Mindfulness programme launched to improve mental health in UK schools

New mindfulness resilience programme aims to improve mental health in UK schools

A new Mindfulness for Mental Health Resilience Programme is being used in UK schools to tackle the state of our children’s and teachers mental health. At a time when schools are at ‘crisis point’, with the number of referrals for pupils seeking mental health treatment rising by a third in the past three years and with more and more teachers leaving the profession due to work-related stress, education authorities are looking to mindfulness as a way to tackle these issues.

Special Yoga, a global non-profit organisation that designs and delivers yoga and mindfulness methodology training courses was commissioned by the Havering Clinical Commissioning Department in 2016 to create and implement training in Mindfulness for Mental Health Resilience for the children and teaching staff in the 80 schools in the district. The programme has been deemed so successful that it is now being delivered in schools across the country.

Founder of Special Yoga Jyoti Manuel explains why she believes the programme to be so important; “Anxiety levels in education today are so high for both children and the staff. Learning and memory are severely compromised through stress and anxiety. The practice of mindfulness and yoga helps us to be aware of the anxiety rather than being engulfed in it and gives us simple but effective tools to help us to both release it from our bodies and minds and also to separate ourselves from it so that it no longer has the same power.

Special Yoga offers bespoke training in schools that encompass radical self-care tools for the teaching staff, as well as practices that they can offer in the classrooms for the children who are experiencing difficulties.

Karen Blake, deputy headteacher at Suttons Primary, one of the schools who has implemented the programme says: “The impact that the programme has had throughout the school is clear to see. Staff talk about using mindfulness practices in their personal lives, children have been taught to use breathing to help them in moments of stress or anger, and those with emotional needs now have a bank of strategies that they can use to soothe them.

“We have used Jyoti’s body scans daily with our year six pupils, particularity in the build-up to this year’s SATs. Naturally, children get very anxious at this time of year, we find that the mindfulness practices we have been taught are a very effective way of helping children to stay calm. One boy was particularly distressed during the test period, he had been referred to CAMHS and had started to self-harm. Daily mindfulness taught him how to recognise the symptoms of stress and calm himself through breathing and bringing his mind back to the present. He sat his tests in a separate room with an adult so he could be encouraged to take breaks and manage his anxieties, and he went on to score the highest mark in the school in two of the exams!”

The Special Yoga Foundation was set up in 2004 with the aim of reaching children with special and additional needs around the world, through a global network of practitioners that are supported through accredited training courses.

Jyoti says “With more and more children with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning challenges being included in mainstream education without the adequate resource or training to meet their needs, the UK’s education system is experiencing a huge problem”.

Statistics published last year by the Department of Education showed that the expulsion rate for pupils with special needs has increased by one third in the past 12 months and this figure looks to continue if schools aren’t provided with the help they so desperately need.

Jyoti continues “Our mandate is to help the children with additional needs with the tools to help their sensory needs, their ability to concentrate, their sense of self, in order to help them to self-regulate and to give them opportunities to reach their fullest potential.

“The UK needs to be turning their attention to not only pupil’s mental and emotional health but that of teachers too. High-quality teaching cannot be delivered by stressed and anxious teachers after all. Teachers need to be supported with practices that help them to do their job and serve the children at their best.”

A study conducted by NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, found that over three quarters of teachers (78%) have experienced an increase in workplace stress, with more than two out of five (41%) – 2% up on last year – saying that they had seen a doctor due to stress and three in ten teachers reporting that they have turned to medication in the last 12 months.

Special Yoga’s groundbreaking Mental Health Resilience progamme is delivered through three programmes, which focuses on mindfulness for the staff, learning the techniques to teach mindfulness to children and on learning the additional tools to integrate the practice into the curriculum for both staff and pupils.

An evaluation of the mindfulness training programme, with Havering Clinical Commissioning Group, showed that the programme had a positive influence on both teachers’ and students’ emotional wellbeing and resilience. The quantitative data demonstrated an increase in teachers’ emotional wellbeing and resilience after attending the programme and demonstrated that students found the practices beneficial in helping them to feel calm and relaxed.

For more information on Special Yoga and the Mindfulness for Mental Health Resilience Programme visit www.specialyoga.org.uk

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