What are your school assemblies like? Ours are a sight (and sound) to behold (and hear). We have a weekly "good work" assembly, when children are rewarded for such things as behaving well on a public outing, using the toilet all week, developing skills on a brick-laying course, or counting to 100 in tens. The awards we give out show the vast range of ability the children have and the importance of social areas of the curriculum.
Chats with parents confirm that what is really important to them is that their child should be able to use the toilet, if possible, to sit in a cafe without causing mayhem, and generally be as fulfilled, independent and useful as possible.
Other assemblies are centred on work done in the classroom, so depending on what the current topic is, children can be found at the front of the school hall either holding up rainbow colours, acting a scene about being assertive, or dressing up in medieval gear and having apples shot off their heads.
Assemblies should be a collective act of largely Christian worship. This can give us problems in a special school where some of the children are just beginning to find out about themselves and the concept of virgin birth. Rising again and existing as father, son and spirit are frankly a little hard to comprehend. Prayer is also a difficult thing to do in school. Many of the children can say "thank you for the world so sweet" in a rote way, but how much meaning there is behind it is hard to say. In some assemblies we take prayerful concepts and use them as a theme. For example, saying "thank you", saying "sorry", thinking of others, reflecting on the day that has passed and considering the day to come.
A typical, reflective assembly: I'm at the front of the hall, playing a "classic adverts" CD and checking who has a birthday, as the children walk and wheel in. A lot of our learning is done incidentally, at times such as assembly, so some children will be working on their targets of sitting, waiting or listening. Jonathan is building up his ability to concentrate and is brought in halfway through so he can manage the last five minutes and be rewarded for sitting through to the end. Jasmine wails loudly when the CD stops (she really likes the British Airways music) and has to be taken out. Three autistic children and one teacher near her have their fingers in their ears and might start having tantrums if we don't do something quickly. Andrew has waited long enough for something to happen, so he takes his shoe off and it flies across the room as I begin. "Today's assembly," I say and sign, "is about helping each other." We practise the sign for "help" and I ask them what helpful things they have done today. I look at teachers for guidance as I see some regular hands going up, knowing that others could be drawn out and encouraged to make a contribution.
"Donna?" I ask one of the teachers.
"Matty can tell you about helping Florence in PE."
"Did you Matty? Well done, come and tell us all about it."
We go through a few more examples and end up singing "Can you help your friend like Matty? Can you tidy up the cups like Jane?"
I get the birthday cake out and Louise, who never talks, starts singing the song we've all just finished. She sings it beautifully, and word perfect.
We sing "Happy birthday" as Abigail comes to the front to blow out the candles on a cake that is made from Polyfilla and a biscuit tin.
"Put your hands together," I say. "Thank you for all the people who help us and help us to help each other. Amen."
"Happy Birthday!" sings Louise as assembly ends.
"Oh God," I say to myself, "I forgot to mention Jesus again."
Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym