a lot, it’s lovely.
Finally, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the younger generation?
I think technology is the biggest challenge. It can be incredible, but when used incorrectly, it can be a very destructive. That’s why we have a lot of policies in place to protect our students and inform them of the risks that technology poses. In the first week of term the students go to talks about internet safety, and afterwards we had a very open chat about it. The girls give in their phones at prep time, which they find helps them concentrate a lot better. I think there is also a lot of pressure on young people in terms of body image. We educate our boarders about eating healthily and educate them that the ‘perfect’ body image portrayed by the media isn’t real, that the most important thing for them is to be happy and healthy.
It is an exciting time for Mansion; there is a waiting list for boarders and there are plans for expansion underway.