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What’s it really like to be a Housemistress?

Harriet Cox, Housemistress at Marlborough College, gives us a sneak peak into her day-to-day life running a busy boarding house. Living with 70 teenage girls and supporting them through their highs and lows… it’s a real rollercoaster!



When I was offered the chance to run a boarding house, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew that by working in a boarding school I would get to know pupils in the round, and the experience of understanding how an unenthusiastic biology student ticks because you have coached them on the hockey pitch, can do wonders for their grasp of photosynthesis…

The morning

At 6am, I am out the door with my two crazy whippets for a quick run; although this can slide a bit towards the end of a busy term. I am sitting on my big blue sofa by 8am to check in the girls while they have breakfast. This is a useful time to pick up any problems, sadness or worries which may be playing on their minds, some of which can be solved before the day begins. With my farewell cry of ‘Take out those hoop earrings’ and in recent times ‘Don’t forget your facemask!’, they are off to lessons.

The afternoon

I love the vibe in house in the afternoons: busy girls running in and out to their co-curricular activities (often late), stopping for chats while they buy some tuck or coming together for tea and homemade cakes in Common Room. These times are when the year groups mix freely and conversation comes easily, as the older Elmhurstians hand down stories and advice on university applications, relationships and everything in between.

The evening

An evening of work is followed by a weekly house meeting to discuss issues, relay house news and a roundup of the weekend’s activities. Other nights can be occupied by house quizzes, hot chocolates round the fire-pit or celebrating a birthday or a year group achievement. I have become an expert at cooking pizza and cheesy nachos! The offer of food and treats provides an opportunity for people to put down their phones and chat, laugh or cry.

When I started, I wanted the girls to win every house competition, but the more I learn about teenagers the clearer it becomes that the key is to build a community where pupils feel safe and supported, where they can relax and be themselves and, if not too trite, to create a happy house.

Running a boarding house is not always easy and after 10 years I still have days when I am confronted with new difficulties which need careful thought, the advice of the wider pastoral team and my husband’s independent counsel.

I can honestly say that it is a privilege to be part of these girls’ lives, guiding them to become strong, confident young women who will make their marks in the world.

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