Prefects back in fashion as schools look to leadership

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The Independent Online
Head girls and boys - and old-fashioned leadership qualities - are back in fashion and the girls are ahead of the boys in contests to lead their schools.

According to comprehensive school heads, the belief prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies that all pupils were equal is giving way to the recognition that leadership matters. Growing numbers are appointing head boys and girls, sometimes both. Co-educational schools tend to have both a head boy and head girl or sometimes two of each.

Peter Downes, president of the Secondary Heads Association and headmaster of Hinchingbrooke School in Cambridgeshire, says: "There have been some years when if we appointed four people on sheer merit then we would have had four girls.

"Girls are more articulate and socially active and they are extremely strong candidates for leadership."

State school head prefects tend to be appointed by a vote of sixth-formers with some input from staff. At Hinchingbrooke staff interview candidates shortlisted on the basis of the vote. Mr Downes says: "A mixture of democracy and benevolent despotism works best."

In independent schools there is usually a bit less democracy.

David Smith, headmaster of Bradford Grammar School, an independent boys' school, appoints the head prefect himself but only after consultation with the staff and pupils. He says: "I ask the pupils because their most difficult task is imposing their will on people who have always been in school with them." In state schools, few prefects have a disciplinary role.

Hugh Wright, chairman of the Headmasters' Conference and head of King Edward's School, Birmingham, says: "We try to pick people who will lead by example rather than being authoritarian. Our prefects can give detentions, but it isn't Tom Brown." Well-known former head boys and girls include Douglas Hurd (Eton), Sir Patrick Mayhew (Tonbridge) and Baroness Chalker (Roedean).

Judith Judd was a head girl.