W.R. Swale speaks

Some words from the Head Master to Prospective Prefects and Sub Prefects

The system of appointing senior boys to positions of authority within a School originated in the Public Boarding Schools of the early 19th century and has since become an established feature of our day Grammar Schools. In most Schools, as here, Prefects are chosen by the Head Master after consultation with senior colleagues. There are, or course, other and more ostensibly ‘democratic’ methods of selection involving some kind of popular vote. Clichés like ‘a microcosm of adult Society’ or ‘preparation for parliamentary representation’ ignore the fact that mere popularity in School is no more likely to be a reliable indication of values than it is in adult life.

There is no secret about the position here. As long as I remain in charge my Prefects will be Pillars of the Establishment and not Delegates of the Proletariat! This is not mere conservatism. What we are trying to do here is an adult job, requiring adult standards and an adult approach. One does not send a boy on a man’s errand without considerable and careful thought. For me, therefore, the choice of Prefects and Sub-Prefects becomes a very personal matter and when, after taking the opinions of my colleagues, I reach a decision it is the highest compliment I can pay a boy. It is therefore very necessary for you, who are being paid this compliment, to consider all its implications.

Being a Prefect involves something more than chivying small boys or circumventing organised crime in the Middle School. It means a positive identification with the aims, standard and traditions of the School. Even at its most superficial this involves setting the highest possible standards of speech, dress, appearance, punctuality, work and loyalty, both in School and outside. If I too may use a cliché, it is a matter of noblesse oblige.

Every position of authority has its problems and its loneliness. Not least is the possibility of conflict between duty and personal loyalties. It is easy enough to deal impartially with comparative strangers but, if the offender is a personal friend, the right decision can be a painful one. In this, as in all other matters, Prefects and Sub-Prefects have immediate and confidential access to the Head Prefect and to me. Where the interests of the School are involved I am more likely to overlook a zealous mistake than passing by on the other side.

I hope that, after consideration of what I have said, you will accept office on these terms. I hope too that anyone who cannot honestly accept will have the courage to say so; I cannot promise that such a choice will make me any happier but I shall at least respect your candour.

Head Master

First appeared in Newsletter dated