SAPERE Gold Award Visit Report

SAPERE Assessor: Julie McCann

Date of assessment: Wednesday 8th July 2015

The overall judgment is that Armathwaite Primary School should be awarded the SAPERE Gold Award in recognition of the outstanding commitment, and dedication to and embedding of the Philosophy for Children approach. In this report, I wish to acknowledge particular areas of strength and many excellent features of practice.

In assessing the school’s progress in P4C, evidence has been drawn from observations and discussions during the day of the visit, as well as evidence submitted in advance.

PUPILS - How well are they doing? (in terms of building a community of enquiry, questioning, development and philosophical thinking, review an evaluation)

It was evident that all children from Reception to Year 6 are used to the P4C approach

Children are empowered to participate in assemblies which are led by the Headteacher and then break off into smaller enquiry groups to consider key issues within school. All children, and indeed teaching and learning staff, are included in these assemblies and it is a way to ensure meaningful pupil voice and democracy within school. Enquiry and reflection comes naturally to all members of the school community and is a golden thread running through all that takes place.

Children from all year groups are able to use the question quadrant, identify concepts, make connections and draw distinctions and are familiar with the practice of philosophical enquiry. Pupils self-evaluate and reflect on their P4C practice and this reaches beyond the Community of Enquiry, ensuring that they benefit from the intrinsic rewards of appropriate and thoughtful behaviour.

Children’s reading journals are of a high standard, and reflect a P4C approach to interrogating literature; this included the use of concept-mapping, including identifying synonyms and antonyms, and creating questions and organising them into a question quadrant. The impact on literacy outcomes is demonstrated by SATs results.

All displays have a P4C element within them, and this demonstrates the extent to which P4C is central to the whole curriculum. A science display on evolution includes philosophical questions which thechildren had explored on the impact of human behaviour on elephants. Similarly, a history display on the Maya people includes pupil generated questions on the ethics of holding Maya treasures in museums in the UK. The maths base displays statistics to promote critical thinking and encourage children to problematise. This includes statistics around food waste, hunger, climate change, biofuels, meat consumption, global indexes such as a peace map and hunger map. All of this is surrounded by questions – both philosophical and factual – that children would like to explore.
In both teacher-led enquiries which I observed, children were able to ask philosophically rich questions and continue to raise further questions throughout the enquiry. They identified philosophical concepts “We need to know how to classify rich – it depends on who you’re comparing them to,” and set their responses within an historical context, “The world didn’t used to revolve around money, but it does now”. At the end of the Year 5/6 enquiry pupils reflected on the difference between a debate and dialogue and were able to articulate this with confidence and careful consideration.

Year 6 pupils, who have practised P4C since Reception, are now at a stage where they can plan and facilitate their own enquiries. I observed these pupils working together as facilitators of enquiries with pupils from Reception to Year 5. The school was split vertically into five groups with two Year 6s facilitating each enquiry, having planned it with a link to their topic on human rights. All five communities came up with philosophical questions and demonstrated critical, caring, creative and collaborative thinking when exploring responses to this. There will be a follow-up discussion with a teacher and the facilitators to reflect on how each pupil progressed within the enquiry.

Pupils themselves were able to evaluate the benefits of P4C, “It has helped me with my confidence – I try to find the right time to speak … I used to be a passenger and wouldn’t have spoken at the end of the session and now I do,” “I care for others more. It helps me not to get into
arguments,” “You can be honest, It makes you think so much … once I had brain ache.” One child recalled that she had disliked the fact that she was limited in the amount of contributions she made, but has now realised that this has helped her to listen and learn from others and improve her skills of collaboration.

Children were also able to identify how their enquiries had led to action. Following a discussion on vegetarianism, one child said that he had not wanted to give up eating meat, but realised that he should be more discerning in understanding the provenance of his food, and maybe eat less meat; another child is now aware of stereotyping and actively challenges it and a third outlined how they had decided to raise money for South Sudan following an enquiry.

Children also remember particularly engaging enquiries, with some older children recalling dialogues from when they were in reception.

TEACHERS - How are they developing their P4C skills? (in terms of classroom practice, facilitation skills, planning, leadership role, review and evaluation)

P4C has been carefully thought through by the P4C leader and the planning, support and evaluation methods are of a consistently high standard. It is evident from the portfolio and learning walk that P4C is highly valued by children and staff and that it is very much a part of the school’s curriculum. There is evidence of good, often excellent quality of facilitation by teachers, and they are confident and skilled in facilitating enquiries. They obviously enjoy the P4C style of teaching and learning which is evident in their teaching as a whole. They model the 4Cs of P4C well and use high-order questioning effectively. The P4C sessions are well planned and managed in a way that supports and encourages children as well as bringing out discussion about important concepts.

The whole staff team in this small school plan together and medium term plans include P4C and are linked to learning across the curriculum. Individual enquiry plans are more in depth and demonstrate a range of strategies for increasing thinking skills. The school is organised so that all teachers teach all children, resulting in a constant dialogue between staff about the progress children make and how to accelerate this; P4C is very much central to this and is seen as key to improving learning across the curriculum.

Whole staff training at Level 1 has taken place, and this continues to be built on led by the lead teacher who is also a SAPERE trainer. There are regular staff meetings and INSET linked to developing P4C, and teachers were able to identify their own progress as facilitators. The focus for staff professional development has included vocabulary to promote philosophical dialogue, improving questioning, using P4C to promote global learning and as a vehicle for achieving Rights Respecting School status.

Teachers themselves commented on the benefits that they have felt in their own pedagogical practice as a result of P4C, particularly identifying having the confidence to pass ownership of learning to the children, promoting genuine pupil voice and being more open-minded.

All teachers were emphatic that P4C is not something that sits “on top of the curriculum” but is integral to teaching and learning within Armathwaite. The P4C lead is currently mentoring a newer teacher to increase her philosophical skills, with a possible view to her becoming a lead teacher in the future.

There is a culture of reciprocal observations and this has enabled all teachers to observe and be supported by the lead teacher and opportunities for reflection and development of all teaching staff have come from this.

Individual Learning Support Assistants have also benefitted from professional development from the P4C lead and demonstrate commitment and enthusiasm for P4C.

THE SCHOOL - How well is P4C supported across the school? (in terms of Headteacher and SLT commitment, level of whole school training, involving the whole school, review and evaulation

P4C is part of the long-term strategy and vision for the school. It is evident all around Armathwaite through displays and in discussion with the Head, P4C leader, teachers and parents.

The Headteacher is a robust advocate of P4C both as a practitioner and as a leader. She is pleased that her school disseminates excellent practice to others within her cluster and beyond, and that children are involved in professional development opportunities such as enquiring into the extent to which people have choice about their religious beliefs at a recent SACRE conference.

The ethos of P4C is demonstrated in the way that there is a constant cycle of review; learning from one another is integral, both for adults and pupils, within this school community. There is clear progression from Reception to Year 6 facilitated both by teachers who lead by example and older pupils who are role-models for their younger peers.

Decisions within school are arrived at using a P4C approach facilitated by the Headteacher, and P4C is central to the School Development Plan. This is displayed clearly within school for all stakeholders to see. The Headteacher uses continuums within assemblies to encourage children to evaluate and reflect e.g. “Place yourself on the continuum according to whether you need to speak up more or are too dominant.” Children are then gently challenged in a bid to support greater self-awareness.

Parents were keen to offer their opinions concerning the benefits of P4C and expressed gratitude to the school for providing these opportunities for them. They identified skills and attitudes in their children which they directly attributed to P4C. They commented on the extent to which their children are engaged with current affairs and are enthusiastic about ideas, being prepared to apply logic and reason in situations beyond school.

The Headteacher has identified ways in which she would like to see P4C continue to develop within her school. These include increasing opportunities for children as facilitators and providing opportunities for parents to engage in philosophical enquiry.

Although there are fewer than 4 full-time equivalent teaching staff at Armathwaite, the importance of training a second teacher to level 2A has been identified to further increase sustainability. This is something that the P4C lead hopes to achieve before the end of 2015/16.

As a SAPERE representative, I was inspired by the excellent P4C taking place at Armathwaite Primary school. It was a pleasure to engage with such committed and thoughtful practitioners and to witness the impact of this on the pupils at that school. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity. There are currently only four schools in the UK that hold the gold award, and this testifies to the high standard that is required to achieve this. I endorse Armathwaite in becoming the fifth.

Julie McCann