Imagine a year six class in a Sheffield primary school. Mixed ability children from diverse backgrounds are looking at some graffiti images with their teacher. The one they choose shows a telescope and the words ‘I see humans but no humanity’. What kind of a lesson is this? It’s a ‘philosophical enquiry’. What, with 10 year olds?
Yes. Many Sheffield teachers have now been trained in Philosophy for Children (P4C for short) and use the technique regularly with their classes.
Development Education Centre South Yorkshire, a local charity, has been training Sheffield teachers in P4C since 2008.
P4C developed in the USA in the 1960s and arrived in the UK in the 1990s. SAPERE (Society for Advancing Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education) is the UK national body which promotes P4C and accredits training programmes.
The class, after much discussion, comes up with a question: “What do we expect humanity to be?”
Their thoughts cover respect for other people, terrorist attacks, belief and extremism, ‘doing the right thing’, and our common humanity.
With P4C, children learn to listen to and respect one another, and challenge and explore the beliefs and values of others.
They conclude that community is a force for good in the world.
P4C provides tools with which to explore the questions “What kind of person do I want to be?” and “What kind of a world do I want to live in?”
Their teacher later told DECSY’s P4C underpins our caring and questioning ethos. Our whole school commitment to P4C helps prepare children to be empowered, confident and positive citizens” P4C can be applied in all aspects of the curriculum.
With P4C, children learn to listen to and respect one another, and challenge and explore the beliefs and values of others. They develop their own views and make more deliberate and responsible judgements. It encourages them to have an enquiring mind in all that they do.
Or, as one child put it, “It’s good because it gives you time to think. It helps you ask questions. It shows you that there can be many answers to one question”.
Another said, “It helps us in our lives… it helps us to be a better human”.
The benefits are significant and documented by university researchers.
An Education Endowment Fund trial in 2013 showed that using P4C weekly in 48 schools across England not only improved attainment in mathematics, reading and writing, but also narrowed the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.
Teachers reported a positive impact on children’s confidence, patience, and self-esteem, and on general classroom engagement.
One of those 48 schools is in Sheffield, Hinde House Primary. The assistant head teacher there told the BBC Today programme: “All the children are able to express their points of view very clearly, very confidently. It allows them to see other people’s points of view and see the world as beyond just themselves.” This is confirmed by Ofsted, with the report on one local primary school stating, “Lessons in philosophy encourage discussion and debate which prepares pupils well for life in Britain today.”
DECSY’s three P4C trainers run an extensive training programme.
In the ten years, 26 schools in Sheffield have had ‘whole school’ training and over two-thirds of primary schools have had at least one teacher trained.
The methodology supports DECSY’s objective of developing ‘global citizens’ – young people who understand the complexity and interconnectedness of our globalised world, are open to other people’s ideas and perspectives, and are willing to change their opinions in the face of new evidence and rational arguments.
P4C is incorporated in all of DECSY’s areas of work, including gender equality, schools linking, mathematics, and the environment.
Sheffield should be proud to have this P4C centre of excellence in its midst, developing our schoolchildren’s thinking skills, and helping them learn to respect the views of others and make the world a better place.