TopicsHealth & WellbeingPhilosophy for wellbeing

Philosophy for wellbeing

Headteacher Kevin McArevey (pictured below) reflects on teaching critical thinking to children in Belfast and his appearance at the Unite-CPHVA Annual Professional Conference.

I had the pleasure of addressing Unite-CPHVA members in Bristol at their most recent conference about how philosophy can promote mental health and wellbeing. The concept is captured in the highly acclaimed and award-winning film Young Plato.

Community practitioners have a lot to do with philosophy, believe it or not. Especially when answering life questions such as: How do I handle an emotionally angry six-year-old? What is life’s purpose? What happens when we die?  These are real-life questions, and realism is the kind of critical thinking at the heart of Young Plato, as is the fearless approach to tackling all of the above questions with four- to 11-year-olds.

When the day of my conference session arrived, I put on the trailer of Young Plato (directed by Neasa Ní Chianáín and Declan McGrath, produced by David Rane) and began by setting the scene. The documentary film is set at our school in post-conflict Ardoyne, a working-class Catholic area of north Belfast. Having gained a reputation during the Troubles, it is now a marginalised community dealing with poverty, dissident activity, drugs and alcohol problems.

Philosophy (a word very difficult to define) is a shared experience and involves dialogue, questioning, reflecting on and re-evaluating philosophical themes. We at the school would side with Plato in saying ‘it is thinking about thinking’! You will see many strategies and techniques used by our pupils in Young Plato, many from The Philosophy Foundation (TPF). The TPF trained all of our staff and we are known as a TPF school.

My fight for the Ardoyne area and the boys in our care is personal: I too was brought up in a working-class area of west Belfast (Lenadoon). My mother Rita and father Maxi were my rock and made sure that education stayed at the forefront of my mind – that was my salvation and escape from getting involved with any paramilitary activity.

We hope that Young Plato speaks to communities everywhere whose young people have strife on their mind and mental health issues. And that you seek the best way forward for your children using the thinking and strategies as taught to children in the film and in my book Think Think Respond. The thinking behind both is to use philosophy to promote mental health and wellbeing, to be an antidote to fake news, and for children all over the world to adopt a critical attitude so that they become successful, wise and kind. This will help them uncover the most meaningful truths about what it is to live together, and to heal.

I am grateful to Unite-CPHVA and Janet Taylor for the unique opportunity to talk at the conference and to share my experiences with you here.

Kevin McArevey is head teacher, Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School, Belfast. Twitter @bigmactheking

  • You can see the film via
  • Kevin’s book is available by contacting the school
  • See page 20 for Kevin’s comments on the new era of school nursing.

Image credit | Soilsiú Films


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