Reflections on a recent EEF research report into SAPERE P4C and primary SAT scores
The results are in. Some tweets have been tweeted; some stories written. But what is the EEF, what is SAPERE and what is all the fuss about?
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is “an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.”
SAPERE is a charitable organisation with the following aims in its articles of association:
“The charity’s objects are specifically restricted to the advancement of education for the public benefit, in particular amongst those young persons up to the age of 16 years, by the promotion of the development of their skills in logical thinking and other philosophical techniques so that their personal and social lives are enriched.”
Over the course of two research projects funded by the EEF, SAPERE was able to work with thousands of children in over 50 schools to further its stated aims. The price: to put to the test some presumptive claims, based on available research, about enhancements to reading competencies brought about by regular p4c sessions. Why agree to a wager like that?
Trainers and other P4C enthusiasts were already making claims based on previous, less rigorous, quantitative research in order to get a hearing in schools. If primary schools fear that time given to p4c will detract from SATs scores, then the whole thing is a non-starter. And if an organisation like SAPERE turns down a challenge to test one of its presumptive claims with rigorous research methods, then there must be a question mark against its integrity. And isn’t it a good thing to have as much information as possible about an initiative being promoted to schools?
As it turned out, the conclusions of both research projects were remarkably similar. Giving over time in the school day for P4C, even during literacy lessons, does not depress reading scores. That conclusion will be useful to any individual or organisation trying do p4c with children in primary schools during the school day.
The first (smaller sized) project did not make grand claims that were dramatically undermined by the second (larger) one. The interpretive conclusion of the first project (p. 32) was clear.
"It is clear that P4C, whatever its other possible benefits in terms of wider outcomes, does not hinder children’s attainment at KS2 or their progress on CAT scores. In fact, in maths and reading there is a discernible but small benefit at KS2, equivalent to about two months of extra progress. All other indicators are positive but smaller (with the score for KS2 writing close to zero). Teachers and pupils generally report improved behaviour and relationships.”No great claims there. The second report confirmed the highlighted section of the first but found there was no effect on reading scores rather than a small one.
Enter the straw men
Enter straw man 1: “It’s ludicrous to say the main reason for doing philosophy is to raise English and Maths scores.” Response: Nobody said it was.
Enter straw man 2: “SAPERE made false claims that are now proven to be wrong.” No. All the claims were honest ones based on available research. Now there is new research, the claims will change. SAPERE deserves some credit for putting some presumptive claims to the test.
What did the teachers think?
Given that funding from the EEF enabled thousands of primary pupils and their teachers to philosophise together, what did the professionals in schools think? These snippets are taken from the latest report:
“Teachers facilitating P4C sessions who responded to a survey by researchers the survey highlighted areas they felt P4C was having the most positive impact:
Respect for other pupils’ opinions (96 per cent, 204 of 213, agreed that P4C had positively impacted on this)
Ability to question and reason (91 per cent, 196 of 213, agreed that P4C had positively impacted on this)
Ability to express views clearly (93 per cent, 193 of 213, agreed that P4C had positively impacted on this)
Listening skills (89 per cent, 188 of 213, agreed that P4C had positively impacted on this).”
The report continues: “By the end of the second year of delivery, the schools were reporting that these impacts were now being seen more widely across the curriculum. For example, interviewees in most schools reported that pupils were now applying their questioning and reasoning skills in other curriculum areas such as English and History. Interviewees also commonly noted that the turn taking modelled in P4C was now being seen to trickle through into other areas of the school, including the playground.”
SAPERE applied the funding from the EEF in line with its (ie, SAPERE's) stated purposes and in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the impact of P4C.
In the two research reports, there is much information that supporters and opponents of p4c in schools can reflect on.
I’ve written some longer personal reflections about research used to justify p4c in a separate document here.
Notes to self
Don’t be afraid to make presumptive claims about p4c based on reasonable arguments and previous research but keep them modest. To my mind it is the variety of probable benefits that is important but that claim is the hardest kind to test.
Always be clear about the values behind my advocacy of p4c. It’s a good thing for adults and children to talk together in a philosophical way about things they find interesting and important. Philosophising is part of what it means to be human. Or perhaps it would be better to say: It’s an important means by which humans find meaning.
I was hired by SAPERE to manage training for the first project and most of the second. I am writing here in a personal capacity. I do not speak for SAPERE.