Philosophy for Children does not work

Who could ever have predicted that a primary school philosophy course would not improve outcomes in reading and maths?


This story has been a long time coming. Back in 2015, the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published a report on a randomised controlled trial involving Philosophy for Children. Remarkably, it appeared to show that lessons where, for instance, children discussed whether it is OK to hit a teddy bear, improved reading outcomes. The mechanism by which this worked was unclear and seemed implausible.

A number of people raised objections to this trial, such as that the reported measures were not the ones specified in the original project outline. Given a difference between the control and intervention groups at baseline, the question was raised as to whether the researchers had simply found regression to the mean.

Nevertheless, the EEF were undeterred. EEF figures promoted the trial outcomes and factored it in to the ‘metacognition and self-regulation’ strand of their toolkit. Perhaps most significantly of all, they decided to spend millions on a scale-up trial, a decision I criticised at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that I was right. The results from that scale-up study have now been published. Some headlines:

“There is no evidence that P4C had an impact on reading outcomes on average for KS2 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (i.e. FSM eligible pupils). This result has a high security rating… Similarly, there is no evidence that P4C had an impact on reading attainment at KS2 for the whole cohort of Year 6 pupils… There is also no evidence that P4C had an impact on attainment in maths for KS2 pupils – either for the whole cohort, or for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds… there was no evidence of impact on children’s social and communication skills, as measured by the pupil survey.”

Such is life, I guess.