Leslie Drake, head of RE, talks to Alan Combes about assembly at St Mary's C of E High School in Hendon, north-west London THE SCHOOL
St Mary's is one of 17 C of E schools in the London diocese. It has more than 1,000 pupils evenly split between boys and girls and a transient population. St Mary's comprises 4O per cent white, 3O per cent Asian and 3O per cent Afro-Caribbean pupils from 45 feeder schools. Between between them they speak 49 different languages at home.
HOW IS ASSEMBLY ORGANISED?
We have a split-site school with five minutes' walk between the buildings. Years 7, 8, 12 and 13 are in one building, with sixth-form assembly on Monday, and Years 7 and 8 on Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday is single year groups, and Thursday is form time. Years 9, 10 and 11 are in the other building.
ARE PUPILS INVOLVED?
The older pupils get, the more self-conscious they tend to become, though they will take part in a light-hearted skit. But single-year group assemblies tend to attract greater pupil participation, and there are pockets of real enthusiasm, such as a group of girls who are presently into the spirituality of Hindu dance.
DO YOU USE OUTSIDE SPEAKERS?
As a deanery school we make use of many local speakers, not only from local C of E parishes but also from the United Reform Church, Methodists, Salvation Army and Evangelical groups. We invite charities such as Age Concern and the St Botolph's project (which aids people who live rough on the streets of London). We have also used the Metropolitan Police and we are inviting bishops who will be attending the Lambeth Conference.
ANY SPECIAL THINGS YOU DO?
I've raided numerous prayer books to create our compendium of prayer which runs to about 25 A4 sheets. Every day pupils get a time of prayer. If the member of staff isn't a believer, the pupils can use this book to lead prayer. The prayers celebrate the Christian year and aspects of the pupils' experience of growing up. We have a weekly school Eucharist.
OFSTED com-plimented us in January on the high level of attention our pupils show. I think humour helps here, although we never lose sight of the importance of spirituality.
HOW DOES ASSEMBLY LINK WITH THE SCHOOL'S ETHOS?
We follow the Christian year closely to emphasise our commitment. The use of so many different staff voices serves as an example to pupils in terms of participation.
Just before Easter, the head of PE took an excellent one based on the notion of surprise - the surprise people felt at the time of Christ's resurrection, which was something totally outside their experience.
He took a pane of glass and a pair of scissors, announcing that he was going to cut the glass with the scissors. "Seeing is believing," he told the pupils. He then immersed the glass in water - which I believe affects the surface tension - and cut the glass, raising the two halves to show to the assembly. It was powerful and effective. He told the pupils that whereas his demonstration was a trick, Christ's resurrection was nothing of the sort.