On Friday 28th February, Steyning Grammar School held its sixteenth annual Sixth Form College Beliefs Conference. All 250 Year 12 students (aged 16-17) took part in the conference instead of their usual lessons.
The conference provides a significant contribution to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the students, and focuses particularly on issues arising from the West Sussex Agreed Syllabus for post-16 Religious Education.
The conference panel members were represented by senior indivuals from a variety of faiths, with David Hitchin a Quaker from Lewes, Jake Purches from the Worthing Mosque and a former Steyning Grammar School student, Jacob Berkson a Philosopher from the University of Sussex, Reverend Andrew Fadoju a Christian minister born in London, ordained in 2000 and now working in Worthing and Alistair Appleton who has been a Buddhist for 15 years and is also a Psychotherapist.
This year Mrs Michelle Stokes a teacher from the school who has recently completed a theology degree also joined the panel along with several students. Ms Lindsey Thompson Assistant Headteacher at Steyning Grammar School chaired the panel.
The conference began with a short introduction by panel members who were invited to outline what they thought were the key issues facing us at the moment. Reverend Fadoju said: “I am passionate about finding values that can hold us together, so we can co-exist”. David Hitchin explained: “We are living in the 21st Century, Quakers have a set of principles that derive from Christianity, these principles don’t change, but the way we live them out does, as the world is changing.”
Students came prepared with a set of questions for the panel covering a range of topics from Wealth & Poverty, The Welfare State, The right to a child, God & Religion, War & Peace, Law & Politics, Philosophy and the environment.
Student James Martin opened the session with the question ‘is religion necessary’ which sparked great debate from the panel and some surprising responses.
Alistair Appleton replied: “Religion offers a tying together and a sharing, and what we need right now is to connect and not to go into our own bubbles, the tying together is what we need and the connecting.”
Reverend Fadoju said: “You might be surprised by my answer, but it is no. It’s about body, soul & spirit. What I would say is that you need faith, that religion tends to trap you but faith tends to release you.”
Student Raymond Njoku gave an interesting analogy of a balloon with an anchor: “The balloon represents your faith and the anchor is your religion that is guiding you, without this we would be drifting around.”
Mr Mark Warwick, Head of Religious Education at Steyning Grammar School and conference organiser said: “Our sixth form conference gives students the chance to engage in sparky and meaningful discussion on current affairs, ethics, religion and philosophy.
“I am proud of the high level of engagement from our wonderful students, who provide a supportive atmosphere where all views are valued and really well thought through.”
Throughout the day the students had an opportunity to consider philosophical, ethical, political, religious and atheistic views and discuss questions that were put to them by the panel.
These included question like ‘what important values should a society that wants to be respectful of diversity that exists within its culture need to adopt?’ and ‘there’s something wrong with people who like to be on their own. Discuss.’
During the final session of the day the students fed back their responses to the panel following a group discussion session.
Headteacher, Mr Nick Wergan said: “We are determined at Steyning Grammar to support our students in developing their confidence to ask the questions that matter to them, and to develop their own views.
“This conference really shows how skilled they are at this.”
Report contributed by Steyning Grammar School