It has long been a statutory requirement that schools provide a daily act of collective worship and yet few schools have the luxury of a space large enough to house the whole school together. As a consequence, schools have had to come up with creative ways of meeting this requirement, such as providing tutors with a “thought for the day”.
It is fair to say, that this is delivered with mixed levels of commitment and skill. Over time it has been perhaps inevitable that assemblies have come to be seen as one of the least important things in school, perhaps a bit of an afterthought after the main business of teaching has been completed.
I would strongly argue that the reverse should be the case. To my mind, assemblies provide an ideal opportunity for making clear the values and ethos that the school stands for. Whether you hold them at the start, middle or the end of the day, assemblies often represent the only opportunity that a school has to reinforce its core values, explore key messages, address issues that it may be facing, establish a community ethos, and celebrate the many successes of its pupils.
Furthermore, one role that I have increasingly noticed assemblies fulfilling is that of providing training to students on how to behave at public events. For example, it is important to get students used to the idea that they should enter the room in silence and that they should listen to the person speaking in a polite and attentive manner, and that they have a colligate responsibility through being a member of a large community. It would be a mistake to think that such skills are naturally developed – like everything else they need to be learnt through role-modelling and repeated practice.
Assemblies have also provided an excellent vehicle for students to develop their own, vitally important, skills in public speaking. We are regularly reminded by the press that the future employers of our students find them wanting when it comes to the art of effective and confident communication.
As I am sure is the case in the vast majority of schools, we encourage our students to deliver assemblies as much as possible. I firmly believe that they are far better at recognising themes and topics for debate that are relevant to them than we oldies could ever be. In addition, many schools run highly effective formal debates within their assemblies programme, discussing a variety of issues that are relevant and important to young people.
Last, but by no means least, assemblies are an opportunity to provide food for thought on important ethical and moral issues. The quality of assemblies in our school provided by both staff and external speakers has been consistently very high and a number of assembly presentations have provided talking points for several days after they were first delivered.
I also use my assemblies as an opportunity to reinforce my relationship with my students. Through choosing topics that mean something to me, I am able to show a more human side that I can build upon. For example, I have recently delivered an assembly outlining the vital role played by dogs in the First World War as part of our centenary programme of events. Most of my students know how much I love dogs and so, I hope, saw this as something important to me, which in turn may make the message a little more poignant.
For all of the reasons above, rather than seeing assemblies as a chore, I would encourage all of us to rebrand our assemblies and view them as one of the most enjoyable parts of school life and a crucial part of our broader pastoral structure.
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.