What is the future for religion? A Youth Voice Conference coordinator reveals all

Angela Smith with Bishop Luffa School students
Angela Smith with Bishop Luffa School students

This week Vicky met RE teacher at Bishop Luffa School and Youth Voice Conference coordinator, Angela Smith.

What is the purpose of the conference and who attends?

The conference is for year-eight students and it explores religious and non-religious world views and their relevance in the world today. Every maintained secondary school in West Sussex is invited and the steering committee is made up of year-nine students who participated the previous year.

They set the agenda, which this year was ‘what is the future of religion?’ We have guest speakers from a mix of organisations and run workshops throughout the day. The conference is about fostering an active understanding of different world views and models the way religious education (RE) lives at the heart of the curriculum.

Pupils debate and discuss different viewpoints, hopefully inspiring them to explore further.

So it is a mix of faith, philosophy and big questions?

There is no assumption of faith. Students experience a range of speakers who might not naturally be working together. This year we had a forensic psychologist, other academics, Baha’I, Christian spirituality and Quaker representatives, a Buddhist, a Rabbi, an Imam and a Humanist, plus a student-led workshop.

How did you start the conference?

Every local authority has a SACRE (Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education) which carry responsibility for RE in its area. I am vice-chair for West Sussex. I am also a secondary school RE consultant for the diocese and I have an outreach role as an RE consultant at Bishop Luffa.

These connections enabled me to bring together different parties, based on a model from Hampshire. We started in 2017 and held our third conference this week, with 11 schools from across the county in attendance.

You are partnered with Chichester University. How does this work?

The university kindly provides the venue for the conference and it is a very active partnership. Professor of public theology Graeme Smith sits on the steering group with the year-nine pupils. This is part of the project’s dynamism; pupils plan and discuss the conference alongside teachers and theologians with no sense of hierarchy.

How do you envisage the conference developing?

RE is more developed in some schools than others, but the idea is that children encounter some really high-quality RE and then go back to their schools as ambassadors. In order to ensure succession planning we are looking to partner with organisations that might be interested in sponsoring the conference. At present it is largely funded through goodwill, which may not be sustainable long-term.

What do you hope the young people have taken away from the conference?

A passion to engage with world views and having had the opportunity to collaborate, debate and interact with pupils from other schools. Hearing the diverse range of speakers is a unique experience for the young people and they often go home with more questions than they come with.

n Email headspa@bishopluffa.org.uk for more.