SENCO Week discusses the practicalities of involving children with special educational needs and disabilities in Christmas celebrations at school, with some ideas on how this can be achieved.

Many teachers will be thinking about Christmas celebrations now and planning end of term performances. This issue, we make a plea for all children to be included – especially those with special educational needs and disabilities – with some ideas on how this can be achieved.

Support for SENCOs
In the grand scale of things, Christmas performances are probably not at the top of your SENCO priorities. But for children and young people, they can be hugely important. Think back to your own school days – the chances are that some of your most vivid memories involve extra-curricular events such as trips, visits and staged productions rather than routine, everyday lessons. For many pupils, they represent opportunities to re-engage with ‘school’ in its broadest sense, to discover new interests, aptitudes and talents, or to make new friends. For staff, likewise! Although staff should be on the lookout for undiscovered talents in pupils as well as in themselves and their colleagues.

The main point is that Christmas performances (and others throughout the year) should be planned in such a way that no one is excluded from taking part, enjoying the experience and benefiting from it. Anything you can do in terms of supporting staff in achieving this will pay dividends in terms of pupils’ self-esteem and improved motivation. It can also bring about positive changes in teacher-pupil relationships when colleagues see a different side to the troublesome pupil, the one held back by weak literacy skills, or the ‘slow learner’; these individuals may well turn out to be ‘stars’ in one way or another – if they are given the opportunity and the appropriate support and encouragement.

We provide below a list of considerations for teachers planning a Christmas production of any sort – simply pinning this up in the staffroom might encourage some colleagues to rethink their plans. Consider too, whether any TA time can be specifically dedicated to helping children learn their lines and rehearse: if this has to be after school, can paid working hours be adjusted accordingly? Who else could help? Parents, grandparents (not necessarily of the particular children involved), governors, older students (university/PGCE) are all possible volunteers if approached in the right way.

Support for teachers
What sort of production are you planning? Remember there are all sorts of ways of avoiding pupils having to learn lines:

  • mime (perhaps with a narrator)
  • dance
  • readings (choral, paired as well as individual) – poems, extracts from plays and novels (individual parts can be as short as a single line of a poem).
  • puppets/ shadow show
  • singing (tunes and rhyming lyrics make remembering words a lot easier)
  • video footage recorded beforehand and shown ‘on the night’
  • displays of work (with commentary recorded visually/orally).

What kinds of different roles and opportunities can you offer as part of a production?

Pupils can be:

  • script writer
  • performer
  • front of house
  • catering
  • music (playing instrument/working the audio system)
  • stage management (moving scenery and props)
  • making/finding and looking after costumes and props
  • producing/selling programmes, tickets and posters
  • writing newspaper copy and/or school website info before/after event.

Remember to acknowledge and thank everyone involved publicly so that everyone feels valued and appreciated, not just those in the leading roles.

How can you allocate parts/roles?

  • Audition (how do you make this fair? Can all pupils attend, for example, if you do this after school? How will you encourage the self-doubters?)
  • Peer recommendation/staff recommendation.
  • Previous experience.
  • Using enthusiasm as a prime criterion.
  • Names/parts in a hat (this can be used with varying degrees of ‘chance’).
  • Using your own observation and intuition to give a child a new opportunity.
  • Try out a short scenario in class to ‘test-drive’ pupils in particular roles.

What kind of support can you give to performers?

  • Preparation and practise for a speaking role – personal copy of the written script (large format, colour to highlight specific part), audio recording, paired practise, enlisting parent/family support. Would it actually ruin the performance if one or two characters read their parts – or at least carried the script to give them confidence?
  • Watching a professional production of the play/show – in live theatre or recorded.
  • Understanding the story, or poems – plenty of discussion.
  • Floor markings to help with positioning.
  • Microphones.
  • Pairing/grouping pupils on stage rather than expecting ‘solo’ performance.
  • Allowing flexibility rather than insisting on word-perfect performance (ad libbing?)

Using assemblies
Assemblies can be an opportunity to let pupils try out reading or miming a part in front of a familiar audience, whether in class or in front of the whole school. Optimus Education offers a variety of books and subscription assemblies for the primary and secondary phases which provide opportunities for pupils to participate. See for details.

London Drama runs courses on working with pupils with SEN in special schools and settings as well as in mainstream schools :

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.