Click to go to Woodford County
High's conference webpage
How do I satisfy the Agreed Syllabus Requirements for the Sixth Form without any regular curriculum time and in a way which is both educational and fun?

Run a One Day Conference for the whole Year Group!

At Woodford we've been running a conference for our UVI for 12 years now, and with considerable success.

"It's much better than I expected!" "This is great - it's really making me think." "I thought it was going to be boring - but it's not!" "When can we have another one?"

We invited a range of visitors from different religious backgrounds and asked them to explore an important topic with the students.
We chose 'Suffering'.

1. Arrival & refreshments
2. Introductions
3. Group discussions (x3)
4. Refreshment Break
5. Group discussions (x3)
6. Lunch
7. Plenary session

Some points to consider
We chose not to hold the conference in school. This meant that there would be less disturbances - no bells demanding obedience and no staff badgering students for essays they were supposed to have handed in last week!
Our Buddhist guest described it as
"New space, new mind."

Visitors or Speakers?
In the first conference we ran back in 1990 we asked each of our guests to address the whole group at the beginning. We subsequently abandoned this because:

a) it took too much time away from the discussions (rather like a long assembly when you really want to contribute and ask questions), and

b) it can be somewhat daunting and uncomfortable for the guests.

Now we refer to them as 'Guest Visitors' rather than 'speakers'.
However, sometimes we have had a 'Speaker' to address the whole group for the afternoon session.

Group Discussions
Having introduced the Visitors and suggested some questions to think about during the day, each guest visits a circle of about 15-20 students, where they discuss their stance on the topic. After 20 minutes the guests move on to another group. They do this three times before a break for refreshments and three times afterwards.
We have had more visitors with smaller groups, but that means that they spend a shorter time with each group (20 minutes is about right) and the repetition can be quite gruelling for the guests! You could arrange it so that every visitor doesn't visit every group, but when we did this students complained that they didn't get to meet the visitors they wanted.

We offer students and guests tea, coffee, orange juice, and biscuits and our senior prefects help with the distribution. We also buy some kosher biscuits so no-one need starve!
Students are allowed out at lunchtime (most seem to visit the local Temple of the Golden Arches!) but some bring sandwiches to eat whilst continuing their discussions informally from the morning.

Choose the right day of the week for your school - Mondays and Fridays are not a good choice for obvious reasons!
It can be quite difficult juggling the school diary with availability of the venue and availability of your chosen Visitors, so you need to plan ahead.

Management Support
If this kind of activity is to work, it does need the support of Senior Management. At Woodford we are very fortunate in that both our Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form attend the conference for at least part of the morning session. This gives the event an added status and helps to ensure that students turn up!

Whom to invite & where from?
It can be quite difficult finding guests who are willing, available and appropriate. Some people can charge an arm and a leg for this kind of service. We were concerned not to present a view of religious people as 'oddities' to the students - we didn't want them to be seen as exhibits in a kind of religious zoo! Where possible we chose guests who were not ordained religious leaders, but simply committed to their faiths. This year only one of our visitors was an ordained minister.

Our guests come from a number of sources. Some are personal friends of the staff, some are recommended by our RE Advisor, and some are former students. Most schools probably have some sort of network of people they could call upon.

Our guests are only required for the morning session, but sometimes they want to stay for the afternoon too.

Our Visitors give up their time freely, some even taking a day of their holiday from work to be with us. We are very grateful for their time and commitment over the years.

Over to you
The Redbridge RE Network would be interested in hearing about similar events. E-mail us or put a message on our board.

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