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Big Questions RME day conference

Many in S5 and S6 are investigating life’s big questions in a new and critical manner, trying to make sense of the world. Big Questions days offer an opportunity for students to unpack and challenge current world views in a conference-style environment, which can help to prepare for the transition from school to work or university.

A Big Questions conference takes place in school. To emphasise the conference approach, students are given a conference pack and provided with refreshments. The pack is theirs to keep and consists of a pen, name badge and any materials needed in a plastic folder.

A Big Questions day includes aspects of philosophy and faith. The main aim is for students to express their views and ask questions of themselves and others. This is achieved through games, plenary sessions, group discussions, quizzes, film, debate and question panels. The activities are designed to help students think about how their views are shaped and influenced. The world is presented through an imposed set of values, and they are encouraged to use this to agree or disagree to stimulate discussion. Topical issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic research and terrorism are used as vehicles to understand how we make decisions about the world. Students begin to understand that while ethics are nuanced we all adhere to beliefs, whether consciously or not.

So what’s involved?

Get the right team together. A school is investing a lot of trust in a team offering to put on the conference. A school may be happy for an outside team to run the day entirely, or prefer the RME department to be involved.

A competent team of adults familiar with discussion with teenagers is essential; group work is at the heart of a Big Questions day. Consider involving chaplains and interested teaching staff. This can include guest ‘experts’ if appropriate within the aims of the day. Students are organised into groups of eight, so a team size needs to reflect that. The team need detailed briefing of how discussions should be led and what outcomes are expected, but only one or two need skills in up front leading.

The program needs to allow time to work towards the aims of the day, whilst giving enough flexibility to allow students to voice their opinions. It needs structuring with the heaviest thinking between break and lunch time, and activities after lunch that take into account the post lunch lull.

The Big Questions Day is now an annual timetabled event in Plockton High School, and a number of Scottish schools are showing interest in similar days. If you think your local school might benefit too, then more detailed sample programs can be forwarded to present to head teachers.