Informing and Supporting the Delivery of Philosophy in Pre-Tertiary Education

Submitting Institution

University of St Andrews

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Philosophy

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Summary of the impact

The published research of University of St Andrews philosophers has been used to inform, support, and develop the work of teachers of philosophy in primary and secondary education, principally within Scotland where the teaching of philosophy has doubled in the last 10 years [S7]. There are two elements to the impact.

(1) Colleagues' world-leading research into philosophical topics and authors covered by school syllabi has been made accessible to secondary-school teachers and their pupils, via `introductory' publications, via events and personal contacts in St Andrews and in schools, and via a formal programme of continuing professional development. To date, teachers from one-third of all Scottish centres (schools/colleges) delivering Philosophy Higher have received accredited philosophy training via this St Andrews programme — this is significant insofar as it is not currently possible for teachers to complete a course of Initial Teacher Education in Philosophy in Scotland, meaning teachers must gain philosophy training and support elsewhere.

(2) Berys Gaut's novel philosophical work on creativity has had an impact on the teaching of philosophy to very young children, mediated both through a book for teachers co-authored by Gaut with a nursery-school teacher, and by events and personal contacts as detailed below. Both elements of impact have been coordinated by Dr Lisa Jones, under the auspices of a philosophy-in-schools programme (POPS) [see].

Underpinning research

The `Philosophy Outreach Programme: Schools' (POPS) has been based on the research of a number of philosophers at the University of St Andrews, carried out between 2004 and 2012. Colleagues have worked in areas matching core aspects of philosophy-related school curricula: Ethics — Kantian ethics, utilitarianism; Epistemology — Hume and empiricism; Modern Philosophy — Hume and Kant. They have published significant research in these areas, and have also written texts making this research accessible to a wider audience, by providing clear and accessible exposition of philosophical theories, concepts, and methods that school teachers are tasked with delivering in their classrooms; these illustrate how critical analysis and evaluation of said theories and concepts is carried out. In addition, Gaut's research in the area of creativity and pedagogy has led to important pragmatic findings regarding the practise of philosophy with very young children.

Harris (in post since 2004) has conducted extensive research into many aspects of Hume's philosophy. His Of Liberty and Necessity [1] provides the first comprehensive account of free will in British eighteenth-century philosophy, addressing Hume in the context of his predecessors and interlocutors; he has also written on the relationship between reason and the passions in Hume [e.g. 2], on ideas of innateness in this period, and on Hume and Reid on character. Mulgan (in post since 2005) is recognised as an authority on consequentialism, particularly known for his work both on future generations [3], and on the demandingness of consequentialist ethical theories. Timmermann (in post since 2000) has written widely on the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant [e.g. 4]. In particular, he has reshaped our thinking about Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, editing and contributing to the CUP Critical Guide to the Groundwork, and publishing a new German text with facing-page English translation, commentary and bilingual index [5].

Gaut (at St Andrews since 1990) has researched and published articles on the topic of creativity. He argues that it is possible to teach people, including young children, to be more creative in a given domain. This applies to philosophy, amongst other domains, and the practical development of the approach has resulted in a textbook (Berys Gaut and Morag Gaut, Philosophy for Young Children: A Practical Guide, Routledge, 2011) for teachers of nursery and primary school children, which provides guidance and resources to introduce philosophical enquiry sessions into classrooms (see §4 for more detail). The general approach is explained in Gaut's research article [6], and in more popular and applied form in Berys Gaut and Morag Gaut, `Teaching Philosophy to Young Children' in Sara Goering, Nicholas Shudak and Tom Wartenberg (eds.), Philosophy in Schools: An Introduction for Philosophers and Teachers (Routledge, 2013).

References to the research

1. Harris, James, Of Liberty and Necessity: The Free Will Debate in 18th-Century British Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. [Book] ISBN 978-0199234752. Evidence of quality: submitted to RAE2008, described as `a remarkable achievement' (Mind) `rewarding and enlightening' (Philosophical Review).

2. Harris, James, "'A compleat chain of reasoning': Hume's project in A Treatise of Human Nature, Books 1 and 2", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society CIX.2 (2009) pp.129-48. : DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9264.2009.00261.x [Article] Evidence of quality: well-regarded journal, part of larger research project including sole editorship of the Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century (2013).


3. Mulgan, Tim, Future People: a Moderate Consequentialist Account of our Obligations to Future Generations, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005. [Book] ISBN 978-0-19-928220-3. Evidence of quality: submitted to RAE2008, described as `a timely and important book of incredibly impressive scope and interest' (NDPR), `fascinating and extremely worthwhile' (Mind).

4. Timmermann, Jens, `Value without Regress: Kant's `Formula of Humanity' Revisited', European Journal of Philosophy, 14.1 (2006), pp. 69-93. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0378.2006.00244.x [Article] Evidence of quality: well-regarded journal, several citations, including one in `state of the art' piece in Philosophy Compass (Denis 2007).


5. Timmermann, Jens (ed.), Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary, Cambridge University Press, 2010. [Book] ISBN: 978-0521175081. Evidence of quality: `Timmermann's commentary is nothing less than magisterial. This is without a doubt the best book available on one of the most important books on the history of philosophy.' Political Studies Review. '... an indispensable resource for anyone wishing to study Kant's ethical theory in detail.' Notre Dame Philosophical Review

6. Gaut, Berys, `Creativity and Skill' in Krausz, M., Dutton, D. & Bardsley, K. (eds.), The Idea of Creativity. Brill, 2009 pp. 83-103. ("Philosophy of History and Culture" series.) [Chapter] Evidence of quality: the book is one of the two most prominent recent anthologies on the philosophy and psychology of creativity. Besides classic papers by Arthur Koestler and Michael Polanyi, papers commissioned for the volume include, besides Gaut's, contributions from Margaret Boden, David Davies, Peter Lamarque and Paisley Livingston. Gaut's paper is submitted to REF as one of his four research outputs.

Details of the impact

This research has translated into impact both via direct interactions between researchers and user groups, and via more expository publications based on the primary research, publications which are more accessible to this audience of non-specialist teachers and their students. Philosophers at the University of St Andrews have been supporting philosophy teachers in Scotland by offering philosophy-specific training activities drawing on their own research and subject expertise (as listed in §3), which can be taken up as part of teachers' professional development. These activities, under the auspices of a schools engagement programme developed and coordinated by Dr Lisa Jones since 2008, include:

(i) regular `workshop' events or `masterclasses' for teachers of philosophy at secondary level (e.g. those delivering Higher or Intermediate-2 level Philosophy, or Higher Religious and Moral Education in schools) and for primary school teachers introducing `philosophical enquiry' into their classrooms between Foundation Stage/Nursery and Key Stage 2/P4-6;

(ii) an annual `Study Day for Higher Philosophy students' held in St Andrews, consisting of a day of lectures/workshops delivered to S5 (year 11-12) students and their teachers from schools all over Scotland (attracts attendees from up to 20 schools annually — i.e. over one quarter of all schools in Scotland that deliver Higher Philosophy);

(iii) provision since 2008 of a suite of online distance-learning modules aimed at teachers delivering philosophy at secondary level (S4-S6), focusing on areas specific to these philosophy syllabi, and to the Religious and Moral Education (RME) syllabus;

(iv) a one day conference (November 2012), attended by 50 teachers and educationalists from all over Scotland, highlighting our work of promoting philosophy within both primary and secondary level education. (A future conference event for teachers is also planned, as demand for such events is ongoing.)

The combination of the conference, masterclasses, Study Days and online modules in the period 2008-13 has directly benefited the participating teachers, by contributing to their personal and professional development in terms of (a) increased confidence in delivering the syllabi in their classes, (b) improved understanding of specific areas of philosophy, and of philosophical method, (c) improved understanding of how to conduct philosophical discussions and enquiries within the classroom, (d) better awareness of and access to teaching and learning resources, including colleagues' above-mentioned publications, and (e) enabling formal registration with the General Teaching Council Scotland as teachers of philosophy (this requires attainment of 80 credits of philosophy at SCQF levels 7 & 8). Materials used in Study Days, masterclasses and in the online modules have impacted on the design and delivery of the relevant Higher syllabi in secondary schools, as teachers have adapted the methods and materials to use in their own classes.

Impact on Teaching and Learning at Secondary-School Level

Mulgan's Understanding Utilitarianism (Acumen, 2007) and Timmermann's edition/commentary on Kant's Groundwork [§3, (5)] along with his entry (with O'Neill) on `Kantian Ethics' in the Routledge Encylopedia of Philosophy have been used within the distance-learning module `Ethical Issues'. These more accessible versions of the primary research outputs have provided teachers with materials that have improved their critical understanding of the two major moral approaches at the core of the Ethics syllabi they deliver in their schools, boosted their confidence in delivering these, and informed their teaching at the level of lesson plans and content. Feedback from teachers has included: `I was teaching the Moral Philosophy Higher unit concurrently with doing the module and it really improved my own understanding and the quality of my teaching.' `I used a lot of the materials — my knowledge was extended and I felt more confident delivering certain aspects of the philosophy course.' `I found the module useful in respect to the Advanced Higher Philosophy of Religion course and used some of the materials within lessons.' [S4] To date, 16 teachers from 14 schools (20% of total centres delivering Philosophy Higher) have received accreditation for this module alone; a further 7 are enrolled for next academic session. Mulgan and Timmermann also participated in a masterclass drawing on their work on Kantian and Utilitarian ethics (February 2012) for the benefit of 12 attendees, all teachers delivering the Higher Philosophy syllabus and thus required to teach — explain and critically compare — these two major moral approaches. Feedback from attendees show that 100% `strongly agreed' that the masterclass workshop `improved my understanding of ethical theory' and also `provided me with useful ideas in terms of teaching ethical theory in my school classes', such as `more use of thought experiments'.

Similarly, Harris has provided several talks on Hume's epistemology for the benefit of teachers and school pupils working on the `Epistemology' unit of the Philosophy Higher (at the Study Day events of 2008-2010; each attended by 100+ pupils and 15+ teachers from schools all over Scotland). His `Hume' chapter in the Routledge Companion to Ethics, and his `Free Will' chapter in the Continuum Companion to Hume have been used in the distance-learning module `Modern Philosophy', informing teachers' understanding of Hume's empiricism. 12 teachers from 12 different schools have received accreditation for this particular module, to date. One reports: `I have used Kant materials and will adapt Hume to N5 when I get a chance to teach it!' `I would thoroughly recommend it to other RMPS (Science and Religion and Moral Issues Section of the Higher) and would-be Philosophy teachers.' Another reports: `Will definitely help in teaching philosophy in school.' [S4]

In all, the suite of online distance-learning modules developed using publications based on the research outputs of Harris, Mulgan, and Timmermann, has been engaged with to date by 28 secondary school teachers taking anything from 20-80 credits; these 28 teachers represent 23 different Scottish schools — equal to one-third of all centres presenting Higher Philosophy, or half of those presenting Intermediate-2. In total, 1100 SQCF philosophy credits have been earned by teachers via these modules, and new teachers continue to sign up each year. The modules are listed on the Education Scotland webpages, under their `CPD find' facility [S3 and S6]. The reach of the modules has recently expanded further, following a new collaboration with EIS, which will see the modules promoted amongst 65,000 teacher members of this union [S1].

Impact on Teaching and Learning at Primary- and Nursery-School Level

Gaut's work on creativity and skill [§3, (6)] has led to the development of a method for carrying out philosophical enquiry sessions with very young children, articulated in a textbook Philosophy for Young Children (by Berys Gaut and Morag Gaut), which sold 880 copies between publication in August 2011 and 31st July 2013. The method was presented to a primary teachers' masterclass held in St Andrews (April 2011) and primary teachers from 3 schools in Buckhaven (Fife) went on to use this textbook to carry out philosophical enquiry sessions in their classrooms as part of the `curriculum for excellence'. They have benefitted from the introduction and use of this resource in terms of increased confidence and improved ability to plan and maintain class discussions of philosophical concepts and ideas. One of these teachers, giving feedback on the success she had doing philosophical enquiries with her primary pupils in the school [S2], noted that HMI inspectors carrying out their inspection of her primary school had commented specifically on the advanced thinking skills of her pupils, which she credits to the philosophy sessions [corroborated by Colin Davidson of EIS, S1]. The Gauts' method was presented again at the November one-day conference, reaching an audience of 19 other primary teachers. 100% gave feedback to the effect that they would alter their practice in some way as a result of attending the sessions; one nursery teacher reported that Philosophy `will now become part of the curriculum at St Andrews nursery', and also that she intends to seek for philosophy to be promoted into the cluster schools for the local high school. An educationalist from Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh, reported that the conference would inform his work on course design for primary student teachers [S5]. Following the one-day conference, the Gaut textbook is now used by staff at Anstruther Primary School Nursery (Fife), St Andrews Nursery Centre (Fife), Bright Horizons Nursery (Fife), the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery (Fife), and Walton Lane Nursery School (Lancashire).

Sources to corroborate the impact

[S1] Vice President and Multi Establishment Learning Representative for Education Institute Scotland (EIS) corroborating the significance of philosophy support/training on primary schools in Fife [letter supplied].

[S2] Primary Teacher, Parkhill Primary School, Leven, Fife corroborating effectiveness of support for primary school teachers.

[S3] Principal Teacher in RME and Philosophy, Waid Academy secondary school (Anstruther, Fife), and Development Officer for Education Scotland corroborating impact on primary and secondary pupils.

[S4] Feedback from teachers provided anonymously via a `quiz' tool within the virtual learning environment of the online modules [pdf scan of forms provided]. One teacher (from Williamwood High School, Glasgow) has provided a further written statement [email supplied].

[S5] Feedback, in the form of questionnaires, from the November One-Day Conference on Philosophy with Children. 34 completed questionnaires, 19 from Primary teachers, 15 from Secondary teachers [pdf scan of questionnaires provided].

[S6] Listing for our online philosophy modules on Education Scotland website: [pdf of webpage provided]

[S7] SQA statistics show that between 2002 and 2011 there was a 35% increase in the number of pupils entered for Higher Philosophy, and in the same period a 259% increase in the number of pupils entered for Intermediate 2 Philosophy. There are currently around 70 centres (schools/colleges) in Scotland presenting students for Higher Philosophy, and 50 centres presenting for Intermediate 2 — this latter figure represents a doubling since 2002. [Figures derived from multiple spreadsheets available via SQA statistics search engine.]