Critical thinking: Does maths have the answer?

Good question: Students who were taught to be sceptical made more progress in English and science

James Ball, a journalist, believes critical thinking can be taught through subjects like maths. With the rise in fake news, should all primary students be taught critical thinking in school?

What’s happening

£60 million sounds like a lot of money. Earlier this year the Conservative Party said they would spend this on breakfasts for primary school children.

Schools Week, an online newspaper, was sceptical. Using a calculator it asked: “How much money would be spent per pupil, per day?”

The answer: 7p.

Find out more

James Ball spoke about this on Radio 4. Where maths is concerned, he suggests everyone should learn how to work with big numbers. He thinks if we know the number of people who are affected by a new idea, or what a large amount of money really means, “We can make much better decisions, and we will be fooled much less often.”

He is not the only one who wants critical thinking to be brought into the classroom. Philosophy for Children is a group that helps young people develop curiosity through philosophy classes. It has released research into how critical thinking affected primary school pupils. Students who were taught how to ask good questions made more progress in English and science.

So should critical thinking be taught in classrooms?

Some say…

“Bring it into every lesson!” say some. Maths helps students enjoy getting the truth from numbers, no matter how big. Being taught to ask questions and find answers would give young people more confidence in every subject. It will help fight fake news too. If we know how to ask the right questions, we will be more likely to find the facts we need.

Others think…

“A nice idea, but not realistic.” say others. Children already have a long list of subjects to learn about. They do not need added layers of complex thinking; the current curriculum is enough. This obsession with critical thinking is a fad that will pass. In 1999 a Critical Thinking A level was introduced. It has since been dropped by most schools.

You Decide

  1. Should critical thinking lessons be taught in your school?


  1. Ask good questions to develop your critical thinking skills! Come up with your own juicy question about an issue raised in this article, or another one on our home page. Everyone in the class should write their question on a large piece of paper. As a class, vote on one you think would lead to the most interesting discussion. Spend 20 minutes discussing this with the class sitting in a circle.

Some People Say...

“Critical thinking is more useful than all other curriculum subjects.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Conservative Party
The oldest UK political party, currently led by Theresa May, the prime minister.
Tending to doubt and challenge assumptions. Healthy scepticism can build a stronger understanding.
4.62m children eat 190 breakfasts per year. That’s 877.8m breakfasts per year. £60m divided by 877.8m gives £0.068. Rounded up, that is 7p per pupil/ per breakfast. Read the Schools Week article to find out more.
Critical thinking
To question information to assess how accurate or appropriate it is. We build informed opinions by thinking critically.
Fake news
Untrue stories often published online. Read more about fake news.


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