Philosophy discussions for ten year olds can boost their reading and maths

Philosophy discussions for ten year olds can boost their reading and maths

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Philosophy discussions for ten year olds can boost their reading and maths

Encouraging primary school pupils to have philosophical discussions can boost their maths and reading results, according to new research conducted by Durham University.

The study shows that children as young as nine and ten, who are encouraged to have philosophical discussions around topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge, can improve their progress in maths and reading by an average of two extra months with disadvantaged pupils making even bigger strides.

The research, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), looked at the effectiveness of an inquiry-based learning approach, called Philosophy for Children (P4C), which is used by 3,000 teachers in the UK.

Disadvantaged pupils taking part in the intervention saw their reading skills improve by an additional four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months, compared to a control group not doing the philosophy sessions. Feedback from the teachers in the trial suggests that the Philosophy for Children approach had a beneficial impact on wider outcomes such as confidence, patience and self-esteem too.

At less than £30 per pupil, the researchers suggest that Philosophy for Children could be a promising and effective way to spend their pupil premium to improve outcomes, and close the poverty gap in attainment.

Lead researcher Stephen Gorard , Professor in the School of Education , at Durham University, said: “Our results suggest that these philosophy sessions can have a positive impact on pupils’ maths, reading and perhaps their writing skills. But crucially, they seem to work especially well for the children who are most disadvantaged. This is very encouraging as we, along with the EEF, are committed to helping tackle educational disadvantage.

“Evidence like this is extremely important in identifying what works and what doesn’t and to help headteachers decide how to spend their pupil premium funding for most benefit to their pupils.”

The team at Durham University worked with the charity Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) to carry out a randomised controlled trial involving 3,159 pupils across 48 schools in the UK.

Philosophy for Children, operated by SAPERE, is designed to help children become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments and collaborate. For the trial, teachers were given two days of professional training before the year-long programme began and provided with on-going support.

In a typical lesson, pupils and teachers sit together in a circle and the teacher begins by presenting a stimulus such as a video clip, image or newspaper article to provoke pupils’ interest. This is generally followed by some silent thinking time before the class splits into groups to think of questions that interest them. A certain question with philosophical potential is then selected by the group to stimulate a whole-class discussion. These discussions are supported by activities to develop children’s skills in reasoning and their understanding of concepts.

The results will be used to inform the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, developed by Durham University, which is used by nearly half of all school leaders to help decide on the best and most cost-effective interventions in schools aimed at improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Philosophy for Children is a long-established and well-respected programme. It’s absolutely brilliant that today’s results give us evidence of its positive impact on primary pupils’ maths and reading results. Given its low cost, teachers should use these results to seriously consider whether philosophy sessions and promoting philosophical thinking could work in their classroom.”

Bob House, Chief Executive of SAPERE, commented: “This research gives a rock-solid validation of SAPERE’s long held view that P4C benefits the educational development of all pupils and that it is especially effective with those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The impact on attainment, taken together with the benefits for personal and social development, shows that P4C is a powerful all-round educational approach.”