Feel all the exam stress float away

30th May 2014 at 01:00
Mindfulness training to follow successful school and college pilot

Teachers are to receive training in mindfulness meditation techniques this summer to help them prepare their students for the stresses of exams and life.

The decision comes after a two-year pilot with students at primary schools and City of Glasgow College. Among other positive results, students on Higher National programmes preparing for exams reported that meditating helped them to cope, while attendance rates were also found to improve.

Lyndsay Lunan, who has been teaching mindfulness techniques to students at City of Glasgow College, said they provided a "way of concentrating the mind" and controlling one's attention. "Increasingly, participants are able to notice when the mind has been hijacked by worry and rumination, and regain some control over [it], with the ability to generate a sense of focus and calm," Dr Lunan said.

Teachers will now receive coaching so that they can roll out the techniques more widely. In August, 20 teachers will attend five days of training, where they will find out about mindfulness and the principles and pedagogy behind it.

They will also learn how to teach a series of 16 classes that make up the ongoing Youth Mindfulness primary school programme (youthmindfulness.co.uk).

The programme includes discussion points and games designed to help children develop self-awareness and improve their concentration and resilience. Further training will be laid on in September for college lecturers.

Dr Lunan, who is a Youth Mindfulness trainer, said that college students used the techniques to cope with a range of issues including anger, "social phobia" and poor sleep.

The Youth Mindfulness organisation, founded by Michael Bready, has so far delivered the pilot meditation classes to more than 400 primary children at schools in East Renfrewshire, Glasgow and South Lanarkshire.

The children received the 16 lessons over eight weeks, with the sessions aimed at 7- to 11-year-olds. "Overall, the children really seem to enjoy the classes and gain a great deal of benefit from them," Mr Bready said.

In a survey of 120 children who took part, 96 per cent said they would recommend learning mindfulness to their friends and 98 per cent reported experiencing benefits such as feeling calmer, improved concentration, becoming kinder or appreciating life more.

Delivering mindfulness classes to primary classes was different from teaching older children, Mr Bready said: "Kids get bored very quickly. You have to engage their interest."

The children started by trying to focus their breath for a minute and then built that up over time, so that by end of their training they could focus their attention for up to 10 minutes.

Drop-in sessions for students have been rolled out across five City of Glasgow College campuses. Mr Bready said that Youth Mindfulness was now planning to move into secondary schools to teach the technique to students and teachers there.

Maureen McKenna, executive director of education at Glasgow City Council, said: "Glasgow is always pushing the boundaries and looking at innovative ways to support children who need a little bit extra in the classroom. Some of our children can be very vulnerable and deal with a number of external family issues so we do all that we can to minimise any barriers to learning.

"Early indications for this new project are looking very encouraging and we will analyse the results over the summer."

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, agreed it was crucial to prepare young people for stresses such as exams. But he added: "There is a point that maybe we have to concentrate a bit more on things like numeracy and literacy if we are concerned about things like the Pisa [Programme for International Student Assessment] results. There is a balance to be struck here."

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