Mindfulness Initiative - Event Report

Mindfulness APPG Hearing on mindfulness in Education

19th November 2014

More than a hundred policymakers, educational leaders and mental health workers gathered to hear evidence of the latest research and how mindfulness is being implemented in schools across the country.

One of the most pioneering examples of best practice is the Bright Futures Educational Trust based in the North West, a multi-academy trust. Amanda Bailey, Chief Operating Officer explained how over 300 staff have been trained; that represents 55% of all staff as well as 2000 students, 50% of all students. There is a strategic lead responsible for leadership, development and integrity and next year it will train all initial teacher trainees. Amanda saw mindfulness as a good example of the school self-improvement system.

Richard Burnett, Co-founder of Mindfulness in Schools Project spoke about the opportunities for scalability in schools. Quality of training was necessary for mindfulness at a systemic level with a need for teachers who teach, practice and model it. More teachers and teacher training is required and he recommended four ways for scalability through: the National College Teaching Schools; public health and wellbeing boards; Continuous Professional Development for teachers and local education authorities. He recommended a large scale randomised control trial to research the impact of mindfulness in schools. He passed comment that mindfulness is not just about mental health difficulties but about performance and flourishing.

Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor of Education at University of Exeter spoke about the evidence base for mindfulness in education. The evidence for young people is more recent but looks promising and is growing exponentially. There are 50 research studies in peer reviewed journals but we need replication studies. Results echo those of adult literature. One big impact is on learning executive function together with mental health, depression, stress, anxiety, learning and emotional competencies, self-awareness, physical health and wellbeing.

The Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group is conducting a number of hearings this autumn into the potential of mindfulness in public policy. It will produce an interim report in January in parliament and the full report will be published in June early in the new parliament.

The school staff research is emerging and there are 13 published studies which are very positive. Teachers’ performance in the classroom showed they are focused and attuned to what children need so perform better and achieve more supportive relationships with them. There was a need for a definitive large RCT as we need to know about home grown studies to underpin the outputs to pay attention in a particular way, compassion and kindness and create better human beings, values and to look at this as part of foundation skills. She emphasised the need to integrate mindfulness more with mental health and social and emotional learning.

Paul Burstow MP, former minister for mental health and Chair of the CentreForum Mental Health Commission, drew from the Commission’s Report ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: a new ambition for mental health’ July 2014, following a 12 month study on the state of wellbeing in England. He said the report looked at how we help people to thrive and develop their potential and that this should inform and infuse all public policy. It also suggests that teachers need to be equipped on good wellbeing, emotional resilience and mental health as well. He recommended the need for an RCT on Mindfulness in schools to address the issue of attention so that we have a basis on which to develop public policy.

Fergus Crow, Director of Partnerships for the NCB (National Children’s Bureau) posed two key questions to the audience about a wider curriculum and, the extent mindfulness is an educational policy or mental health policy debate or an interface between the two. Other considerations included accountability, scaleability, new system leadership, legislation, the territory of mindfulness, delivery of mindfulness by non-mindfulness practitioners and the duty of law on schools to promote wellbeing.

Views from the audience were positive and supportive of the importance of mindfulness in education. Some of the organisations who responded included Sussex CAMHS who are dealing with higher levels of mental health issues from children and young people, Wellington College where mindfulness has worked well for many years, Cardiff and Vale College’s involvement in the Cardiff Professional Learning Community on Mindfulness set up by Cathays High School and Public Health England who supported the benefits of mindfulness with a request to include promotion, prevention and recovery.

Chris Ruane MP acknowledged the increasing mental health issues for children and young people and where mindfulness can provide benefits and highlighted the need for mindfulness in teacher training. He culminated the discussion by saying that a number of key MPs and ministers were supportive of mindfulness and it just required the research to inform them.