Philosophy for Children
This page covers the first (efficacy) trial of Philosophy for Children, which tested whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions. To read about the second (effectiveness) trial - testing a scalable model under everyday conditions in a large number of schools - click here.
Philosophy for Children involves group discussions about ethical or philosophical topics, such as fairness and truth. The discussions are designed to encourage children to ask questions, construct arguments and engage in reasoned debate.
Helping children become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments, and collaborate with others
Developing effective learners
Philosophy for Children has now been adopted by schools in over 60 countries as a way of developing children’s higher order thinking skills. The EEF funded this project to find out whether the approach could improve attainment for pupils in English primary schools.
Year 4 and 5 pupils doing Philosophy for Children made about two months’ additional progress in Key Stage 2 maths and reading compared with other pupils.
These results have moderate security, and further evaluation is needed before we can be confident that they could be replicated in other schools. The EEF is therefore funding further testing of the approach in other schools.
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.
Results suggest that P4C had the biggest positive impact on Key Stage 2 results among disadvantaged pupils (those eligible for free school meals).
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.
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.
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.
Full project description
Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which students participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues. Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as ‘truth’, ‘fairness’ or ‘bullying’. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion.
The primary goal of this evaluation was to assess whether a year of P4C instruction for pupils in Years 4 and 5 would lead to higher academic attainment in terms of maths, reading, and writing. The project also assessed whether P4C instruction had an impact on Cognitive Abilities Test results.
The evaluation ran from January to December 2013. Teachers were trained in P4C by the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE). On average, pupils received one period of P4C per week, although this varied across schools. A total of 48 schools across a wide range of English geographies participated. While these schools were in many ways diverse, as a whole they had above-average levels of disadvantaged pupils.
The project was delivered by SAPERE, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, and independently evaluated by a team at Durham University.