They think, therefore they learn better

21st February 2003 at 00:00
As ministers rethink primary education, Helen Ward reports on why more young children are turning philosopher

"HOW do I know what is real?", a question once posed by philosopher Rene Descartes, is now being tackled by seven-year-olds at Tuckswood first school, Norwich.

The school, visited by Education Secretary Charles Clarke during his previous stint as education minister, is at the forefront of the Philosophy for Children movement.

All children at the school are taught how to think and reason, using books, poems and puzzles.

Head Sue Eagle originally introduced the scheme to manage behaviour in a small group of pupils. Now all staff have been trained in the techniques, and all four to seven-year-olds in the school have a weekly philosophy lesson.

Taking a story, such as Where the Wild Things Are (see box, right), the children learn how to question their own and others' thinking without falling out. Mrs Eagle said: "The children needed something different, something rigorous that would engage them. They needed to gain a sense of community."

Mr Clarke is a supporter, and thinking skills are already part of the Government's strategy for raising standards in secondary schools. He told The TES: "I have always had an affinity with philosophy, partly because my mother was a philosophy graduate, but mainly because I think good thinking skills are vital for all-round development. Philosophy is an excellent way of encouraging children at all ages to develop as lateral thinkers."

Will Ord, of philosophy society Sapere and the Association for Citizenship Teaching, said: "Citizenship has been a great way of getting more philosophy into schools. It is crucial that children understand how to think more deeply."

Sapere has now worked with more than 1,000 schools including Northwood primary, Erith, Kent, one of two primaries with beacon status for philosophy teaching.

Rosie Medhurst, head of the 184-pupil school, said: "There are advantages for pupils' oracy skills, they learn how to negotiate - it gives pupils the habits of thinking of reasons for their answers and I think it is tremendously important to challenge children with something difficult. That is the key to raising achievement."

The school has been praised by the Office for Standards in Education for teachers' ability to help pupils express their thoughts clearly.

Sapere runs training courses in Philosophy for Children. For more information see www.sapere.net

TES Teacher, 20

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