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Changing role of the school prefect

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

  • olden times: The 1951 film of Tom Brown's Schooldays shows how much the role of prefect has changed over the years

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"'VERY well then, let's roast him,' cried Flashman, and catches hold of Tom by the collar: one or two boys hesitate, but the rest join in."

Tom Brown's Schooldays portrayed a bygone era when school discipline was tough and prefects dished out their fair share of beatings.

Perhaps Thomas Hughes's 1857 tale of hero Tom and the school bully Flashman – who was himself a prefect – may have once had its own version played out in our very own town.

And when you look at the role of a school prefect and how it has changed there is probably no better place to start than the oldest educational establishment in town, Brentwood School.

The school was founded in 1558, and for centuries Praepostors (Latin for "placed before") have been there for their fellow housemates and pupils, in one way or another.

The Ingrave Road school remains one of just a few across the country that have retained the term Praepostors, with another being Eton, while most schools, both private and state, prefer prefect, head boy and head girl.

It is rumoured that at Brentwood still today, the head Praepostor is afforded two arcane yet entertaining privileges which remain among the school statutes, perhaps by an oversight rather than anything else.

The first is that the Head of School is the only pupil allowed to grow a beard (the current holder is a girl) and the second is that they are the only pupil entitled to ride a pony through the school grounds.

But some old-fashioned ways have obviously not survived.

As recently as the 1950s, pupils at the school were still being walloped with a cane on a daily basis by the sixth-form hierarchy.

Former Home and Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, a pupil at Brentwood, is reported to have influenced a change to that policy, when he refused to administer a thrashing as head of his boarding house.

Caning was eventually outlawed in 1987.

But prefects remain firmly engrained in the school's DNA and this year a team of 70 gown-adorned sixth formers have been hand-picked for the privilege.

At the top of the Praepostors tree is Lauren Tai, the most senior pupil, who is Head of School.

Miss Tai, who wants to study law at university, is the equivalent of a head boy and head girl.

She leads a team of 70 Praepostors made up of five Deputy Heads of School, who each have 9 to 11 prefects under their watch.

The 17-year-old describes her position as one of "respect and responsibility".

She said: "It's all about being a good role model, because people look up to you, so you have to make sure your uniform is smart and you are polite and enthusiastic about different activities in the school."

Each Praepostor is handed a blue gown by their predecessor at an annual chapel ceremony, which is followed by a luncheon for the newbies, their predecessors and senior staff.

The lucky few, who are ultimately chosen by Headmaster Ian Davies on the advice of staff, are selected because of their conduct and level of involvement in school life.

Membership of school bands, choirs and sports teams is all taken into account, as is involvement in a military cadet unit or the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

Mr Davies said the role of prefects is an honour which adds weight to university and job applications.

He added: "The role has changed a lot over the past few decades and today the prefect body is predominantly there to look after the younger boys and girls and help staff with duties around the school.

"Their first job is to be a great role model, so the boys and girls can come to them for help and advice when they need it.

"The second is to help teachers with the smooth running of the school and they must also to be leaders in their different areas of school life, depending on what they get involved with."

Deputy Head of School, Mark Baldock, 18, was most pleased to be chosen and "written into the school's history".

In one way or another pupils are selected as leaders across all schools in Brentwood and Billericay.

St Martin's in Hutton; Shenfield High School; and St John's in Billericay all run a head pupil scheme involving selection of a Head Boy and Head Girl, while candidates for the post at Anglo-European School, in Ingatestone conduct an election campaign and are democratically elected.

At Brentwood County High School, in Seven Arches Road, both roles are also chosen by staff selection and each has a deputy.

They are there to talk to children in need of advice or support and represent the school both inside and out of the premises.

But most crucially at County High they gather feedback from fellow pupils, which is passed to the Board of Governors at meetings.

Aspiring City boy, Will Monk, 17, the current Head Boy at County High school, had to apply for the role, then secure the backing of nominees and go through an interview before landing the job.

His sights are set on a place at the University of Oxford and Will is revelling in his new position.

He says he wants to use it to promote the many good things that he has experienced during his time at County High.

"Some people view our school as, perhaps, not a great school," he said.

"But since I have been here I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and I want to make people change their view of it.

"I want to prove people wrong and I think this role has really enabled me to show that you can achieve much here."

Previous head boys at the school include Brentwood councillor William Lloyd.

Will, Head Girl Rosie McGuire and their deputies, James Arnold and Nula Gooderson, all 17, get involved in a range of other activities as well as being the "voice of the students".

These include organising the school's end-of-year dance, helping at parents' evening and at careers events.

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