Philosophy, Religious Studies and School for Thought

‘Philosophy begins with a sense of wonder.’ – Plato

Our aim is to train our boys to help each other to think for themselves, working together to provide perspectives with which to challenge and enrich each participant’s inner conversation.

In the words of one student, “I have made progress in listening and understanding other people. It has taught me to actually think about what they are saying and to come up with my own ideas.”

All students in the Lower School take School for Thought, our unique and exciting introduction to philosophical thinking. In School for Thought students take four courses per year, each one framed around urgent and enduring questions that exist within such areas as ethics, politics, religion, identity, education and logic. 

Courses are taught using our very own ‘conversational pedagogy,’ through which students ‘listen’ to voices from the past by reading a range of texts, explore ideas in a structured whole-class conversation and then clarify and express their own thoughts through written reflections. Groups are kept small to create the conditions necessary for developing the skills that underpin productive discussion and deliberation. 

Examples of questions and themes covered in the courses include:

  • An exploration of violence and Eastern philosophy
  • Is it ever right to break the law?
  • Philosophical themes in the ‘Odyssey’
  • How should we live together? An introduction to political philosophy
  • A philosophical exploration of the life of Jesus
  • Loaded language and exposing logical fallacies
  • Multitudes: an exploration of personal identity
  • Issues of race
  • Is gender socially constructed?

GCSE Religious Studies is a popular option with pupils. We study the AQA RS A syllabus, which covers two of the major world religions and four contemporary ethical and philosophical themes. Pupils will be challenged with questions about belief, values, meaning, purpose and truth, enabling them to develop their own philosophical perspectives and attitudes towards religious issues. Pupils will also gain an appreciation of how religion, philosophy and ethics form the basis of our culture. They will further develop the analytical and critical thinking skills which form the basis of the KES ‘School for Thought’ programme. 

Specific topics covered include: 

  • Religion and life (issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering and climate change)
  • Philosophy of religion (arguments for and against the existence of God)
  • Religion, peace and conflict (just war theory, terrorism, nuclear war, holy wars, pacifism)
  • Religion, human rights and social justice (wealth and poverty, prejudice and discrimination, religious freedom)
  • The beliefs, teachings and practices of Buddhism and Christianity
 

Given the wide body of religious faith and practice represented in the school community, we also give students the option to independently study a religion of their own choice (in consultation with their teacher), from: Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism. 

Philosophy deals with questions that are profound, intellectually challenging, complex, and important for humanity. Offered at both Higher and Standard Level as part of the IB Diploma, the emphasis of the course is very much on ‘doing’ philosophy and pupils will develop their critical and analytical thinking skills, and learn to reason and argue effectively.

Students take modules on what it is to be human, ethics, political philosophy and the philosophy of religion, and explore in detail Plato’s ‘Republic’. All pupils produce a piece of coursework that involves responding in a philosophical manner to a non-philosophical stimulus of their own choice. Higher Level candidates also take an additional paper, which requires them to reflect on the nature of philosophy itself and how philosophy can contribute to our thinking about technological and environmental issues. 

Future careers

Philosophy graduates are in demand for their ability to analyse critically. This is a transferable skill that is useful in law, finance, journalism and the civil service. Philosophy graduates also find their way into teaching and management consultancy. A philosophy degree is a good foundation for further study.

Beyond the classroom

The department offers a variety of engaging activities. Among them are the well-established, fortnightly, student-led series of talks called Agora, the weekly reading group named Metascholen and an Oxbridge Theology group. There is also a weekly Philosophy Club for Year 7 to Year 11 and a Mindfulness Club. We take great pride in being the Midlands Philosothon champions and actively participate in the esteemed St Andrews Ethics Cup each year.

Meet the Head of Department

Dr Smith

Dr Smith was born in Birmingham and educated at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys. He attended Durham University, where he earned a BA in English Literature, followed by an MA and PhD in Philosophy. His PhD was on ‘Nihilism in Nietzsche, Heidegger and Levinas’.

Prior to starting at KES, Dr Smith taught for 17 years in the independent sector in Coventry, firstly at King Henry VIII School and then at Bablake School, where he was Head of Department for 10 years. His philosophical interests include modern German philosophy, existentialism, William James on religious experience, and the psychology of Carl Jung. 

He is a trained mindfulness teacher and has taught mindfulness in schools for ten years, to both students and staff. He is an ordained Buddhist and teaches courses in meditation and Buddhism regularly at a local Buddhist Centre. Outside the classroom, Dr Smith is a big cricket fan and plays golf regularly.

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