Christmas performances and how to salvage them

Written by: Ben Case | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Pre-recorded films, live streamed performances or other ideas and approaches – how is your school or class approaching the traditional end-of-term spectacular? Ben Case looks at the options


As the end-of-term draws near, many primary school teachers and leaders will be thinking about what their class, key stage or whole school annual winter performance might look like.

It has been a very tough term and you would be forgiven for coming a bit late to this issue with so much going on around us.

For some, Christmas performances mean preparing an Oscar award-winning show, whereas for others the struggle of just getting the children to learn the words or stay on a stage is quite enough to handle!

Come the performance day though, none of that matters. Children look nervously out for someone they recognise, and expectant audience members crane their necks looking for their beloved. The first song starts, and all the hard work pays off.

But of course, this year things will have to be a bit different. With schools only open to essential visitors, inviting families in to watch a Christmas performance is not possible.

However, if anything has been proved since the first lockdown, it is that teachers are very resourceful when it comes to solving a problem.


What does the official guidance say?

First, we must consider the official advice on school re-opening and what it tells us about singing and music (DfE, 2020a). The guidance states: “Singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups such as choirs and ensembles, or assemblies unless significant space, natural airflow and strict social distancing and mitigation can be maintained.”

The guidance defines “strict social distancing”. It continues: “In the smaller groups where these activities can take place, schools should observe strict social distancing between each singer and player. Current guidance is that if the activity is face-to-face and without mitigating actions, two metres is appropriate.”

In terms of positioning, the guidance adds: “Pupils should be positioned back-to-back or side-to-side when playing or singing (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible. Use microphones where possible or encourage singing quietly.”

The early years guidance, meanwhile, (DfE, 2020b), offers similar advice, not least with regards the two-metre and well-ventilated stipulations.

So bearing all this in mind, how might we approach the winter production or celebration?


Filming for a virtual audience

For many schools, filming a performance will feel like a good approach and relatively familiar. Engagement with parents and carers, and the wider school community, has been “virtual” for much of the term and video has been an important tool to share what is happening at school. Teachers have been creating large amounts of video.

However, a school performance is a much larger undertaking. It takes planning. Here are some of the most important things to consider:

  • Make sure you have good microphones which will pick up the voice of even the quietest child.
  • Plan the filming and decide if you are going for a static shoot where the camera will be on a tripod, or if you wish to move around. Different views will make the film more interesting but will need more planning.
  • If you plan to move around consider how much walking will be involved, as this affects the quality of the picture and sound. Practise before you go live.
  • Performing in front of a small audience made up of another class can help keep the children focused when you are recording.
  • Where do you plan to upload the video? It is good to ensure it is accessible on a mobile so as many parents and carers as possible can watch.
  • Consider if there are anyparents who will struggle to access the video and how you might address this.
  • Are there any licensing issues with uploading the performance publicly?
  • If you want to be able to edit the film, you will need access to some editing software. One example that I have used previously is WeVideo – there is a free version as well as special offers for those working in education.

Remember, even the most basic recording of the school performance will charm parents and help to showcase the children’s hard work.


Live performances

Tools like Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams make it possible for schools or classes to stream a performance live. This certainly adds to the technical challenge but can create a strong shared experience as everyone watches the show together. Performances can also be recorded for parents unable to join the live performance.

Many of the considerations mentioned in the previous section for pre-recorded performances will also be relevant here. I also do not need to tell you about the risks associated with any live approaches – a badly timed power outage or loss of connection could be fatal!


Music, singing and social distancing

In terms of your performance, singing is only an option in smaller groups and if you are able to respect the safety measures outlined in the official guidance (as described above). Socially distant music-making is also permitted.

Sticking within the social distancing guidance while children are on stage will require some creative thinking, but there are options. Smaller groups of children could perform a number of “chapters” for the performance which would make it easier to keep within the guidance. These could then be stitched together in post-production to make a special video to share with families. Also, without an audience, the whole school hall could be used, allowing for children to be socially distanced.

Think about creating a small groups of musicians or singers as well as other teams of children for things like special effects. This will help to involve all the children in the production.


Beyond a traditional performance

I would encourage colleagues to think beyond a performance format. This does not mean no celebration or fun, but rather trying something new which works more easily within the constraints.

Perhaps you could use a seasonal story (this could be about Santa Claus, the nativity, Hanukah, or another theme that is relevant in December) and then plan different activities around it: arts and crafts, creative writing, pupils reading, or even maths!

Invite the children to select their favourite piece of work and compile a slide show using something like PowerPoint to be shared online with parents and carers.

Recording the children talking about their work and using this as the soundtrack to the video would mean that every child gets a chance to share and be heard – which isn’t always the case during a traditional performance.

The advantage of showcasing the children’s work with their voice-overs, rather than a performance, is that you do not have to worry as much about permissions as you can either choose to not share the children’s names, or only use a first name. The families of these children will know that it is their child – and that’s what matters.


Look on the positive side

One of the lovely things about any Christmas performance shared online is that far more people will be able to see it. Seats for real-life Christmas performances are usually restricted to the size of the hall. Online versions mean that parents and carers can see the performance and share it with family and friends.

Indirectly, this also shares your school’s activities much more widely with the local community, but also across the world to family and friends farther away. You might have a global blockbuster!

This year is an opportunity to do things differently, it presents challenges but whatever approach you take, I am sure that your online performance will still be family Christmas hit.


  • Ben Case is an education advisor for Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum. He was previously a primary school teacher for more than 10 years. Visit www.tapestry.info


Further information & resources

  • DfE: Guidance for full opening: schools, last updated November 5, 2020a: https://bit.ly/38tdOfd
  • DfE: Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak, last updated November 5, 2020b: https://bit.ly/3fqEDnU


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