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Philosophy sessions can boost children’s maths and literacy

  • Philosophy sessions can boost children’s maths and literacy

New EEF evaluation reports that disadvantaged nine and 10 year olds can benefit most

How does the thought of teaching Cartesian dualism, Kierkegaard’s infinite qualitative distinction or Rousseau’s social contract to primary school children sound? How does the thought of comprehending them for yourself sound, for that matter? Well, fear not, you needn’t go that far, but teaching children as young as nine and 10 to have philosophical discussions around topics like truth, fairness and knowledge can improve their progress in maths and reading by an average of two months, while the academic benefits seem to be more pronounced for disadvantaged pupils. This is according to the results of a new evaluation report of the inquiry-based learning approach Philosophy for Children, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.

Disadvantaged pupils participating in the EEF trial saw their reading skills improve by four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months. Feedback from teachers throughout the trial suggests that Philosophy for Children had a beneficial impact on wider outcomes such as confidence, patience and self-esteem as well. At less than £30 per pupil, Philosophy for Children could be an effective way for schools to spend their pupil premium, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

Philosophy for Children is designed to help youngsters to become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments and collaborate. In a typical lesson, pupils and teacher sit in a circle, and watch a video clip, or look at an image or newspaper article with a philosophical dimension, to stimulate their interest. This is followed by short period of silent thinking time, before the class splits into pairs or small groups to generate questions that interest them. Each group then chooses a question with philosophical potential to get the whole class talking. These dialogue sessions are supported by activities to develop children’s skills in reasoning and their understanding of concepts.

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Pie Corbett