Socrates takes a front seat

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Nine-year-olds in Clackmannanshire's 19 primaries are to be guided in the fundamental questions about life first raised by Socrates in 470BC. More enquiring minds should lead to better behaved pupils and higher attainment, the authority believes.

Clackmannanshire is said to be the first in Britain to introduce a "philosophy for children" course in all its primaries following a series of successful pilots. Within two years, every pupil in upper primary will have the chance to tackle key questions once a week for an hour.

Paul Cleghorn, head of Sunnyside primary in Alloa, who has developed the initiative, said experience in his own school showed that children become more articulate and more confident in expressing their thoughts. "There are spin-offs in consideration for others' points of view and general ethos. There is better emotional intelligence and behaviour and you get better learners," he says.

Supporters of the initiative that has been around internationally for some decades believe less able children can benefit from the intellectual challenges. Whatever their background or abilities all children are aware of bad acts. If they feel more accountable for their thoughts and deeds they are likely to take more responsibility for their actions.

Mr Cleghorn said whole-class sessions often began with a story, poem or picture that conveys a moral issue and moved into in-depth discussion. "You are challenging the children to come up with what they think the issues are. You might do mind-mapping and brain-storming to make connections and try to relate what they are doing to practical experience," he says.

He believes the sessions will help children to become better thinkers and allow skills to transfer across the curriculum. Researchers from Dundee University will monitor the progress.

Jim Goodall, the authority's head of educational development, said the opt-in initiative was a natural progression from the early intervention programme. "It's the adoption of an approach that will help contribute to problem-solving and thinking skills," Mr Goodall said.

WHAT IT CAN DO FOR THEM

* Thinking skills, reasoning and problem-solving are promoted by discussion. By justifying opinions and finding underlying assumptions in others' views, children are encouraged to ask themselves why they hold these opinions.

* Critical discussion encourages powers of imagination and creativity.

* By being asked to justify their beliefs, evaluate ideas, listen to and respect other views, children can realise what it is like to be in someone else's shoes.

* Social and emotional well-being can be enhanced when every child recognises they have a right to be heard and knows their views are worthy of discussion. Children are invited to talk to each other and not just the teacher.

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