Assemblies are an important part of school life. This e-bulletin looks at assemblies with a special needs (SEN) focus and also considers how circle time can be used to support inclusionpdf-3838303

SENCO Week – Helpsheet 22.pdf

Support for SENCOs

There is a vast array of assembly ideas –some of the best can be found in Gerald Haigh’s Primary E-Assemblies, but as we mentioned last week, assembly time can also present the perfect opportunity for you as SENCO to get over some important messages to pupils. These might include:

We are all different and this is something to celebrate
Depending on the ages of the children, mention some conditions they may have heard of – dyslexia, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy. Perhaps some children know people with conditions like this? Explain that people with these conditions have challenges in their lives which may be more obvious than those in other people’s lives, but that they also have talents and a lot to offer. Outline the challenges, according to children’s level of understanding, eg:

  • Dyslexia: children may find it very hard to read, write and spell. They can also get confused about the days of the week, months of the year and have difficulties with organizing themselves – remembering PE kit, handing in homework etc. These individuals may be very talented in an artistic way, or entrepreneurial (and very successful) – eg Richard Branson. How can you help a classmate who is dyslexic?

Ask children for suggestions, such as reading with them in class, helping them to finish a page/book; helping with spelling and looking up words in a dictionary; proofreading essays for them; copying down homework from the board and sharing this; reminding them that they need PE kit next day

  • Down’s syndrome: children find it hard to learn and remember things – they need to practice a lot. They have to put in a lot of effort to do things which are easy for most people – so may get very tired etc.

This type of assembly is especially useful when you are expecting a new child in school who has a particular condition – preparing pupils beforehand can make all the difference to how the child is welcomed and included. Take care to emphasise the positives – we want children to be understanding without being pitying.

Some children and adults have difficulties and we can help and support them in different ways
Gerald Haigh (see above) gave this example of an assembly: ‘We’d raised a little money to help a heavily disabled lady who was expecting a baby and needed a few extra bits of equipment round the house. She came into assembly with her baby to say thank you, and sat with him in her wheelchair while we all quietly sang “I Watch the Sunrise”, and the baby made contented little noises.’

Inviting an adult or older child into school to talk about sensory/motor impairment can be very powerful. What should we do if we see a blind/visually impaired person trying to cross a busy road? How can we help if a wheelchair user is struggling to get through a shop door or reach something from a high shelf? What about learning some sign language as a whole school and practising it at assembly time?

Each of us has different strengths and it’s important to look for people’s strong points. As good citizens, we all should look out for each other and be patient and understanding of different needs
Autistic children can pose particular challenges in mainstream schools where classmates may not always understand ‘where they’re coming from’. With familiarity and a little understanding, however, pupils quickly adapt and take it all in their stride. I was in a Y3 class recently where a boy with ASD was ‘having a strop’. The other children hardly batted an eye as he was led out of the classroom by the TA. On his return, the group working with him resumed the activity exactly where they had left off – no fuss, no comment. In the case of ASD there is now a wealth of published material to use in explaining to children the particular aspects of autism, eg ‘Martian in the Playground’ by Clare Sainsbury (good for primary children) and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon (secondary). Reading extracts from either of these books is very powerful and thought provoking.

Nasen’s annual poetry competition on the theme of ‘Inclusion’ also provides a wealth of material to read out in assembly and promote empathy and understanding.

Remember as well that assembly can be a good opportunity to recognise and thank the volunteer helpers and TAs in school who enhance the school experience of pupils with SEN. A celebration assembly goes a long way to acknowledging their contributions and making them feel appreciated. Pupils can be asked to prepare a short ‘thank you’ speech, or describe what they especially like about a person, or a particular way in which the adult helps them.

Support for teachers

For class teachers and form tutors, the issue can be one of how to include pupils with SEN in a class assembly without placing undue pressure on them, resulting in a negative effect on the performance as a whole. Too often, they are in the background (trees) or in the back row of the chorus, or left out altogether. If a speaking part is out of the question, consider how a mime or walk on part holding a placard could be fitted in.

For those who can read, short spoken parts can be printed in a large font onto a piece of card for them to hold – it doesn’t matter that they can’t remember it by heart. Reading out ‘dramatic’ poems, practised and rehearsed appropriately, can be an excellent way of ensuring that less able pupils give a performance to be proud of (eg ‘My Dad, Your Dad’ by Kit Wright is great for a two-hander). Or consider a drama without words (possibly narrated by an able child) see an example on Helpsheet 22.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 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.