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How schools have created safe ways to celebrate Christmas this year

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One of our most cherished school traditions, the annual Nativity play, has still taken centre stage across the country, despite the pandemic. In assembly halls, churches and classrooms the show has managed to go on, although as with almost everything in 2020, they have had to look a little different.

Despite an unusual first term back, thanks to the hard work of teachers, parents and students, there has been no stopping the annual race to remember lines, create costumes, and learn those all-important Christmas carols.

Last week, Children and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, paid a visit to St Matthew's School, Westminster where Headteacher Rachel Jewitt was preparing to lead an all-school effort to create a performance to remember for this year’s Christmas nativity plays and Carol Service.

For the teachers and support staff of St Matthew's, this has meant preparing for the event in advance and following new schools guidance to make sure the performance was safe for all involved. This meant no audience in the church and a range of other measures.

Ms Jewitt said:

We had to make sure we had the Church cleaned and sanitised before and after each class performance as well as create different costumes for each pupil as they couldn’t be reworn. All these little things that you do automatically, we had rethink and adapt to make sure we were creating as safe a space as possible for the children to perform.

With the students, pupils, and parents of St Matthew’s belonging to a diverse community of different faiths and religions, Christmas has always been a special time to celebrate together.

Ms Jewitt added:

2020 has been very different for pupils and teachers, however Christmas at St Matthew's is a real tradition and we wanted to make sure it could carry on even with new restrictions in place.

One of the ways in which schools have carved out time for rehearsal and preparation has been through incorporating the Christmas nativity into the music curriculum. This has involved learning songs in lesson time as well as understanding different instruments that can be used to accompany festive music.

Parents have also felt the knock-on effect of these changes, with many unable to make the annual pilgrimage to the church for the children's performances. Though some schools have had to take the unfortunate but necessary measures to delay nativities and performances until next year, other schools have been able to use technology in new and creative ways to provide parents with the opportunity to watch children and family members sing, dance and act their way through this international tradition.

In Grasmere, Cumbria, students have created a 20 minute film involving epic scenes of the Lake District countryside as well as special cameos from the likes of Wordsworth Trust, and the Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team.

Using video editing and technology such as Google Classrooms, parents at St Matthew’s School were able to experience the magic of the Christmas nativity from the comfort of their homes.

Children who have had to self-isolate due to COVID-19 have also been able to partake in the festivities, with the DfE providing children with iPads and computers so pupils can continue their learning from home.

Ms Jewitt said:

For us at St Matthew's, this was something we had never envisaged before, and it has been a real positive this year, with pupils able to partake in lessons, collective worship and feel a sense of community with a new way of using technology.

Though it has been a very different kind of end to the school year, for students across the UK, Christmas plays and nativities have been a great way to celebrate before a much deserved Christmas break. For Rachel Jewitt and staff at St Matthews, this year feels particularly prescient.

Ms Jewitt said:

It’s so important for us to create happy memories of Christmas for children to look back on when they’re adults, and we hope they’ll be able to keep these experiences from St Matthew's.

Children and Families Minister, Vicky Ford said:

After a year of phenomenal hard work from teachers, parents and students, it has been a joy to see schools adapt to new safety measures and celebrate well-loved Christmas traditions such as nativities and plays.

We want every child to experience the magic of Christmas in spite of disruptions this year, and we will continue to support schools as we enter the new year.

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