Andy Kemp

Student Leadership – Project Leadership

By Andy | June 3, 2018 | 2 Comment

This article follows on from a series I wrote earlier in the year exploring whether student leadership in schools should be a right or a privilege:

Student Leadership – A Right or a Privilege? – Part 1

Student Leadership – A Right or a Privilege? – Part 2

Student Leadership – A Right or a Privilege? – Part 3

Earlier this year I wrote about the changes we implemented to student leadership at Wells Cathedral School last year. Since then we’ve had time to step back, reflect on what had and hadn’t worked as we’d hoped this year and redesign the programme for next year.

This article therefore picks up where that one left off, and explore the model we’ve chosen to adopt for the coming student leadership cycle.

What Went Well…and Even Better If!

The new scheme enabled far more students to get involved in student leadership, and in some cases the people who made the most of this opportunity were not always the ones we might have expected which was great. However, others failed to really engage with the opportunity as well as we’d hoped they would, and found their time in post was over before they’d really achieved much.

We found having more than one person doing the same role, across the course of the year, was a really positive change in those areas where they worked together as a team.

We found that those students who had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve made the most of the opportunity. These students quickly set about putting together plans for how they were going to achieve what they wanted, and were in general much more successful in their leadership.

In reviewing the overall experience with the current Head Boy & Girl and the Head of Sixth Form, we identified a number of issues with this new setup – many of which had existed when we had only 20-30 student leaders, but were exacerbated by the increased size of the team. The main issues we had identified could be categorised as:

  • Lack of engagement from some student leaders
  • Lack of continuity within the team
  • Some roles not clearly defined
  • Need for better training and development

So Where Do We Go Next?

In deciding where to go next we identified that it was essential to maintain the principle that student leadership should be an opportunity not a right or a privilege. Students who take up these roles should be those who are going to make the most of the opportunity and be committed to using it for the betterment of the school and themselves. We should therefore be providing a wide range of appropriate leadership opportunities for all those who would benefit from them.

The major structural changes we decided to implement this year in response to the review were:

  • Move from a termly rotation of students for each role, to two students holding the same role for the whole duration of the year.
  • Creation of a wider range of roles allowing for student leadership in other areas such as year group captains, and academic departmental captains.
  • Creation of a Deputy Head Boy & Girl role to provide more flexibility around other responsibilities.

However the bigger change is really more philosophical in nature and that is a shift towards ‘project based leadership’. We’ve found the most successful student leaders, and the ones who get the most from the experience are those who are involved in designing and delivering a project of some description. This might be devising a photography competition, organising a year group event or delivering a change to the way the school recycles paper.

The general job description for a student leader is as follows:

The specific duties of the various student leadership roles are intentionally vague, to provide space and scope for those who take on the role to take the role in a direction which matches their passion and interests. However in overview we would anticipate that every student leader would at some point during their tenure be involved in leading an event or activity designed to promote or support their area of leadership.

Here you can see the focus is on the delivery of a specific event/activity or project of their own design. Having just come to the end of appointing the team for the next cycle (we have incidentally also moved the student leadership year to run from the June half-term for a year to allow for a proper handover between the student leaders each year) we are now starting the implement our training programme for the this new cohort, and at the heart of this will be working with them to draw up plans for the project they want to implement – essentially their own strategic plan for the year. Obviously the school, through designated supporting staff in each area, retain some oversight of this to ensure their project is appropriate and feasible, but this process is more of an advisory role acting like an academic supervisor who will ask lots of questions and point them towards places where they can find solutions to the problems that come up. They won’t tell them what to do, nor will they step in and organise things for them.

All in there’s a lot of excitement about the new structure and roles, and I feel we are edging towards something which will be a significant and meaningful way of enabling any student to take up an opportunity to really develop their leadership skills in a meaningful way, and at the same time creates a structure through which the students can make a meaningful positive impact on school life.

The next crucial change is fully planning out the training programme for the student, which will mostly take place next term in the space available to us due to the loss of AS-levels.

For those who are interested I’ve included below the full list of roles and descriptions which were provided to the students for their consideration before they applied for their positions.

Roles and Responsibilities

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Head Boy & Girl

The roles of Head Boy & Girl are designed to provide overall leadership and co-ordination of the efforts of the student leadership team. Responsibilities include chairing meetings, public speaking, mentoring and supporting the team, co-ordination of events, attendance at social events and any other duties required to enable the student leadership team to be successful.

Deputy Head Boy & Girl

The roles of the Deputy Head Girl & Boy mirror those of the Head Boy & Girl, with a slightly greater focus on the operational aspects. They also play a key role in supporting the Head Girl & Boy, and deputising for the them in their absence,

Day & Boarding House Captains

Each senior house will have a Boarding Captain and a Day Captain who working together represent their house. Their role is to co-ordinate the house’s engagement in house activities, to facilitate discussion about issues in house supporting both the house parent and the house.

Faculty Captains:

Each faculty will be represented by two students. Their role is to act as a leaders in promoting their academic area. The role is not a scholarship, or recognition of ability, and won’t go to the strongest student in that discipline. Academic Captains will be expected to promote their area of the curriculum through the co-ordination of relevant competitions, visiting speakers, events, assemblies, as they feel is appropriate.

Faculties include:

  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Humanities
  • Creative Arts
  • Languages
  • Science
  • Academic Music

Year Group Captains:

Year Group Captains are responsible for representing the needs and interests of the year group they are responsible for. They will attend (and in some cases chair) the relevant student council meetings. Year Group Captains would be expected to organise (with the support of the relevant Head of Year or Section) at least one event/activity for their year group across the course of the year.

Year Group roles are grouped as follows:

  • Junior School
  • Year 7/8
  • Year 9
  • Year 10/11
  • Sixth Form

Sports Captains:

The Sports Captain’s role is to lead on their particular sport, report to the school on results, and act as an advocate for their sporting area.

Sports Captains include:

  • Athletics
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Boys Cricket
  • Boys Hockey
  • Boys Tennis
  • Football
  • Netball
  • Girls Tennis
  • Girls Hockey
  • Girls Cricket
  • Rugby

Instrumental Captains:

Instrumental Captains role is to represent the needs and interests of their instrumental discipline. The role is not a recognition of ability, and won’t go to the most proficient student in that discipline. Instrumental Captains will be expected to support the co-ordination of concerts in their area, including aspects of public speaking at concerts and events.

  • Strings
  • Brass
  • Keyboard
  • Woodwind
  • Vocal
  • Percussion
  • Jazz & Commercial Music
  • Music Tech
  • Composition

Whole School Areas of Responsibility Captains:

The following are whole school areas of responsibility which involve responsibility for a specific aspect of school life that crosses the whole school experience. These roles will often require co-ordination with Year Group or House Captains. Each area will typically be represented by two students. Whilst the areas of responsibilities are intentionally broad to allow the student leader scope to take the role in a direction matching their interests and passions the responsibilities can be broadly described as:

Outdoor Learning & CCF Captains

Outdoor Learning & CCF includes responsibility for the promotion of these areas of the school experience. Captains in this area would be expected raise awareness of opportunities, report to the school community on successes, and encourage greater involvement. The role could for example involve co-ordination with the Philanthropy captains to arrange a sponsored event.

Welfare Captains

Welfare includes responsibility for the promotion and development of initiatives which support student welfare throughout the school. They also play a key role in helping identify particular issues or concerns which are impacting the school body. This role may involve working with other captains to support specific needs in particular year groups, houses, or areas of the school.

Mentoring Captains

Mentoring involves the co-ordination of mentoring opportunities. This includes mentors for new joiners to the school, and those who require short or longer term support in a particular area of their lives. The role also involves promotion of the benefits of mentoring for both the mentor and the mentee.

International Captains

International Captains are responsible for promoting awareness of the different cultures and traditions which make up the Wells Cathedral School community. These roles could involve the co-ordination of events which provide opportunity for relevant cultural or traditional celebrations, as well as creating opportunities to promote greater understanding of these traditions for the wider school community.

Philanthropy Captains

Philanthropy involves the co-ordination of the school’s response to the wider needs of the world. Identifying charities and groups worthy of support, and working with other captains to organise events and opportunities to raise money and awareness of the issues involved. One specific responsibility involves the oversight of mufti-days.

Cathedral Captains

Cathedral Captains are responsible for working with the Chaplain to ensure that the Cathedral experience is appropriate and relevant to the school community. They are also responsible for the co-ordination of student led services, and helping identify and co-ordinate those who might be interested helping with aspects of services.

Digital & Media Captains

Digital & Media Captains are responsible for leading the school’s recording and promoting the work of the student body. This could include managing the student social media feeds, co-ordinating the filming/photography of events, or even setting up a student magazine. These roles will inevitably involve significant co-ordination with other captains.

Critical Thinking & Enrichment Captains

The Critical Thinking Captains are responsible helping to promote a critical but inquisitive approach. Specific responsibilities include co-ordination of the DeWinton programme of visiting speakers, and support for events/groups such as debating, TedED, EPQ presentations etc. It is likely these roles will be required to work with the Academic Captains on a regular basis.

Environmental Captains

The Environmental Captains are responsible for promoting and developing the school’s response to key environmental issues. This role may involve co-ordination with the Philanthropy Captains. The role is likely to involve the organisation of one or more events to raise the profile of particular issues, or the organisation of a specific campaign to tackle a pressing issue.


03 June, 2018 Reply

[…] Since writing this article, we've since further reviewed this programme in light of what we learned from the first year through.  You can find out more about what happened next by reading Student Leadership - Project Leadership […]

08 June, 2018 Reply

Hi Andy,
What an excellent idea! In my current School we have struggled this year with commitment levels in our student leadership community and, as you point out, been surprised by the levels of passion of those who we least expected. I am going to go through your series of articles and try to put them to good use in our School. Thanks for sharing. Great stuff.

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