Assembly points;Interview;Dennis Richards

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Dennis Richards, headteacher of St Aidan's C of E Comprehensive, Harrogate, tells Alan Combes how his school tackles assembly THE SCHOOL

Mixed. 1,60O pupils, with an associated 600-strong sixth form at St John Fisher RC School. Last year had North Yorkshire's top GCSE results for a comprehensive. HOW IS ASSEMBLY ORGANISED?

Daily in three venues: main hall, new chapel hall and the gym. Year groups have 15-minute assemblies two or three times a week, with modern prayers.

Years 7 to 10 sing new hymns, led by groups of school musicians.

PUPIL INVOLVEMENT?

Yes, but we don't encourage gimmickry. Humour is welcome, but we don't want a competition to be the funniest or most risqua assembly. VISITING SPEAKERS

We have an outstanding director at the local Youth for Christ organisation. We use former students a lot, particularly those who have worked on a gap year - we give them a small grant on the condition that they'll do a presentation on their return. We raise a lot for charity, and our best visiting talks are from bodies such as Henshaw's College for the Blind, Candlelighters and Martin House (a children's hospice in Wetherby). Amnesty International also does a good presentation, and we've had two assemblies led by dialect expert Arnold Kellett on being part of a community or feeling an outsider MANY SPECIAL THINGS YOU DO?

To make assembly a daily activity, we have developed a Thought for the Day whereby a teacher, pupil or friend of the school will give a week's worth of thoughts for classes to develop into assemblies. For example, Bette Midler said: "Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one, Helen Keller is the other."

CONTENT OF ASSEMBLIES?

All assemblies need to be supportive of the Christian ethic. Most of all, we want people to be religiously literate. HOW IS ASSEMBLY CONNECTED TO THE SCHOOL'S ETHOS?

It's crucial and definitely not lip-service. All staff must attend. The "God question" is important. We're convinced that the spiritual dimension - the person you are when you're by yourself - has a dynamism all of its own. BEST ASSEMBLY

One of my own, called "Targets". Pupils entered the assembly to find visual aids such as goal posts, wickets, an archery target, bowling jack, finishing tape, and a chequered flag distributed around the room. I'd also marked on the wall the height of the high jump world record - jokingly inviting anyone present to attempt it - and Jonathan Edwards's triple jump record was marked out on the floor. I talked about "aims" and "being the best" and made particular reference to Edwards and the South African cricketer, Jonty Rhodes, because both are committed Christians. I used Hebrews 12, verse 1, as a biblical reference point, and developed the assembly into a talk about dedication and aiming at one's personal best.

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