Accidents will happen

30th March 2001 at 01:00
Never suggest you'll take assembly when you're being interviewed. No job is worth it, says Dennis Richards

This has nothing to do with the usual stuff about what to wear, turning up on time, buttering up the office staff and not parking your car in the wrong space, or your backside on the wrong staffroom chair. Your chance to clinch the deal will come at the point where the panel, as they inevitably will, invite you to make suggestions as to what else you can offer the school.

This question signals that the interview is drawing to a close. The panellists have by now almost certainly made up their minds about you and are not really listening. All the candidates have indicated their burning desire to run a football or hockey team, to go on all the trips and help with the Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions. The really ambitious have proposed "starting a club". The desperate have offered to start a staff choir. No one, but no one, says: "I would like to take assembly."

The risk is, of course, that the promise will have to be kept. The head may well forget the nebulous pledges made by the other candidates. But this one won't be so easily laid aside.

Any teacher aspiring to a senior management post should in fact use this tactic. No other management task is more likely to deter aspirant members of the senior management team - anyone volunteering to do it is more or less guaranteed an appointment. Teachers who do not blanch at the thought of Year 11 bottom set maths for the last lesson on Friday afternoon can be reduced to quivering wrecks at the thought of taking an assembly. They are ill at ease being asked to moralise and uncomfortable with preaching. They are also aware that the only safe assembly is a boring one.

Attempts to be different are fraught with danger. And the misery of an assembly which goes wrong stays with a teacher for life. It becomes the stuff of legend. What about the poor soul who made the seemingly exciting discovery that thewords of "There is a Green Hill Far Away" can be sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun"? Great idea until it became clear that the kids were determined to sing the original words about a house of ill-repute in the Deep South rather than platitudes about being good.

Lesson one: if you involve the children, make sure you are the one in control. Lesson two: check your script rigorously for any words with double meanings. Many an assembly has collapsed because a teacher forgot that even the simple word "it" only means one thing to hormonally-rampant 15-year-olds. And never, never, use props unless you've tried them out first.

The golf shot assembly was probably, in theory, a good one. Sense of direction, being in control and strength of will were the qualities being extolled. The problem came with the demonstration. Even a plastic golf ball can do damage in a crowded assembly hall, but a colleague who is unwise enough to take a three-iron certainly compounds the risk.

Perhaps with a pitching wedge, he would have got away with it. Having taken a huge chunk of wood out of the rostrum and pinged the said ball off several heads around the room, the unfortunate golfer's request to "let us pray" reduced the gathering to hysterics I especially the bit about dangers and perils.

He never took assembly again. Nothing, however, compares with the disaster waiting to befall any teacher who plans a "spoof", but fails to warn colleagues. The date is April 1. The crowded assembly is told that a VIP lost a valuable diamond in the hall the previous evening. Can the children please be helpful and search for it? They dutifully crawl all over the floor looking for a non-existent precious stone. So do the staff.

The moral of the story is apparently about gullibility. The hapless culprit remains unforgiven. Now you know why most assemblies are so boring - it's safer that way.

Dennis Richards is head of St Aidan's C of E high school, Harrogate


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