Harry Potter depicts a magic world of prefects and houses in the best British academic tradition, but while the Harry Potter phenomenon has raised the profile of these practices, King’s College Madrid was implementing them long before J.K. Rowlings came up with her spellbinding tales of wizardry at Hogwarts.
At the start of the 1990s, former head Dr. Percy introduced a house system to motivate students to participate in games during break and lunch hour. Students would get points for joining in and more if they won. This scheme eventually developed into the house system thriving today that sees students compete not only in sports but also in raising funds for charity and in artistic fields, such as singing and dancing contests.
But earlier still, King’s recognised the value of the prefect and head student experience for pupils. Not common practice in Spanish schools generally, King’s once again broke the mould by introducing it in the 1970s, not long after the school began.
Former pupil Anthony Saez, who now holds a senior position within the Canadian government and who was guest of honour at this year’s Summer Fair, recalls that it often entailed sorting out playground tussles, with younger students approaching prefects with the familiar complaint, “So and so hit me!”
But as the school has grown, the role of the prefect and head student has evolved. Head student Carla Lane, for example, not only had to give a speech at the Prize-giving ceremony during her last term in 2014, she also sat on the Student Council along with the other prefects in her year at King’s College Madrid and would discuss the grievances brought to them by pupils. If they were considered more significant than “So and so hit me!” the council would take them up with staff and senior management. “It helped me to become a confident speaker and have a presence,” says Carla who has graduated from Bath University in Politics and International Relations and is embarking on a Masters in Human Rights. “I felt I was helping the school community to get what they wanted by reaching a compromise.”
So just how auspicious are these adolescent roles of responsibility for success in later life? According to a survey carried out in 2005 by the human resources firm DDI, 90% of board directors and captains of industry at that time were either head students or prefects in their last few years at school. And many held more than one position of responsibility. For example, 50% captained a sports team, 37% were involved in the debating society and 28% had lead roles in the school play, though it should be pointed out that only six of the 105 people with positions of authority surveyed were women.
At King’s, the role of prefect and head student is about leadership and communication and to avoid controversy, each student who feels up to the task puts themselves forward as a candidate to be interviewed by the current Head of Sixth form and other senior figures. It is a process that has just been completed for the coming year. “Students are selected based on the quality of the letters of applications and, especially, how convincing they are in the interviews, regarding their commitment to the prefect posts they have applied for, the ideas they can bring to those posts, as well as evidence of ability to work well with peers, younger pupils, teachers and management,” says secondary teacher at King’s College Madrid, Paul McNally.