Innovating Education: The Large-Scale Enquiry Program

There is an annual event at school called The Large-Scale Enquiry Program. In previous years, I had given it almost no mind because it did not involve my kids directly. This is the first year that G1 has participated in the main large-scale enquiry (years 3 and 4 have their own “mini” large-scale enquiry – if that makes any sense). John Hattie says that Parent Engagement helps children do better at school but how can you be engaged if you don’t understand what the children are doing? So I figured it was time I wrapped my head around the large-scale enquiry program to understand its purpose, the learning ideology, and the educational benefits it offers the children.

What is Enquiry?

From: The Free Dictionary – Enquiry

  • may be a single question or extensive investigation (i.e. a series of questions).
  • is a search for knowledge.

Enquiry Research may include:

  • Problem-solving – the thought processes involved in solving a problem.
  • nature study – the study of animals and plants in the natural world.
  • experimentation – the testing of an idea.
  • empirical research – an empirical search for knowledge.
  • an investigation or probe – an inquiry into unfamiliar or questionable activities.
  • a poll or canvass – an inquiry into public opinion conducted by interviewing a random sample of people.
  • heraldry – the study and classification of armorial bearings and the tracing of genealogies.

Enquiry at GIS

“Good learning starts with questions, not answers.” – Guy Claxton, Professor in Education and Director of CLIO Development University of Bristol

Enquiry is a form of learning involving the asking of questions. Children are provided with an enabling environment and appropriate resources to provoke curiosity, facilitate learning and ensure a gradual acquisition of skills.

Why ask questions?

  • Questioning enables us to check student understanding.
  • It benefits students by encouraging engagement and focusing their thinking on key concepts and ideas.
  • This type of questioning develops thinking and dialogue skills.
  • Questions can interest, engage and challenge children.

What is the Large-Scale Enquiry Program?

“A picture paints a thousand words, but a video shows a thousand pictures”. The following video depicts last year’s theme, but I think it gives some insight into what the large-scale enquiry looks like in action.

The large-scale enquiry program allows students to explore a big idea. They may work in groups (that may be mixed age across primary and secondary) or they may work individually. The program runs the course of a week with the goal being to explore new concepts and develop personalised outcomes. During this period, teachers function as mentors – they guide and observe rather than instruct.

The key features of the program include the following:

  • An umbrella theme – “the big idea”
  • Individual lines of enquiry that are student-directed
  • Involves a large proportion of the school – 1000 students, 150 staff
  • Extends over the course of a week
  • Involves real-world learning
  • Flipped classrooms
  • Uses new ideas and technology
  • Freeflow
  • Design Thinking
  • Actionable Solutions
  • Exposition/Presentation/Show Case

Self-Directed Learning

In essence, the large-scale enquiry sounds a lot like what I read in an article on self-directed learning:

Self-directed learning happens when we challenge students to learn new skills or concepts for reasons that are personally meaningful. When this is the objective of a learning environment, teachers become more like facilitators and students develop crucial attributes like self-management, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. When done correctly, self-directed learning moves us away from a top-down educational structure to a structure that is based on connection and partnership.

Self-directed learning:

  • Supports learning through trial and error. It makes space for students to take risks and feel the impact of what happens when those risks don’t work out. When they reflect on both their wins and challenges, they learn to take more calculated risks over time.
  • Values a student’s space to connect with their intrinsic motivation. Working to achieve a goal that is meaningful to them taps into a student’s internal motivation. Some students may know right away when something is personally meaningful. For others, it may take a while to figure it out.
  • Inspires a love in of learning over a lifetime. Learning that is personally meaningful is interesting and motivating. It also develops and inspires the interest to learn more. When we control a child’s learning, we can end up killing that interest.

Benefits of the Large-Scale Enquiry Program

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of the Large-Scale Enquiry is quantifying the learning benefits. Unfortunately, whenever we look to implement a new idea, there is a demand for quantifiable results. As Jade Riviera points out in her article, a program like this requires us to “embrace ambiguity. When children learn in a self-directed manner, there are no external metrics to validate that learning is happening. The outcomes of their learning will be interdisciplinary and hard to predict. Learning will look a lot more life real life.”

While we may not be able to quantify the benefits, we do know the broad benefits of such a program. The large-scale enquiry program:

  • Creates learning opportunities that allow students to gain knowledge, skills, and understanding through exploration and personal experience.
  • Has high levels of engagement as students investigate topics of their interest.
  • Encourages higher-order critical thinking and “deep learning” that is both transferable and applicable in the long-term.

The large-scale enquiry program is continually evolving and the benefits along with them. For instance,

  • This year, senior students were invited to take on the role of mentors. It was an educational experience in itself for the senior students as they worked to guide and encourage rather than direct and instruct.
  • In previous years, students were required to work in mixed-age groups across school year levels. Not only were they working with teaching staff they were unfamiliar with, they were also working with team members they rarely interact with on a regular day-to-day basis. It’s a very real-world experience – we don’t always get choose who we want to work with.

Probably one of the most significant points about the Large-scale Enquiry Program is what Mark Ford expressed:

“…learning is a process. A non linear journey that will lead to some form of product (physical or otherwise). Whilst the product remains important it strikes true that if we only look at that end product we miss much of the learning. The process is where the magic happens. This is a worthwhile lesson for all of us whether we are teachers, parents or students.” – Mark Ford, Principal at GIS.

See also:

GIS Large-Scale Enquiry

Past Large-Scale Enquiry Themes


Students created a video to raise the levels of respect within the community.

“Be the Change”

Students chose to work on one of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. They pursued lines of enquiry to develop actionable solutions to real world problems linked to the global goal of their choice.

Themed “Be the Change ”, the pupils, in teams of three to four were assigned to study, analyse, and develop their ideas based on experiences provided to them on the first day of the programme such as role plays, games, interactive media content, conversations and researched materials. Once inspired the students chose an area to focus on and used a design thinking framework (popular in the world of creative industry) to break that problem down, analyse it and ultimately try and find an actionable solution to it. Something that they could really do as 8 – 14 year olds! – Becoming the Agent of Change

Large Scale Enquiry - Global Goals
Image Source: Pinterest

See also: GIS Enquiry Expo nurtures World Changers


Exploring the big idea of “Movement” through a personalised learning pathway of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) or The Arts. Students developed their own questions and undertook an investigation using a Plan – Do – Review – Amend process. Students worked in one of four worlds – Human, Natural, Constructed and Digital.

Large Scale Enquiry1 2016-2017
Large Scale Enquiry 2016-2017


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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