A time to celebrate

5th March 2004 at 00:00
There are plenty of good ideas to help you enliven assembly. Tom Deveson offers a few of the best

Once, young satirists began their career by doing impressions of the headteacher in assembly. The mixture of spiritual admonition and sports results was too hard to resist. Heads are required by law to arrange daily collective worship, "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character", except in "exceptional cases" where this is not suitable.

However, in many schools, social change has outstripped statutory decree.

Now teachers may visit an official website and find advice on assemblies that celebrate not only Diwali, Eid and Chinese New Year, but also National Poetry Day and Shakespeare's birthday.

So how do you set the right tone and come up with good ideas?

Ali Carter, deputy head of Lyndhurst primary school in south London, has sensible advice.

"We plan a half-termly theme linked to our PHSE curriculum, and discuss specific topics for each assembly to provide variety and a continuous vein of serious reflection."

Ms Carter values the fact that schools - hectic places at the best of times - are guaranteed "a calm space, a time for adults and children to stop and think".

There can be raucously cheerful episodes with live music and cheering of pupils' achievements, but the vital thing is that "it's a time - as the word assembly implies - to bring the school together and recall that we are one set of people in one place".

Three new primary assembly resources illustrate the diversity that Ms Carter values. Life Education Centres is a charity working on the idea that families and children need to be involved in thinking about essential values.

Their suggested outlines for assemblies are the culmination of much longer and broader processes: visits to schools by a mobile classroom, providing resource boxes for teachers, lessons in which children think about how everything from regular sleep patterns to sensible diets contribute to healthy and positive lives.

Parents are encouraged to take part in class assemblies, not merely helping passively to celebrate what their children have learnt, but also contributing to a "family booklet" and staying on in school for a session where the ideas raised can be explored in greater depth. The emphasis is on the immediate pleasure and the lasting effects that come from true participation.

Lively Assemblies for Happy Schools (LDA, pound;15.99) draws on authors Margaret and Dennis Goldthorpe's 27 years' experience in schools. They include 23 memorable scenarios to help adults and children think "what do we want the world to be like?"

Each assembly has a teaching point, advice on preparation, a script to follow or refer to, a suggested bible verse, and the choice of a prayer or reflection. Some themes are social (actions speak louder than words), others ethical (decide to be your best self), others political (fair trade is vital for poor countries).

Preparation can be as minimal as setting up a flip chart or a pot plant.

The lively scripts sometimes require co-operative staff to join in a parody of Blind Date, or to act out the role of incompetent hockey players. The concluding reflections are acceptable to those of all religions and of none.

For entertainment blended with instruction, you might like to try the latest idea from Educational Musicals - truncated 10-minute versions of much longer shows.These cost pound;10.99 each. New historical subjects are regularly added to the catalogue. Theseus, Tutankhamun, Leif Erikson, Henry VIII, the Spanish Armada and the Trojan Horse are available, and the Aztecs, Boudica, Guy Fawkes, the Victorians and the Battle of Britain are due soon.

The Henry VIII pack takes an enjoyable romp through the Reformation. There are eight main parts and enough chorus roles to keep a class busy. A page of notes for teachers expounds - albeit sketchily - the historical background, while a narrative commentary and three catchy songs commemorate the central issues, despite dodgy rhymes and modern colloquialisms.

A CD provides rehearsal and backing tracks. There are also some attractive and practical ideas for art work, making plausible royal costumes from spare bits of material, gnaw-worthy chicken legs from newspaper, and flamboyant ruffs and chains of office from card.

The poet Robert Graves recalled the experiences of a thoughtful boy at the receiving end of unimaginative religious instruction: "Gabble-gabble, I brethren, I gabble-gabble!" Children need to understand what they are urged to do and teachers need lots of support to transform the letter of the law into the awakening of the spirit.

Life Education Centres

Stand C134


Stand B103

Educational Musicals

Stand PV790


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