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From the Head of Sixth: The evolution of student leadership

From the Head of Sixth: The evolution of student leadership

The world is ever-changing, and whilst it is tempting to take a dismal view of fractious politics, economic division and existential environmental threats, we have many reasons to be cheerful.

Glass ceilings are shattering everywhere, and fresh ideas are sweeping away the old, bringing fresh thinking to our problems. This new world needs women leaders and at St Mary’s we are proud that our girls will be taking their rightful places in boardrooms, at cabinet tables and in operating theatres, laboratories and workplaces in the decades to come.

Against this backdrop of progress, our student leadership team at St Mary’s has undergone a significant evolution. In the past, prefects had fixed areas of responsibility and often had limited visibility through the school. However, in recent years, we have re-thought student leadership, and adopted a more collaborative approach.

Today, prefects are seen as leaders and role models. They are responsible for supporting the school's mission and vision, and for helping to create a positive and inclusive environment for all students. They also play a key role in organising and running school events, and in representing the school to the wider community.

This shift in the student leader role has been driven by a number of factors. First, we believe that students learn best by doing. By giving prefects real responsibility, we are giving them the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, drive their own projects, and to make a real difference to the school.

Second, we believe that a more collaborative approach is more effective than a hierarchical one. By working together, prefects and staff can create a more positive and inclusive environment for all students. Our leadership team have already sought feedback from students and staff on issues as diverse as teaching and learning, to how we organise the lunch queue.

Finally, we believe that it is important to prepare students for the future.

In the 21st century, workplaces are increasingly collaborative and require employees to be able to think critically and solve problems. By giving prefects the opportunity to develop these skills, we are preparing them for success in their future careers.

The evolution of the student leadership team has been a positive change for St Mary’s. Student leaders are increasingly integral, valuable members of the school community, and they are playing a key role in helping to create a positive and inclusive environment for all students.

Here are some of the ways the student leadership team has made a positive impact this year:

  • Student leaders worked with the Junior School to promote respect, tolerance, and inclusion. Younger students see the student leaders as positive role models, demonstrating the principles of leadership as service by helping with clubs and activities.
  • Our academic leaders have helped to raise standards by providing support to younger students and by a program of academic presentations and TED style talks.
  • Student leaders have promoted St Mary’s by representing the school at events such as the Cambridge Literary Festival, acting as ambassadors for the school, and meeting parents and other members of the community.

We are immensely proud of the work that the leadership team has done over the last couple of years: they have made a real difference to the school, and I am confident that they will continue to do so in the years to come.

Challenges and opportunities

While the evolution of the student leadership team has been a positive change, there have been challenges. One challenge has been finding the right balance between giving prefects responsibility and ensuring that leaders are not overburdened. Another challenge has been ensuring that all students have the opportunity to participate in the prefect team, regardless of their background or abilities.

We hold a transparent and rigorous application process, involving a written application, a shortlisting process and an interview to decide the successful candidate. This mirrors as closely and fairly as we can the type of process students will meet in university or job application processes in years to come.

Feedback is given to those who miss out. We are immensely proud of so many of our girls stepping up to apply for leadership roles. We are always spoilt for choice and could easily appoint double the number of student leaders.

To help develop time-management, leadership and delegation skills we have been blessed with the kindness of Karen Vanterpool, an experienced coach and mentor who has led training sessions on effective leadership, exploring the team’s motivations and goals for their tenure. This training is ongoing, and we are so fortunate to have Karen’s professional expertise to draw on.

In seizing these opportunities and meeting these challenges, I believe that the student leadership team proves a priceless asset to our school. They play a key role in exemplifying the school’s values, they help to create a positive and inclusive environment for all students, and they are preparing for success in their future – both theirs and others’.

As we look to the future, I am excited to see what heights the student leadership team will scale. I am confident that they will continue to find new ways to make a positive contribution to the community, and that they will help to create a bright future for all students.

Robin Griffiths, Head of Sixth Form

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