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Assembly: outdated, ineffective and a waste of time

If we want to build community, there are better ways than sitting on the floor singing old songs, argues Ian Goldsworthy

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If we want to build community, there are better ways than sitting on the floor singing old songs, argues Ian Goldsworthy

Words are great, aren’t they?

Plethora. Dwindle. Reverie.

The way some of them roll around the mouth – bravado – and drop off the tongue – fecund – is joyful.

I love nothing better than dropping new words into my class’ vocabulary; giving them exciting synonyms for overused words is a delight, a thrill.

Some words disappear the moment you’ve taught them, only to reappear months later in unexpected ways. Some new words help to blow the dust from the thesaurus, depositing ever richer words in their stead. While some words lodge themselves squarely at the nib of the children’s pens until you’re sick of the sight of them (remind me never to teach them the word "beseech" when doing persuasive writing).

And then there are the words that the children already think they know.

Pupils, assemble

Assembly was one of those words.

We were writing instructions and wading our way through a big pile of how-to booklets when one boy tentatively raised his hand.

“Sir, why does it say assembly instructions on this one?”

“Well, because assembly means to put something together.”

At this point his eyes drifted to the timetable.

“So… why do we do assembly at the end of the day?”

“Well… because that’s when we all come together… as a school community…”

He didn’t look convinced.

“You know… we assemble in the hall… like the Avengers…”

Better options?

In trying to persuade him that sitting on the floor every afternoon with numb buttocks and aching legs was in any way similar to the exploits of Iron Man et al, I’d lost him completely. And really, who can blame him?

I can only imagine what I’d have got if I’d asked him to play a game of Mallett’s Mallet with the word "assembly": boring, tedious, repetitive, dull, preachy, uncomfortable.  

So why do we have assembly?

Two reasons, I suppose: the desire to build a school community, and the little-enforced requirement for daily collective worship that must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character (I know, I was surprised that was still a thing as well).

Marshalling an entire school to and from assembly is no easy feat and can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Which rather prompts the question: is this the best use of that time?

Building community

And I don’t even mean that from a judgemental, show-me-your-progress point of view. Is this the best use of time if our aims (let’s put that whole worship thing to one side) are to build a sense of community and do something collectively?

What if, rather than singing another song about autumn leaves, the whole school was outside kicking, collecting and comparing them?  

What if rather than always being lectured about behaviour, the children spent time out on the playground, with all their teachers, having that good behaviour modelled to them?

What if rather than singing the same old songs that our parents sang in their school days, assembly was a whole-school conga chain and Macarena?

If assembly is where we’re building a school community, ought we take a good look at the materials we’re using?

Ian Goldsworthy is a primary teacher and tweets @Ian_Goldsworthy

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