“…when thinking skills programmes and approaches are used in schools, they are effective in improving pupils’ performance on a range of tested outcomes”

(Higgins et al., 2005, EPPI-Centre)

P4C originated in the USA over 35 years ago as a thinking skills enhancement programme. It is now practised in over 35 countries and research and anecdotal evidence from teachers and schools suggests that the programme not only benefits children and young peoples’ cognitive development and achievement in traditional areas of the curriculum but that it also enhances social and emotional development.

P4C nurtures multi-dimensional thinking with the aim of:

Improving reasoning skills

Developing creativity

Developing personal and interpersonal skills

Developing ethical understanding

These skills of critical, creative, collaborative and caring thinking are known as the 4 Cs of P4C and they are developed through regular participation in a ‘community of philosophical enquiry’, where students are encouraged, through dialogue with others, to question, clarify, enrich and extend their understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.

What does a typical community of enquiry look like?

Students sit in a circle facing each other. The teacher presents a stimulus (this might be an extract from a text, a short video, a piece of music, an image or an artefact) which the students use to generate ideas and questions for discussion. Students then vote for the question which they find the most interesting and the discussion begins. The teacher facilitates the building of dialogue through collaborative enquiry using Socratic questioning: encouraging students to seek clarification, probe reasons and evidence, explore alternative views, test implications and consequences and ask questions about the question (Fisher, 2003). The final part of the enquiry process reviews the progress made towards better understanding of the questions and concepts under discussion.

P4C and the curriculum

P4C can be facilitated as a stand-alone thinking skills lesson but many schools, due to pressures of time, prefer to infuse P4C through the curriculum as a means of deepening and enriching understanding and skills in specific areas. The Cambridge Primary Review (2009) highlights the significance of classroom interaction and the centrality of oracy in raising achievement. P4C is an effective vehicle for developing and improving students’ speaking and listening skills and teachers report that as students become more adept at expressing their ideas verbally their writing skills also improve. Ofsted (2010) recommend an enquiry-based approach to teaching Religious Education and the RE curriculum is a rich source of contestable concepts for philosophical dialogue. Science, maths, ICT, the humanities and the arts all encompass ‘big ideas’ which are also worthy of philosophical enquiry. P4C provides opportunities for students to draw on, evaluate and extend their conceptual understanding of these subject areas through shared thinking.

What does research say about the impact of P4C on students?

The P4C methodology makes metacognitive and self-regulation strategies explicit and provides opportunities for effective feedback; these pedagogical strategies have been identified as having high impact in the classroom (Sutton Trust, 2011). A large scale field trial in 18 primary schools in Clackmannanshire Local Authority concluded that “Philosophical enquiry involving interactive dialogue led not only to significant gains in measured verbal cognitive ability but also generalisation to non-verbal and quantitative reasoning ability, consistent across schools and largely irrespective of pupil gender and ability” (Trickey & Topping, 2007). Furthermore, pupils’ “improved cognitive abilities were still sustained two years into secondary school” (Sutcliffe in UNESCO, 2007). Research evidence indicates that skills learned in P4C are also transferred to other contexts including reading, writing, maths, science and problem-solving (Millet & Tapper, 2011) and there is strong empirical support for the social benefits of P4C (Burgh et al, 2006, Trickey & Topping, 2006, Collins, 2005).

What do teachers say about the impact of P4C on students?

“The pupils’ speaking and listening skills have improved and it has raised self-esteem, especially of the ‘vulnerable’ children in the class” Headteacher

“Visitors to the school, including LA teaching and learning consultants, the DCFS regional director and OFSTED inspectors have all commented on the children’s mature approach to discussion and good use of language, which considering the children entering our school have very poor language and communication skills, is very encouraging for us as a school. We have now introduced P4C further through the school and all classes from Year 6 to Year 2, have shown an improvement in their use of language and ability to listen and respond to others opinions” Headteacher                     

“Overall, I was extremely impressed by the effects of P4C. It has definitely boosted children’s thinking skills and their ability to communicate with one another and this has had a knock-on effect across the curriculum. General behaviour has improved which has made them more receptive in all lessons. Practise in expressing themselves has helped them in their written work in other subjects.” Deputy Head teacher

“The older children have expressed that they have enjoyed P4C because they like the idea that they don’t have to put their hand up, they are able to have their say and enjoy being able to give their opinion on things. It is helping the children to understand that it is OK to disagree with each other and the language of P4C is being used on the playground and in general discussions.” Teacher

“Initially the group were only able to generate closed questions in response to the stimuli presented. As the sessions progressed the pupils were able to generate philosophical questions in response to a stimulus and were able to distinguish between closed and philosophical questions. After 9 sessions all the pupils in the group had made progress in speaking and 10 out of 12 pupils had made progress in listening” Teacher (special school)

About Philosophy for Children (P4C)

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