A programme to teach young children the basics of philosophical thinking in UK schools has been shown to help them progress in maths and reading. A new study evaluated the use of the Philosophy for Children (P4C) programme in which primary school children are guided through discussions of questions such as “Should a healthy heart be donated to a person who has not looked after themselves?” or “Is it acceptable for people to wear their religious symbols at work places?” The programme is intended to help children become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments and collaborate.
A randomised controlled trial in 48 primary schools compared more than 1,500 pupils who took philosophy lessons over the course of a year with a further 1,500 who didn’t, but then took the lessons the following year. The children who had the philosophy lessons first improved their maths and reading by around an extra two months’ of progress compared to those children who weren’t taking part. And the poorest children made the most progress of all.
The scheme appeared to cost less than £30 per pupil, making it a possible use for the pupil premium funding provided to those schools for children eligible for free school meals because of their parents’ low income.
P4C was delivered by the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) and is currently in use in about 3,000 UK primary and secondary schools. SAPERE recruited the schools for the trial, provided training for the teaching staff in half of the schools and provided on-going backup and support.
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- 1. There is evidence that P4C had a positive impact on Key Stage 2 attainment. Overall, pupils using the approach made approximately two additional months’ progress in reading and maths.
- 2. Results suggest that P4C had the biggest positive impact on Key Stage 2 results among disadvantaged pupils (those eligible for free school meals).
- 3. Analyses of the Cognitive Abilities Test (a different outcome measure not explicitly focused on attainment) found a smaller positive impact. Moreover, in terms of this outcome it appears that disadvantaged students reaped fewer benefits from P4C than other pupils. It is unclear from the evaluation why there are these differences between the two outcomes.
- 4. Teachers reported that the overall success of the intervention depended on incorporating P4C into the timetable on a regular basis. Otherwise there was a risk that the programme would be crowded out.
- 5. Teachers and pupils generally reported that P4C had a positive influence on the wider outcomes such as pupils’ confidence to speak, listening skills, and self-esteem. These and other broader outcomes are the focus of a separate evaluation by the University of Durham.
Extract from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects/philosophy-for-children