Philosophy, Pedagogy and Personal Identity: Listening to The Teachers in PFC

  • Geoff Baker
  • Andy Fisher


Introduction: Philosophy for Children (P4C) has enabled schools to engage with what is typically thought of as an ‘academic’ discipline and has provided the opportunity to unlock a rich educational experience for children from a diverse range of backgrounds (Madrid, 2008; Topping and Trickey, 2007; Douglas, 2003). A wide range of qualitative and quantitative studies have emerged looking at P4C in terms of the development of students at the social, academic and emotional level (Topping and Trickey, 2004; Hand and Winstanley, 2009; Lane and Lane, 1986; Williams, 1993; Trickey, 2006; Lone, 2001; Reed, 1987; Murphy et al., 2009). However, while there have been many P4C papers that have ‘teacher’ in the title, these are often about teacher training – including ‘hints and tips’ (e.g. Lipman, 1987; Marie-France, 1988; Popen, 1996; Burgh and O’Brien, 2002; Johnson and Pines, 1979) and curriculum development (e.g. Malanga, 1988; Weinstein, 1986; Cam, 2006; Stan, 1996; Wilks, 1993). Relatively few studies have looked at the effect of teaching P4C on teachers themselves (notable among these are Splitter, 2000a and 2000b; Yeazell, 1979). This paper considers how P4C affects teachers, in particular whether teaching P4C has led teachers to develop new pedagogical approaches, different ways of thinking critically and whether it has changed how they engage with their students, colleagues and their school.

The paper centred on a case study of one group of teachers at a large primary academy in the UK that has been delivering P4C for the last two years at all levels from Reception through to Year 6. The school is situated in an economically deprived coastal area of the UK. Nearly two thirds of students at the school are eligible for the Pupil Premium, a key indicator of economic deprivation, which is significantly above the national average. The number of students with a statement of special educational needs and the number of students for whom English is not their first language are both above average.

Students in the school have a weekly P4C class that lasts for 45 minutes and is structured around a particular stimulus that the teacher locates for each lesson. The senior leadership team has been particularly supportive of this approach and consequently all staff members have received Level 1 training from the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education, an organisation that aims to promote P4C in the UK. The authors of this paper completed three in-depth semi-structured interviews with members of staff from the school: the Vice Principal, the P4C curriculum leader and a class teacher, all three of whom taught regular P4C sessions for an entire academic year. The three participants volunteered to take part as they all had particular interests in P4C. Each interview lasted for around thirty minutes and a series of common questions were put to the interviewees, with particular areas explored with supplementary questions where appropriate. The interviews were then transcribed and themes drawn out by each of the interviewers, coding the scripts independently and then comparing their notes. Four key themes were identified and they form the structure for this paper, being the link between P4C and approaches to teaching; approaches to students; links within the professional community and approaches to the purposes of education.

As a case study the generalisability of the conclusions is limited, offering only an investigation into how the teachers in this particular setting experienced teaching P4C. However, aspects of transferability can be drawn out through ‘particularisation’ as the conclusions of the case study are compared with the findings of broader research (Stake, 1995; Thomas, 2010).