A major research project on the value of teaching mindfulness in schools to improve pupils’ mental health and even their test scores was announced today.
The Wellcome Trust study will include the first large-scale randomised trial of mindfulness training in UK schools, involving nearly 6,000 students aged 11-14.
Mindfulness promotes awareness of the present moment through focusing thoughts and emotions, using techniques like meditation and yoga. The practice can reportedly combat depression and boost concentration. The researchers will look at whether this can lead to improved academic results for pupils.
The £6.4 million-programme will be carried out over seven years by teams at the University of Oxford, UCL and the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.
Children in classrooms across 76 mainstream schools will take part in the trial, in which mindfulness training will be offered as part of their normal curriculum, taking place over 10 lessons within a school term.
Other parts of the study include experimental research to establish the most effective way that teachers can deliver mindfulness classes to students, and whether the practice improves teenagers’ mental health.
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the programme’s principal investigator from UCL, said: “It is becoming clear to neuroscientists that early teenage years are a crucial time for brain development, particularly in brain regions responsible for decision-making, emotion regulation and social understanding.
“Alongside the trial in schools, we are trying to find out experimentally whether mindfulness improves cognitive and emotional resilience in young people aged 11-16.”
Geography teacher Paula Kearney, who has given mindfulness training to her pupils in Swiss Cottage, London, reported “very positive feedback”.
She said: “I find that mindfulness techniques are used by different students in different ways, for example some might prefer breathing techniques, whereas others find visualising thoughts more helpful.
“A lot of my students use the techniques they like, not just during lessons or times of stress but also at home.”
The trial is expected to begin in 2016 and will run for five years, plus a follow-up period of two years for each student.