Guaranteed to boost ratings

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Terence Copley reflects on the similarities of TV and collective worship

All Year Round: Assemblies for special days and celebrations (second ed ition) By Gerald Haigh pfp publishing pound;59.50

Badger Assembly Stories, Ages 5-7 Badger Assembly Stories, Ages 7-11 By Andy and Barbara Seed Badger Publishing pound;19.50 each

Be Bold! By Paulette Bissell, Lisa Fenton, Lizzie McWhirter and Alison Seaman Church House Publishing pound;16.99

Assemblies for Special Days, KS3 Assemblies for Special Days, KS45 By Brian Radcliffe pfp publishing pound;59.50 each

What does collective worship have in common with TV? This question isn't the prelude to a joke, but more like a "reflection" of the sort popular nowadays in school worship. Oddly enough, collective worship and TV do have things in common. Secondary school collective worship often has a passive audience, like TV. There are a lot of uninspiring TV programmes - just like assemblies. Most of all, both secondary and primary collective worship share with TV an insatiable demand for material to fill the slots available.

The worthy assembly anthologies of a generation ago have given way to websites of ideas, such as those hosted by SPCK and the Culham Institute.

A4 ringbinders containing collections of photocopiable material, OHPs, CD-Roms and other supporting material have replaced their stolid looking predecessors. But is the content better?

Primary collective worship is often an affirmative community occasion, accepted and even welcomed as a part of the daily life of the school.

Celebrations as the choice of the theme allows primary collective worship to retain the upbeat "I really enjoyed that" feel it can have when it is well done. Gerald Haigh's collection covers the year - August excepted - month by month, with five or six topics per month. May, for example, includes May Day, Wesak, Comic Relief, Shavuot, National Tests and the FA Cup Final, perhaps an insight into the devotional preoccupations of the UK.

Each topic contains a story, a conclusion (the proverbial "point"), a prayer, a thought, suggested Bible reading and song ideas, along with sometimes rather implausible optional follow-up suggestions (eg "Have a day when everyone brings a gift for someone else").

The Badger books focus on citizenship and PSHE, illustrating another truth about collective worship - it works best when it is related directly to curriculum issues so that the hall and the classroom feed into each other.

The follow-up activities are divided into interactive and non-interactive.

Interactive include closed and open questions, non-verbal responses such as voting, quizzes and discussion. Non-interactive include teacher summaries of the story, "something to think about", reflection and optional prayer.

The linkage to PSHE and citizenship guidelines means that the framework for each assembly sometimes looks more like a classroom lesson or secular moral teaching than a collective occasion in which primary children might sing, dance, laugh and enter the feeling realm of the spiritual. Why is it that creators of assembly material feel so safe with the moral and so timid about the spiritual?

Be Bold! explicitly aims to create "an enjoyable, uplifting experience", within the climate of "collective worship that has its roots in the Christian tradition". It is not so much a collection of assembly material, more a training book on how to do it, with detailed practical examples - it aims to teach a method that could then be applied to other material.

The emphasis is not on teaching and learning in the curriculum sense but on a multisensory exploration. Guidance is included for structuring in-service training or staff meetings to address collective worship. For any church school and especially Anglican school that may feel a bit at sea on collective worship - some of the "voluntary controlled" schools may jump at this - this is a very useful and user-friendly resource.

Secondary school worship is a much harder arena in which to delight and excel. Brian Radcliffe's KS3-5 collection has clearly presented material under the themes of engagement, reflection and response. It uses a variety of religious and secular themes well, embracing grieving, thanksgiving and celebration. The suggested presentations are down to earth, well focused and short. Each theme is revisited so there is progression - even in collective worship! The key value for each is made clear and there is a light touch as well as serious thinking in the detailed suggestions.

Overall, this crop of material provides well-structured and sometimes imaginative practitioner-based resources for the leaders of collective worship. It is a pity that only the church school resource approaches spirituality in a big way. Perhaps this is a reflection of the view in some staff rooms that "worship" is really the province of the churches, the synagogues, the mosques etc and not the school.

There are two big flaws with such a view. The first is since the churches, gurdwaras, mandirs etc do not have and do not claim a monopoly of spirituality, that is no reason to exclude it from education. The other problem is that it is apparently not much easier to find good worship in the churches than the schools, if the number of people absenting themselves from church worship is any evidence. Why are churches well attended at Christmas? When a powerful and compelling story is presented in a multisensory way within a warm-feeling community and people are not preached at morally, they are challenged to go away and think it out for themselves. Just like the best collective worship.

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