"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will leave everyone blind and toothless."
The Hitchin Girls’ School Philosophy and Ethics department holds that its purpose is to introduce students to two fundamental questions. Firstly: what kind of thing (in the broadest possible sense) is it reasonable to believe? Secondly: what kind of thing (in the broadest possible sense) is it good to do? These questions are, respectively, the foundational questions of Philosophy and Ethics as academic disciplines.
We hold that this ought to be our purpose for two reasons. Firstly, because these existential issues are an inescapable part of the Human Condition, the search for deep wisdom that studying them involves is a source of inherent value. Secondly, we believe that the process of exploring these questions will aid students in becoming confident, intellectually mature and compassionate people, as well as informed, tolerant and engaged citizens.
We hold that properly introducing these questions requires teaching students, at all Key Stages, the skills of Explanation and Evaluation. That is: to see a philosophical or ethical issue with clarity; to understand a sufficient range of existing approaches and answers to it; and then to come to an informed personal judgement about it.
We hold that students will require substantive knowledge, curriculum knowledge and personal knowledge to do this. The substantive knowledge of our subject is the intellectual tradition that has been produced by aeons of philosophers, theologians and other thinkers considering the questions outlined above. The curriculum knowledge of our subject is the ability to engage with and think critically about that intellectual tradition. The personal knowledge of our subject is produced by the student as we facilitate them to reflect upon what they themselves value, and how what they have learned coheres with those personal values.
We hold that the study of the world’s religions is an invaluable part of developing these skills and forms of knowledge. The world’s religions are repositories of deep wisdom that are relevant to the issues we explore, but they are also examples of value systems that students might be unfamiliar with, and hence examining them acts as a spur for students to reflect on what they themselves consider to be important. Hence the department will approach religion very broadly: as a set of philosophical claims; as a sociological phenomenon; and as a lived psychological reality.
We hold that in order to achieve any of the above, our classrooms must be inclusive and open spaces where students feel welcomed into a common community of inquiry and exploration. Our approach is therefore never confessional, dogmatic or polemical. Whilst restraints of decency and reasonableness apply, fundamentally we exist not to teach students what to think, but how to think.
This is a subject where students’ own opinions and beliefs are of central importance. Lessons therefore typically contain plenty of opportunities for students to share their own views and discuss and debate them with each other. We use a range of different stimuli for these discussions, to introduce students to new world views and positions, and place an emphasis on engaging with them in a critical and respectful manner.
Homework is set in line with the school policy, when it is appropriate to the work that is taking place in lessons. On occasions, students will work in groups to complete projects, but generally homework is designed to support students’ further understanding of class topics. At A Level, students are expected to complete five hours of study a week on top of their allocated lesson time.
Grouping within Philosophy and Ethics is decided on a year by year, cohort by cohort basis depending on the needs of the particular group. Currently we adopt mixed-ability teaching, and GCSE is also usually taught as a mixed ability group.
Key Stage 3
At some point in their lives, almost everyone finds themselves thinking about deep and difficult questions concerning what they should believe and how they should behave. They find themselves wondering how they can know what kinds of thing are true; who and what they can trust; what happens after they die; whether there is a God; why the Universe is here at all; how they can be a better person and whether their cat has a soul. The moment people start thinking about issues like these, they start to do Philosophy and Ethics.
In the HGS Philosophy and Ethics department, we cannot give you certain answers to these questions. What we can do though is show you what other interesting thinkers have believed about these questions, teach you how to think clearly about their ideas, and help you develop your own personal answers to these deep and important questions.
Key Stage 4
Philosophy and Ethics is part of the core curriculum at KS4 and all students will participate in lessons throughout this Key Stage. Students also have the option to study full-course GCSE, in which they follow AQA Religious Studies (A), completing a study of the beliefs and practices of Christianity and Buddhism along with four different thematic studies.
Further details of the course content, method of study and assessment structure can be found in the KS4 Options booklet.
In KS4 we follow: AQA 8062
Key Stage 5
We currently offer A Level Religious Studies. We follow the AQA course, which has three units covering Philosophy, Ethics and Christianity. They look at arguments for the existence of God; evil and suffering; ethical theories and the application of theories to life issues for humans and animals; free will; conscience - and many other topics. The course is examined in two three-hour exams at the end of the two years. Full details of the courses offered by the Hitchin Schools Sixth Form Consortium are shown in the Consortium Prospectus.
In KS5 we follow: AQA 7062
Meet the team
Ben Adams, teaching all Key Stages including GCSE and A Level classes.
Emily Plunkett, teaching KS3 and KS4, including GCSE classes. Also, KS3 History.
Laura Cole, HGS SENCO, teaching all Key Stages.
Sharon Corish, teaching KS3 and KS4. Also teaches in the Science department.