23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Q: Our headteacher likes to have hymn-singing in assemblies, as she feels it builds community spirit

Q: Our headteacher likes to have hymn-singing in assemblies, as she feels it builds community spirit. Yet whatever tradition the hymns come from, they are bound to conflict with many pupils' personal views in a multicultural school. Should pupils be pressurised into singing words they don't believe? Steve, Coventry

A: I'm with your head on this one. Can I put a good word in for something collective and just about as aspirational as you can get: the hymn as traditionally sung? So much of our culture faces downwards and meets our young people at their level. Fine - but how about just one magnificent anachronism that looks upwards? Who knows, it just might give pupils something to connect with and think about, and some might even enjoy it. Margaret, East Sussex

A: I share your disquiet. Your head is misguided. Force-feeding pupils hymns that have little if any meaning to them is morally dubious and likely to be counter-productive. You don't need to be too concerned on the impact on the pupils though: they will just let the whole (to them) empty ritual wash over them. Pupils are, after all, experts at the selective turn-off, and they might even secretly enjoy the opportunity to exercise their lungs in the morning. Graham, Crowborough

A: While there is, without doubt, much fudging and hypocrisy associated with the traditional school assembly, it is not necessary to take any radical steps. There is enough good practice around to appease both sides of the argument. As with so many other things, it's down to how it's done Richard, West Sussex


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