Adding some stardust to online school assemblies

Katy Gandon, Director of Communications at Tes Global, explains how an innovative partnership with Oak National Academy helped to make star-studded online school assemblies a reality during lockdown.

Looking back at your schooldays, do you remember the time when a senior member of the Royal family, the Prime Minister and an astronaut spoke at assembly? Me neither, but that was what was on offer to tens of thousands of UK primary school children during lockdown.

When schools closed towards the end of March a remarkable group of volunteer teachers got together to create Oak National Academy, an online classroom which launched after Easter offering more than 180 online lessons a week for children of all ages all over England. It was a truly impressive resource for teachers and parents to support the nation’s children learning at home.

A feature of the initiative was a series of weekly online assemblies to give primary age children the chance to think and reflect on a wider issue that dovetailed into the national curriculum. Oak had the idea but needed support to secure some big names to speak at these assemblies and to produce and disseminate them.

We were delighted to get involved – it was absolutely the right thing to do! Tes Global’s news pages are accessed by almost half a million teachers and educators each week and we’re experienced in producing great video and audio content for schools and teachers.

Oak’s assembly lead, Laura Dilnot, and their Director of External Relations, Jonathan Dando, set up the partnership with Tes through Ann Mroz, Digital Publishing Director & Editor of Tes and Jon Severs, Commissioning Editor. Between the team of four, their editorial colleagues at Tes, and the team at Oak, there was an incredible network of friends and contacts in the education world. This was vital in securing a wide range of guests for the assemblies.

There was great support from the people Tes and Oak approached, so together we were able to secure an inspiring speaker list, which included the Duchess of Cambridge, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, astronaut Helen Sharman and the West End cast of the Lion King.

The joint Oak and Tes team agreed the theme of the assembly with the speakers beforehand, but content was down to the individual speaker.

The Duchess, for example, spoke about kindness, a topic she felt was poignant at such a difficult time, and in connection to her work on mentally healthy schools. The National History Museum brought their dinosaurs to life, whilst Boris Johnson’s assembly was centred around messages of support for teachers and getting children back into school.

By the time the last online assembly was held at the end of July hundreds of thousands of views had been achieved.

The assemblies wouldn’t have been possible without the skills of our production team, headed by Will Pitt. His expertise in producing and editing meant that an engaging and lively assembly featuring a range of guests and school children from all over the country was ready every Thursday morning hosted on the Tes YouTube channel. All the assemblies were kept available on the channel for use afterwards too.

My role as director of corporate comms at Tes Global was to keep everyone in the loop and get everyone across our organisation behind the assemblies. Each assembly was promoted extensively through Tes’ channels including email, newsletters, and social to help engage teachers and support Oak’s own marketing activity.  We were very proud to be involved in the partnership and to play our part in this initiative.

Interestingly, the Oak assemblies also struck a chord across Tes where we shared the assembly updates, live streams and recorded highlights with staff.  It was great for Tes employees to see what we were doing as part of the Covid effort for schools. They were proud of the project and many of them also watched the assemblies with their own children each week!

The assemblies were very well received. There was a real generosity of spirit around the whole project and this was reflected in the responses of the general public more widely.

We thoroughly enjoyed the process and the feedback was excellent. It was a pleasure to be able to bring positive and educational messages to children across the UK and beyond, and to do so in a communal way every Thursday morning so that throughout tough times people were still able to come together (be it virtually!)

Katy Gandon is Director of Communications at Tes Global, an international provider of software enabled education services to schools and teachers, including news and information, recruitment, online tools and resources, support and professional development.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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