Question for UK Dopers...what a Head Boy?

We don’t have these in American schools…what’s a Head Boy/Girl? What’s a Prefect?

How much responsibility the Head Boy (or Head Girl) have probably varies from school to school, but at my school they were members of the Upper Sixth form (the oldest kids, aged 17-18) elected by the rest of the pupils in their form to act as representatives of the school at public events.

They also had the job of organising entertainment events such as to pick a party venue, book the band, handle ticket sales etc. Deputy Head Boy and D H Girl were elected as backup.

Prefects did similar work at a younger age. Traditionally in public schools (i.e. private schools) prefects were involved in a disciplinary role with limited authority vested in them by members of staff. I have no idea what they do these days, but there are Dopers who have day to day experience of such schools and they’ll be along soon to tell you more.

So they were akin to a Student Council President and Hall Monitors?

Well, we don’t have them over here, so I’d have to guess. My guess would be “yes”.

We had them at my school, but it was essentially meaningless. The last year I was there, we didn’t have one Head Boy, just a bunch of Deputy Head Boys. The Headmaster’s nickname was “Jake”, for reasons I am far too old to remember, and there were seven DHBs, and it was 1980, so we naturally referred to them as “Jake’s Seven”. Well, it was funny then. (Slightly.)

As I recall, prefects and (Deputy) Head Boys were appointed pretty much by the teaching staff, whereas we had “class reps” who were elected by the student body. (Sort of like “foremen” and “shop stewards” in a work environment. I was never a pawn-of-the-imperialist-aggressors prefect, but was on occasion an upstanding-champion-of-the-people class rep.) Prefects and such supposedly had limited disciplinary powers; some of them would try to push people around, but I think they were the sort who would have done that anyway.

Intriguing. Could it be one of these?
[ul][li]His surname was Thackeray[/li][li]He had three legs[/li][li]He look like this[/li][/ul]

Prefects in my school, which was a comprehensive (i.e. ‘state school’ - that’s public school to US people [which means private school in the UK (it’s all too complicated to explain)]), had the same. I resented having to do this, so I did it incredibly badly and was eventually exempted duties. Which was good, because I was breaking the same rules as the people I was meant to be discliplining (as were the head boy, head girl, and their deputies).

There was a “one hit wonder” band circa 1980 named The Head Boys – that “hit” being “The Shape Of Things To Come”.

In my school you could not qualify to be a prefect (chosen by the teachers, not pupils, in this instance) if you had ever had a detention. ??? So it ruled me out. Which was nice.

It also looked like a lot of work for little reward (being a prefect), having to go in nights to oversee functions, organise your fellow pupils in assembly, enforce rules against other pupils (running in corridors etc…) and other such toss.

Ony the position of head boy (or head girl) seemed to be in any way positive (except for having to make the odd speech) ,at least on a CV. No one I know would have put down that they were a mere prefect on any UCAS application.

Just my .02 bucks.

(Oh Lord. I remember Jake Thackray. I feel all old and stuff now.)

Yes, it always struck me that you couldn’t take being a prefect seriously unless you were that sort of person - that is, well into the exercise of trivial power. I’m sure all the prefects at my school (which was neither a comprehensive nor a public school, but a grammar school*, just to further confuse the Americans) grew up to be traffic wardens or lance corporals.

*State secondary education in the UK used to be divided into two tiers, the grammar schools and the “secondary modern” schools. Which one you got into, basically, depended on whether or not you passed a standard scholastic-aptitude test, called the 11+ exam, because you took it at age 11. If you passed, you generally got into your (parents’) preferred choice of school (usually the local grammar school); if you failed, you were likely relegated to a less favoured institute (usually the local secondary modern), where you would be taught how to say “do you want fries with that?”

Then along came educational reformers who wanted the same standard of school to be available to everybody, so they replaced the grammar/secondary modern schools with one-size-fits-all comprehensive schools. Except in places (like my old home town)where they didn’t. Meanwhile, the public (=private) schools carried on as per usual. It’s all rather confusing, really - and this is a simplified explanation.

An educational system soon to be implemented, against the majority of public opinion, in Northern Ireland too.

Bye, bye to the grammar schools. :frowning:

Thanks, guys…I appreciate the info!

Slight highjack re Jack Thackery . His death was announced a week or so ago , aged 65. I used to enjoy his very wickedly funny songs.


My school was not an English public school, but one of the Australian ‘Great Public Schools’ that are somewhat in the English public schools tradition. The prefects and the head prefect were appointed from among the Sixth Form (twelfth grade) by the headmaster.

The prefects had disciplinary functions. They were empowered to impose minor punishments (up to one hour’s detention) on other pupils, and were held responsible for misbehaviour in their presence.

In English public schools in earlier days the prefects were empowered to impose and even inflict canings.

I’m not certain about this, but I have a feeling that the ‘prefect’ system was introduced at Rugby School by Thomas Arnold in the 1830s or thereabouts.


My old high school (state, single-sex) also used the prefect system.

To become a prefect you had to declare your intention in the sixth form in order to have your name included on a ballot paper. Every student then voted for who should be prefects and also which individual should be head boy. The highest polling 24 prefects were then selected for the next year, together with the Head Boy and Deputy Head Boy.

It was seen as quite prestigious, and you got to wear a little tin badge with the school crest at all times (the Head Boy got a gold badge). This of course meet you were a marked man during lunch time footie games, which added to the fun.

Duties were pretty minimal, there was a roster system so that every lunch time three or so prefects wandered the grounds, supervised the bikestands in the morning and after school and ran the detention system. All prefects had to man the doors during assemblies, and mutter ‘socks’ to every one who walked past with their socks down on the way in. The high light was getting to organise the Ball so on.

My school was the same as Agback’s, I remember being lectured by the Deputy Principal for failing to stop a fight quickly enough one lunch time when I was rostered on with a couple of mates.

For a view of life in a British school in the 1930s you can read the autobiography of Nicholas Monsarrat “Life is a Four Letter Word”. I found it very interesting and is is a good description of British society at the time. It seems the school system was filled with abuse from the older students who terrorised the younger ones. The book is out of print but you can find it used through Abe books or Amazon.

Another classic on the British Public School System is ** Tom Brown’s Schooldays **, set at the Rugby School in the 19th Century.

  • Bubba.


I’ll just add that although mine was an intensely intellectual school at the time, and performed very poorly in GPS sport, prefects were concentrated in the First XI, First XV, and First VIII (cricket team, rugby team, rowing team), not in the top classes for English, Maths, and Science. It’s not that I wanted to be a prefect, but this did rankle somewhat.


I dunno if it’s a classic or not, but I’ve always liked Stalky and Co., by Kipling. Although it confused me unutterably regarding the meaning of the word “fag”…

At my school, we had male and female School Captains, Chapel Captains and House Captains.

All three sections were voted on by the students, after the prospective candidates did a speech.

I have no idea what the chapel captains did.

School Captains did speeches when important people were at the school and occasionally represented the school at functions. They were supposed to be approachable by the student body in relation to issues people didn’t feel comfortable discussing with the teachers.

I was a house captain. They were essentially prefects. We had a little book in which we wrote names of breakers of rules. We were supposed to “be there” for people in our house. We made sure people in their house turned up for events on sports day. We also were responsible for house spirit, and so made pompoms and organised cheers.
We were also involved in the organisation of competitions between houses.

(We also had dance captain, music captain, sport captain etc, but these were essentially only titles.)