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Assemblies with a giraffe’s help

09 June 2010

Dennis Richards reviews new titles to help schools plan collective worship

THE offer from churches to “do an assembly” for you can come as a welcome relief to schools from the day-to-day chore of finding something meaningful to say. Inexperienced head teachers, however, may not spot the dangers. You may find that, inadvertently, you have invited an aspiring Billy Graham to con­duct your daily act of worship.

On one such occasion, we were asked to admire some lovely pieces of jewellery. One, we were told, was genuine, and the rest were all fakes. As the speaker thundered away, the staff listened with mounting horror as we realised where he was going. Evangelical Christianity was genuine. As for everything else, he opined, the least said the better. He made Ian Paisley sound like a committed ecumenist.

Others drone on oblivious of both the bell and the mayhem around them. Rescuing a speaker whose zip was undone, or another who acted out Salome’s dance of the seven veils far too convincingly, is an experience not easily forgotten. Local Church, Local School by Margaret Withers (Barnabas, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-8410-0586-6) is, therefore, a particu­larly welcome volume.

Full of astute advice and insight, the author lists the precautions to take before embarking on such a hazardous undertaking. It is dis­concerting, to say the least, for example, if the moment you start speaking the teachers promptly slope out of the room for a bonus cup of coffee.

Making someone responsible for the dis­cipline as well as the content is unfair. Plan­ning is all. Checking that the head teacher is not going to have a Monday-morning rant before you deliver your assembly on “Love thy neighbour” is just one of many useful tips.

IN A similar vein, Churches Linking with Schools by Howard Worsley (Grove Books, £3.95 (£3.55); 978-1-85174-744-3) attempts to cover the same ground in just 28 pages. It modestly describes itself as “a small voice on a big stage”, but, in fact, it is a mine of useful information and suc­cinct reasoning. It follows very much a “mutual inter­est” rationale. Both com­munities love and serve the best interests of children. Both may well be anxious about social conditions locally and nationally. The school has to demonstrate to OFSTED’s satis­faction that its commit­ment to community cohesion is genuine and effective and that the Church is one of the organ­isations best placed to help it do it. This excellent little volume will stand the test of time.

THERE is certainly no shortage of assembly material, and no end to the imagination of those who produce it. In John Guest’s More Collective Worship Unwrapped (Barnabas, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-1-84101-664-1), the author retells the story of the Prodigal Son, hiding types of chocolate in the narrative. There is a great deal of Dairy Milking, coming to a Crunchie, and the pigs, as you might expect, have Curly Wurly tails. The kids will be riveted — and positively ecstatic — if you turn up with actual examples. The School Food Trust, on the other hand, will be apoplec­tic.

Story Assemblies for the School Year by Edward J.Carter (Barnbas, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-84101-699-3) represents a brave attempt to bring some continuity to the whole exercise. Keeping a record of assemblies delivered over a period of time can sometimes demonstrate a wholly haphazard number of topics. In this volume, the author bases his approach on a number of stories, written in episodes and containing enough material for a number of assemblies. A sort of “The story so far . . .” approach.

It would be too much to hope that the children will be eagerly awaiting their next assembly, as the story develops, but it will be intriguing to see whether it is a successful tactic. It is a very obvious but clever idea, and quite unusual.

Sometimes, the best assemblies emerge from a familiar children’s story. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae (Orchard Books, £5.99 (£5.40); 978-1-84121-565-5) is an en­chanting story about a giraffe named Gerald. As the title im­plies, he is a hopeless dancer who dreads the annual jungle dance.

The story deals sensitively with difference. Gerald con­quers his fears with the help of a sympath­etic violin-playing insect: “But some­times, when you’re differ­ent, you just need a different song.”

It would be difficult to find a better vehicle for convincing the children that they all have a talent that can be expressed in different ways. The same story speaks to teachers about the pressing need to motivate individual children by different means.

ALTOGETHER more sobering and thought-provoking is Over Schooled but Under Educated by J. Abbott (Continuum, £16.99 (£15.30); 978-185539-623-4). This splendidly readable treatise argues that for years in the Western world our education system has got adolescence spectacularly wrong. Far from being a problem time, it is a glorious oppor­tunity.

All that grunting and slamming of doors has led us to view adolescents as recalcitrant horses who need breaking in. We stick them into school for longer, and effectively brain­wash them into accepting a way of life that is hurtling us towards disaster.

The book challenges people like me to re­cast my view of adolescents. To let them think and do. In other words, to let them dance like Gerald. And to find the music to enable them to do so.

Order any of the books mentioned on this page through CT Bookshop

Higher education

Order any of the books mentioned on this page through CT Bookshop

Higher education

An assessment of the changes in higher- edu­cation policy, and its effect on the Cathedral Group of church universities and colleges, has been postponed pending the publication of the crucial Browne review, expected within weeks. The 14 institutions in the group are all oversubscribed, but their eventual student total will be affected by the Coalition’s decision to halve the extra 20,000 places this year agreed by the last government. The figure has been re­duced to 8000 full-time and 2000 part-time places. The move will leave thousands of potential students outside higher educa­tion, said the Group’s chairman, Professor Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor of Chester Uni­versity.

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