Tailoring P4C for SEND: SAPERE P4C in an outstanding West Midlands special school

Hazel Oak is an Ofsted-outstanding all-age special school in Solihull for children with moderate learning difficulties. It supports a wide range of learners with diverse communication and emotional challenges, including autism, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, attachment disorder and social, emotional and mental health difficulties. Classes are grouped according to cognition and learning styles.

From a single staff member being trained four years ago to whole-school P4C and a SAPERE P4C Bronze Award in November 2018, Hazel Oak has truly embraced philosophical thinking and is becoming a beacon of P4C practice in SEND. Every class from EYFS to Year 13 has one dedicated P4C lesson each week and P4C approaches and language are used across the curriculum.

‘Our pupils who struggle to process and voice their views enjoy the structure, gentle pace and guidance of a P4C session. I have seen a massive improvement in confidence.’
Key Stage 5 Teaching Assistant

Using P4C in SEND

Hazel Oak has developed a tailored approach to ensure that students with SEND benefit fully from P4C.

Rather than expecting that all students are able to discuss big philosophical questions and concepts, the emphasis in P4C at Hazel Oak is on students making choices and, where they are able to do so, explaining their decisions.

The 10-step philosophical enquiry model used in P4C suits Hazel Oak’s pupils, who are comfortable with its structured and familiar approach. Alongside this, SAPERE trainer Nick Chandley and teachers at the school have worked to adapt and develop the tools, concepts and strategies used in P4C in mainstream settings to suit Hazel Oak’s needs. This includes:

  • Using games to practise the skills used in P4C. Pass the parcel helps with sitting patiently; games in which students close their eyes, listen to someone speak then identify the speaker and repeat their words help with listening and remembering
  • Using games to support students to make and discuss choices, for example ‘True or false’, Would You Rather’ and ‘Swap Places If…’
  • Choosing appropriate stimuli. Selecting stimuli that are accessible to pupils with SEND can make all the difference. Using stories with which students are already familiar, such as Red Riding Hood or the Three Billy Goats Gruff, helps students feel comfortable with the stimulus, while using real objects, rather than images of those objects, can help ASD pupils who may otherwise interpret images too literally.
  • Using P4C prompt scripts to help students structure their responses. Scripts include prompts such as ‘I think that…’, ‘This is because…’ and ‘Therefore I conclude…’
  • Supporting students in learning the language of questioning. Questions are at the heart of P4C but many pupils at Hazel Oak struggle to form any type of question, let alone big philosophical ones. So students need lots of practice and support to learn the language of questioning. At Hazel Oak, one of the tools used to develop questioning skills is a question starter word wall.
  • Giving students time to think away from the P4C Circle helps them to gather their thoughts.
    A question quadrant with prompts can also help.
  • Praising contributions. For some students with SEND, making a contribution, however limited, in a P4C enquiry is a huge accomplishment. Hazel Oak students are frequently praised for taking this step, with some classes using a ‘Contribution Tower’ where students are given a cube to stack for each contribution made.
  • Creating simple resources to support and guide students as they begin to take part in P4C

P4C successes at Hazel Oak

  • Students are more focused and able to listen to others' views in a respectful way.
  • P4C has helped pupils to regulate their emotions as they discover their own feelings on particular issues.
  • Pupils who have previously struggled to voice their opinions and share their thinking feel able to contribute due to the collaborative and caring nature of sessions
  • An atmosphere of calm mutual respect has spread to other areas of the curriculum and around school. P4C language is heard throughout the school.
  • P4C has contributed to Hazel Oak’s restorative justice approach to behaviour management.
  • The modelling of language used during P4C sessions has helped those pupils who need a starter or prompt to process and express themselves.
  • A group of students took part in a local Philosothon, where they collaborated with mainstream pupils in enquiries.
  • Teachers have used P4C to engage students with thinking about social skills strategies, discussing questions like ‘What is a friend?’ and ‘Do we have to be friends with everyone?’ 

‘I think P4C is the way forward, it is very empowering for the children. I have seen a massive improvement in Speaking and Listening skills and the 4Cs of Thinking ensure pupils are equipped with real life skills.’
Key Stage 4 Teacher

'P4C is great to use across the curriculum. My class found it challenging to work collaboratively and to accept views different to their own but now they easily build on others' ideas and share experiences - we regularly refer to caring and collaborative thinking throughout our day.'
Key Stage Two Teacher

What do Hazel Oak students think?

'P4C can really help to discover your true feelings and thoughts.' JP, aged 14

'P4C can change the way you think, not just the way you feel.' FM, aged 13

'When I was younger I wasn't encouraged to say if I agreed or disagreed about ideas. Now I think differently and can share my views.' JT, aged 12

'It is actually answering a lot of questions by collaborating with people.' IW, aged 9

'It's challenging for the brain. I like how people listen to you.' CD, aged 11

'It's calming. It's a lot of knowledge about everything. It's thinking of something new. It's definitely fun.' AT, aged 11