Using philosophical research to improve teaching and learning in schools
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sussex
Unit of AssessmentPhilosophy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Philosophy and Religious Studies: History and Philosophy of Specific Fields, Philosophy
Summary of the impact
This case study focuses upon the translation of academic research into
the improved school teaching of philosophy. Since 2003, the Department has
run an annual one-day national conference, free of charge, alternating
between sixth-form teachers and pupils. The impact of these has been:
- to enhance teachers' understanding of the relevant philosophical
issues, and thereby to pass on this understanding to students;
- to facilitate the production of teaching materials and other classroom
- to provide a model for at least one other similar sort of conference.
The underpinning research for this study is selected by its relevance to
A-Level and International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula and, as such, is
thematically diverse, focusing on, political philosophy, Plato, and
philosophy of mind. The strategy of the Department is to ensure that
research relates to teaching interests in a way that is accessible and not
too esoteric. Research which underpinned the 2012 conference for teachers
is described here.
- Deligiorgi's Kant and the Culture of Enlightenment defends a
Kantian conception of freedom of speech. In her 2012 talk, `Autonomy and
the "permanent interests of man": Kant vs Mill', she focused on freedom
of expression in order to relate to the curriculum material on
toleration. She explored justification for ethical questions and, in
particular, Mill's use of the idea of the permanent interests of man,
and Kant's notion of autonomy [see Section 3, R1].
- Morris's `Akrasia in the Protagoras and the Republic' interprets Plato
as making a decisive move in the overall argument of the Republic
(a set text for both A-level and the IB). The move in question is
achieved by the argument in Republic IV in which Plato
distinguishes between three parts of the soul, to correspond to the
three classes of the city he has already identified. This argument
clearly conflicts with an argument to be found in the Protagoras,
whose purpose is to show that akrasia is impossible. The aim of his 2012
talk `Plato and Akrasia' was to use an analysis of the Protagoras
argument to raise focused questions about the interpretation of the Republic
- In `There is no viable notion of narrow content', Sawyer argues that a
false equation is often made, both in the philosophical literature and
in the Philosophy A-level curriculum, between two distinct positions in
the philosophy of mind: materialism and physicalism. She elucidated this
point in her talk `How to be a materialist without being a physicalist',
References to the research
R1 Deligiorgi, K. (2005) Kant and the Culture of Enlightenment.
New York: SUNY Press, Ch. 2.
R2 Morris, M. (2006) `Akrasia in the "Protagoras" and the
"Republic"', Phronesis, 51(3): 195-229.
R3 Sawyer, S. (2007) 'There is no viable notion of narrow
content', in McLaughlin, B. and Cohen, J. (eds) Contemporary Debates
in the Philosophy of Mind. London: Blackwell, 21-34.
Details of the impact
- Building relationships with schools to improve teaching and
Since 2003, we have alternated biannually between holding conferences for
Philosophy teachers and for sixth-form Philosophy and Religious Studies
students. Conferences held for students attract on average 50 to each
event; those for teachers attract on average 15-25 from both East Sussex
and further afield, with over 50 teachers attending in the period.
In the design of the conferences, the Department liaised closely with
local schools Varndean College, Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form
College, and Sussex Downs, canvassing their teachers' views on the right
time of year for the conference, the best format and what material would
be the most useful. It also sought extensive feedback from all conference
participants. Evidence of good relationships with local schools includes
the fact that teachers from these schools have been registrants every year
that the conference has run. In addition, teachers from each of these
schools have pursued a postgraduate qualification in Philosophy at Sussex.
Focussing on 2012, 25 teachers attended from a range of types of school:
independent fee-paying (for instance, Bedales; Christ's Hospital; the
Norwich School), grammar (for instance, Barton Court; Sutton Grammar
School; The Judd School, Kent; Tiffin School, Kingston); and further
education colleges (for instance, City and Islington College; Shooter's
Hill post-16 campus). It also included schools and colleges in a Widening
Participation relationship with Sussex University (Bexhill College; City
and Islington Sixth Form; Greenford High School, Ealing; The Regis School,
Bognor Regis; Sir George Monoux College, Walthamstow; Varndean College,
Brighton). As well as from all over Sussex, participants came from London,
Norwich, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight.
Impact has accrued in the REF period from each of the events we have held
from 2008-2013. Evaluation of the events was formalised in 2012, and so
below we use resources from that process to illustrate the sorts of effect
that come from our work throughout the REF period.
- Enhancing understanding
Feedback taken after the 2012 conference demonstrates the extent to which
participants found their understanding of curricula-related material
enhanced. To the question `What did you find the most useful about the
conference today?' there was acknowledgement of the extent to which the
talks had increased comprehension, in answers such as
- `...the challenge to my own conceptions about materialism and
physicalism' [see Section 5, C1];
- `The Philosophy of Mind and Political Philosophy were particularly
- `The mind-body talk on Physicalism and Materialism will be essential
to my teaching of the life-after-death topic, and it corrects my major
misconception of materialism' [C1];
- `Consideration of the anti-individualism/individualism distinction in
relation to the claim (e.g. Searle's) that non-reductive monist theories
need not entail property dualism [C1];
- `Philosophy of mind — a deeper analysis of token identity theory and
also other property dualist views than just the very basic, broad
- Inspiring the production of new teaching materials
Feedback also showed that the papers would make a difference to the
future production of teaching resources:
- `I will use the definitions of materialism and physicalism given to
help show a distinction between views' [C1];
- `Lectures 4 and 5 (for example) would make an ideal pairing for two
consecutive lessons on "autonomy". Lecture 1 would make a strong
introductory lesson to complex distinctions in the Philosophy of Mind'
- `The Mill, Berlin and Plato arguments/insights can all be shared with
- `The handouts from Prof Morris's talk we can use in Unit 4 in
conjunction with the webcast of the talk' [C1];
- `I will use Sarah Sawyer's tree diagram in teaching the philosophy of
mind and her lecture about non-reductive materialism in relation to
mental causation' [C1];
- `Will use a version of the diagram presented to help explain to
students the various positions on mind/brain debate' [C1];
- `I look forward to using the handouts provided by Prof. Morris next
spring term ... when teaching Book IV' [C2];
- `The... lectures on ... free speech will be incorporated into my
Oxbridge (PPE) teaching in September. The lecture on the Philosophy of
Mind will find a place in the middle of that course, once the Upper Six
are a little more confident' [C3];
- `Just to say that I will definitely be using Sarah Sawyer's structure
of the theories of the philosophy of mind directly in my teaching as an
overview of how the theories fit together, and that her discussion on
non-reductive monism was very useful' [C3].
- Providing a model for similar events in other departments
In 2012, a member of the Philosophy Department in Sheffield, contacted
Kathleen Stock to ask for detailed information about the conferences run
at Sussex. Since then, they have run a one- day conference for teachers
with an identical format to the Sussex one, including a roundtable
discussion at the end.
Personal correspondence from contact at Sheffield attests to the influence
Sources to corroborate the impact
C1 Feedback questionnaires from conference (available for
inspection upon request).
C2 Letter from teacher at Sutton Grammar School, to Kathleen
Stock, Head of Department (13 June 2012).
C3 Email from teacher at Norwich School, to Kathleen Stock (16
C4 Email from teacher at Shooters Hill Post-16 Campus, to Kathleen
Stock (19 June 2012).
C5 Email from contact at University of Sheffield (27 June 2013).