Reasoning with the kids

Willow Brook pupils
Children from Willow Brook Primary School with their bronze award for philosophy (credit Sarah Mahoney)

A Leyton school in winning praise for its philosphy, writes Julia Taylor

Philosophy may be as old as Ancient Greece, but did you realise that philosophy for children is now being taught in some Waltham Forest primary schools?

Willow Brook Primary School in Leyton has just won a bronze award for the teaching of philosophy for children, known as ‘P4C’, by the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE).

Stephen Fitzsimons, Willow Brook’s P4C lead, believes the subject is an important one for young children. He said: “We made the decision to take the unusual step of teaching philosophy in an already crowded curriculum, as it had been shown to have a positive impact on attainment in English and maths, as well as on behaviour. Besides, kids love it!”

The subject is taught once a week to all children from reception to year six and it’s used in many other lessons, as the skills of questioning and reasoning are transferable.

One of the examples of a question posed in a P4C class was: “Is it ever right to steal?” Each child had a different answer, along the lines that they were taught it was wrong to steal, and then started discussing what item could have been stolen and what they would do with the item. This related back to studies the children were doing on the Elgin Marbles and the British Museum.

One of the children I spoke to told me that he loved P4C because it allowed everyone to have an opinion and that there wasn’t just one right or wrong answer, as there is in some subjects. This is because P4C develops critical thinking. It helps children explore meanings and values and to consider significant questions leading to a decision over what to believe or how to act. It also teaches the children how to value their own views and those around them and helps with respect and negotiation.

Allen Tsui, a year five teacher at Willow Brook explained: “It enables me to establish a deeper connection with the learners I am working with, irrespective of how young. With the right source of stimuli it’s possible to introduce P4C ideas to children in the early years of their learning as they

begin to try and make sense of our complicated world. Every learner should be given the opportunity to have time and space to practice P4C.”

Allen also noted that philosophy had sparked a significant improvement in literacy levels, not just in the range of vocabulary but also in exploring ideas on a more emotional level. According to studies it also cultivates empathy, respect and appropriate or acceptable behaviour.

Headteacher Graham Clifford added: “If you visit Willow Brook and start to talk to the children, you may well end up in a lengthy conversation. P4C also has influence on wider outcomes such as confidence in speaking, listening and self-esteem.”