Leaders show early promise

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, was a headboy. Steve Sinnott, leader of Britain's biggest teaching union, was deputy headboy and captain of the rugby team.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, meanwhile, was a prefect at her Staffordshire school.

Between them these three union leaders represent almost half million teachers and more than 11,000 heads. And like many captains of business and industry they showed their leadership potential early on.

A survey of 105 managing directors, chief executives and board members revealed this week that most had been headboy, headgirl, prefect or sports captain.

The poll, conducted by Mori on behalf of human-resources consultancy DDI, reveals that nine out of 10 business leaders held at least two positions of responsibility at school, 70 per cent were prefects and 30 per cent had been head or deputy-head pupil.

Half had captained school sports teams and a further 30 per cent had been leaders of youth groups outside school, such as the Scouts or Brownies.

Mr Sinnott agrees that early success can often be indicative of later potential. "Pupils want someone who is able to speak on their behalf and deliver for them," he said. And Mr Dunford believes that early leadership experience will always be useful.

"You learn at an early age that privilege and office come with responsibility," he said. "But I don't feel I'm a born leader. You just do the job and get on with it."

But Ms Keates said teachers should be wary of bearing future leadership potential in mind when selecting prefects. "Plenty of people have responsible postitions without having been a prefect," she said.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was a monitor, while at Westminster school and Steve Munby, the new chief executive of the National College for School Leadership (see above), was a prefect.

Research conducted by academics at Manchester Metropolitan university has also shown that most heads were also prefects.

But not all agree that being a prefect is the route to success. Robert Dowling, head of George Dixon international school, in Birmingham, lost his post of monitor after being caught stealing apples from a nearby orchard.

He said: "Schools look for dependency in a prefect but often leaders are divergent thinkers. The best minds aren't scared of being anti-establishment."

Indeed, many public leaders did not make the leadership grade at school.

Tony Blair failed to be become prefect at Fettes college, in Edinburgh while Michael Howard, the Tory leader, played truant from Llanelli grammar, in west Wales.

Ruth Lea, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, former head of policy for the Institute of Directors and one-time school hockey captain, believes rebels make the best leaders. "I was good at hockey, but I wasn't a team player," she said. "Our headgirl was teacher's pet. She was a team player.

But she's not in Who's Who, and I am."

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Adi Bloom

I am one of the reporters at the TES, specialising in educational research, eating disorders, sex education, gender issues and, worryingly, teachers who appear on reality TV.