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Our Place in the World

Taking time to think

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To explore our understanding of the UK’s place in the world.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a map of the world and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at:


  1. Show the map of the world.

    Ask the students to name any country that they have visited to see how many can be accumulated into the group experience.

    Listen to a range of responses and keep a running total of countries. Point out (or ask the students to point out) the location of each country on the map.

  2. Point out that the students have visited an impressive number of places. Now ask them to name any country they’ve visited in the last 12 months.

    Listen to a range of responses, although these are likely to be minimal. Explore the circumstances behind any response given.

  3. Emphasize the difference between the two sets of answers. For more than a year, it has felt like we’ve been living in isolation from the rest of the world, at least in terms of physical contact. Like many other countries, we have had to turn inwards and look after our own affairs. Cross-border travel has been limited because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and there have also been the transitional effects of Brexit.

  4. Of course, the UK hasn’t always been an inward-facing nation. Centuries before Covid-19 and Brexit, Britain was at the centre of a vast global network called the British Empire, which evolved into the Commonwealth of Nations.

    For many years, Britain exercised control over swathes of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia. Britain was responsible for much world trade and exploration, and it became one of the most influential nations in the world.

    There are many opinions about this period of British colonization and many lessons to be learnt from it.

  5. What about the UK nowadays, though? Many people from around the world have come to live in the UK. We have been enriched by the knowledge and resources of cultures from many countries. But what is our status and influence on the world as a whole?

  6. Some people still see the UK as a global power that has strong influence and is responsible and active. The recent success of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out is seen as an example of this.

    Others see signs that our place in the world is diminishing and our resources are limited. For example, cuts in the budget for overseas aid mean that health, environmental and food aid projects across the world have been reduced.

  7. As we get older, it is important for us to reflect on such things and form our own opinions.

Time for reflection

Ask the following questions, leaving time for discussion in groups.

- What sort of country is the UK now?
Do you feel that our government’s voice is listened to abroad?
Do you feel that we have a responsibility to strive for peace, support the weakest nations and promote initiatives beyond our shores?
- What kind of impact do you feel that we have globally? Is it small or large?
Is our priority to ensure that we are safe, healthy and wealthy before we look beyond ourselves?
Are we still at the centre of world affairs or have we set ourselves free from obligations and responsibilities?

A verse in the Bible states, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.’ (Philippians 2.3)

How could this verse influence some of the discussions that took place in response to the questions above?

Encourage suggestions and discussion.

Extension activities

  1. Hold a class debate that addresses the statement: ‘A country should look after its own citizens before aiding other countries in the world.’
    Start by pairing students. Ask them to devise two reasons that support the statement and two reasons that oppose it.
    Next, ask the students to decide which side of the debate they wish to support. Each side should pool its reasons and elect a spokesperson. Then, the debate can begin.
Publication date: August 2021   (Vol.23 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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