Philosophy for children

Philosophically speaking: P4C

Philosophy for Children – P4C – is attracting the attention of an increasing number of international schools around the world. One organisation supporting the programme is the British based charity, SAPERE (Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education).  ITM recently spoke to SAPERE CEO, Bob House, about their latest international initiative.


P4C was originally developed by professor of philosophy, Matthew Lipman in the USA in the 1970s. His pioneering work at Columbia and Montclair State University led to the foundation of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC), based at Montclair. House takes up the story:

“Lipman’s original programme was conceived as a way of teaching thinking. It drew on Socratic questioning, Vygotsky’s constructivism and Dewey’s ideas of democracy in education”.

Relevant, accessible and useful

The founders of SAPERE saw the value of Lipman’s vision, but realised that it had to be relevant and useful if it was to be adopted by teachers in the classroom.

SAPERE Logo Nov 12 Children, Colleges, Communities“SAPERE was set up in 1992 following the broadcast of the BBC Documentary Socrates for 6 year olds which looked at Lipman’s work. Our founders wanted to make P4C more accessible to teachers without a background in philosophy, and we have not looked back since”

You can see the attraction of the programme as House warmed to his subject:

 “P4C is a learning method that develops skills in independent thinking, reasoning, communication and collaboration. It also develops intellectual dispositions, such as curiosity and clarity of expression, as well as the development of emotional intelligence in a safe learning environment.  Head teachers usually introduce P4C for these benefits”

Training programmes

By 2016 SAPERE had more than 60 trainers and a central staff of eight full and part time employees supporting the programme in schools, teacher training departments and colleges around the world.

“SAPERE trains teachers to start using P4C through a structured enquiry model.  More focused sessions can also be used within the curriculum, whenever enquiry based learning is an appropriate tool”.

Central to the training are the four main phases of a P4C session, which stress different thinking skills, first to get children in the right frame of mind to conduct the enquiry, then focus on choosing the question, participate in the main group discussion and finally to reflect on the session and share their thoughts.

The impact of P4C on learning

Philosophy NewpaperP4C gained national attention in the UK in 2015 when the Education Endowment Foundation and Durham University published a study showing that P4C accelerates progress in reading, writing and maths – especially for disadvantaged pupils.

“The study was one of the largest and most statistically rigorous of over 100 studies that have been conducted worldwide since P4C’s inception”, House enthuses.

International Community of Enquiry (ICE)

The Durham study also aroused a great deal of international interest in SAPERE’s work:

“The publicity surrounding this study spread to educators around the world, leading to a big increase in requests for SAPERE to provide international training and support in P4C” House explains. “Over the last year SAPERE has supported local organisations in places as diverse as Shanghai, Brunei, Holland, Florida, Qatar, Norway, Iceland and Amman”.

In response to these requests, and as a way of adding an international dimension to P4C practice in British schools, SAPERE launched the P4C International Community of Enquiry (ICE) in April 2016 (  ICE schools around the world do one enquiry every half term based on common stimuli suggested by a member school.  They share reflections on the SAPERE website, with a strong emphasis on what pupils feed back. There is a Whatsapp group for informal contact between P4C leaders in the schools.

Enthusiastic response

The response to the initiative has so far been encouraging and the programme looks set to grow:

Philosophy Beegu“The initial 12 member ICE schools have just completed their first international enquiry.  Fortune Kindergarten and Shanghai United International Schools proposed the stimuli for this enquiry: the book Beegu for younger children and a video of a young Japanese gymnast for older pupils (see for details).   The feedback from students has been fascinating and diverse.”

Teachers have been equally enthusiastic. Cath Rathbone from Florida, USA thinks the programme has been a great success:

“I joined the International Community of Enquiry because I am convinced this is a phenomenal way forward in this growing global world. It’s vital to teach children of all ages how to think critically and extrapolate that thinking into dynamic, elegant discussion.”

House sees the coming school year as one of further growth in the programmes offered by SAPERE – both in the UK and overseas. The future looks both thoughtful and exciting.

Further links:



Cath Rathbone talks about the topic of “Love” as taught in a P4C programme:

Cath Rathbone P4C LOVE from SAPERE on Vimeo.

Bob House


SAPERE welcomes inquiries from schools around the world who may be interested in joining the ICE initiative.

Please contact Bob on for more information

Bob House was talking to ITM’s Andy Homden

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