The 1994 guidance, published by the Department for Education, on collective worship tells us that one of the key aims of assemblies is to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural appreciation of our students. It also states that, “the set of shared values which a school promotes through the curriculum, through expectations governing the behaviour of pupils and staff and through day-to-day contact between them… should be at the heart of every school’s educational and pastoral policy and practice. Every attempt should be made to publicise the school’s values.” Certainly assemblies enable us to do this; to reinforce the values, aims, key objectives and – to some extent – the strategy that are crucial to our school’s development.
Assemblies, in my view, also provide an opportunity to teach those aspects of character that are so vital to every growing student; resilience, perseverance, courage and so forth; to encourage a sense of awe and wonder at the world and a moral understanding that can lead to tolerance and an atmosphere of mutual respect. However, on a day-to-day basis, it is sometimes difficult to know where to look for ideas, but there are some excellent resources that can be used as the starting point for assembly planning:
● The United Nations website gives access to ‘international’ days – www.un.org/en/sections/observances/international-days. International Women’s Day on 8th March, for instance, provides us with an excellent opportunity to talk about female role models of our age, or among our alumnae and to draw out those characteristics that remain relevant to our students. For instance, the quotes of Malala Yousafzai, (“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”) make a wonderful starting point for the importance of education to all.
● In a similar way, basing assemblies on people whose death or birth are remembered on a particular day provides further inspiration. The website, onthisday.com is useful in this respect.
● Philosophical or religious stories can succeed in providing memorable morals and opportunities for student participation.
The Ring of Gyges; a summary of which can be found at: aphilosopher.wordpress.com, encourages students to consider the true nature of morality. Dressing up a student as Gyges with a flashing ring and cloak adds to the fun! The parables of Jesus, the sayings of Muhammad from the Hadiths, the words of the Buddha and so on provide much food for thought. For instance, discussing the relationship between Christian agape and Buddhist metta enabled me to explore the idea of compassion in the way that a mere overview of love could not.
● Special weeks like Safer Internet Week and Anti-Bullying Week are definite musts for inclusion in the assembly calendar because they enable vital messages about personal safety to be delivered. However, encouraging the students themselves to teach important messages to each other is very important here. Students will be more likely to believe other digital natives than those of us of a different generation!
● Educational theory or interesting books have also been a useful reference point for me. I have often referred to Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman when talking about bullying, and Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed when talking about the importance of perseverance.
● Video sites like ‘TrueTube’ (www.truetube.co.uk) have some fascinating religious and ethical videos which can be used as a starting point for exploring key themes.
Helen Jeys is Headmistress at Alderley Edge School for Girls.