Angels’ delight: nativity plays make cautious comeback in UK schools | Primary schools

The Christmas nativity play – complete with wonky crowns, toddler tears and angel wings – is making a cautious comeback on the school calendar this year after an enforced absence due to Covid.

Sales of nativity scores and scripts are up 55% on last year, according to Out of the Ark Music, a leading children’s music publisher. But while some schools are hoping to put on a live production in front of an audience, others experiencing high rates of Covid are preparing to livestream or film their plays to reduce the risk of infection.

With rehearsals already under way in many schools, headteachers are closely tracking infection rates in their areas before making a final decision on whether to invite parents to the show.

James Connelly, the head of Loxley primary school in Sheffield, said his pupils usually put on two nativity plays for parents. “It’s lovely to get all the community together. The children really enjoy it,” he said.

“Last year we really didn’t want them to lose the opportunity of performing in the nativity – they are only in reception once, they’ll never get that magical feeling again.” In the end, the school did a livestream and posted a video on YouTube so parents could watch at home.

“This year we’re very close to making a decision,” Connelly added. “A lot of parents are saying how nice it is to be able to come into school again. They feel like part of the community again, but we’re worried about the infection rates.”

The nativity was cancelled altogether last year at St Jude’s Church of England primary school in Southwark, south London, as the school struggled to remain open with staff off sick. This year the plan is to go ahead with an audience, but it’s a watching brief, said the assistant headteacher, Matt Jones.

“Today the plan is we are doing a nativity,” he said. “But the one thing that this experience has taught us is that everything can change very quickly. It’s under constant review.”

Jamie Barry, the head of Yew Tree primary in Walsall, in the West Midlands, said: “We’re hoping to [put on a nativity play] if all goes according to plan. We haven’t had any outbreaks here. Just depends how local and national data goes.”

“We are livestreaming,” said Chris Dyson, the headteacher of Parklands primary school in Leeds. “We are upset that we can’t open the doors to parents this year to watch their children perform their Christmas concerts. Sadly we can’t risk having 400 parents in the hall for each show.”

Last year less than 5% of schools are thought to have put on a live nativity play, about half did not have a nativity play at all, and the rest that did go ahead were virtual.

Some schools put on small-scale performances within class bubbles, in accordance with Covid safety guidance, and in some cases children performed using signing and percussion instead of singing, to minimise infection risk.

Antony Copus, the head of education at Out of the Ark Music, welcomed the return of the school nativity and the boost in sales. “We’re thousands above where we were last year. November has been a very strong month, and we’ve seen days where we’ve been very close to pre-Covid nativity sales figures.”

Among the titles being snapped up are Mary’s Knitting, The Innkeeper’s Breakfast, The Angel Who Nearly Missed it All, the Inn-Spectors, which takes a health and safety approach to the nativity, and Hay Ewe!, told from the perspective of a sheep.

“Whether it be a full-school production or a virtual or ‘bubble-friendly’ approach, the angel wings and wonky crowns still shine through. We’re so pleased that nativities are back. It’s just another example of the resilience of schools,” Copus said.

According to the Department for Education, there is no limit on group size for events, either indoor or outdoor, and it is up to schools to decide if they want to host nativity plays this year.

DfE guidance suggests schools should take steps to improve fresh air flow in areas where gatherings are taking place. If schools have particularly high levels of Covid, local directors of public health may suggest that schools do not hold gatherings, as a way to reduce transmission.

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