“If your story's good, other people will tell it for you”

In a time of harsh cuts to education, a unique educational charity is determined to make philosophy a child-friendly zone. Insights and tips from a previous winner of the SE100 Storytelling Award

Philosophy is perhaps a topic of conversation best avoided when wanting to keep an existential crisis at bay.

But The Philosophy Foundation (TPF) is testament to having what it takes to make a success out of the very definition of a hard sell: getting philosophy into schools. And with a 90% re-contract rate, it’s clear that people value what it does.

Since it was founded in 2007, TPF has been on a never-ending mission to make philosophy accessible to children and adults through its work in schools, communities, offices, prisons, and hospitals.

Working in some of the poorest boroughs in London, the Foundation aims to equip people to be able to fully participate in society by helping them to engage in intellectual discourse and processes. Through a programme of 97 philosophy sessions each week in 45 schools in and around London, children are taught how to think better, to act more wisely, and to improve not only their educational opportunities but also the quality of their lives and the lives of others.

Children are taught how to think better, to act more wisely, and to improve their educational opportunities

All of the above is just a snippet of why TPF was a deserved split-winner of the NatWest SE100 Storyteller Award in 2017. Storytelling is no new concept when it comes to philosophy. From reciting Homer's story of Odysseus’ struggle to get home from Troy in The Odyssey to pupils to sharing regular blog posts by TPF specialists, storytelling is an integral part what the Foundation does.

Fast facts

What it does: Recruits, trains, and accredits philosophy graduates and undergraduates to make philosophy more accessible to groups of children, teenagers, and adults, as well as providing teacher training and resources for teachers.

Primary business market: Education and youth

Structure: Company limited by guarantee

Region: London

Turnover: £307,417 for the year ended 31 August 2016

 

TPF’s chief operating officer, Emma Worley, tells us what storytelling means to her: “Storytelling has been really important for our success because of the communication of the idea of what philosophy is, what it means, and how important it is. It’s also been important in terms of our stories from the classroom: the impact is has on the children that we work with. They’re important stories that we want to share and we’re passionate about. But, one of the most important things about storytelling is: if your story is good, other people will tell your story for you.”

And with over 7,300 young people benefitting from TPF’s work in 2016, more than trebling their beneficiaries for 2011, it is clear to see why TPF’s story has made them the second largest organisation delivering philosophy in schools in the country.

Judges in the 2017 Awards were also impressed by TPF’s unique communications and marketing strategies. Creator of the SE100 and founder of Pioneers Post Tim West explained: “Everyone felt that the Philosophy Foundation really stood out in the way they have been able to take this subject and the value of philosophy and find ways to create media hooks. We were particularly impressed with the fact that they had got some well-known comedians and philosophers to take part in their re-staging of the Monty Python Philosophers' Football Match as part of their communications.”

Delivering sessions and workshops in schools is one source of income for TPF, as well as running one-off or regular philosophy sessions in offices to develop collaborative thinking, communication, and critical and creative thinking skills.

CEO of the Foundation, Peter Worley, says: “Philosophy’s role is really about trying to develop an ideal learner rather than just a functional learner. With the cuts that have gone on, people start focusing more on the functional stuff, what they consider to be basics of education: reading, writing, arithmetic, and they start shaving off all the things they consider to be ‘extra’. But I think it’s a mistake to think of reasoning, if you like the fourth ‘R’, as an extra, because reading, writing, arithmetic don’t really have much value if people don’t know how to use them.”

It’s a mistake to think of reasoning, if you like the fourth ‘R’, as an extra

Perhaps all the more impressive is the team’s efficient running of such a mass operation out of a small office in Forest Hill Library in the heart of the Lewisham community. The Foundation’s humble surroundings certainly do not reflect its successes.

Mark Parsons, Head of Community Finance and Social Enterprise at NatWest Social, who was part of the judging panel for the Storyteller award in 2017 commented: “In a world of soundbites and messages of no more than 140 characters, an organisation that teaches particularly children to think more deeply about issues and to take time in understanding the world around them is fantastic.”

Some social impacts 

  • Worked directly with 7,344 young people in 2016.
  • Reached 1,561 indirect beneficiaries in 2016.
  • Children made 40% progress in key skills.
  • 90% re-contract rate since 2010.
  • Worked in 45 schools.

From The Philosophy Foundation Impact Report 2016

 

This article was first published in Pioneers Post Quarterly, issue 7, and has been adapted for the online edition. Photos: children participating in Philosophy Foundation sessions.