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Presentation transcripts

This page contains transcripts of some of the presentations made during the Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event held by IFN in November 2014.

A number of wide ranging and interesting presentations were made in plenary during the Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event.  The presentations follow the order of the programme for the day. Just click on the name of the presentation you wish to read and the text will expand. Videos of some of these presentations can be found on the Video presentations page.

  • Harriet Crabtree presentation text

    Dr Harriet Crabtree OBE is the Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK

    Good Morning.  My name is Harriet Crabtree and I am Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK.

    In this brief opening overview I shall be offering some general comments about the day and the topic in the context of inter faith engagement more generally and outlining some of the issues at which the day is designed to look.

    We live in a world in which there is increasing diversity of religious – and cultural – backgrounds. There are, of course, some areas where that may not seem to be so much the case but even where there is relatively little population mix we encounter people of many different backgrounds through daily engagement with media of various kinds.  In this ever more interconnected and diverse world, inter faith understanding and cooperation are increasingly important for people of all ages. 

    Today our particular focus is inter faith activity and education developed with and for young people.  This is a vital area.  It is one for which the Inter Faith Network for the UK has had a concern since its earliest days (it began in 1987) and which it has encouraged across the years.   Today’s special  event is a chance for many practitioners – young and old – to profile and discuss their work.  The day is shaped around aspects of this.  It aims to:

    • profile some of the excellent inter faith youth activity  that is already happening and stimulate more; 
    • give practitioners a chance to share good practice and to discuss ways to encourage more organisations and individuals to become involved; and
    • open the door to further cooperative working which will benefit young people in local communities and also in schools, and institutions of Further Education and Higher Education.
    Impact of growing diversity

    The growing diversity of our society and increasing interconnection of our world means that from the youngest age most of us are brought face to face with different world views and different sources of ethical judgement and action. 

    RE and Literacy

    In this context, the ability to engage well with others from different religious and cultural backgrounds is very important. 

    To engage well calls for some level of understanding and that is why – in addition to their intrinsic academic value – Religious Education and also education in other subjects which helps us understand the context of others’ views is so important. One of the strands in today’s discussion is the key role of RE in inter faith education of young people.

    Skills and Friendship

    To be a person able to live confidently in a diverse society also calls for opportunities to make friendships and bonds of understanding and to develop skills for living in a diverse world that go beyond basic religious literacy.

    Inter faith and intercultural encounter (and I intentionally use both here because the line between them is far from sharp) is most positive when it brings the opportunities to really get to know people and to be able to have frank conversations and to develop relationships across weeks, months, indeed years. Many of the programmes reflected here today offer the chance for this. 

    Where we meet people and the chances that we have to really get to know them are perhaps particularly critical when we are children and young adults. It's not that when you're older it doesn't matter, but there is something very important about having the chance to meet people when you're at school and college-age. That often stays with you through your life. 

    For most young people, school, college and university and social routes are the main avenue for meeting and there is a natural process whereby there are opportunities for coming to know people of different backgrounds. But that is not always the case. In some instances people go to schools or colleges where all or most people are from the same background as them – religiously or culturally. In such contexts programmes such as school linking have particular relevance. 

    But even where pupils and students attend more diverse educational institutions it is still not always the case that there are significant chances to come to know well people of different backgrounds. There can be embarrassment about asking questions or, worse, a feeling of being different or seeing others as radically different from ourselves.

    For these reasons, the kind of work undertaken within schools and other educational institutions and youth organisations to offer opportunities for inter faith interaction have great importance. So, too, that of Government linked programmes such as National Citizen Service.

    The political and social climate of recent years has added to this need for positive opportunities to engage. For many young people their religious background has led them to experience negative stereotyping and bullying or to find themselves in school or at college or university to be continually on the defensive, with others equating their religion with terrorism or particular polices of foreign governments. This has affected particularly Jewish and Muslim young people but has also had a wider impact. The question of how to be able to discuss difficult issues  is addressed through routes like RE and through programmes of some inter faith bodies specialising in this area.

    But let me return to the more positive context. Inter faith engagement is not just about combatting prejudice – important though that is. It is also very much about developing a sense of commonality and common cause and a number of programmes represented here reflect this emphasis and help with development of skills for engagement and leadership. Some have a particular focus on dialogue skills, others on developing leadership skills through joint engagement in social action or through routes such as outward bound or sporting activities or civic involvement.

    Very important, I would add, is that young people themselves are key architects of many forms of inter faith education and encounter. They are doers and not ‘done to’. You/they play an active role and we have reflected that in the structure of the day. I would like to underline this point because I feel it strongly. I was not a religious person in my teens but I was very political and I joined a political organisation at 14 where most people were at least a decade older. In taking part in this I was simply myself – not a young person (although I was!).  Just so, there are teenagers who take part in, and shape, inter faith activity and they are simply themselves: human beings with an interest and a commitment and desire to make a difference. So in a way I think the discussion is a broader one about inter faith engagement and not only youth engagement. But there are, of course, particular dimensions to youth engagement which make it different – not least the old but very true chestnut that young people grow older and  this affects the nature of programmes developed by, with and for all of them.

    I have talked about briefly about the context for today’s  event and its purposes and I have spoken about religious literacy and skills and opportunities for engagement, which are strands woven through – and structuring – the day. 

    I  would like to end with an expression I have drawn from RE. That is ‘learning from’, by contrast to and complementary to ‘learning about’. Today offers an opportunity to learning about programmes and approaches. But let it be a day also when we learn from each other. And, particularly importantly, let it be a day when we learn from  young people as much as discuss their needs. School pupils, students, and young professionals – this is a generation at a time of transition grappling with and responding to change and there is much to learn from them about inter faith understanding and cooperation. 

    Young, old we are journeying together and we have much to teach each other as we make our contribution together to creating, in the words of the Vision of the Inter Faith Network for the UK:

     “a society where there is understanding of the diversity and richness of the faith communities in the UK and the contribution that they make; and where we live and work together with mutual respect and shared commitment to the common good.”   

    Copyright ©  Inter Faith Network for the UK, 2014

  • Aamna Alam presentation text

    Aamna Alam is Chair of Bolton Interfaith Young Ambassadors

    I’m from Bolton, born and brought up there. I helped set up Bolton Interfaith Young Ambassadors six years ago. I had seen a lot of things happening which I didn't agree with and I thought were unacceptable and I got to a point where I thought I want to join an organisation which believes in some of the same beliefs as I do and to make a difference. So I started joining various youth clubs and things, thinking  "I’m going to make a difference. People will hear my voice and I'll be able to do something."  I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, "I’m going to do this." That's where it all started.

    So I started going to youth clubs. I would pay my £2 every week. I would play table tennis for a little while. I would play my snooker game. And I thought to myself, I’m not really making myself very useful here. Nobody is hearing what I have to say. Then I came across Bolton Interfaith Council. They work with communities from all across Bolton from people from all different walks of life, for all different religions and all different ages. They had a youth group in place. I thought to myself, after having so many conversations with the leaders and other members, I thought “This is where I belong”.

    Some of the things that I saw that I didn't agree with at the time, that as a young person disappointed me, was there was such a negative view of young people in the press. I would read newspaper articles saying things like, “On my corner shop, if there was people with hoodies on, they were now bad people.” I would read things like it's a young person, they were in a group, there were lots of boys, and they wear religious headwear or something, they would be considered bad people. This disappointed me because I was a young person of that generation and I thought to myself: ‘that's not true. That's incorrect.’ That's how we came about doing something about it.

    We believe that young people all, can make a difference. They have a voice and they are the future. So we thought to ourselves ‘What can we do to make this work?’ We decided that we wanted to develop our young people to be great ambassadors, first of all, and to be good citizens. We would deliver sessions and have motivational speakers and people that would come and talk to us and do training sessions with us that were relevant to the work of young people and to their lives. When the riots happened, we brought in motivational speakers to speak about them and explain that this is something that happened out of ignorance rather than something that's an extreme view and we should all turn against it. With young people, if mistaken beliefs are not corrected, then they develop on into future life and get worse and it becomes a circle of hate.

    We started organizing our own community events. In Bolton a Spirit of Bolton  community event is our regular one and we have people from all across Bolton, thousands of people attend every year. We have performances. We have stalls. We have lots of charity work. People get to learn about all the different community work that takes place across Bolton.

    We also thought to ourselves, as young people, that where disaster strikes in the world, we need to act upon this. When the Pakistan floods happened and the Haiti earthquakes happened, we decided as young people that we wanted to make a difference and  to contribute as much as we could. We have organised community events to raise money for such things like that and worked with the British Red Cross. We do sponsored walks and raise as much money for local charities as well such as our Bolton Hospice.

    Every year, our Mayor has an inauguration ceremony with speakers from different faith groups and different education and other types of body. The speakers are always adult and  we thought to ourselves, as Bolton Interfaith Council, that we wanted to put young people forward to speak at the ceremony to say young people have a voice and this is what they believe. About four years ago, young people spoke at the Mayor's inauguration ceremony for the first time.

    We also believe that we should develop our young people to have good general life skills, public speaking skills, and debating skills. They should be inspirational people.  So we have arranged events and other opportunities to give a chance to develop these while helping others.

     The ages of those of us involved range from about 11 to  21 and there are about 30 of us Interfaith Ambassadors. We started off the group thinking it was going to be a mixed group, but more girls just joined and now it's a girls group.

    We interlink with elderly people and go and speak at elderly homes at Christmas time. Now elderly people who are in the home, some of them they don't have any family, they have no siblings, they have nobody that comes and visits them.  So as good citizens we go at Christmas time and sing to them and give them cookies and things, just do as much as we can. We have an event which takes place for Eid, Diwali and Christmas, which is for elderly people and we as young people go there. We perform there. We do dramas for them and we create that bond between people of two completely different generations but believe in the same things.

    We also perform at different events such the London Olympics Event, Diversity Festivals, and Christmas Light Switch-Ons in Bolton. We try and do as much as we can with our local authority to create that bond and for people to understand young people have a connection to faith and belief which is not extreme. We've also set up our own radio show which is called the Spirit of Bolton as young people. We tackle topical issues about faith and belief for young people and do that every week.

    In response to questions, she said:

    We have our own Chairperson, our Vice Chair, our Secretary, our Activity Coordinator.

    If we would like to have other members join, we have recruitment days in place. We have interviews. It’s a rigorous process that what we go through, because we want to bring in people who can really contribute and people that can really make a difference and believe in the things that we do. We take this title of being an ambassador really seriously and we respect that title as Bolton Ambassadors.

    We organize all our meetings on a voluntary basis. But there are rewards that are there in itself. I wouldn't be where I am in my position in this day and age if it wasn't for the group in terms of confidence, in terms of the friends that I have, in terms of the team building skills that I've gained. All of our young ambassadors they have been nominated for Bolton Young Women of the Year Awards. I have been awarded the Princess Diana Award for Charity.

    We are an extension of Bolton Interfaith Council. We have a strategic leader for Bolton Interfaith Council, which helps us to coordinate everything that happens per week. Bolton Interfaith Council, as part of their work, do faith trails and work with children of secondary education, higher education, primary education. They have their own staple community events as well. We are an extension of them which has been running for six years and we, as young people, created and shaped it.

    I think our youth organisation couldn't have found an inter faith council that is more supportive or more hands on than ours. We are exceptionally appreciative and grateful for the work that Bolton Inter Faith Council do and the way that they support us.  They, like us, believe in being a good citizen and having a faith and a belief that we are all free to listen to and share and that there is no room for disrespect and extremist views. It's about peace, love and respect and compassion.

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.

  • Megan Wallace presentation text

    Megan Wallace takes part in the Interfaith Scotland Schools Programme

    Since its infancy, Interfaith Scotland has been really concerned with youth work. From between 2003 and 2012, we've had annual conferences which were suggested by young people, organised, planned and run by young people. There was a team of about 15 each year from across Scotland, and across different fields came together to organise these conferences. Each conference had a different theme such as “service above self, cooperation over conflict” – issues that we felt as young people affected not only us but everyone around us.

    We moved the conferences around, instead of having them all in Glasgow which is what tends to happen. We understand that it's not easy for young people to get around. Yes, you can get trains and buses, but if you don't drive, it's not always easy to get yourself across the country. So we move around each year, so that we can reach out to as many young people as we can. Since 2012, Interfaith Scotland has been going to schools and talking to RE classes and whole year groups. We thought that this is a way to reach out to young people and talk to them about the different faiths and what our faith is and how we develop it.

    When we go into schools, we go in groups made up of different faiths. And we speak to the young people. We speak to them on a personal level. We’ll give them our faith and our journey in our faith as well as some facts about our own faith. We think that that helps to break down the stereotypes. We were talking this morning, Sophie and I, about an instance where there was a boy who asked a question, "Why do Muslim women, some Muslim women wear hijabs?" The person on the panel said, "I could answer that, but I’m male. I’d give you my view, but if you turn around, there's a girl who's been in your class who’s standing behind you wearing a hijab. So you can ask her." It's about breaking down these barriers, making it okay to talk about faith with each other. As I said, Sophie [who is Muslim] and I are here together and we can talk about the skills later on in discussion groups if anyone wants more information.

    I find that being involved in my local inter faith group as well as Interfaith Scotland Youth Group helps you to grow in your own faith as well as finding all other faiths. It's really interesting to help you develop your own faith.

    As a youth group, we go and we speak to older people and try and bring them together. Stop them being so separate. We are lucky in Scotland that Interfaith Scotland and the Scottish Parliament have been really good at working together. I gave a speech in front of ministers about inter faith and about the important work that we do and that everyone here does. We've also been asked for young people to speak during the time of reflections at Holyrood which is four minutes every week. The members of the Scottish Parliament go and they sit down quietly and reflect on why they are there. We've had people of faith go and talk to them and say that is why what you are doing is important to us.

    For me, involving young people in inter faith activities is the best way to break down the barriers.  It's very easy as we get older, to stop and think, “Right, it’s all about me, it’s all about what I’m doing”,  whereas as younger people, we look more at the way the community and see what we see in there and what impact we have on them.

    In response to questions she made the following points:

    As soon as you go in and you start talking to you people in schools they see that we are not experts, we’re humans and they are happier to ask you a question. You can get some very bizarre, strange ones, but a lot of them are in-depth. They’re really curious. They really want to know. It’s not easy. You couldn’t just walk up to someone in the street and say, "Can I ask you about your faith?" Whereas us going in and talking to them gives them that opportunity, it breaks down the whole “We can't talk about that. We can't talk about faith. We can't ask such questions.”

    My local inter faith group is only about a year old. I find that people want young people to be involved. They want young people’s input and they want to be able to reach out to young people. They just find it very difficult to do this. However, having at least one young member on board, because I’m there, there are other young people that have come and joined. They see that it's not just for old people. It’s not for people that are retired or it's not for ministers. It can be for the everyday young person.

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter. 

  • Ankit Sinha presentation text

    Ankit Sinha is an Ambassador with the Redbridge Ambassadors of Faith and Belief

    I am Ankit Sinha. I am currently in Year 13 and am 17 years old. And I am a member of the Redbridge Ambassadors of Faith and Belief. We call ourselves AFaBS. The purpose of its activity is to allow primary school children to be more aware of other religions and to be more accepting of them.

    A little background about the scheme first. It was started two years ago, as a pilot scheme initially. It came about because Redbridge is a particularly diverse area. Some teachers in RE found that when they were teaching this subject, they had personal experience they could draw on from  their own faith and religion, but this was not the case for some of the other religions that were covered in the syllabus where they might not be able to give a first-hand experience and it was [based on] what they learned from textbooks or the internet. 

    The idea was to have young presenters coming to primary schools and giving their own personal views of their own religion and faith and to combine this with showing a teenage ambassador. All the ambassadors have been in Year 12 while they are presenting, and this allows primary school children to relate better to their ambassadors. They are more likely to look up to them as a role model. 

    We are trained to present. The training starts over the Year 11 summer. We all go to Newbury Park Primary School where the scheme is based. And we spend a few weeks getting trained on how to present generally; how to think critically about and analyse your own faith and to be aware of each of the individual aspects of it. In this way, I, in fact, learned a fair amount about my own religion and faith, which I hadn't been aware of before. I am a Hindu and there are other Hindus there as well. The difference is in the aspects of how religion is practised. 

    It is interesting and also really useful for the people that are presenting to dispel any kind of misconceptions that they might have about other faiths and religions. For example, I’ve been told in fact, that lots of the people are unaware that in Hinduism, there is in fact only one God. So when I was giving a practice presentation and spoke about that it it shocked them and it caused further conversation. This was really useful because it didn't just allow you to delve more deep into your own faith, but it allowed you to be more aware of others. 

    We have a website where we have each of our ambassadors listed. Any primary school teacher can click on one of the ambassadors, book them to come in to their classroom to give a presentation and question and answer session between the ambassador and the primary school children. The Q and A session is the most critical bit, because although primary school children learn a fair amount from the interactive presentation which we’re taught to do, the questions are at the heart of what they want to know. 

    We get some unexpected and even weird questions from primary school children. One of my friends, who is a Mar Thoma Christian was talking about how some Christians when they go to church drink some wine to represent the blood of Christ. One child put their hands up and asked, "So do you get drunk at church then?" These sorts of questions, you wouldn't ask this normally but children are completely open to asking this. This really caught my friend on the back foot but we’re trained to work out how to answer such questions. You’re meant to be really open, accept their point of view and try to think critically about your own faith whilst giving your answer. 

    An example that I personally faced was, that lots of the girls in primary school classes really are interested on how I'd name my children, and how that would be related to my faith. They would ask what particular names might mean. It's quite difficult to relate this to your own faith but there is a tangible link there. I'd been talking about the marriage ceremony and how religion is entwined in that. It really helps you think critically about your own faith. 

    I’d like to end on the fact that it's not just useful for the primary school teacher who gets a first-hand point of view given to their children, and it's not just useful to the children who get this outside experience, but it’s also useful for the Ambassadors themselves. All of the twelve or so Ambassadors  who joined up and went through the training scheme last year had this practice of presenting to primary school children. They've come on leaps and bounds in confidence, in their presentation styles so they can vary who they are presenting to. That's going to be useful not just in this presentation situation but also further on, perhaps when they are going into university interviews. These skills that they gain are really, really useful and they’re a good addition to what they learn about their own faith. That's what makes the scheme really important and it's a good contributing system to the community in Redbridge. 

    Ankit made the following points in response to questions:

    We were not trained in what to teach about our religions; that was left to us. What we were meant to be offering was a purely personal view.  What we were trained to do was to avoid some of the potential pitfalls in presenting to children. For example, we were especially told that when you are giving a personal point of view like, "Oh I might go to the temple, for example, three times a month to meditate," that we had to ensure that we said “some people” might or “I” might. We didn't say all Hindus would do this. It was very, very important for us to make sure that we weren't generalizing in any way or enforcing any of the stereotypes that might already be present. We were dispelling them. It was also very important to make sure that we weren't presenting any kind of preaching way. We weren't trying to convert anyone. We were purely there to give our own personal opinion which the primary school children can decide to take what they want to take from. It was training on how to present rather than what to present.

    The training starts during Year 11 summer. There are generally three teachers from Newbury Park Primary School who are incorporated in this. There is Mrs Diamond Conway, who is over there, Mr Whitehead who is the Head Teacher of Newbury Park and Ms Chissim. They are all collectively responsible for the training. We start off by delving more deeply into our own religions, making sure we have a solid foundation of what we believe in, so that if we are asked any deep insightful questions, we don't crack under the pressure, I guess. We do that initial research first, then we start building our presentation. And they are analyzed quite critically by all three members. They are not afraid to give feedback! Lots of us have had to rewrite presentations completely, because they might be slightly off or giving the wrong message across or have their emphasis incorrectly. 

    At the end of the summer, when school has started again in September, we have a test. We go into a Newbury Park classroom with another AFaB and the class teacher and we present to them as an initial preliminary test. We get lots of feedback. They are the final judge of whether you are giving across the right message, acting professionally and whether you’re being useful for what your role is. 

    As for AFaBs training other AFaBs, we are brought in, but we don't do the training because we’re not, obviously, professional. We give our own opinions and we give advice at the start of the training period. But because we are in Year 13 now, we have university applications, etc and it is a lot of work to do so we are not directly involved in that training.

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.

  • Rachel Silveira presentation text

    Rachel Silveira is Deputy Director of 3FF (the Three Faiths Forum)

    • Seven years ago 3FF tried to get together a group of people working in youth and culture and inter faith in what we called The Connective. There were not many people at that point and I think it’s amazing how the sector has grown in the last years.
    • It feels like there is a real shift in how people are talking about this kind of work and what we’re trying to do. 
    • Some of the comments made today have highlighted that there are many ideas about what inter faith activity is for.  At 3FF we think that it’s a pragmatic response to the challenges faced by society, particularly disconnections, isolation, mistrust and understanding.  
    • To combat those serious problems this kind of work needs to be open and inclusive.  Yesterday I was speaking with people about the need to include people with non-religious beliefs in this work and I think a lot of the comments that were said at that meeting echo a lot of the things we’ve been talking about today.  
    • If inclusivity is the basis then I think we need to be really careful about the language we use.  Young people can’t be ‘the future’ as we’ve said or ‘those people’ or treated like a different group.  They need to be part of the ‘us and the we and the now’.  
    • We can’t speak for other people and we can’t think about them as a distinct group that are different to us.  We’ve got to be working together.  
    • To encourage more involvement we need to provide incentives.  What do we as a field, as our organisations and as individuals, have access to that young people want and how can we use the incentives we have to bring them together so then they have the opportunity to talk, reflect and hopefully act together to make it work better? 
    • Activities need to be fitted to their audience. For young people this means
    • be as creative, innovative and participatory as possible
    • assume a limited attention span
    • don’t assume any faith based knowledge 
    • don’t, in 3FF’s view, ask anyone to represent anyone else; 
    • use allies or people who have influence on others and can help organise others
    • challenge our own thinking and really listen to new perspectives that are brought
    • grasp the passion, optimism and sense of possibility that many older people may have felt they lost along the way – whether they have or not.  
    • Perhaps question the concept of the membership and group membership and look more at the question of affiliation and what will be the future in terms of community and different types of community.  
    • As a community of professionals, a community of volunteers working in this area there may be a need for us to define what we think is good inter faith youth activity or good activity in this area that we are calling inter faith?  Are there benchmarks for success that we can agree on or need to agree on?  How can we think more collaboratively as a field if we want to achieve the biggest impact?  
    • There are a lot of people that we should be targeting and there are only a few of us who are doing it. We need to be thinking really strategically how we do it and is there a way that we want to. 

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.

  • Isabelle King presentation text

    Isabelle King is Innovation and Sustainability Manager at the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

    • NCVYS has just over 300 member bodies.  It is growing very, very quickly, particularly this year.  Approximately 20-25% of those members are or would class themselves faith organisations.  What is very interesting is that when we ask them “do you class yourself as a faith based organisation, tick this box or not”, some don’t but when we actually look at what they’re doing, WE would class them as faith organisation so that in itself is quite interesting.  
    • We have two main areas that we are engaging most of our charities in, particularly faith charities.  One is safeguarding and the other area is workforce development, including any aspect from recruitment, to induction through to training, to continuous professional development. 
    • We did a piece of work several years ago with the Children’s Workforce Development Council or CWDC as it was known before it was disbanded and we estimated there were approximately 5 million voluntary sector workers, both paid and voluntary, in the children and young people’s sector. 
    • A few years ago we ran a very interesting programme called Progress and which worked with the voluntary youth sector to upskill them in certain key areas. One of the things that we did at this point was to speak to our faith charities and ask if any of them would like to come forward and help us in developing some new materials, some new resources and some new ideas around what accredited qualifications or units look like.  So, from this piece of work, we very quickly formed lots of alliances and we started to push forward but then funding ran out and we have only recently been able to restart our engagement with faith charities and to kick-start the faith programme again with a new network of organisations.  
    • The network of faith organisations have been drawn together by NCVYS primarily to tackle the workforce qualifications and skills and the national standards that youth workers and those who work with young people are accessing.  It is from this piece of work that we will start to make a significant difference.  
    • Non-faith based workers and faith-based workers need to work together in partnership supporting young people of faith and of no faith.  
    • Faith organisations need to focus on their workforce and the workforce skills in a very specific way but then they need to come together and the lecturers, the trainers, the teachers, need to come together into a forum.
    • It can be very successful when young people are involved in training the workers and the workforce using things like hot topics such as the environment. 
    • Good youth work often happens when there is an interaction on a subject which enables important sub-conversations underneath that. 
    • It is extremely important that non-faith youth workers and the youth sector are involved in inter-faith work.  There has to be that dialogue.  There has to be working together and we need to find a way to do that.  
    • I was at a conference literally last week called Creative Collisions  with 800 youth workers there.   50 schools were there.  It was an incredibly powerful and buzzy atmosphere.  But faith groups weren’t there in any strength at all.  They were invited but they weren’t there. Just as not many youth organisations or youth focused organisations or youth sector groups are here.   We need to make that connection and NCVYS is very happy to start working to make that connection.  
    • On funding, there is definitely a group of funders who are focused on giving to specific singular faith groups but when you go to those funders and ask them “would you help us to develop/fund opportunities for inter-faith work”, there are affirmative noises but nothing happens. This is an area that collectively and picking up from the previous speaker, that is an area we can collectively start working together on.  For example, there is funding in Europe and we can collectively pull it down but we do need to work together. So this is another good opportunity to look at that.  Just one quick reflection: 
    • This morning a young lady gave a very, very powerful presentation in which she talked about how she went to a youth centre and she played snooker and it wasn’t what she wanted so she went to another organisation where she got what she wanted plus she was able to take it all forward.  I was itching to know: did she go back to that youth centre and educate the youth workers in what young people can do and would want to do or did she leave it?  If she left it, what a wasted opportunity and that’s the point that I’m making.  We are here, the doors are open, we’re listening, we want to engage.  Walk through that door.

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.

  • Raheed Salam presentation text

    Raheed Salam is a member of the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education 

    • FBFE (National Council for Faith and Belief in Further Education) was originally called NEFE (the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education) when its work began about thirty years ago.
    • FBFE is a policy and research body for the learning and skills sector for faith and local communities and for national and local faith and belief based groups where they relate to that. 
    • Young people in schools have Religious Education and relevant teaching in terms of citizenship or in terms of PHSE. The same curriculum doesn’t exist in the FE sector. That means many young people are growing up with their faith identity but without  somebody holding their hand on that in the education context. They can sometimes find transition difficult on their journey.  
    • FBFE helps with provision of strategies to help people of faith discuss faith and belief in the context of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education.  It is supposed to embedded within the curriculum but that’s something that is very, very difficult to do.
    • In a 2007 UNICEF report, the Children’s Commissioner is quoted as saying “We are turning out a generation of young people who are unhappy, unhealthy, engaging in risky behaviour, who have poor relationships with their family and their peers and have low expectations and don’t feel safe.”  In terms of FBFE’s work, the picture is far, far rosier than that in that young people of faith and of non-faith are talking about their spirituality. They’re talking about their moral and cultural and social identity much, much better than one would perhaps be led to believe given the quote I’ve just read you.  And that’s a testament to the fact that there are many, many people who care within the FE sector and who are prepared to do a little bit more, whether they’re paid or unpaid or paid poorly (which is actually often the case).  They care about young people of faith.  They care about young people’s identity and pulling that out.  So there is a lot of singular faith based work done.  There is a lot of joined up inter faith work.  And there is a lot of work done to develop the non-academic aspect of young people.  You might call that soft skills development or we might call that citizenship or community cohesion, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s done.  
    • FBFE works with three core attitudes.  They are to work with staff and students to develop self-awareness, respect for all and open-mindedness.  I think those core attitudes are probably quite good core attitudes and beliefs to carry through speaking to the younger generation around faith and belief.

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.

  • Joyce Miller presentation text

    Dr Joyce Miller is the Chair of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales

    • 20 years ago I was working at the University of Wolverhampton training teachers and part of that was interviewing people to see whether they would make suitable RE teachers.  I asked the same old questions on a Friday afternoon.  “Why do you think RE is important in the curriculum?” and they would reply “Because it helps people understand each other.  It helps promote (what we now call) community cohesion or inter faith understanding.” I should think 99% of potential RE teachers answered the question in that way.  It’s a perfectly valid answer.  Very occasionally someone would say something quite different at which point I wanted to stop the interview and say “You can have a place now, we don’t need to continue this conversation.”  If they mentioned words like ‘understanding’ or ‘conceptual understanding’ then they were in like a shot. 
    • Going on to train those teachers was also a very difficult task and trying to enable young teachers to get their heads around how you begin to take children through that huge complexity that is religion and belief is really, really difficult. Westhill College came up with a system of assessment based on Concepts, Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge: CASK.  Those four areas are absolutely essential in Religious Education and each of them is pertinent to inter faith understanding as well. 
    • For me, perhaps, the most important is conceptual understanding.  You can get knowledge from the internet. You can get knowledge from anywhere.  Conceptual understanding I think comes through dialogue with people who have a deeper conceptual understanding than you have.  So that seems to me to be at the heart of real RE and the sort of education that makes people stop in their tracks and think again, reconsider and form a deeper and better understanding than they had already.  So focusing on conceptual understanding in RE and in inter faith understanding seems to me to be crucially important.
    • There are all sorts of words that we use that sound as if we use them in the same sorts of ways across faiths when actually they can mean very different things or the nuance is very important.  One of the most important areas is ‘attitudes’. How you enable young people to develop attitudes instead of attitude is I think really, really important.  It has to be in the ethos of a school and in the ethos of classroom practice that is agreed, that is respectful.
    • An undiscerning respect for difference is no good for anybody.  We need an informed, discerning respect and those attitudes that you’ve just heard about openness, about curiosity, about engagement, about willingness to learn, those are at the heart I think of both RE and inter faith understanding.
    • Skills are absolutely essential.  In RE there are general skills about learning but the most important skills are about thinking and reflection and critical engagement.  Learning how to ask some very hard questions, learning how to challenge and be challenged without being offensive. 3FF has these wonderful two words ‘oops and ouch’ that it uses in its classroom work; if you say something you didn’t really mean to say, you say ‘Oops, I didn’t mean that’ or ‘Ouch, that hurt!’  It’s those little ways in classrooms of enabling children to say what they want to say – and of course they’re going to say it clumsily – but developing those skills of dialogue and engagement are very important for all of us. 
    • Then there’s knowledge which is also important.  One of the real dangers of RE is that people think that content is enough, that if you learn about Islam then you’ll sort Islamophobia.  It just does not work.  You can learn everything you like about a religion and still have a deep bias against it or a deeply anti-religious sentiment that underpins it.  If you’re going to engage in real RE and real religious dialogue then you have to get beneath the language and you’ve got to address the preconceptions and the misconceptions and you’ve got to keep on working at those.  Not to make them think like you or me, but just to make them think.  And to begin again and again to go back and think ‘Am I right about this?  Is this what it really means?’
    • Asking of questions is important.  And all of this depends on self-awareness.  And it depends on teachers’ self-awareness too and that engaged journey of teachers and children learning together with a spirit of humility.
    • The first time I said “I don’t know’ in answer to a child’s question I really felt quite liberated as a teacher and I thought ‘I’m actually a confident teacher now.  I can say ‘I don’t know’.’   If I tell you the question, it was “Miss, can we do Bultmann’s Theory of the Ecclesiastical Redactor this afternoon?” said one of my A Level students.  I said ‘No, we’ll do it next week when I’ve had a little bit of time to look it up and remember what I once did when I was a student.’
    • So, questions, attitudes, skills, concepts, all of these come together and each of them has to be part of that whole package. On its own none of them works.  Together I think they can form a very sound foundation for RE and for inter faith understanding. 
    • ‘Inter faith’ is sometimes better replaced with ‘inter cultural’ because not all children have faith and we’ve got to be very, very careful about that.  Inter cultural is more often used in Europe and one of my favourite phrases is “for children to become skilled cultural navigators”.  I’d like to put an ‘inter’ in there – “enabling children to become skilled intercultural navigators” so that they and their teachers are comfortable moving across religions, across faiths, across beliefs and being able to ask and talk and engage in dialogue and learn.

    The following were additional points made in response to questions:

    • A lot of teachers are very, very nervous of teaching religion and so it’s easy to play safe, it’s easy to stick to the ‘bits of knowledge’ approach to learning.  But it really is not sufficient.  One of the things I used to try to say to my students when they were training to be teachers was ‘You can always apologise’.  If you get things wrong and you’re well-intentioned, to apologise is better than playing safe. But it’s not ok to make a mistake more than once and it’s not ok to think that you can carry on not learning.
    • For RE teachers the most important thing is to keep on getting out there into communities, having visitors into schools, going to places of worship.  Someone mentioned this morning – it was one of the young men who was talking – about teachers who have no first hand experience they can share.  That’s outrageous if it happens.  It is so easy to have first hand experience about religion and belief.  You walk down a road and there’s a place of worship there.  Now having the confidence to go in is something else but this is what teachers’ continuing professional development should be all about.  And when teachers have that experience then they begin to develop confidence and they’ve got their own anecdotes (“When I went to a Hindu temple last week, do you know what I saw…?”) It’s so easy to have those sorts of personal experiences. 
    • It is very easy for RE teachers, particularly in secondary schools where you’ve got specialists, to lead the rest of the staff in their professional development of their own local community; and giving the rest of the staff the confidence to deal with religious issues.  Because religion is not confined to RE in schools.  It’s absolutely across the whole school because all children come with a set of beliefs, religious or not.  And all teachers have to engage with all children. So it needs to be far more central in the whole school and its thinking.  Now religion and belief are among the protected characteristics of the Equality Act it ought to be much more significant in the whole life of a whole school.
    • There is a programme on teachers’ television where a white teacher who is a Christian is working with a mainly Pakistani-heritage group of students and the lesson is on jihad . The teacher was brave enough to have this filmed.  It was a number of years ago and there is a girl whose face is pixelated and she is defending the attack on the Twin Towers.  One of the things that is really interesting – this is group discussion and at her table that’s what’s happening – and  you can see from the television that all of the children in the class stop their own conversations and suddenly she is the focus of attention and everybody becomes one group.  And the teacher very skilfully enables the children to do the work in that session and he enables them to argue the point ‘the Quran says this’, ‘we believe that’ and the children themselves take control.  There is no such thing as a right and wrong approach.  Many, many years ago a lovely little Hindu girl in Coventry I was teaching came to me at the end of the first lesson on Hinduism and said “Miss, I never knew you were a Hindu”.  I said, “Well, I’m not.”  And she said, “But you knew so much more about it than I do. That god that you call this, I call…..”  And I said, “Stop.  You’re right.  Whatever you call this god in your family is right.  The fact that I’m saying from a textbook doesn’t alter that.”  So it’s never about right and wrong.  It’s always about interpretations and variation and diversity within.  But it’s also about being open enough to accept all of that and being aware of the problems of challenging what you and I might describe as an extreme view, which I think is what you (the questioner) are really getting at.  And if kids can’t talk about that in RE, where can they talk about it? 
    • I’m still looking for someone who is going to tell me where that dividing line is between extremism and a non-extreme view of any religions.  We need to keep on talking about and thinking about that  How children use language in RE is extremely important and words like ‘extremism’, ‘radicalisation’ – I love radical young people, classrooms should be full of them, they should be full of bolshie kids arguing and challenging.  We teach radicals in RE all the time – Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi – I guess they’ll have to disappear from the curriculum or we won’t be promoting British values!

    Presentation given at Young Voices, Young Agents for Change event arranged by the Inter Faith Network for the UK on 13 November 2014. Copyright belongs to the presenter.