Teaching pupils to think for themselves and have the confidence to speak out is at the heart of Professor Andrew Fisher’s research and this approach to primary school education is already getting results.
A rigid curriculum, chronic lack of funding and social economic disadvantage in many schools in Nottingham means that some pupils lack support and a voice in school. Professor Fisher says this is leading to disengagement, lower attainment and lack of confidence.
His outreach work in inner-city primary schools in Nottingham has led to major changes in educational culture and Professor Fisher is putting his research students at the heart of this transformation.
“Philosophy is empowering, liberating and egalitarian and it benefits anybody in any context. So teaching philosophy in the best possible way can give people a voice and truly change lives by raising aspiration.”
After a year of intensive mentoring and observation with the pupils and their teachers at Huntingdon Primary School in St Ann’s, 83% of pupils felt more motivated to learn; 61% were more confident to speak up in class; and 78% believe in their capabilities to think independently.
And they took this new-found confidence home with them: “It is helping because if my parents want to learn I can tell them”...“It is helping because if my parents want to learn I can tell them”..."it helps me speak to friends.”
One head teacher said: “It has made me think about what teaching means, Dr Fisher’s research led to me rethinking teaching my children.”
The success of his outreach work in Nottingham could transform the learning experience of thousands of primary school children across the East Midlands.
It has made me think about what teaching means, Professor Fisher’s research led to me rethinking teaching my children
Professor Fisher is working with various senior leaders to re-evaluate their approach to teaching training and curriculum development; this has the potential to make a sustained and lasting impact across the county.
He said: “Student centered approaches, rather than traditional teaching methods can make classrooms more egalitarian, build confidence, resilience and critical thinking in all students.”
It all started back in 2011 at Firbeck Primary School in Bilborough where Professor Fisher set up a ‘Philosophy Club’. The ethos was to give children a safe space to think for themselves. It encouraged the children to think freely and have aspirations about the future and voice ideas they wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk about.
Professor Fisher said: “This encouraged them to take risks in their thinking, voice what they are thinking, adopt ideas and argue their case and not accept everything they are told.”
Through the University’s Primary School Engagement team he has now established a network of schools and has around 30 undergraduate students a year going into schools to teach philosophy.
He said: “Working with children in schools is inspiring. My research has helped me realise that children can have an authentic voice with regards to teaching.
Professor Fisher has recently been given a National Teaching Fellowship – the most coveted accolade for university teachers in the UK and the gold standard mark of quality in university teaching.