Covid-19 may have temporarily stopped the traditional, gathered assembly but, encouragingly, many schools have continued to offer ‘assemblies’ online – recognising their centrality to school life and their role in wellbeing and community. Even Oak National Academy, the government’s flagship provider of online lessons, has been broadcasting a weekly, national assembly with some high profile guests including the Duchess of Cambridge and Sir Robert Winston.
As a teacher, assemblies were always my favourite moments in the week. They can come in all shapes and sizes – from a class or a year group in a classroom or dining room to a whole school in a sports hall or playground. They can be quiet and reflective moments or noisy, chaotic performances to rival a Broadway show. However, they are always a chance to gather students and staff together to celebrate successes, share important messages and unite around shared values.
Therefore it was no surprise to me that, in a recent survey of over 300 schools which have worked with, or been influenced by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (NATCEN, 2020), in terms of day-to-day activities, schools were most likely to focus on developing character in assemblies.
To complement the launch of The Character Curriculum, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has launched a series of assembly plans. There are assemblies for every year group in key stages 1-4 and each assembly introduces a topic that is covered in the curriculum. The curriculum resources, including assemblies, are available to download for free here.
Below, I have shared some ways in which I think assemblies are perfectly positioned to deliver character education:
- They help develop identity. A strong, shared identity seems to be common among thriving schools. From psychology we know that one of the best predictors of moral actions is a moral identity – when being kind, generous or courageous forms a key part of who we believe ourselves to be. Assemblies can re-affirm a shared, school identity: this is who we are and this is what we stand for.
- They give an opportunity to address important issues in an engaging, memorable way. Many of the issues that we address in assemblies, including honesty, looking after our school environment and resilience, do not have an obvious place in the curriculum so could otherwise be overlooked or tackled as a ‘bolt on’ if there is time. Assemblies can free us to explore these issues of character away from the pressures of the curriculum, attainment and evidencing progress. Assemblies also allow us to be creative in our delivery, often producing memorable moments that students will look back on long after they remember any of the maths or English lessons we delivered.
- They give staff and students a space to reflect. Schools are busy places and a packed curriculum does not allow much time to pause and ponder. Assemblies give a moment in the day or week to step back from the constant flow of activity and reflect on how things are going, who we are and who we are becoming.
Regardless of Covid- related restrictions, it seems clear that assemblies, in some form, will remain a central part of school life and a key vehicle for character education.
If you have any feedback on either the assemblies or the curriculum resources, we would love to hear it! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues