Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching and learning, in which children take part in philosophical enquiry. It aims to enhance thinking and communication skills, boost confidence, self-esteem and improve behaviour. P4C encourages teachers and pupils to think in a caring, collaborative, creative and critical way (the 4C’s of P4C). P4C aims to help children become more thoughtful, reflective and reasonable individuals.
The EEF Toolkit highlights the benefits of programmes and approaches that support metacognition and character education. P4C aligns with these areas of the toolkit, such as character education’s emphasis of working well with others with different opinions. A previous efficacy trial funded by the EEF showed that children taking part in P4C made an additional two months’ progress in reading and maths compared to pupils receiving ‘business-as-usual’ classroom teaching. The EEF subsequently funded this effectiveness trial to test the impact of the project with more schools.
The trial aimed to measure the impact of P4C, implemented as whole school approach, on reading for pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), on reading and maths for all pupils, and on pupils’ social and communication skills. Schools within the P4C programme engaged in training and support to deliver and develop the P4C approach initially through weekly sessions which are gradually embedded across the curriculum, classroom practice and whole school ethos. Moving progressively from Bronze Level to Gold Level guided by the school P4C Lead who is supported directly by a SAPERE trainer. This study, delivered at larger scale than the previous trial, found that Free School Meal (FSM) eligible pupils participating in P4C made, on average, no additional progress on reading (the primary outcome), compared to children not receiving the programme. The study also found no evidence of impact on reading or maths for all pupils (secondary attainment outcomes). This is our best estimate of impact, which has a very high security rating: 5 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale. Social and communication skills were considered non-attainment outcomes and measured through the use of two single items of a pupil survey: ‘I am good at explaining my ideas to other people’ and ‘I can work with someone who has different opinions’. This study found that pupils taking part in P4C made, on average, no significant improvements in character related skills, compared to children in the control group. This may be due to the fact that single items may not be suitable for capturing complex character and metacognitive outcomes.
A teachers’ survey and follow up interviews with teaching staff, however, showed a more positive result: teachers who took part in P4C reported feeling that the programme had a positive impact on pupils’ social, thinking and communication skills, and found it particularly helpful for children who were less self-confident. Considering this positive evidence, the evaluators suggest that there may still be a benefit in evaluating the effects of P4C on non-cognitive outcomes, perhaps using other measures that capture the complexity of changes in character and metacognitive skills. However, due to this trial’s finding of no impact of the programme on attainment outcomes, the EEF has no plans for a further trial of P4C.
The study results do not show any negative effects on pupil outcomes, suggesting that class time can be directed towards this activity without reducing reading or maths outcomes. Schools wishing to implement P4C for reasons other than academic attainment should therefore not be discouraged from doing so.
Where schools were implementing P4C, teachers and pupils found it enjoyable, engaging and that it encouraged pupils to share opinions in a non-judgmental way, finding it particularly beneficial for EAL pupils, those who lacked confidence or SEN pupils. Teachers and P4C leads felt that the training and ongoing support was high-quality and that it had enabled them to facilitate P4C sessions effectively in their school. Important factors for sustaining and embedding implementation included: starting with sessions based on standalone topics before incorporating cross-curricular work into sessions; and senior staff support, particularly around understanding and valuing the P4C approach.