E4I focus on Philosophy for Children

Posted on 13 June 2018

The intervention we will be looking at this week from Evidence4Impact is Philosophy for Children (P4C).

Philosophy for Children (P4C) was originally developed by Professor Matthew Lipman in New Jersey, USA in 1970 with the establishment of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children. This organisation popularised and developed the idea of teaching thinking skills at school level through philosophical dialogue. The Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), a non-profit society, promotes the use of P4C in UK schools along with developing teaching resources and providing teacher training courses.

P4C has been rated as ‘moderate’ for primary reading and primary maths. This lets educators know that the intervention has a moderate chance of improving pupils’ outcomes in reading and maths at primary level if it is implemented as designed.

Philosophy for Children is centred on nurturing philosophical enquiry. The aim of the intervention is to help children develop their critical thinking, reasoning and meta-cognitive skills through philosophical discussion. It is practised across all education age ranges. Often beginning with a story or other prompt, a P4C lesson then involves the pupils discussing certain questions raised by the text. The teacher’s role is to foster an atmosphere where all opinions are respected, but also to encourage children to question assumptions and develop and articulate reasons for their own opinions.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) ran a project in 2013 investigating the effectiveness of P4C, which found that it had a positive impact on maths and reading in KS2. This is significant in that the intervention was not explicitly focused on improving KS2 outcomes yet it lifted attainment in reading and maths. The study found a mean effect size of +0.12 in primary writing, and +0.10 in primary maths.

The evaluation results suggest that P4C has the biggest positive impact on Key Stage 2 results among disadvantaged children (those eligible for free school meals). However, analyses of the Cognitive Abilities Test (a different outcome measure not explicitly focused on attainment) found a smaller positive impact. In terms of this outcome disadvantaged pupils reaped fewer benefits than other pupils. It is not clear from the study why there are these differences between the outcomes.

The EEF are now running a further project testing the intervention in more schools and over a longer timeframe, to provide a more robust estimate of the impact. The evaluation should be available in spring 2021.

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