Matron clears up teenage angst

18th July 2003 at 01:00
Looking after one son can be hard enough - but how do you cope with a 'family' of 62 boys? Emily Clark reports

TWO months is a long time to go without seeing your children - especially if you have 62 of them.

Alison Peters, a matron of a boys' boarding house at Tonbridge school in Kent, says she is sad to be leaving for the summer holidays.

"This job means being a surrogate mother to an extended family. I treat them like my own children and it is hard having no contact for two months," she said.

She is in charge of Ferox boarding house, one of seven, each with their own matron. As term comes to an end, several of Ms Peters's boys, whose fees are pound;19,150 a year, are lazily lounging around her study complaining of hangovers and girl troubles as she packs her bags.

Charles Hennings, 15, said: "I often drop in for a chat - you can tell Alison anything."

When Charles broke his arm rock-climbing last month Ms Peters took him to hospital. Last term she helped a pupil cope when his step-father died. This week she advised a boy on how to make his girlfriend feel less insecure, and reassured another who felt depressed about not being made a prefect.

Ms Peters, 41, is often the first to know if a window is broken, if a boy wets his bed, takes up smoking or drinks too much. She remembers everyone's birthdays, exam dates and university options.

Equally, the boys know about her personal life. Ms Peters told them when she broke up with her partner of six years because they knew him well.

"Building up mutual trust is the most important thing in this job," she said. "I am open with them and I expect them to be open with me."

She expects that some of the boys will send text messages and postcards during the holidays.

Ms Peters spends most of her 12-hour working day talking to boys, dishing out medical supplies and sport exemption forms, cleaning and doing laundry.

"My teenage son and daughter understand that I share my affections with so many others - it was my partner who was most resentful," she said.

She has an evening job as a waitress to supplement her pound;12,500 salary. Next term she moves from Ferox to Judd house to become a live-in matron, on 24-hour call. This is the only way she can afford the mortgage on her house. She will be missed by the boys and parents at Ferox who sent her off with a cheque for pound;1,500.

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