A special assembly for out-of-school groups

25th April 1997 at 01:00
When I was head of an 8 to 12 middle school, my annual assembly for out-of-school activity leaders was one of the highlights of the year - moving, warm and hugely enjoyable. This is how it might go if you decide to do it.

All your children have a life outside school. Many - the number may surprise you - do organised things in which they are guided and mentored by adults. They are in sports teams, choirs and instrumental groups; they go to lessons in ballroom dancing, ice skating and gymnastics; they are in fishing clubs; they are members of Scouts, Cubs, Brownies, Beavers, Boys' Brigade, Girls' Brigade. These activities give children a chance to make different kinds of relationships and to show abilities other than those called for in school.

The commitment shown by the adults who run these groups, usually in the evening after work, and at weekends, is often astonishing, and yet we in school do little to recognise them.

Sometimes we do not even know what our children do - a child may win an electronic organ competition, or a dancing medal, and the school neither knows about it nor recognises it in any way.

So, have a special assembly for out-of-school groups and their leaders to recognise and thank them.

Invite parents too.

Some points

* To find out who to invite, ask the children about their out-of-school activities - explore this at some length in class. You do not want to miss anyone, and younger children especially need to understand what you mean.

* Prepare, or allow the children to write, a letter inviting their activity leaders to the special assembly. Specify the date and time. Give a finishing time - which will be important to people at work. Ask for a response. Invite uniformed leaders to attend in uniform, and ask that the children in their groups also wear uniform. Children in non-uniform groups can be asked to wear or carry something symbolic of their activity - sports kit; a musical instrument; a dancing costume.

* Do a lot of research among children and parents to make sure you are not missing an activity or an individual. Get invitations to them. Chase up replies. Get on the phone; be ready to explain to people what you are trying to do. You will soon realise that the privilege of delivering an invitation will be highly prized by the children.

* As an option, you might invite other "community people" - the school's bin collection team; the beat police officer; the local firefighters and so on.

* Have the assembly about 9.30am. Later is awkward for people going on to work; earlier means you will be rushed to welcome people, organise the children and make sure you know who is there. Get everyone to sign a visitors' book.

* The format is up to you, of course, but it could include a separate entry into the hall, after everyone else is in, of children in costume and uniform. There will be more than you might think, and the transparent pride of the children makes it intensely moving.

It could also include a roll call of the leaders present with individual recognition and applause. Present simple commemorative certificates if you can get some made up. Then perhaps move into a conventional assembly on the theme of "people who help us".

Because the leaders have made an effort to attend, make a big fuss of them. Try to name them all and thank them. Give them coffee afterwards, and a tour of the school.

I know from experience that leaders will make huge efforts to attend. They will take time off work, using the letters of invitation as evidence. When I did this, I found that employers were usually remarkably generous,and themselves pleased to discover what their people are doing in their spare time. In more than one case a senior manager came along to give recognition and support.

The children will swell with pride to have their activities and leaders recognised.

The parents will be very appreciative of all that happens.

Even within the restrictions of an assembly you will see, by behaviour and demeanour, just how a child who is difficult in school can be very different in the context of an out-of-school activity.

Don't just talk about it - do it! This is something that's not too difficult to organise; affirms your values; recognises the efforts of other adults; enhances the confidence of children and generally leaves everyone feeling good.

If it works well for you, please let me know!

Gerald Haigh, now retired from headteaching, can be contacted co The TES,66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

If you or a colleague has got a lesson or assembly which would interest other teachers, please contact Diane Hofkins, primary editor, at The TES.

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