Reading, writing, and rhetoric: Children who learn philosophy are better at maths and English

Research into once-a-week classes saw students improve by an average of two extra months of teaching

Reading, writing, and rhetoric: Children who learn philosophy are better at maths and English


Primary school children who took part in philosophy classes saw a marked gain in their English and maths skills, with those coming from disadvantaged areas showing the biggest improvement, according to a new study.

More than 3,000 children in almost 50 schools in England took part in the programme, where once-a-week discussions on topics such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge resulted in recording boosts in literacy and numeracy, Quartz reports. Included in the philosophy course was time set aside for silent reflection, guides to forming questions, airing of those questions, and teamwork designed to collaboratively build on the thoughts and ideas discussed.

According to the research carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the children who participated saw an average increase in maths and reading abilities of the equivalent of two additional months of teaching, even though the purpose of the programme was not to improve these skills. Children from disadvantaged areas and background saw even greater boosts, with reading skills improved by four months, maths by three months, and writing by two months, according to their teachers.

In addition to the skills gains, the teachers involved in the philosophy programme said they saw their students display a greater sense of confidence in themselves and a keener ability to listen to each other speak.

The once-a-week 40-minute philosophy classes were taught in 26 schools, with 22 others acting as a control group. According to the data, not only did those receiving the courses out perform their peers, but the effects of the classes allowed them to continue to outperform them for the two years after the classes came to an end.

“They had been given new ways of thinking and expressing themselves,” said Kevan Collins, EEF’s chief executive. “They had been thinking with more logic and more connected ideas.”

The EEF programme, known as P4C (Philosophy for Children) was itself based on another successful philosophy course devised by professor Matthew Lippman in the US in the 1970s. P4C has since been introduced to schools in more than 60 countries worldwide, with the Department of Education in Ireland proposing its inclusion in the new Junior Certificate cycle.

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