Clare O'brien quinn



I completed my degree in Theology in Trinity College Dublin in 2003 and really enjoyed the Moral Philosophy module. I decided to pursue a career in teaching, and after completing a PGCE in King’s College London, I began my teaching practice in a large multi-cultural non-denominational state school in Tooting, London. This school had a robust respect for the provision of Philosophy and Religious Studies education delivered to the students there. The leadership and management team believed strongly in the positive impact lessons in the subject had on the quality of the students’ thinking skills and levels of engagement and interest. Students were given access to lessons in Critical Thinking and Epistemology from Year 7 (age 11) and the response from parents and students was hugely positive. I taught GCSE and A Level Religious Studies, Philosophy A Level and was Head of Critical Thinking in this vibrant teaching and learning environment for 10 years. Many of our students achieved great success in these subjects and went on to study Philosophy at third level institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Manchester. Recognizing the important need for schools to acknowledge the important role it has to play in helping to shape the moral character of our young people, I collaborated with the charity ‘Action for Happiness’ in the UK to help create programme to cultivate a currency of kindness in our students’ behaviours and attitudes in school and in their wider communities. I am excited to return to Dublin and see that the educational landscape here is changing and beginning to recognise the value teaching philosophy can bring to our young people. There is a definite hunger from parents and students to have access to this subject. Young people are naturally curious and as such, they embrace the opportunities to question, debate, reflect, doubt, explore and wonder that this subject offers them in their Philosophy lessons.


In Transition Year students have four modules within their Religion course delivered by four different teachers. I teach the Social Justice module which exposes them to the foundation of Political Philosophy. We explore differences between equity and equality and examine Jonathan Rawls’ Original Position. The focus of this module is to examine issues of social justice with a particular lens on the issue of homelessness in Ireland today. Students are encouraged to explore possible solutions to this pressing social issue. It is a fundamental part of the school mission statement and school ethos that students here make a firm commitment to work for social justice. Students from Gonzaga have been working for many years with several homelessness charities including The McVerry Trust, to raise money and awareness to this issue. They do a TY sleepout to raise money for those affected by homelessness and a huge number do their work experience week with The McVerry Trust. As a result, the students can immediately recognise the relevance of this course and wholeheartedly embrace it. The course is 8 weeks long with 3x40min classes per week so 16 hours in total.

I have four consecutive groups which is helpful – any lesson learned from Group 1 can be applied to subsequent ones.

This year, TY students will also be studying a module on Philosophy. I have put together a course that offers the students a taste of the majority of the strands offered on the Junior Cycle Short Course Philosophy syllabus. Together with Dan, we drew up a course outline that we thought would most engage the students in the short 8 weeks available for teaching and learning.

5th Year students are also offered a module in Moral Philosophy and Ethics. They are introduced to the popular thought experiments and moral dilemmas in studies in Ethics as a ‘hook’ into debating moral intuitions. This is something that students really engage well with. This course offers insight into different moral positions including moral relativism, absolutism, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, religious ethics, and moral issues including animal rights and moral concerns pertaining to advancements in AI, science and technology.

Our 6th Year students are offered a course in Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics. They are exploring ways in which we can define art, whether it is solely an activity exclusive to human beings, what constitutes beauty, can we come to a consensus about what make art ‘good’, does the value of a piece of art increase its aesthetic measure?, the verification principle and its assessment of the meaning attributed to art, who gets to decide what makes art good?, can art make you a better person?, higher versus lower pleasures; are there some tastes superior to others?, does the artist have a responsibility to their audience?, what is art for?, is it bad art if it offends?, should we censor/destroy ‘bad’ art? Does the artist’s intention matter? Does your view of the moral character of the artist alter your view of their work?

This course is highly engaging and generate a lot of enjoyable discussions and debates amongst students.


Student engagement was difficult with the first group I had last year. For the second group, I experimented allowing the students to choose the direction of the course more actively. This was a game-changer.

I tried to improve engagement by choosing ‘stimulating and topical’ themes but this devolved into a ‘talking shop’. Using stimulating video inputs ran the risk of being perceived as a class that demanded no pupil input: so allowing the students to direct the learning was the best solution.

Although I want to encourage student-led effort, a course outline is good discipline for me as a teacher and inspires confidence/orients students in a ‘new’ and ‘unusual’ topic. The trick is to strike the right balance: Your outline defines the parameters – but the student choose the directions and questions within these posts.


A paradigm class will include these elements:

> Starter to get their attention (Dingbats, Riddle, Puzzle) with the wheel of fortune choosing the speaker. Wheel encourages inclusion and is good fun.

> Knowledge Transfer – Usually a PowerPoint presentation on to communicate the philosophical concept of the lesson.

> Activity – Engage students in a written exercise or task.

> Handout – Each lesson should have something students can take away with them for further reflection.

Ideally, students will both learn (a) Philosophical skills of critical thinking (b) The different fields of Philosophy.

One of my favourite things to do is to bring other voices into the room: This might be a Rights Activist, A Graffiti Artist or a Fellow Teacher in a different discipline like English or Science.


I always include a standardised quiz as a part of the overall assessment – but that’s a small part of the picture. This year students will be collaborating in groups of 4 to present a response to a philosophical question explored within their particular strand in their module. They will be assessed on this project and as individuals based upon their written responses in their philosophy workbooks provided at the start of the course. I am also hoping for more success at the Irish Young Philosopher Awards at UCD this year.


I’m delighted to be re-running the Transition Year programme and have expanded to include a Philosophy of Art module for the Sixth years. The longer-term goal is to run a full Short Course module from 1st to 3rd year. And there is always the hope that in the future we will see Philosophy being offered as a Leaving Cert option.