Does your school organise a Christmas play?
A recent ‘workload’ conversation with teachers sparked my thoughts about “Who wins at Christmas time?” As we enter the holiday season, I wanted to take a brief look at all perspectives of the nativity play; a long-standing tradition still taking place in some British schools.
“Mum, I’m a Christmas angel.”
Most parents experience a moment of joy when their child is assigned a leading role in the Christmas nativity. Some will go to great lengths to hand make a costume whilst others, despite clear safeguarding guidance, capture the moment on mobile phone cameras. Parents will do whatever they can to leave work early to see the performance, knowing they will end the night with a sense of pride and a lifetime memory. Ask any parent and you’ll hear, “They’re only young once” and watch them fight tooth and nail to get a good seat!
The Nativity Play comes at the end of a long and challenging term.
Despite what teachers already do, they will bend over backward to make the Christmas nativity as good as what you’d see on a stage in the West End. The unwritten terms and conditions in a teacher’s contract do not stipulate hours upon hours rehearsing lines, making costumes, managing pupil emotions (and parents). Then there’s managing the ticket sales and drumming up enough colleagues to volunteer their time and energy to the work backstage on the night.
After weeks of practice, dress rehearsals and decorating the set after school hours, then comes the one or two nights of performances – running late in the evening. This extra commitment at this time of year may push a teacher over the edge, even though watching our pupils perform makes the world a better place and it all seems worth it.
Support staff feel the pressure too.
At some point, the Nativity Play organiser needs to let support staff know what is happening and when. This can either be left to the last minute, which is never good for working relationships or that the members of support staff are involved from the start with the planning and arrangements. From catering, to set design and organising tables and chairs, teachers must keep support staff on side.
Let’s not forget who’s on-site over the holidays either!
Another late night or something a school leader ‘turns up to’ to escape the paperwork. School leaders can relax (to a degree) and enjoy the performance, watching their pupils perform and excel in all sorts of capacities, but they are still very much part of the performance. The ‘end of night’ speech to parents, the ‘thank you’ flowers and wine, as well as a sense of pride in your school community, needs to be communicated.
The next morning in a bleary-eyed staff meeting, you are reminded of the values of the school and the purpose of education. Occasionally, to compensate for the late hours put in by the children, we turn a ‘blind eye’ to the leading performers coming in an hour later to class the next morning …
What is expected of schools, is to actively promote fundamental British values. Pupils must be encouraged to regard people of all faiths, races and cultures with respect and tolerance. It is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own, but nor is it acceptable for schools to promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background.
Although numbers have fallen, the 2011 census reported that Christianity was found to be the largest religious group with 59% of the U.K. population. An interesting point to add: When I taught in a predominantly Muslim-school, which did not have any faith status, there was no sign of a Christmas play. The school did have an end of term celebration, but it adapted to meet the needs of its community – and staff wishes.
With 400 nursery settings, 16,800 primaries and 3,380 secondary schools, every school will want to promote British values in their own unique way. N.b. Non-faith schools have better outcomes than faith schools. (Ofsted, pg 61)
I’ve been partial to one or two Nativity Plays throughout my life – as a child performer and observer, teacher and parent. I managed to land a key role on stage as one of the wise men (I have no idea how that happened!) at St. Saviours CofE Primary School, 1984. In 1985. I also won the Christmas card competition and this was then reproduced as ‘the card’ for everyone to send home during the season. I’ve still got the card, but with improved production methods, now every pupil can be a winner and have their card designs sent home.
These seasonal events made an impression on me, as a teacher and parent too! At this time of year when moral purpose is in abundance and energy levels are low, who is the Christmas play for? Well, regardless of faith or religion, and whether the Play has a Christian aspect to it or not, we always need to remind ourselves about who we are serving – our pupils.
Whether it’s a nativity play in a faith school or not, a chance to bring the community together and celebrate the work of pupils has to be top of the list. But before you do, consider your teachers’ energy levels at a challenging time of the year and make sure the workload is evenly spread…