The 3-year project began as a result of a successful pilot, where 3 Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) were introduced to P4C and supported to offer weekly P4C sessions as part of the PSHE/RE/English curriculum. That pilot taught us how we could adapt conventional P4C to complement the PRU curriculum.
The current PRU project is funded by the Wates Foundation (www.watesfoundation.org.uk) and provides subsidised training, materials and support in five Alternative Provisions, (APs) either PRUs or schools for children with Social, Emotional or Mental Health conditions in and around London. The nature of each school differs, as do the challenges the children face. Many students have been excluded from mainstream education because of violent or aggressive behaviour; others struggle with social integration, are in trouble with the law or are suffering from a medical condition that requires specialist educational interventions.
Philosophy sessions in alternative provisions need to engage students quickly and engage young people in discussions within a very short space of time, or concentration is lost. The environment and ground rules take time to establish and are crucial to the practice being integrated in the school. Eye contact, something we strive for with children in main stream schools, is not overtly encouraged, as it can seem to be intimidating and may have been used as a weapon of control by young people in other previous contexts. Thoughtful listening is necessary, but it also develops over time and with careful support from the teacher. A key moment arises when students begin to take each other seriously, as one teacher recently stated ‘I have facilitated a few sessions when students talk to each other for 6-8 minutes without being destructive; those are the moments we work hard to achieve.’
Student feedback has been encouraging so far, with some students requesting more opportunities to talk about important issues. End of year surveys will tell us more.
We are currently working on a SAPERE Certificate in Thinking and Communication Skills for students that complete a course in P4C and an evidence portfolio, presented as recorded voice files and written arguments. This is linked to some materials that are currently being trialled in several units in conjunction with the English GCSE and PSHE programmes of study for year 10 and 11 students and a SAPERE Record of Achievement for Y9 students.