Jack Symes

Philosophy teacher, King Edward VI High School for Girls. 

PGDipEd, Secondary Education (QTS) Religious Studies, 2014

Jack Symes

The best thing about my time at the University of Birmingham? Besides the late nights, early starts and the sense of existential dread that sets in when others refer to yourself by the title that has for so long being associated with your parent?

Well, the guest speakers that are invited in are brilliant, and it’s rather fun to pose them challenging questions. Topping that would be mid-afternoon pints at the Staff House (the University’s premium drinking hole).

What motivates you?

'Why teach?' At face value, the question seems quite straightforward. I’ve been asked this question countless times, and at this point, I admit it is difficult not conjure up the vague clichés. In my mind, all of the great philosophers were (and are) teachers. Although, many of them are (and were) much better at the former. To steal from Marx, the majority of philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways - the point, however, is to change it. I wanted to change the world. Supporting and inspiring young people to study philosophy is exceptionally rewarding.  

My passion is inspiring young people to get into philosophy. “The unexamined life is not worth living”, although I don’t think this is true, I think philosophy can lead to a fulfilling life, and I want my students lives to be worth living.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

I chose Birmingham because I wanted to understand the theory of teaching and that is what the University of Birmingham's PGDipEd course offers. The School of Education has a brilliant worldwide reputation and the course lecturer is the best in the business. 

If you have a teaching qualification from Birmingham then universities and schools can see that you know your stuff. This is an excellent opportunity to mention that the course is extremely tough. You need to be going into it with the right intentions. If it is ‘just to get a job’, you won’t last – don’t apply. If you want to inspire people and change the world for the better, the hard work will be second nature and you will enjoy it tremendously. After all, every day is a day off when you love what you do.  

What did you think of the learning experience within the University?

While I was at Birmingham and since, support from my mentor has been phenomenal. Sincerely, all of the opportunities that I have been afforded since leaving the university, I owe to my mentor. During the course itself, the staff at the School of Education are incredibly supportive. The administrative team, the course lecturers – the department is full of wonderful people. There is a unique sense of togetherness which is contagious from day one.  

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

I am currently teaching at King Edward VI High School for Girls. It’s a beautiful independent school in Edgbaston for girls aged 11-18. I took time out after my PGDipEd to complete an MA in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. Having trained to teach at the University of Birmingham, I was afforded the opportunity to teach undergraduate ethics and philosophy of religion in Liverpool. This is where I also began to produce The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast, which I am eager to shamelessly promote in a moments time! The University of Birmingham provided me with a strong background in teaching studies, which was hugely influential in my professional development.  

The podcast, The Panpsycast (pronounced pan-sci-cast) was created when I was a student at the University of Birmingham. I pitched the idea to my mentor at the time and he suggested that a good friend of his, Olly Marley (another alumnus), would also be interested in joining the show. Almost two years later, we’ve interviewed some of the biggest philosophers in the world and achieved numerous spots on iTunes’ top education podcast chart, but most importantly, we’ve inspired and supported students of philosophy. 

For me, philosophy begins with a discussion with oneself, or a discussion with other people. On-demand podcasts, 'informal and informative' discussions, seemed to be the way forward. I thought we could create a podcast that was cool; something students would want to listen to. Luckily, I was right, and almost two years on we have over 50,000 subscribers. We've gone from just supporting A Level students and teachers, to providing high-level philosophy to undergrads, postgrads and academics. However, the most exciting thing for me is that ‘non-philosophers’ are listening to. I have people writing in to say that we have inspired them to take degrees in philosophy or that we've helped them achieve an A in their exam.  

We Are (Third Width)


“The ability to deliberate fundamental questions - questions of political philosophy, religion, life and truth – is crucial to a person’s education. I think we need much more of this in our society - to quote George Berkeley, "everyone has opinions, but few think." Ah, wait! That’s what it is! We got there eventually... teaching young people to think. That’s what’s important - that’s why I teach.”