Susan Freestone, headteacher of Sibford School, North Oxfordshire, tells Alan Combes how her Quaker school tackles assembly
We have 300 pupils, aged five to 18, on a 70-acre site. Although open to all denominations, the school is one of seven under the auspices of the Society of Friends (Quakers). It's an independent dayboarding school with 140 day pupils, 60 weekly boarders and 100 full boarders from all parts of the world, representing many faiths.
HOW IS ASSEMBLY ORGANISED?
Three full school meetings (the Quaker term for assembly) per week plus house meetings on Thursday. On alternate weeks, instead of a music meeting on Tuesdays, there is a three-way split - Years 1-7, 8-10 and 11-13. This creates a less imposing context, so that pupils themselves are free to minister.
who takes meetings?
The nature of Quaker worship is such that any person present, pupils included, may minister if they feel moved to do so. The meeting is often led by myself, the deputy head, heads of upper secondarylower secondaryprimary or staff volunteers.
do you use outside speakers?
The Friday meetings are at the end of the day. Parents and friends of the school are made welcome and there is usually a visiting speaker from any faith or denomination. The school sits in the round and the meeting leader sits with them. Sometimes our speakers are members of the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Are there any special features?
In all meetings, silence is a key element. Ministry offered, whether in words or music, is reflected upon. Any applause is saved for the very end. It is usual for a silence to last from three to 20 minutes and it ends when I leave the hall or when the whole meeting shakes hands. The comfortable silence observed by 300 young people for such a time is astonishing to witness and is surely one of the reasons we have so few discipline problems here.
HOW does meeting reflect the school's ethos?
The silence brings about a peace and order which is reflected in much of what we do during the school day. Quaker values inform therunning of the school and the emphasis is on respect for others and the self.
The first meeting of the autumn term, last year. Sometimes we have meetings to celebrate the life of someone who has died and here, as in many schools, the focus was on Diana, the Princess of Wales. The staff had been notified in advance. After my opening, staff rose one by one and said what impact her life had had on them. Then it was remarkable to witness the pupils spontaneously standing up to make theircontributions. What followed was a lengthy reflective silence. The meeting was sad, but not in any way mournful.
The meeting was thenfollowed up during ensuing days, and pupils organised a wall display of their personal tributes. This meant that those who had not found the courage to minister during the meeting could still find a medium through which to express their feelings.