Who cares who's head of school? A sixth-form pupil writes

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The Independent Online
While I was chatting to my friends at the pub the other day, someone brought up the "Rugby rebellion". Why, we asked ourselves, do Rugby pupils really care who their head of school is?

It showed a difference between the schools, and pupil attitudes to the frameworks in which they are run. While most of us have a respect and even affection for our school, few would profess themselves geuninely attached to it, for fear of appearing to have a "Hooray Henry" or public school attitude.

There are those among us, however, who adhere to the school establishment like limpets. It is a pity that the 15 or so pupils least suited to a position of responsibility can spoil school life for the rest. Whether or not you believe one 18-year-old has the right to impose "discipline" on his or her own age group, it is easy to see how the prefectual system is open to abuse. Sadly, most school prefects, by their own admission, attain the position by currying favour with their housemasters/mistresses. (One is said to have knitted her house-mistress a pair of slippers as evidence of her suitability for the job.)

Such fawning sycophancy is the antithesis of the raison d'etre of the school prefects. Instead of being constructively critical, and presenting the pupils' views to the headmaster, one ends up with spineless yes-men/women who see it as their sole duty to impose such pettiness as the "No eating on the streets" or "No shirts untucked" rules. Some rate the position of prefect as valuable on a CV, some as an opportunity to live out fantasies of punishing third-formers, some (yes, they are this gullible) as confirmation of their "superior character", and only a very few see it as a useful duty to their peers. (Rugby's prospective head of school seemed to be one of the latter: in her article in the Independent, she was far more articulate than her near-rabid opponents.)

In contrast to Rugby pupils' grave respect for the status of pupil authority, prefects at Oundle are objects of derision. On the whole, they are regarded as an avoidable nuisance. When evidence of their attitude leaks out from their meetings, this has always confirmed our prejudices. "When I bust someone, it gives me a real buzz all day," said one, urging on one of his less enthusiastic comrades. They have set up a "Fantasy Busting League", so they can compete for the trophy of "Most Punishments Awarded". All this is done while some of them break the rules of the school with impunity.

It is unreasonable to expect anything more from people nourished on an atmosphere of unreasoning authority, and drilled to see themselves superior to their peers. So when Rugby grumbles about those put in a position of authority within their school, it means little to us. Are pupils there so straitjacketed by tradition that they cannot see how irrelevant these appointments are?

The author is in the Upper Sixth of Oundle School.