The old building seemed to hold its breath in anticipation as the excited chatter of our newly appointed Head Girl and Head Boy danced across the forecourt. Smartly dressed in suits to receive their school prefect ties from Mr Russell, they seemed to represent the return of the beating heart of St David’s. Beaming, excited and expressing a greater desire than ever to return to school, Josh and Ellen were keen to discuss their plans for a year of leadership like never before while also focusing on learning and reflecting on their time in lockdown. The sun shone magnificently over the battlements, seeming to beam in response to their enthusiasm as we walked over the familiar grounds.
Hello Josh and Ellen. How are you?
Josh: Very well!
Ellen: Good thank you.
It’s great to see you both after such a long time! Are you excited to be back?
Josh: So excited!
Ellen: I can’t believe we haven’t been in school for 6 months!
Congratulations on your new roles as Head Girl and Head Boy. It’s been great to see Mr Russell present you with your ties today. Your first task as Head Boy and Head Girl is to choose your prefects so today, we’re going to talk about Leadership, Learning and Lockdown.
Josh: Triple L!
To begin with, let’s talk about learning. What subjects are you both studying?
Ellen: I am studying Art, DT and Applied Science.
Josh: English Literature, Geography, Drama and Music.
How did you both adjust to the online learning programme during Lockdown?
Ellen: My subjects are quite practical, but we did get a lot of work done. In Science, we focused a lot on Biology as there is a lot of practical work for Chemistry. During Art, we would show our teacher our work that she had set for us to do and we would all get to see one another’s work. Working independently was fine but it was great to engage in lessons and gain valuable support from our teachers.
Josh: I must have had about 23 lessons a week! Very intense but also had plenty of time to relax and to be away from the screen. English and Geography were very comprehensive. Really it was only a minor adjustment moving into the online world with those subjects. Drama and Music were obviously a bit different because they are more practical subjects. Saying that, we were able to concentrate on the written elements last term and we can return to school to focus on the practical side in September.
During Lockdown, outside of lessons, did you challenge yourselves to learn anything new?
Ellen: I learnt how to make pizza from scratch. From the dough and everything! Halloumi on a pizza is the best thing ever! And it has to be cooked on a stone on the BBQ.
Josh: I’ve been teaching myself how to play the guitar. It’s been going well!
Is this the first time you’ve learned to play an instrument?
Josh: Yes! In the past I’ve always sang. I wanted to play an instrument that I can sing with as well.
Some excellent new skills, both of you! In terms of learning, will you both be focusing on the practical elements when you return in September?
Ellen: Yes we’ll focus on the practical work for Chemistry and I can’t wait to get into DT to start making after so much design based work.
How do your A Level studies help you to develop your leadership strategies? What transferable skills from those subjects are going to help you?
Josh: I think Drama goes hand in hand with developing leadership skills. Through Drama, I have developed confidence in myself. Through my years at St David’s my confidence has increased but Drama has certainly helped significantly in speaking to people publicly and how to act around people: to be charismatic but to also focus on listening to people. Equally English Literature and Geography have taught me to be, what’s the word…organised! There it is! Out of the four, Geography is definitely one of my favourites. It’s just so rich and I’m not sure if that’s because of the eccentricity of Mr Roberts who keeps us fully engaged all the time!
Mr Roberts certainly oozes enthusiasm for his subject!
Josh: Absolutely! And it’s infectious really. He makes you want to do well in the subject and when you don’t do so well on a paper, he explains exactly why and you feel that you want to do better next time because it means so much to him too.
Ellen: It’s so great to have teachers who love their subjects and want the best for you. They also help you to start working and thinking independently.
Josh: That’s true. And they help you to work with others. Music has contributed towards developing leadership skills because you have to work in a team. There are often sacrifices that need to be made. Everybody who plays an instrument or sings has a role in the band. For example, there are some songs where a bass doesn’t fit or a keyboard doesn’t fit but we rearrange it together so it does when we could just say “leave it out” but we don’t. We sort it out.
Ellen: Music just makes people happy. It’s a great way to encourage and inspire a group to work together. I like the fact that the choir was from Year 5 to Year 13. I think that’s quite good. And everyone knows one another. School production is another opportunity to work with pupils of all ages.
Mr Russell said a couple of years ago after watching The Battle of Boat that the school production is the newest and best team sport because it includes all ages.
Ellen: Definitely! You’ve got the cast, you’ve got the lighting crew and you’ve got the backstage crew and they all work together.
All departments at St David’s offer something amazing – Mr Lycett says he has one of the best 1st XV teams the school has ever seen, Outdoor Ed is incredible and our academic achievements are really outstanding. We are proud of every element of the school. The brilliant thing about Music and Drama is that is accessible to everyone – all year groups and all abilities.
Ellen: Yes, because if you don’t want to act on stage, there are all sorts of other important ways to be involved. And sometimes the school band plays the music so the two departments work together.
Josh: I heard that Music was being taken out of the Curriculum in Wales.
Really? How do you think this would impact the school?
Josh: Abolishing Music as a subject would be an awful thing. You learn so much about yourself, leadership skills, working together and the discipline of learning to play instruments.
Ellen: St David’s wouldn’t be the same without music. How would we have musicians in the world if music was taken out of the curriculum?
Do you think the course content needs to change?
Josh: Yes, I think in Years 7 to 9, to get them hooked, pupils need to be exposed to the performance element of music rather than looking at the computer side of things or the history of music.
Ellen, how do you think your A Level subjects have prepared you with leadership skills?
Ellen: I feel like in my subjects you have to be more organised. I am an organised person anyway - I think I get it from my Dad.
Josh: You’ll have to organise some of my stuff!
So, Ellen is organised and Josh is bossy (or motivational!)
Ellen: Yes. I’ll be quietly organising everything in the background and Josh will be saying “Right! Everyone do this!”
Josh: I think it’s going to be a perfect balance!
Ellen: I’m arts and craftsy. (to Josh) You can check all the writing because you’re good at English.
Tell me about the Headmaster’s Everest Challenge that was set during half term over Lockdown.
Josh: The Everest Challenge was to get from school to Mount Everest in Nepal (as the crow flies) as a school collectively through walking, running, cycling, swimming and sailing. It’s all put together on the Teambuildr app to achieve the goal.
Mr Russell thought it would take a few weeks, but it took less than a week.
Ellen: That’s because parents got involved too! I sent my dad out on his bike! It is a really good example of how St David’s works together as a community.
And of course, some people became quite competitive…
Josh: Yes! I’d like to race Henry when we get back to school.
Ellen: Henry did a lot! Josh was number 1 though! He cycled 160km!
Well done Josh!
Ellen: I walked my dog. I did about 60km. My dad did a lot more!
Josh: (Imitating Ellen) Go get on your bike dad!
I know you both have a love of music and have been involved in school events since you started St David’s. During Lockdown, how did you adjust to the new ways of having to sing and perform “together apart”.
Ellen: Yes, I’ve been a member of the choir since Year 7 and have been in most school musical productions. It was strange not to perform on Speech Day.
Josh: But we just about managed to get the school production done! The theatre closed the day after we left.
That was really lucky. Did you compose anything during Lockdown?
Josh: As the choir, we sang “Memories” to say goodbye to the Wards, our Music teachers. We all recorded the vocals at home and then sang together in a Zoom call for the film. We would have liked to have sung to them on Speech Day in person and all together as a choir, but we managed to overcome the problem and prepared the song that was played online in our “Virtual Speech Day”. It sounded great!
Josh, you saw Mr Cogger earlier and your first question was “What are we going to do about band night?”
Josh: Music and performing is so important at St David’s. It’s just like a family as well. When I was coming up the drive before I stopped to talk to Mr and Mrs Hall and they asked what are we going to do about performances?
Ellen: There will be ways that we can perform. We just have to think outside of the box.
Do you feel that you have overcome Covid obstacles during Lockdown? Performance and music being an example.
Josh: As a performer, you want to perform in front of people. It was just different recording your voice in isolation and sending it in a file.
Of course, there are two elements to performance. There is the rehearsing together as a team while enjoying the camaraderie and then there is performing to an audience. Is it the isolated performance when you don’t have any feedback that is very difficult to adjust to?
Ellen: I found it difficult.
Josh: It was difficult to adjust. But I suppose it’s a bit like adjusting to the difference between School Production and Band Night. Performing on a theatre stage you’re acting as a different person. For Band Night you’re not acting as a character. You’ve got nothing to hide behind.
Ellen: It doesn’t matter what you look like on a theatre stage. On band night it’s different…
Josh: It’s just you.
And which do you prefer? You are excellent at both!
Ellen: I don’t like Band Night!
Josh: I think they’ve both got their novelties.
Talking of band nights and school productions, what are you looking forward to the most once getting back into the real classroom as opposed to the virtual classroom?
Has it been quite lonely at home?
Josh: Oh gosh some days it’s been really tough.
Ellen: I just talk to my dog!
Josh: Although it has been nice to spend quality time with family.
We all love our families don’t we…
Josh: Oh yes of course, but when you have to spend that much time with them, you do start to crave interaction with your friends!
What are your plans for further education once you finish here?
Ellen: I’m hoping to go to university to study either Architecture or Property Development. I haven’t decided yet. Although seven years at university to become an architect is a long time!
It is although what an amazing career!
Josh: I think I’m leaning towards the drama side of things. Preferably Musical Theatre. I’ve been looking at some colleges – Mountview looks incredible! Some tutors I’ve worked with went there and they are amazing products of the place.
And auditions will be online. Will you be able to cope with that?
Josh: I’ll just have to adapt! If I want it enough, I’ll have to show that I do.
Quite right! As well as applying for university and auditioning for drama college, it’s going to be a big year for you. While studying for your A Levels, you are also heading a team of school prefects. Can you explain how the 6th form leadership works at St David’s?
Ellen: It’s like the Military. You’ve got your ranks! You have normal students and then you go up a rank and become a 6th former. Then you go up another rank and you become a House Prefect. Once you become a House Prefect you can be promoted to a School Prefect and then you have the House Captains and Head Girl and Head Boy.
How do you become a House Prefect?
Ellen: You have to earn it. You don’t automatically become a House Prefect when you become a 6th former.
And how do you earn it?
Josh: Well it’s a plethora of different things. You have to contribute towards the House. Not just in House events but you have to show that you are supporting the younger individuals in the House, making sure they feel included and welcomed. Also, it’s important to embrace the spirit of the House fully and if you are a boarder to help with evening duties.
Ellen: The House Masters choose their House Prefects. The Head Boy and Head Girl choose the School Prefects and you have to be a School Prefect to become a House Captain (chosen by the House Masters).
Josh: We have a team of 13 School Prefects which is a bit more than usual, but we feel that the 6th form leadership needs to be particularly strong this year with all the changes that are taking place due to Covid.
Ellen: I think that to become a House Captain, you need to be really passionate about your House.
Josh: Yes! I think that for Head Boy and Head Girl, you need to be passionate about the school. About everything. To become a House Captain, you need to live and breathe your House.
Ellen: It’s true. But saying that, I’m Snowdon through and though. I’ve literally lived Snowdon for 12 years of my life because my older brother was there first.
Josh: And I’m Cader! The atmosphere that is created in House Assembly in the Minstrel Hall before an event is electric!
And you are both “St David’s”?
The House spirit throughout the decades is a bond that never leaves you! Do you think you will always have your House in your heart?
Ellen: Snowdon will always be my House!
Josh: Cader will always be the best!
Ellen : Typical Cader!
Josh: It’s true!
Ellen: House events are always so much fun and we all get very competitive!
As your interaction has just demonstrated! Are there any particular role models from your time at St David’s or examples of good leadership that you hope to emulate?
Josh: Luke King! Each time before House events, he would deliver a “St Crispin’s Day” speech. He was so passionate about his House!”
Ellen: For me it was Jemima Soutter. She was my first House Captain and it’s both weird and amazing that she’s returned this year to be a residential assistant.
It’s interesting that the role models you particularly remember were House Captains when you were in Year 7: when you were young and impressionable and hadn’t experienced the leadership system. Would you hope that the current Year 7 pupils look up to you in that way?
Josh: It’s weird to think that they would but what a legacy it would be for someone from this year’s Year 7 to become Head Boy or Girl and to say “Remember Ellen Wright and Josh Davies? They were great role models!”
Ellen: That would be something!
Pastoral care will be paramount as we all adjust to a society that needs to navigate Covid. Do you have any plans to help support fellow students?
Ellen: We are hoping to start a group where everybody can come and chat to us. A kind of “help in Covid” situation. I’m going to make myself known so that anybody can come and speak to me. And then I am going to tell people that I won’t always have the answers, but I will point them in the right direction if I don’t.
Josh: I feel we will need designated times where pupils are able to meet up – preferably outdoors where it can be one to one and if they want to talk about their experiences during Lockdown, their mental health and other issues, they know that they can talk to someone who will listen to and support them.
Ellen : I don’t know about you guys but I’ve had it so easy during Lockdown whereas other people have not had it easy at all.
Josh: We are really lucky to be living in this location.
Ellen: We’d bring it up with our team of prefects and those who feel they can offer that support will get involved.
Josh: We can organise a rota.
That sounds brilliant. What legacy would you like to leave, being the year group that is so affected by Covid?
Josh: In our year group there are some very prominent leaders who make a great impression on the younger individuals in the school. I know there are certain year groups that have stood out to me that I have remembered more than others. At the best of our ability we should stand out as the leaders who made the biggest impact on their St David’s journey.
Ellen: And we could be the year group that offered pastoral support during the epidemic.
Is there a physical, visual reminder that you would like to leave behind so that people would be reminded of your year group?
Josh: It’s definitely something to think about. We should speak to our prefects.
Ellen: It needs to be something. Like a book or a giant painting – a mural.
Covid has certainly been in the spotlight this year. How might you want to address the seemingly forgotten global warming problem?
Ellen: Recycling bins in more areas in school. Maybe the water fountains could be replaced with water bottle refilling stations.
Josh: Obviously there’s the plastic issue and ways that we can reduce our plastic waste. But also, a massive contribution to global warming is the consumption of animal products.
Ellen: I forgot you were vegan!
Josh: I’m loving it! I feel like we should expand on options to eat tasty vegan food. You can make amazing burritos that are packed with black beans, peppers, onions… they are so easy to make and delicious. I think it would be great to teach people what you can make with vegetables and spices. With a meat dish you have your traditional meat and two veg but to get all the right nutrients when you are vegan, there needs to be more imagination and the tastes can be amazing! The amount of colour on my plate now is incredible.
And how do you feel since becoming vegan?
Josh: I feel much healthier. I have lost weight that I didn’t need. I can stay awake longer and I can think better. Now when I eat, I’m ready to go rather than feeling lethargic or tired.
Ellen: And we waste so much food, it’s ridiculous.
Josh: Meats, eggs, milk and anything that comes from animals is having a dramatic impact. Perhaps there should be days during the week when we have meat free menus. It’s about responsible consumption rather than forcing people to become vegetarian!
Ellen: I think we should cut down the amount of meat we are eating.
Josh: And it’s about realising that sometimes meat is a vehicle for the taste. Like when you marinate chicken. The chicken is the taste vehicle for the spices. Replace that chicken with something like squash…
And the spices are absorbed even more…
Josh: Oh don’t get me started! I am so passionate about food! You can make chilli with mushrooms – the mushroom flavour is released when you cook them and then you cook chopped tomatoes, spices, Cayan pepper, ground cumin and you add loads of veg and stuff. You then add the mushrooms last and it thickens it and makes a great chille! I’ve been cooking most nights for the family.
You should do some cooking demos with Mr Russell – the Head chefs!
Josh: I would love that! I’d love to show people what you can make so easily. I’m quite good at cooking now (call me Gordon!) I think people think it’s so hard to do but it really isn’t and its fascinating! All I need is my cookbook, my notes and a hob! I’m completely changed! I’m going to start hugging trees in a minute!
Ellen: And you could film the demo with Mr Russell and Will the catering manager in the dining room kitchen and then the dish you’ve made could be served the next week!
Ellen: (writing notes) I’ve got a lot of organising to do!
Having known Josh and Ellen since they started at St David’s in Year 6 and 7, it fills me with pride to engage with them and to hear their plans as they embark on their final year as the young leaders of our school. As they speak to me about the role models who have helped them on their way, I think to myself that without realising it, they themselves are already outstanding role models to pupils in the younger years. Their dedication to and passion for everything that is St David’s emanates from them and I am remined of a quote by Roald Dahl that describes them more perfectly than I ever could:
“if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Josh and Ellen’s plans for an engaging, supportive and caring leadership are exactly what is needed for this year when the usual challenges will be joined by many other (dare I say it) “unprecedented” ones. They are ready and capable. Despite the massive adjustments we are all having to make in our world, I am also excited to see the legacy that this dynamic pair and their equally strong year group will leave behind.