Try Morning has Broken in the style of ACDC

22nd April 2011 at 01:00

Of all the institutions in schools, one that has seen the greatest change over the years is the assembly, that daily communal gathering in which pupils are addressed with words of guidance, spiritual enrichment and occasional inspiration.

I have always been a little in awe of the small number of colleagues I know who can stand in front of 300 young people first thing in the morning and have them in the palm of their hand for 20 minutes, often leaving them with a very unfamiliar slant on some issue or other.

Theirs is a very particular skill. Generally, they tend to be frustrated preachers or stand-up comedian manques. In the best cases they are a bit of both.

One of my earliest teaching memories was of being the piano accompanist in assembly. The poker-faced staff would line up like prison guards as a year group of pupils trooped in (sometimes to the strains of Send in the Clowns if I was feeling mischievous). The deputy head would then appear, replete with gown, and stand menacingly while 150 teenagers mumbled their way through O Worship the King, led by the head of maths in his stentorian baritone. Omnipresent was the threat of the dreaded "hymn practice".

It was rarely an uplifting start to the day. I found it a constant temptation to slam the piano lid down and storm out of the door screaming, "I can't take any more!"

On one occasion I attempted to do something about this. I enlisted a couple of the sixth-form rock band who then led the assembly in a raucous rendition of Morning has Broken in the style of ACDC. The headteacher was not impressed.

The hymn was usually followed by a Bible reading and a tenuous attempt by that day's speaker to link it to the previous night's Eastenders. Some assemblies would branch off and take as their theme a role model or iconic figure such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Gareth Edwards. Proceedings would end with a prayer while the assembled pupils bowed their heads. Then, after assorted notices, all would stand in respectful silence as the deputy made his ceremonial exit.

Today's assembly is a much less formal occasion, and hymns are generally restricted to a few carols at Christmas. Pupils are encouraged to have a major input, even taking over completely on occasion. Visual aids have become de rigueur and the voice of the teacher is often just an accompaniment to the on-screen action. The themes are far more diverse, as is the interpretation of the statutory "spiritual content".

However, one thing has remained very clear to me: the importance of school assemblies and the massive responsibility on the person at the front. Nowhere else in the school day is there such an opportunity to influence our young people's behaviour, attitudes, ambition and their view of school. These are occasions full of possibility and potential significance.

Geraint Davies is head of the arts faculty at Llantarnam School in Cwmbran.

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