University receives £33,000 grant to improve emotional wellbeing of children in schools

14 July 2017

A £33,000 grant to deliver free training to schools in a bid to improve the emotional wellbeing of teachers and students has been awarded to the University of Derby.

The training programme, called ‘Compassion in the Classroom’, aims to improve the emotional, social and behavioural wellbeing of teachers and students in a range of primary and secondary schools across the UK and beyond.

Dr Frances Maratos, Reader in Emotion Science at the University of Derby, has received the funding as part of a £107,000 bid, in collaboration with Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, Researcher and Professor at the University of Derby, and Dr Marcela Matos, Postdoctoral Fellow and Clinical Psychologist at University of Coimbra, in Portugal.

The funding comes after a pilot of the Compassionate Mind Training initiative at a school in the East Midlands during the 2016-17 school year.

The funding, a charitable donation to The Compassionate Mind Foundation, will now enable the University to deliver the training programme to a further number of schools for free, digitise important resources, and pay for portable heart monitors to track stress levels in staff as part of the initiative. In addition, it will cover fees for a part-time PhD student for seven years to help with the research and evaluate longitudinal benefits of the scheme.

Dr Frances Maratos said: “It is fantastic that our research is being recognised. The mental health and wellbeing of both school staff and pupils is immensely important, and an area of research that should be taken extremely seriously.

“Schools do not currently have funding to provide compassion training for their teachers and students. It is only recently that mental health has come to the forefront.

“Attainment in schools is very much performance based so teachers are very focused on that. Scant attention is paid to improving wellbeing of staff and students and tending to their needs.

“As Derby schools are currently in the bottom ten worst performing local authorities in the country according to GSCE results in 2016, we would really like to use the funds to progress the compassion-based approach with a small number of select schools in the East Midlands. 

“Compassion training should be part of every school’s ethos. There is growing evidence that it improves mental wellbeing, promotes prosocial behaviour and underpins ethical and moral development.

“In addition, compassionate mind training helps people understand what compassion is and isn’t, enables individuals to have improved emotion regulation, and deal with stress and conflicts in new and helpful ways.

“The compassionate mind training we promote is rooted in both evolutionary and the neuroscience insights into how motives and emotions operate through the brain and body.”

Compassion focused therapy, for which compassionate mind training is a part, was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert OBE for people with complex mental health problems and who have high levels of self-criticism and emotional regulation difficulties. Compassion training enables people to develop very different orientations to themselves and others which facilitates wellbeing and counteracts vulnerabilities to mental health difficulties.

The training programme typically consists of six two to three-hour sessions but can be reframed to fit with a school’s timetable. During these workshops, staff explore the way the human brain has evolved, how and why it’s very easy for us to do harmful things to ourselves and others and how, by taking a compassionate stance, we can offset these tendencies. Compassionate mind training utilises psychoeducation on the evolved nature of mind along with a range of interventions including posture and breath training, mindfulness, self-identity training, visualisation and behavioural practices.

Teaching professionals at a school in the East Midlands worked with the University of Derby to pilot the Compassion Mind Training initiative in 2016-17.

They stated the course helped them to manage school-related stress, increase their self-compassion, show compassion towards their colleagues and students, enhance decision making in difficult situations, offer better support for their students, manage challenging behaviour, as well as enable them to disengage from work stresses.

A survey conducted by the research team further found 99% of teaching professionals would recommend the training to others, and 95% of staff rated the content, pacing and material covered, interest and interactivity of sessions as good.

One teaching professional said: “The emotional content of my job is much easier to process and is leaving me to be more energetic and upbeat.”

Professor Paul Gilbert OBE said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to implement compassionate mind training in Derbyshire schools. It is wonderful to be part of the world movement that is seeking to help teachers and children develop insight into the tricky nature of our minds and how to promote wellbeing, moral and prosocial behaviour with compassion training.

Dr Marcela Matos added: “This funding is a fantastic opportunity to conduct this research project focused on fostering compassion and wellbeing in schools.

“With respect to the international arm, our aim is to improve Portuguese teachers’ and children’s wellbeing and emotion regulation abilities through the development and implementation of the compassion-based programme in elementary schools, which will encompass a systemic approach and involve teachers, children, parents and other school agents.

“In addition, the funding will allow for the promotion of cooperation in international research and comparison of the impact of such a compassion-training programme, across countries where the schools systems are different.”

The University is now looking for primary and secondary schools across Derbyshire to undertake the free training programme, which will start in Spring 2018.