by Jason Ward, Liverpool World Centre http://liverpoolworldcentre.org
In 2009 the Liverpool World Centre, (a Development Education Centre based in Liverpool) were given a small fund to work with pupils who had become disengaged with education. From this we worked with a school in Everton with 12 girls from year 9 (age 13-14 years) who were on the edge of being permanently excluded from school. Using a variety of techniques the Liverpool World Centre worked with these pupils for 7 weeks. At the end of the project 7 pupils remained, as some had dropped out of the project. All 7 completed their GCSEs and moved onto higher education either taking A Level or vocational qualifications.
Carrying on from the success of the first project, the Liverpool World Centre started to work with new schools and, over six years, has worked across Merseyside with pupils who are categorised as being disengaged from school. Behaviour, bereavement, aggression, attainment and many more reasons were given for pupils being chosen for the project and we have now worked with over 100 pupils.
Over the years the project has changed; times of sessions, working with different year groups, and working with more complex needs have meant we have had to adapt with each coming year. However one activity has remained a constant throughout the projects, the use of Philosophy for Children (P4C). P4C provides these pupils with an opportunity for self-exploration and development. No matter what reason pupils were chosen for the project, P4C has helped them to change and develop as people.
P4C has given a voice to children who otherwise did not have one. The subtle balance of children leading their own discussions and controlling its outcome has inspired children from different ages and backgrounds, that their opinion matters. Through this project we have seen children who were on the edge of permanent exclusion stay in schools to get their GCSEs and move on to further or higher education.
There are some children who struggle with the structure of P4C but they can be taught gradually to respect the ground rules of P4C. They develop and gain skills in self and peer reflection and the ability to analyse what has been presented to them. There they learn the fundamental skills that a child needs to survive school, that some of us take for granted.
Finally, there is a therapeutic element of P4C that has not gone unnoticed. In these spaces children are able to put their personal view on topics; views that that may have been silent in the past. The children have discussed topics such as images and perceptions, fears and bravery, death and bereavement. Through engagement with these topics, being listened to, and having their opinions heard and validated by their peers, is an experience that some of these children have never felt before.
From this knowledge the Liverpool World Centre are currently working on a resource on P4C and Engagement. The resource will be filled with activities, P4C discussions and case studies of how the sessions benefit disengaged learners.
Creating these safe philosophical spaces for children has become part of the Liverpool World Centre’s core work. We are working on running this project with new schools and new groups every year, bringing P4C to new pupils and teachers and helping children find their voice through philosophical enquiry.