Philosophy for Children (re-grant)
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.
Testing a philosophy programme that aims to develop children’s social skills and cognitive ability, and improve the quality of teachers’ talk
Character & essential skills
Developing effective learners
Language and literacy
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.
There is no evidence that P4C had an impact on reading outcomes on average for KS2 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (i.e. FSM eligible pupils). This result has a high security rating.
Similarly, there is no evidence that P4C had an impact on reading attainment at KS2 for the whole cohort of Year 6 pupils. There is also no evidence that P4C had an impact on attainment in maths for KS2 pupils – either for the whole cohort, or for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Whilst teacher feedback on P4C was positive - 96% of intervention teachers felt that pupils had improved their level of respect for others’ opinions, and 93% felt that pupils had improved their ability to express their views clearly; there was no evidence of impact on children’s social and communication skills, as measured by the pupil survey.
Of the 75 intervention schools, after two years from commencement, a substantial minority (35 of 75 schools) were not implementing P4C at the expected level. Of these, six did not implement P4C at all due to other priorities and/or senior leader turnover. The evaluation suggests that it takes time for teachers to become confident with, use and embed the P4C approach and this could have impacted the outcomes.
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.
Full project description
Philosophy for Children (P4C), (a whole-school programme with levels differentiated as Bronze, Silver and Gold based on school-level engagement) aims to improve pupils’ and teachers’ capability to think in a caring, collaborative, creative and critical way (‘the 4Cs’) in order to support pupils’ personal, social and educational development. The programme is provided to UK schools by The Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE).
P4C comprises whole-school training and support made available to teaching staff as well as to the school P4C lead. Students take part in weekly one-hour sessions, which are gradually embedded in the school curriculum and approach as the school progresses towards Gold level integration. Sessions are enquiry-based; prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video), pupils participate in group discussions based around a concept such as ‘truth’, ‘fairness’ or ‘bullying’.
This effectiveness two-arm cluster randomised controlled trial saw 75 schools invited to receive the intervention, whilst 123 schools acted as a control group. The trial evaluated the impact of P4C on Y6 pupils’ reading, maths, and social and communication skills, with its primary focus on pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Additional mixed method research sought to assess compliance and fidelity over the course of the intervention, measured by reference to the achievement of SAPERE’s Bronze, Silver and Gold Award scheme. The trial started in October 2016 with programme delivery from September 2017 to July 2019.