It makes you think…

PUBLISHED: 11:49 29 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:43 06 May 2010

Mary Healy with a Year Two class

Mary Healy with a Year Two class

WORKING in twos or threes, a group of philosophy students enjoy a lively discussion about some big questions. They are dealing with issues which have plagued our greatest thinkers for centuries – grappling with the who, why, what and where of their lives.

WORKING in twos or threes, a group of philosophy students enjoy a lively discussion about some big questions.

They are dealing with issues which have plagued our greatest thinkers for centuries - grappling with the who, why, what and where of their lives.

However, these philosophers are not university students but six and seven-year-olds at a pioneering Stevenage primary school.

Philosophy lessons have been taking place at the Leys School in Ripon Road since last September, under the direction of teacher Mary Healy, who is studying for a PhD in the philosophy of education.

She was inspired to bring philosophy to Stevenage after it was successfully trialled in parts of Scotland where it is now part of the curriculum.

Miss Healy admits that initially the students struggled with what kind of questions they would be discussing as they preferred to ask more concrete, tangible questions.

But within three weeks this had changed and now in lessons the youngsters remind each other they need to be thinking of questions which don't have answers they could find in a book.

And already, just five months into their lessons, Miss Healy says there are noticeable changes in the children with improvements in speaking, listening and social skills and improved literacy levels.

As part of each class they are required to think about their actions and how they affect other people, and are encouraged to analyse whether or not they achieved certain targets, such as cooperating, listening, sharing, and being truthful, in a particular session.

"It's not just having an effect on academic standards but on behaviour and attitudes," Miss Healy said.

"It really is one of their favourite lessons and it's having an amazing impact on their learning right across the board."

Initially the lessons were given to Year 2 and Year 6 but such is the success of the scheme there are plans for other students to take up the lessons in the next academic year.

The philosophical discussions at the school take place across two weeks.

In the first week's lesson, the youngsters decide on the question to be discussed next week.

This initial session begins with a stimulus, which with the younger children is something visual like a picture or an illustrated poem or story.

In the Year 2 class The Comet went along too, Miss Healy read a book about a girl who didn't want to go to school.

The class then broke into small groups to discuss what sort of questions could be on the agenda for next week.

After a few minutes the class came back together and each group in turn told their classmates what their question was and why it would be an interesting topic.

Suggestions included 'Why don't we want to go to school?', 'Why are we shy?' and 'Why are we nasty to our mums?'.

In next week's lesson the class will get to choose one of these options.

Each pupil gets two votes to allow them to either vote for one definite choice by giving it both votes or to split their votes between two options.

Miss Healy said: "They like the fact that I don't get a vote and they're doing it. It's about empowering.

"At the beginning some children held back their vote and they learnt if you don't vote you don't get a say."

After the votes have been cast there will be a children-only discussion.

Miss Healy said: "The teacher keeps out of the discussion, it's led entirely by the children. The children choose the next speaker.

"The children love the discussions and we've found it's very good for our children with special needs because they interact with everybody else."

While the questions they deal with may not have easily found answers, some discussions in the philosophy lessons can lead to practical changes.

Any suggestions which come out as part of the discussions about lessons or school life can be considered.

Miss Healy said: "It might be something we're doing in class and they might have a better idea."


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