Ethics and Philosophy

Monmouth School for Girls main buildingEthics and Philosophy: intellectually challenging and personally enriching

Globalisation and new technologies are making our world feel both smaller and more diverse at the same time.  Societies around the world are changing as never before.  Whatever our girls go on to do after school they will be living and working with different kinds of people.  In the Ethics and Philosophy department girls study different religious and non-religious beliefs and values from around the world.  We value compassion, tolerance, curiosity and a desire to understand people critically and in context, and without prejudice.  We take a holistic approach to success:  Each pupil is a learner and also a whole person:  we recognise that pastoral wellbeing and the academic achievement are part of the same experience for each child.

The Ethics and Philosophy Department exists to promote critical and reflective engagement with beliefs and values:
Discussion is central to our lessons:  when girls enjoy taking part in big conversations, learn to justify their ideas, and develop them in response to listening to others, then they move towards academic excellence.
We value knowledge of the wider world, and we reward imagination, curiosity and a willingness to take risks in learning about new ideas and contemporary issues.
Ethical and Philosophical thinking is central to learning:  we prepare girls for their future life beyond school with an approach that is intellectually challenging and personally enriching.


Years 7-9

The curriculum for these year groups is designed to engage pupils’ interest in critical engagement with beliefs and values.  Participation in debates and discussions is encouraged as a way to model the intellectual skills of exploring ideas and arguments, understanding different points of view, and drawing balanced conclusions.

Topics studied in Year 7 include symbolism in religion, the historical development of Christianity, the life of Jesus and how questions of meaning, purpose and value are approached and answered in Christianity.  

In Year 8 a series of driving questions around authority and ethics lead the curriculum into the history of ideas, looking at the ancient Greeks, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Existentialism in modern times.  Debates then follow around ethical issues such as capital punishment, animal rights and the history of the Civil Rights movement in America in relation to prejudice and discrimination. 

In Year 9 the curriculum takes an open-minded approach to debates between religion and science, and asks about the value and meaning of coming-of-age rituals in cultures around the world.  Cross-curricular work with the German and History departments leads into an in-depth study of the Holocaust, and a broad study of Judaism in the context of Israel today then follows.  The year finishes with a study of Islam in the world today.


The new AQA GCSE focuses on the study of Buddhism and Christianity, combined with a study of key philosophical and ethics themes, building on and developing work done in KS3.

The AQA GCSE Religious Studies course encourages critical and philosophical engagement with big questions about reality, meaning and purpose in modern pluralistic society.    Teaching is focused on informed discussion and debate as a foundation for developing structured and persuasive written work.  Critical analysis is highly valued, along with the ability to construct balanced and informed arguments.

The course will take an in-depth and philosophical approach to the study of two religions:  Buddhism and Christianity, and considers ethical issues from a range of different perspectives.

  • Ethics and Philosophy.  Four main themes are covered:  Religion and Life (Religion and Science, Euthanasia, Abortion), Religion, Peace and Conflict (Just War Theory, Terrorism), Religion, Human Rights and Social Justice, and arguments for and against the existence of God.
  • Christianity:  As the largest world religion with approximately 2.2bn followers, Christianity is a major influence on many people’s beliefs and practices, their culture, ethics, lives and literature.  The critically informed approach offered here aims to deepen understanding of how Christianity and Christians have developed, and of how they operate in and influence the world in different ways.
  • Buddhism:  The study of Buddhism offers an exciting opportunity to engage with challenging ideas about the nature of the self, different ways of life and notions of happiness.  The course emphasises different views within Buddhist traditions, in the way beliefs, teachings and practices are understood and expressed, and how Buddhism influences individuals, communities and societies.

The course is assessed entirely be examination at the end of the two year course.

Religious Studies A level

Why study Religious Studies?

Religious Studies is an engaging, well respected and academically rigorous subject which introduces students to a stimulating range of ethical, philosophical and theological issues. The subject fits well as a complement to other arts and humanities subjects, and as a contrast to science subjects. Throughout the course, students will engage with some of the deep philosophical questions with which mankind has wrestled, as well as examining moral and ethical principles from a variety of standpoints. Through their study of this subject, students will enhance their ability to argue and to communicate, as well as their skills of research, evaluation and analysis.

With religious and ethical issues so often in the news it may not be surprising that the subject is increasingly popular: Research shows that nationally the number of students choosing to study A level Religious Studies has increased more than any arts, humanity or social science subject over the past 10 years. The Russell Group of top universities has also made it clear that Religious Studies A level provides ‘suitable preparation for University generally’.

Religious Studies A level offers excellent opportunities to develop critically informed perspectives on the nature of human experience, perception, belief and society. The skills taught include building arguments, marshaling evidence and examples to support different points of view, and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives. The course content and the skills developed will appeal to anyone interested in big questions about meaning, purpose and reality, and there is a clear focus on lively classroom discussion and debate.

Religious Studies provides excellent preparation for a wide variety of arts, humanities, medical and science degrees, as well as leading on to varied career opportunities in law, medicine, journalism, education, academia, civil service and more. In our increasingly globalised world universities and employers place a high premium on critical and well-informed engagement with the beliefs, values and ethical issues around the world.

If you are interested in life’s big questions, if you enjoy lively discussion and debate, and if you want to examine the impact of religion on culture and society, Religious Studies could certainly be the subject for you.

Monmouth School for Boys and Monmouth School for Girls follow the same specification.

Head of Department: Dr H Whately

Course content

Board: OCR   A level Syllabus Code: H573

Study of a religion.
Christianity:  a focused investigation of different Christian beliefs and practices within the context of their social and historical development. This includes looking at issues such as gender, pluralism and secularism.

Philosophy of Religion.
The influence of Plato, Aristotle and Descartes, debates about the mind and the soul, arguments for and against the existence of God, the nature of religious experience and the problem of evil. Influence of analytic philosophy, uses of analogy and Wittgenstein’s language games.

Introduction to Ethics.
Ethical theories and systems such as Situation Ethics, Natural Law and Utilitarianism, looking at applied how these are applied to a range of issues such as the value and sanctity of human life.

Method of assessment

All by written exam which cover the three topics: Philosophy, Ethics and Christianity.
There is no coursework.

Philosophy A level

Why study Philosophy?

Philosophy A level asks students to think for themselves, to think rationally and to be open-minded. Students develop and refine a range of transferable skills, such as the ability to ask penetrating questions, to analyse and evaluate arguments, and to present their own arguments clearly, logically and with precision.

The course content raises stimulating and challenging questions about what we know of reality, and what we can and cannot know of reality. The nature of human consciousness is questioned, and the role of logic, reason and rationality are interrogated. Grounded in such foundational concerns students then engage with the underlying assumptions found in a range of ethical and philosophical questions about the nature and purpose of human life.

Philosophy is a highly respected academic subject, and at A level standard it sets apart those who are passionate about clear thinking on profound issues. Universities and employers across the spectrum value the critical independence of mind shown by those who study Philosophy, and it forms a core part of the famous PPE degree taken by many leading politicians and business people.

Philosophy is currently taught to Sixth Form boys and girls at Monmouth School for Girls.

Head of Department: Dr H Whately

Course content

Board: AQA;   Specification Code: 7172

  • Epistemology: the study of what knowledge is. Issues covered include questions about the existence of the world outside of the human mind, the nature of knowledge itself, and what we can really ever actually ‘know’ of what our senses tell us.
  • Moral Philosophy: Engaging critically with ethical theories such as those of Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, Kant’s Duty-based approach, and Utilitarianism. Issues covered include telling lies, simulated killing in computer games and eating animals.
  • Metaphysics of God: Introduction to issues around religious language and arguments for and against the existence of God. Issues covered include ways of ‘proving’ the existence of God, paradoxes such as whether an all-powerful God could create a stone which was too heavy for he/she to pick up, and the role of logic in the use of language.
  • Metaphysics of Mind: Alternative views of the mind-body problem, and how they relate to each other.  Perspectives covered include dualism, materialism and behaviourism, as well as the issue of philosophical zombies and the uses of theoretical arguments.

Method of assessment

Two three hour written exams:

Paper 1  Epistemology and Moral Philosophy.

Paper 2  Metaphysics and God and Metaphysics of Mind.

The papers contain a combination of  3 mark, 5 mark and 12 marks questions which assess knowledge and understanding, and a 25 mark essay which assesses critical reasoning and evaluative skills in developing arguments.

Religious Studies or Philosophy?

Religious Studies A level and Philosophy A level do share some content areas, and we would not advise opting for both. Instead we recommend pursuing a qualification in one or other of the subjects. They take distinctively different approaches: Religious Studies emphasizes an understanding and appreciation of religious thought and its contribution to the individual, communities and society.  Philosophy, however, emphasizes the ways in which philosophers have identified underlying ideas about the validity of arguments and their premises.