What is religious education for?

RE-heart-picture

Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England has recently blogged on What is religious education for?.  He starts with:

It is tempting to see the primary reasons for good religious education as being combatting extremism and promoting community cohesion. This feeds nicely in to national political and news agendas but by doing this we confuse safeguarding with education, distort the need for a healthy pluralism in society and accept a simplistic narrative that says religion is the cause of most of the world’s problems. The primary purpose of religious education must in fact be to enable young people to make sense of themselves and the world in which they live and from these seeds will grow communities equipped to live well together.

It’s really worth taking a few minutes to read his take on the need for good quality religious education.

 

 

Assembly: Tolerance

Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

This was the assembly I gave this morning at one of our local Junior schools, on the theme of tolerance:

The past few hundred years have been marked by ethnic and racial conflict, as the Holocaust, the Rwanda genocide and the ongoing war in Syria demonstrate. There have also been individuals who have stood above the hatred and violence, however, and called for peace and cooperation. One of the most famous fighters for peace was Rev. Dr Martin Luther King.

Can you imagine a time when black people were only allowed to sit on certain seats at the back of a bus? When black people were not allowed to vote in elections? Can you imagine a town where black and white children had to attend separate schools? Where black and white young people were separated at dances by a line down the middle of the room?

Sixty years ago, in the southern states in America, this was how it was. Let’s hear about three ordinary people who had the courage to speak out.

An ordinary clergyman, with a minister for a father and a teacher for a mother, organized peaceful protests and boycotts against discrimination. Here was an ordinary black man who spoke out against the injustice that he saw. This ordinary black man delivered extraordinary speeches with memorable lines like ‘I have a dream that one day down in Alabama … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’

This man was Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1964, assassinated in 1968, at just 39 years old.

In the town of Montgomery, like most places in the deep south, buses were segregated. On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks left Montgomery Fair, the department store where she worked, and got on the same bus as she did every night. As always, she sat in the ‘black section’ at the back of the bus. However, when the bus became full, the driver instructed Rosa to give up her seat to a white person. When she refused, she was arrested by the police.

In protest against bus segregation, it was decided that from 5 December, black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated. For 382 days, the 17,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration.

An ordinary woman showed extraordinary courage. This ordinary woman became known as the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’.

On 28 August 1963, two to three hundred thousand Americans converged on Washington DC. This was the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. The organizers had many aims, but what unified the march was a call for greater freedoms for African-Americans. The date chosen for the march fell on the one-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States of America. Racial inequality was still rampant, however, and African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens in many states.

President Kennedy was attempting to pass the Civil Rights Act at the time, which would provide greater freedoms for African-Americans. While many marched as a show of support for the President, others marched to criticize the Act for not going far enough.

Dr King was tasked with giving the final speech and he captured both the anger and the optimism of the march. ‘America has given the Negro people a bad cheque’, he said, referring to the centuries of slavery and racial injustice, but ‘we’ve come to cash this cheque’ by marching together. The civil rights leaders had come together to the nation’s capital to demand a fair deal for all.

Yet it is the ‘I have a dream  . . .’ segment of his speech that has passed into history. Dr King called not for acts of revenge against oppressors but understanding and cooperation. The most famous line of the speech – ‘I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!’ – carries a promise of peace, reconciliation and an end to racial conflict.

Those two examples are completely true. This one is not. It is taken from the 2007 hit movie Hairspray. It’s Baltimore, 1962, and Tracy Turnblad, an ordinary young girl, is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show. Tracy auditions for the show and gets to appear – a dream come true! However, she becomes aware of the way that her black dancer friends are being treated and realizes that she has to do something. As she tells her father, ‘I think I’ve kind of been in a bubble … thinking that fairness was gonna just happen. It’s not. People like me are gonna have to get up off their fathers’ laps and go out and fight for it.’ This ordinary young girl brings about an extraordinary integration.

This, too, was the power of Mahatma Gandhi – the humble little man in peasant’s clothes who, armed only with the weapons of love, peace and justice, brought the mighty British Empire to its knees. Gandhi believed passionately that if his cause was a just one he would win – no matter how powerful the forces against him. He famously said: ‘Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.’ Gandhi was ‘one man come in the name of love’.

At the heart of the Christian faith there is also ‘one man come in the name of love’. Jesus enters Jerusalem knowing that it is there that he will come into conflict with the might of the Roman Empire and face the fury of the Jewish religious establishment. And so he comes armed – armed with the weapons of love, forgiveness and peace – and he comes riding the humble donkey.

Into a world of division and barbarism and violence – a world, in other words, not unlike our own – comes the Prince of Peace, whose power lies not in military might but in selfless love. And here’s the thing: his kingdom, established by the power of love, rather than bullets, has lasted far longer and been far more influential than the kingdom of any military conqueror?

Time for reflection

What are you and I prepared to do in the name of love?
Do we have even a fraction of the courage of the Tank Man
or Rosa Parks
or Martin Luther King
or Gandhi?
Can we walk with Jesus on the way of the cross?

In the face of a world of greed, violence and oppression;
here at school in the face of the bully and the aggressor
or in the face of those who simply do not care –
what will you and I do in the name of love?
Prayer
Lord,
give us vision that we may see a better world,
and give us courage that we may act to make it happen.
Amen.

Christmas assembly: chocolate brussels sprouts

Christmas brussel sprouts

This is my favourite Christmas talk – Chocolate Sprouts – I’ve used this in assemblies, carol services, across the age ranges.

 

Preparation

  • Boil the Brussels Sprouts (make sure they’re not too soft) and stick them in the fridge overnight.
  • Next morning, melt the chocolate and dip the sprouts in so that they look like truffles.  Let them set on a baking tray, then put them in small cake cases and sprinkle them with cocoa powder.

Talk

At the start of the talk, announce that you love Christmas so much, that you want to share it with everybody, and that what you have with you is something that will always remind them of Christmas day – delicious truffles!

Ask for a couple of volunteers to see if they can emulate Christmas day, by eating as many truffles as they can in 1 minute.  Build up the expectation and emphasise the need for speed in the challenge.

Once the young people start eating the ‘truffles’, they’ll realise that there’s something not quite right and their facial expressions will change from ones of sheer delight, to ones of outright disgust a they discover the sprouts. (You may want to have a plastic bag handy at this point!)

OK, so it’s a bit revolting, but here’s the point.

Ask the young people who loves chocolate, and also, who loves sprouts.

Say that Christmas, for most of us is a time of celebration, indulgence and happiness.  We love the ‘niceness’ of the Christmas season. It’s a bit like chocolate!

Go on to say that for many people, Christmas is not an easy time. For some it’s a time of loneliness, homelessness and struggle. For many people, Christmas is like our experience of sprouts – something to struggle through.

You could mention the first Christmas as an example. Mary was blessed with the news that she was to be the mother of God’s son, but probably struggled with knowing that her life could be in danger because of her pregnancy.  A classic Eastenders storyline!

Challenge the young people to consider how they spend Christmas – to be grateful for the Christmas they have, and to be mindful of those who will struggle through Christmas.

Prayer

May our lives and our prayers be like lights shining in dark places.  And may the blessing of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – fill our hearts and homes with light this Christmas and in the new year to come.  Amen.

Christmas assembly: Highly favoured

Christmas decorations red

Here’s a copy of the assembly I did last year at our local special secondary school:

Take a look at the screens:

Christmas in a Nutshell is that God showed up in our neighbourhood so we would know who the eternal God is and what he’s really like.

There are two types of people – those who love Christmas and those who struggle with Christmas.  This year we’re in a credit crunch Christmas.

The word I think that sums up Christmas is “Favour”.

Sometimes when Christmas comes we don’t feel favoured at all.  We see how everyone else is doing and they have their perfect family, but our family needs a UN resolution to get everyone in the same room, we don’t feel favoured.  In some families they use a dainty silver bell to bring everyone to the dining table, but your family uses the usual method of the smoke alarm, you don’t feel favoured.

Some people in order to have a quiet and peaceful experience put the kids on a different table.  You would have to put them on a different table, in a different room, in a different house, ideally in a different town!  People buy their turkeys from a Bernard Matthews farm, you buy yours from some discount warehouse, it looks like a dinosaur, takes 6 weeks to defrost, and you end up putting it in the tumble dryer as a last ditch attempt to defrost it – you don’t feel favoured.  You left it too late to get the tree and you end up with the one that is two foot high and about forty feet wide.  Or even worse it is a very, very small and says the words “air freshener” on it!  You don’t feel favoured.

The Bible says wherever you are at, however you feel about it, the truth of Christmas is that we are favoured.

LUKE 1

In Luke 1 the word favour means “God’s grace”, grace literally means a free gift you didn’t deserve.  The angel says to Mary “you are highly favoured”.  As a youngster I was a choir boy and we used to sing the song Gloria, and the refrain is “Most highly favoured lady” but we would always sing “Most highly flavoured gravy”.  But the angel says Mary you are highly favoured.

Think of a 14 year old, illiterate peasant girl, scrambling around in the dirt in a small insignificant village in the Roman Empire.  Mary was someone who was at the bottom of the social ladder, someone who hadn’t done anything special with their life.  But the whole point of grace is that it is not deserved.  Grace is what God gives you just because!  The angel says to Mary she is highly favoured, highly covered in God’s grace.

The Bible says you are favoured, which means his grace is looking for you, searching you out.  Mary simply responded to it.

LUKE 2

But Luke 2 brings us a second type of favour, not simply God’s grace but God’s delight.  When the angel speaks to the shepherds he says ““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”  There is a universal message.  “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  No one is excluded from this, you don’t have to earn it, to achieve it, but instead you just get it.  The word favour literally means the pleasure and delight of God.  It can also be used to say God’s longing, God’s satisfaction.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel if I could meet God that he wouldn’t be very happy with us, he’d be disapproving of us.  If you give your life to God it can feel like you are limited, you have to be smart and serious, carry a big bible, drink milk from a Christian cow, your life becomes difficult and hard.  But the Bible says that isn’t the case at all, the Bible says God is pleased with you.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done anything, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t given him a second thought, he is absolutely delighted with you.

He chooses to send the message to shepherds.  We might have quite a cute image of shepherds, but the reality at that time was that they were the underclass of Jewish society, they were considered unclean, they were regarded with cynicism, scepticism and distrust.  Shepherds roamed around, they had no respect for other peoples land, they would just bring their sheep anywhere they fancied, they were a law unto themselves.

The angel says, shepherds listen you are favoured.  The shepherds were confused because they were the punch bag of society.  Some of us are trying so hard to push ourselves, to validate our identity, we are trying to find it in the toys, the money, school, work – but listen you don’t need to and can’t do anything to make God pleased with you – it is not possible.  God is absolutely taken with you, he adores you.

At Christmas time heaven and earth are fused together, that God himself comes down from heaven to our earth.  That is what is so wonderful.  That God’s opinion of you is so great, so passionate, that he wants to be with you, he don’t just want to be like the old uncle in heaven who visits once a year and embarrasses people, but he wants to be right there with you, God there with us, Emmanuel, living in flesh, as we’re favoured.

God knows that we mess up, that we make mistakes, that we live regrets, but he says if I could tell you one thing, if I could shout it from the heavens with a whole host of angels it would be this: “I am well pleased with you, I am delighted with you, I am captivated by you and I have come all this way because I want to know you, I want you to be brought into relationship with me – I was meant for you and you were meant for me.”

Lifeboat Prayers – Praying for the refugee crisis with young people

prayer_spaces_logoDuring 2015, many thousands of refugees risked their lives (and many others lost their lives) as they sailed across the Mediterranean Sea in small boats. People do desperate things when their lives are in unimaginable danger.

This activity encourages students to think about refugees who are leaving their homes and precious possessions behind in order to escape danger. It encourages them to think about themselves, to reflect on their own homes and possessions and opportunities, and to imagine what it would feel like to lose almost everything.

Read more on the Prayer Spaces in Schools website.

How to talk about Paris with young people?

Paris

The challenge for any youth worker is how do we talk with the young people about the shocking news of the terror attacks in Paris.

The Frontier Youth Trust through Ian Long and Pip Wilson have produced a brilliant Blob Paris – a free blob download for those working with children and young people:

Blob Paris

In the light of the shocking news about the terror attacks in Paris, this Blob sheet provides children and adults with an opportunity to discuss their feelings about the events. Here are a set of questions which can be used or adapted for your own situation.

With your partner, discuss what you can see

  • Which Blobs are experiencing fear?
  • Which Blobs are feeling angry? Why?
  • Which Blobs are on a mission?
  • Which Blob/s did you feel like about these murders?
  • Which Blob would you like to feel like?
  • Which Blob do you think God feels like?

Character Education

Character Education - Church of England

Fascinating piece produced by the Church of England into the need for character education in schools which opens with the statement:

“There is no such thing as neutral education. As soon as we begin to teach something to someone else, we are inevitably making value judgements about what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and why we are teaching it.”

A great contribution to the need for values-rich education, especially with regard to the areas of PSHE and SRE to properly support and equip young people to make good choices.

Assembly: Freedom

berlin20wall20freedom

Here’s my assembly from this morning for KS1 and KS2 pupils on the theme of Freedom:

Preparation

Prepare the following statements on separate cards in writing that is large enough for everyone to see. They fall into three categories:

A Statements

  • I like chocolate.
  • Everyone should own a dog.
  • Pink is the best colour.
  • No one should be allowed to drive on Thursdays.

B Statements

  • All cars should have a free yearly safety test.
  • Any form of hunting or shooting for sport should be banned.
  • Train travel should be cheaper.
  • We should all do more exercise.

C Statements

  • There is no God but Allah (Islam).
  • Love your neighbour as yourself (Christianity).
  • The Lord is your God (Judaism).
  • A person becomes perfect by leading an unselfish life (Buddhism).

You will also need a card or image for the word ‘Opinions’, a whiteboard or flipchart and six candles with matches or other means of lighting them. Bed sheets to divide the assembly hall

 

Assembly

Hold up the ‘Opinions’ card or show the image of it and ask what it means. Record the children’s ideas on the whiteboard or flipchart.

Discuss the idea that all opinions are important. Is that true? What would be the outcome if everyone acted as if they were? Should everyone agree with everyone else to encourage peace and harmony? What would life be like if that were the case?

Show the ‘A’ group of opinions, one by one. Ask the children to consider how important they are and whether or not they affect people’s lives for those who believe them. Could they be enforced, so that they became everybody’s views?

Consider the ‘B’ group of opinions in the same way. Are these different kinds of views? Why? These opinions might have a more significant effect than the ‘A’ group of opinions if they were enforced? They are certainly more sensible and may be more acceptable. What do you think?

The ‘C’ group of opinions is another set of important opinions. They are at the centre of many people’s lives and allow them to have a sense of belonging and value.

Write the following final set of words while everyone is watching:

  • respect
  • tolerance
  • freedom
  • choice
  • peace
  • harmony

Explain that these can only be achieved when there is freedom of expression, the freedom to hold beliefs (not harmful to others) that are important to groups or individuals and talk about those beliefs without fear of punishment or discrimination.

Caring and democratic societies like our own ensure this is so by having laws that protect people’s rights. The Human Rights Act is such a law. Not all countries or societies are so lucky and, in many cases, people are imprisoned, hurt or killed because they express their opinions or beliefs.

25 years ago, the people of Berlin, the capital of Germany, regained freedoms denied to them by the building of a wall. To help everyone understand some of the problems of that time, you have decided to divide the school. Direct that a gap is formed down the centre of the assembly, separating classes in half. Enlist the help of teachers and older pupils to ‘build a wall’ using the sheets. Screen the two halves from each other.

How does the division feel? Explore the feelings of uncertainty and discomfort that may arise. What is going on? Who is on the other side of the wall?

Explain that, after the Second World War, Germany was divided into two parts and the city of Berlin was also split into East and West Sections. East and West had very different systems of government, and there was deep mistrust and suspicion between them. In August 1961, the citizens woke to street crossing points blocked by barriers and barbed wire. The authorities in the East had decided to stop people crossing to other parts of the city. Later, a high concrete wall was built. It was protected with barbed wire and watched by armed guards. Invite everyone to imagine how the citizens of Berlin must have felt.

Designate one half of the assembly as ‘East’ and the other as ‘West’. Invite the children to enter into further role-play. State that those in the ‘East’ will not be allowed to use the playground. New classes will have to be formed. Those in the East will not be permitted to join after-school or lunchtime clubs and they will not be allowed representatives on the School Council. Those in the West will also be grouped into new classes. Otherwise, for them, school will carry on as normal. They are free to use the playground and to take part in clubs and to elect members of the School Council. Sometimes they might ask permission to visit a classroom belonging to a group from the East – but under no circumstances will anyone from the East be allowed to visit the West. Neither is a visit from East to West guaranteed – you will have to apply and may be refused permission. Any person who breaks this rule will be punished!

Reassure the children that this is ‘make-believe’, but invite them to reflect on how they would feel should such directions be given. How would each group respond? Explore how a dividing wall would affect friendships, family relationships and day-to-day life.

Reflect that the Berlin Wall separated friends and families. Some were unable to travel to their usual places of work. Those living in East Berlin were not allowed the choices and freedoms enjoyed by those in the West. Protest was not permitted, and anyone who tried to escape across the wall was shot. Above all, those in the East were not allowed to elect (choose) their leaders or to express their views freely and openly.

For years, the wall divided the city. No one was sure whether, or how, anything could change. But eventually it became possible for a few in the East to say: ‘Down with the wall!’ (Invite individuals to repeat the phrase . . .) And soon other voices joined in the protest. Eventually, large crowds gathered in the streets, all shouting: ‘Down with the wall!’ (Invite a growing number in the East to participate.) It was a dangerous thing to do. No one knew how the authorities would react – perhaps with anger and violence. People climbed upon the wall and hammered at it with sledgehammers and chisels – the crowds cheered. Then, on 9 November 1989, the wall ‘fell’. (Instruct helpers to drop the dividing screen.) Checkpoints in the wall were opened for those in the East to go through to the West! Thousands of people celebrated late into the night. They danced, joined hands, and hugged each other with joy! After almost 30 years, East and West were reunited. Bulldozers were soon continuing the demolition work that had been started with hammers and chisels! A new chapter of history had begun!

How does everyone feel now that they are reunited? Reflect that the story of the Berlin Wall helps us to think about some of the freedoms that we take for granted. As Remembrance Day approaches, it reminds us of the importance of working together for peace and unity.

 

Time for reflection

You or one or more of the children now light a candle for each of the six aspects of freedom of expression listed in the ‘Assembly’, Step 6, saying, in turn, ‘This light is the light of respect.’, ‘This light is the light of tolerance.’ and so on.

From the Christian tradition, a letter of St Paul says:

‘He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.’

(Ephesians 2.14, The Message – Eugene H. Peterson)

Give the children time to reflect on their feelings during this assembly. Remind them that the wall was in place for 27 years – that’s longer than some of the teachers have been alive. Since the wall came down, life in Germany has changed for everyone, both from the East and the West. Reflect for a few moments that the cost of freedom is sometimes not anticipated or fully understood.

Prayer

God of all humanity, often people are separated by ambition and greed, anger and fear, arrogance and pride. Help us to break down walls of division and misunderstanding and to celebrate that we belong together, citizens of one world. Amen.

Clearing 2015 – A step-by-step guide

UCAS clearing

Around 300,000 students will receive their A-level results on Thursday, and like every year, thousands of students will suddenly find themselves thrown into the Clearing system.

If you are among them, remember – ending up in Clearing is no reason to panic. University Clearing is there for anyone who has applied through Ucas but is without a place after receiving their results, whatever the reason.  Over 61,000 students found a university place through Clearing in 2014, according to UCAS – a not-insignificant 9% of all university admissions that year.  So there is a good chance you will too, provided you are flexible and get your research right.

Here is a simple, step-by-step guide to Clearing should you need to get involved on results day:

1. Check Track

On the morning of results day, log in to Track on the UCAS website to see if you are eligible for Clearing. It’s a myth that Track is updated at midnight on results day. Only the Clearing 2015 Vacancy Search goes live at midnight; Track opens at around 8am.  If you’re eligible for Clearing, it will say so and you’ll be provided with a Clearing number which you should take note of so you can proceed (the universities you call up during Clearing will ask you for this).

2. Browse courses

You can browse Clearing 2014 vacancies at any time on results day, but you can’t make a formal choice until around 5.00pm when, if you’re eligible, an “add Clearing choice” button appears on your Track “choices” screen. However, you should call universities or colleges much earlier in the day to secure a provisional offer. Discuss your options with those who know your academic background and have been advising you up to this point. You might also find it helpful to talk to careers advisers on the Exam Results Helpline (0808 100 8000).

3. Be ready to act fast

Vacancies can be filled extremely quickly, and if you’re not around at the start of Clearing places on your chosen courses may have gone by the time you call the universities or colleges. Admissions staff will want to speak to you, not your parents or advisers.

4. Prepare to contact admissions staff

When you have found a course you like, call the university’s admissions office to confirm that places are still available and discuss the course demands. You should prepare for that phone call as seriously as for a job interview. Be ready to ask tutors intelligent questions about the course requirements, and make sure you are a good fit for them. You might want to ask how the course is taught, what assessment model is used, what materials you’ll need to supply, and about the accommodation arrangements. Admissions staff will ask for your personal ID and Clearing number to confirm they can consider you in Clearing (you’ll find these on the “welcome” and “choices” pages in Track). They can then view your complete application immediately on Ucas’s secure online system.

5. Add a Clearing choice in Track

If an admissions tutor offers you a provisional place, you’ll probably be given a deadline for making a formal commitment to the course by adding a Clearing choice on Track. You can only make one choice at a time. Before accepting an offer, research the course requirements and university carefully. You are committing to years of study and should feel confident that you’re doing the right thing.

6. Confirm or pick another course

Ucas tells the institution that you have entered its details on Track. If you are successful, you will see the acceptance in the “choices” section and Ucas will send you a letter confirming your place and giving further guidance. If you aren’t successful the “add Clearing choice” button will be reactivated so you can add another choice, and still more if necessary up until October 22. Vacancies in Clearing are a shifting landscape as people turn down offers and places are filled, so keep looking at the lists.

7. Consider applying again next year

If you can’t find a course in Clearing that matches your aspirations you can always apply again for next year. Courses for 2014 are already available to browse on the Ucas website. You can start work on your new application right now, although you won’t be able to submit it until mid-September.

8. Finding university accommodation

Once you’ve found a place through Clearing, the next challenge is sorting your university accommodation. This blog post from NUS will give you some tips on how to get applying (and why you really don’t need an ensuite bathroom…).

John Orchard a friend who is the Education Outreach Officer at the University of Essex, wrote some comments from his perspective as someone who works at a university and will be answering clearing phone calls this week:

  • It is SO important to read up on courses and universities BEFORE making any phone calls. We don’t mind answering specific questions but it’s really important that students have a good idea of what they’re applying for before they ring.
  • If you’re applying to a university through clearing find out if they have a clearing open day or tours running and make it a priority to go if at all possible.
  • Please be patient with us. We will process applications and get a response to you as soon as we can Sometimes taking time out to reflect and re-applying the following year is the best thing. Rushed decisions are more likely to be wrong decisions.
  • Please be patient with us. We will process applications and get a response to you as soon as we can”

A’ Level Results – how to help your child

Exam results

Here are some top tips on dealing with disappointing results:

For parents:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the results, either before or after.
  • Don’t shy away from the disappointment your child is feeling. Encourage him or her to talk about it.
  • Keep talking about the many possible future paths available.
  • Emphasise how hard they’ve tried and the work they’ve put in – and why this shows they have qualities that can take them far.
  • Explain – preferably with real examples – that many successful people have taken “a zig-zag route” to reach their goals.

For students:

  • If you’re worried, don’t wait till the last minute. Ring up and ask for an appointment with your tutor or careers adviser to look at options in case you drop a grade, so you have a real plan B. Find out too if there’s someone you can talk to at school or college in the days and weeks after results.
  • Be aware of the hype around A-levels day – TV images of ecstatic students, for example – which can inflate the importance of the results beyond the reality.
  • Develop a broader perspective on your future – talk to your friends, your family and especially your teachers or tutors, who may be well placed to help you think about alternative but equally rewarding ways forward.
  • Plan to do something positive on results day, whatever your grades. And stay in touch with people, to remind yourself that there is more to life than A-levels.

Assembly: Communication

Message in a bottle underwater

Message in a bottle underwater

This morning I used this assembly at our local special educational needs secondary school.  Download the powerpoint here.

Ways of communication

Start the assembly by saying something like this. While you are all getting settled, I’ll just have time to phone my friend who lives in London, about 130 miles away’. Speak on the phone/to the laptop, saying something like: “Hello, Sarah, how are you? Just a quick call to remind you to remember Sam’s birthday. 

(Pause)
 
You had remembered – fine! 

(Pause)
I’m in school, just about to take an assembly. I’ll talk to you later. Bye!”

Continue by saying that if everyone can wait a little longer, you’d just like to email (or text) your friend Santiago, who lives in Chile in South America. Then tap away at the keyboard, speaking as you (pretend to) type. 

Hi, Santiago 
Hope you’re having a good week, and enjoying some sunshine. Weather here is chilly, but the summer was good. Take care and talk to you soon. 
SEND!

Ask the children when your friend will get the message. He might even get back to you before the assembly finishes, unless of course he’s in bed. Suggest that this type of communication, although now commonplace, is amazing. We hear about things happening all over the world within minutes of their actually taking place:

Message in a bottle

Ask the children for examples of the way people send messages today, such as text messages, email, phone, etc. Discuss ways of sending messages through the ages: messengers, post, telegrams, pigeon post.

Have the four bottles displayed on a table in view of the children. Ask if anyone has sent a message in a bottle. Discuss with the children whether they think this is a good way to send a message?

Explain that it is impossible to predict the direction a bottle will take in the sea. 

An experiment was carried out tracking two bottles dropped off the Brazilian coast. One drifted east for 30 days and was found on a beach in Africa; the other floated north-west for 190 days, reaching Nicaragua. (Track these on the world map if you have one.)

Explain that, fragile as it may seem, a well-sealed bottle is one of the world’s most seaworthy objects. It will bob safely through hurricanes that can sink great ships!

Glass also lasts for a very long time. In 1954, 18 bottles were salvaged from a ship sunk 250 years earlier off the English coast. The liquid in them was unrecognizable but the bottles were as good as new!

Similarly last year a message in a bottle was pulled from the sea by fishermen 101 years after it was sent.

A German called Richard Platz scribbled his note to the world on May 17, 1913 – one year before the First World War, in which he died. It was a postcard from Denmark with two German stamps on it and a message asking the finder ‘to post it on to my address in Berlin’.

More than a century on, it was found by a crew from the north German port of Heikendorf, near Kiel. ‘When I saw the date I got really excited,’ said skipper Konrad Fischer.

We are going to think about what kind of message might be sent in a bottle by looking at some actual messages which have been found. Volunteers can be chosen to come out and open a bottle and read the message. Track the journeys on the world map.

Bottle 1: Thrown in to the sea at Morecambe Bay by a four-year-old girl as part of a nursery school project on ‘Beside the Sea’. This bottle ended up in Australia. 
Message: ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’

Bottle 2: Dropped overboard by a Swedish sailor called Ake Viking. Picked up in a fishing net by a Sicilian fisherman.
Message: ‘If any pretty girl finds this, please write!’ 
The fisherman gave it to his daughter, Paolina, who wrote back, and the couple subsequently married!

Bottle 3: Tied to the long line of a fishing net that was found by 88 refugees who had been abandoned in the seas off the coast of Ecuador. The boat had started to take in water and the men they had paid to take them to the USA had abandoned them three days earlier. As a result they were saved.
Message: ‘Help, please, help us.’

Bottle 4: Picked up on a beach somewhere on the west coast of Africa, along with a New Testament of the Bible.
Message: ‘God loves you very much.’ It had been sent by a charity called Bread on the Waters from the USA.

So you could put all sorts of messages in a bottle and who knows where it might end up and who might read it. It might be a cry for help, it might be a proposal of marriage, it might bring you a pen friend, or it might be good news for someone.

God is always there

Talk about the ways the children have already communicated today, e.g. talking, maybe a phone call, smiling, pulling a face, answering the register.

Show the children some of the forms of communication that you have brought. Ask what is good and bad about each one. For example, a mobile phone is a great way of communicating with people even when they are not at home; however, it can be easily lost, and there are times when it needs to be switched off, making the owner not contactable. An email is a good way to contact someone if you don’t want to disturb them at a busy time, but some people may not check their emails for days on end.

Explain that all forms of communication have their good and bad points but none of them gives immediate access to someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christians believe that God is available for us to talk to him at all times. They believe that there will never be a moment when God is not listening to us. This can bring people great comfort as they feel that they are never really alone.

Psalm 121 verse 4 tells us: ‘He who watches over you will never slumber or sleep.’

 

Misunderstandings

When we think about how we communicate it’s really important to take the time to understand the feelings of others and what those around you really mean. Otherwise we might upset them, start arguments or just get very embarrassed.

Show the letters WC and ask your audience if they know what these initials stand for. (Answers may include Winston Churchill, West Central, etc.). Hopefully, you should eventually get the answer ‘water closet’ – an old-fashioned term for a toilet.

Now tell them the following story: 
A lady from England, while visiting Switzerland, asked the local schoolmaster to help her find a place to stay where she could have a room for the summer. He was a very kind man and took her to see several rooms. When everything was settled, the lady returned to England to make final preparations to move. When she arrived back home, however, the thought occurred to her that she had not seen a WC in the apartment.

So, she immediately wrote a note to the Swiss schoolmaster asking him if there was a ‘WC’ in the place.

The schoolmaster only had a very limited knowledge of English and was not familiar with the term, so he asked the local priest if he could help in the matter. Together, they tried to find the meaning of the letters ‘WC’ and the only solution they agreed on was that the letters must be an abbreviation for ‘Wayside Chapel’ – a small church common in the Swiss countryside. The schoolmaster then wrote the following letter to the English lady:

My dear Madam,

I am delighted to inform you that a ‘WC’ is situated nine miles from the house in the corner of a beautiful grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds.

It is capable of holding 229 people, and it is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great many people expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early, although there is usually plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation, particularly if you are in the habit of going regularly.

You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good many bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others, who are unable to go in their car, arrive just in time.

I would especially advise you to go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest attraction is a bell, donated by a wealthy resident of the district, which rings every time a person enters.

It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the ‘WC’ and indeed it was there that she first met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat usually reserved for one, and it was wonderful to see the expression on their faces.

Sadly my wife is rather delicate so she can’t go regularly: it is almost a year since she went last. Naturally it pains her not to be able to go more often. 

I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by all.

Hoping to have been of some service to you, I remain, Yours truly,
The Schoolmaster

Comment that, as you see, it is so easy to misunderstand those we come into contact with if we are not careful.

Obviously we hope to see you in the nearest WC – that’s Wayside Chapel, of course!

 

Reflection

Do you ever feel lonely? Do you ever feel scared and alone? Christians believe that God is always with us and that we can talk to him at any time.

Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you that you are always there for us to talk to.

Thank you that you understand me when other people don’t.

Amen.

Assembly: General Election 2015

Ballot Box

Here’s my assembly for our local junior school for tomorrow morning on the theme of the General Election, you can download the powerpoint here.

General Election

What’s your favourite colour? Maybe it’s yellow or red, blue, green or purple. Maybe you prefer a combination or like there to be some kind of pattern or symbol. The media has been saturated with a competing range of badges and banners urging those over 18 to nail their colours to the mast. It’s because there’s a General Election scheduled for tomorrow.
The General Election has probably passed many of you by. It’s simply been an irritating interruption to TV, radio and social media. But maybe it has more to do with all of us than you might think.

 

Politics does have something to do with all of us, even those who are under the age of 18 and are not yet able to vote. Politics is about the way we organize the communities and country in which we live. It affects our water, our power, our schools, hospitals, mobile phone networks and much much more!

 

Every one of us, I’m pretty sure, wants the best for ourselves and also the best for society. The range of political parties competing for seats in Parliament simply shows that there might be many different ways to achieve this and so politics becomes a complicated business.

 

Good Leadership

William Gladstone, Liberal prime minister of the 19th century said ‘It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right’.

 

We need good leaders in every area of our society. Without good political leaders, laws would be passed that would make it easier for people to do wrong things and get away with them. Gladstone was right about what governments exist to do – good leaders make it harder to do wrong and easier to do right. Without good political leaders, the country would descend into a very unstable place where the poorest and most vulnerable in society were not being looked after. Many believe a society should be judged on how well it looks after its most needy and vulnerable. Good government frees up people to take responsibility to do good and confront things when they are bad.

 

Explain that the children will have one vote each at the end to choose who they feel would make the best leader of the country based on what they say and anything they know about them:

  • ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.’ (Gandhi)
  • ‘You have to be unique, and different, and shine in your own way.’ (Lady Gaga)
  • ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ (Winston Churchill)
  • ‘I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams.’ (Madonna)
  • ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ (Nelson Mandela)
  • ‘I still look at myself and want to improve.’ (David Beckham)

 

Hold the vote with a show of hands and announce the winner! Point out that it can sometimes be difficult to choose – perhaps you wanted to vote for more than one person, or you were disappointed that your person didn’t win. But this is how democracy works.

 

In the end, everyone agrees to go with what most people (the majority) decide and once the person who has been elected takes his or her place, that person represents everyone (not just those who voted for them!) – that’s democracy!

What about you?

But what about us? The result of the General Election might affect us but we still don’t have a vote. What’s politics got to do with us?

You are already able to demonstrate your views. You live as part of a school community and reside in a local geographical community. From what I hear, you’ve got lots of ideas. You believe there are better ways to do many things. You get angry at what you perceive as injustice. You get irritated at rules and regulations that seem to have little point. You want to describe a better way to do it. So what might you do?

 

Politics in school is about making your views known. Use ideas boxes to post your concerns and suggestions. Think about what’s important for the most vulnerable in the school or those who are too shy to voice their opinion publicly.
Politics in your community can provide the opportunity to work with all ages. Make a stand, offer to volunteer, take part in a boycott, hold a protest rally and use social media. It’s all politics and you can be an important part of it.
I don’t know what the Election result is likely to be. It’s too close to call. I hope you take an interest. But more than that, I hope you get involved.
Prayer
Dear Lord,

Thank you for people who are willing to give their time and expertise to organize the society in which we live.
Remind us of their sacrifices when we’re tempted to criticise them and help us to see where and when we too can be involved in politics.
Amen.