P4C Research

Education Endowment Foundation research

A 2015 Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Efficacy Trial carried out by Durham University into SAPERE P4C showed that:

  • SAPERE P4C has the biggest positive impact on disadvantaged children (those eligible for free school meals). These children made 4 months' additional progress in reading, 3 months' additional progress in maths and 2 months' additional progress in writing.
  • Overall, Key Stage Two pupils taking part in the trial made two additional months' progress in reading and maths.
  • Teachers and pupils reported that SAPERE P4C had a positive influence on wider outcomes such as pupils’ confidence to speak, listening skills, and self-esteem.

The full 2015 report is here.

Following this study, the EEF named SAPERE P4C as one its Promising Projects and funded a larger Effectiveness Trial in more schools over a longer time period. While the final report found no effect on reading and maths, it did find other strong positive results in key P4C areas such as respect for others’ opinions, ability to express views clearly, and self-confidence. Both teachers and students in schools implementing P4C found it enjoyable and engaging, and teachers felt strongly that P4C has a positive impact on their students’ social, thinking and communication skills.

  • 96% of teachers felt that P4C helped pupils to respect others’ opinions
  • 91% of teachers felt that P4C improved pupils’ ability to question and reason
  • 93% of teachers felt that P4C improved pupils’ ability to express views clearly

In addition, no negative impacts were found, confirming that schools can reap all the benefits of P4C – in terms of social, emotional, behavioural and well-being outcomes – without reducing reading or maths outcomes.

“Nearly every member of staff has said that children who you wouldn’t normally expect to speak in Literacy lessons are.” Teacher

“The TAs that have done some sessions have really enjoyed them and they feel it’s helped improve their relationship with the children and level of respect with the children.” Teacher

“We have a huge number of disadvantaged children in this school, we are way above the national average. It’s quite interesting how quite a lot of the P4C sessions have ended up going towards big questions in terms of things like poverty, how people are treated, all sorts of things like that. So I think for them, personally, it has been quite useful because they’ve been able to talk about massive issues that affect them as a community and in their personal lives as well. […] It’s giving them a voice to talk about things that they probably wouldn’t have had a voice to talk about before.” Teacher

A number of teachers also noted that those pupils who struggle to ‘have a voice’ in normal lessons – including those with English as an Additional Language, those who lacked confidence, and those with special educational needs – particularly benefited from P4C. Pupils themselves emphasised that they enjoyed being able to express their own opinions in a non-judgmental way.

“When the teacher says that it’s P4C time, we all cheer, YES!” Student

“I like how everyone respects each other’s opinion. It’s quite fair and everyone is allowed their opinion.” Student

“We get to express our feelings, you’re not shy. This is very different to other lessons, it’s more peaceful. You don’t have to worry about anything and you can talk about your problems.” Student

SAPERE training and support was judged by teachers to be of high quality; they felt strongly that it had enabled them to facilitate P4C sessions effectively in their school. 

“I’m in contact with [our trainer] whenever I need resources or help or ideas. She’s given us wads and wads of lesson plans, pictures, book titles, training pamphlets, and questions prompts. We’ve had all the resources we need to do it and I can call her whenever I want.” Teacher

“The training has been very useful. […] Staff have said that it’s been one of the better CPD sessions they’ve had.” Teacher

The full 2021 report is here.

Nuffield Foundation research

Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation found that:

  • pupils who received the P4C intervention were ahead of their counterparts in self-reported communication skills, teamwork and resilience
  • though the effect sizes are generally small, they are larger for pupils living in relative poverty
  • on the whole, teachers reported positive effects in pupils' confidence in questioning and reasoning
  • interviews with and observations of pupils confirmed that pupils enjoyed P4C and actively participated in the sessions

Other P4C research

Other P4C research includes:

    University of Dundee research with schools in Clackmannanshire

    In 2001, Professor Keith Topping of Dundee University and educational psychologist Steve Trickey published the results of a large scale study in which children experienced one P4C session a week. The research showed pupils achieved significant gains in verbal and non-verbal reasoning, as well as improvements in listening, communication, behaviour, questioning, reading and understanding. It also showed a statistically significant increase in children's IQ scores over a period of a year, compared with no increase in the scores of the control group.

    • a whole population of children gained on average 6 standard points on a measure of cognitive abilities after 16 months of weekly enquiry
    • pupils and teachers perceived significant gains in communication, confidence, concentration, participation and social behaviour following 6 months of enquiry
    • pupils doubled their occurrence of supporting their views with reasons over a 6 month period
    • teachers doubled their use of open-ended questions over a six month period
    • when pupils left primary school they did not have any further enquiry opportunities yet their improved cognitive abilities were still sustained two years into secondary school
    • pupils increased their level of participation in classroom discussion by half as much again following 6 months of weekly enquiry

    Better Thinking for Better Learning Project, funded by SHINE

    This year-long programme of weekly enquiry sessions used Philosophy for Children to teach reasoning and  higher order and independent thinking with primary school children in Wandsworth, London.  Pre- and post- intervention testing and teacher assessment indicated reading improvement beyond teacher predictions for 88% of pupils and improvements in speaking, active listening, question posing, reasoning, thinking and social and emotional interaction.

    Sample findings:

      • 88% of Year 6 children improved on their predicted grade in Key Stage 2 SATs, with 94% achieving or exceeding their predicted grade
      • 26% of children who took part in P4C throughout the project achieved level 5 in reading, with a further 69% achieving level 4 
      • 62.5% of children exceeded the teacher's prediction in Key Stage 2 Maths SATs, with 24% achieving level 5  and 64% achieving level 4. The focus class exceeded the national average score of 43% at level 4.
      • 51% of the school's pupils were eligible for free school meals and 50% had English as an additional language

    RAIS (Raising Aspirations in Society) Project 2003-2006

    A £1.7 million project using P4C as the central strand of the project, evaluated by the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Newcastle. Researchers said:

    'Evidence supported the claim that the Philosophy for Children (P4C) intervention in the form of Community of Enquiry (CoE) has significant positive impact upon teacher and pupil creativity, builds the confidence of both teachers and pupils and encourages and develops children's capacity for independent and critical thinking and powers of reasoning. Evidence supported the claim that the Philosophy for Children (P4C) intervention in the form of Community of Enquiry (CoE) is particularly powerful in developing teachers' planning for use of questions and in encouraging teachers to critically revisit their practice.'

    Excellence in Cities Action Zones: South West Middlesbrough Education Action Zone
    Case Study: P4C at Hemlington Hall Primary School

    Read the case study here.

    The IAPC (Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children) maintains a list of research papers on Philosophy for Children. You can also browse the PhilPapers database.