I confess I get excited about our assemblies. I think of a cunning idea and I think ‘I cannot wait to tell them all this’. Keeping it fresh and interesting is what keeps me going. So what can be more exciting than the very first assembly of the year? Loads of new faces, a packed hall of nervous newbies, fresh from the summer. Some have moved up from junior school. Can you remember the fear, the excitement of that? Some have moved up from key stage 3 to 4, which for us means swapping the burgundy blazer for a smart blue-black jacket. Some, who still reeling from their GCSE results, find themselves without a uniform, sitting up on the tiered seating at the back with all the privileges of being in the sixth form. Then there’s our two new teachers, wondering what they’ve let themselves in for as we pack out the room with loud music playing. There’s a tension, a trepidation, an expectation. Something is new for everyone and no-one knows quite what is going to happen next.

That’s the way I like it. The only certainty is that something IS going to happen. I always like to start with music. This particular piece is one of the most thrilling pieces I could find. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where it comes from, it just sounds great. It’s actually the theme tune for the 1980s sports competition television show called ‘Superstars’. Have a listen!

I’ve spoken on different continents around the world. I’ve spoken on big stages with thousands in the audience and small ones with just a few. I’ve even done stand up comedy in clubs with bar fights going on. I can tell you, this is a tough crowd. But it doesn’t matter that the jokes don’t land well (how could they with English as a second language for so many). They see that it’s a welcome. They see that I’m certainly not frightened of making a fool of myself. They see that it’s ok to join in, in fact it’s better to join in.

I’m not doing these assemblies for the applause. I’m not making it all up as I go along (although it sometimes might look like that). I’m modelling ways of presenting information and speaking in public. I’m showing that it’s safe, and you’ll come to no harm. I’m offering a way in, that we can all do it. So far the plan is working. Every year we get more and more students offering to tell their stories, to relay their interests and passions. Last year we had some fairly young students coming forward to ask for a slot, to tell us about plastic pollution, about practical ways to reduce waste, about mental illness, about dementia. We’ve had personal views on the war in Syria, we’ve had politics and economics discussed. These are tough topics for most adults. 

What IS the job of a school if it isn’t to prepare our youth to take on the best and the worst this world has to offer? If we can help those that pass through our doors stand up for what is right, to be able to speak up and speak out on issues of interest and relevance to them, to be able to communicate ideas well, I say we’ve done our job well. 

We’re not processing students here. We’re coaching superstars.

Ayd Instone

Head of Enrichment and Extra-Curricular