Compassion in education

Within education, wellbeing and mental health is at crisis point. Keeping teachers and lecturers in the profession is at an all-time low, and child and adolescent mental health issues are at an all time high. Researchers at the University of Derby are leading exploration of whether compassion-based approaches in education might offer a solution for this sector.

Generating wellbeing

Compassion-based approaches have been considered as a way of generating greater psychological wellbeing. However, there has been limited application of these approaches in educational settings.

To address this and with the aim of supporting those in the education sector, our researchers, who are world leads in the development of Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) and Compassionate Mind Training (CMT), are applying their knowledge and developments within the educational sector.

Applied research aims

The research team is led by Professor Frances Maratos. They currently progress compassion-based interventions across different educational settings and with different groups of individuals, including staff, pupils and higher education students, to explore the feasibility of Compassion in Education.

The team rigorously evaluate whether the compassion-based interventions have the desired results in educational settings and with different groups. The evaluation includes the interventions effects on both psychological and physiological wellbeing.

The research team produce curriculums that can be developed into ones that teachers and lecturers (and others) can train in and lead in their own schools, colleges, universities - and beyond. The aim of this is to improve the experiences and wellbeing of all and ensure compassion in education is scalable.

Making a difference

To date, we have developed three curriculums. These are:

CMT-Teachers has been trialled internationally with over 600 teachers and educators. Results have revealed that school staff who undertake the six-module course show significant decreases in anxiety, depression and stress and have better physiological health (as measured by greater heart-rate variability), compared with staff who have not taken the course. In addition, results reveal the course enables staff to better emotionally regulate and have greater compassion for those they work with, as well as themselves.

"The education sector are currently facing a recruitment and retention crisis. It is well known that many teachers feel overworked, under-appreciated and stressed. The partnership work carried out with the University of Derby has enabled us to invest in our staff’s mental health and wellbeing. This project has come at the right time for us. Never has it been more important or needed. I cannot thank the University enough.“ - Head teacher taking part in the CMT-Teachers programme.

CMT-Pupils has been trialled with over 200 pupils in the UK. Initial results reveal that the lessons protect pupils from increases in anxiety, promote inclusivity and kindness, and provide children with the skills they need to better emotionally regulate their moods and feelings. All of these promote better in-class relations, behaviour and management. 

“It has helped me feel a lot more positive about myself. My behaviour has improved even more after the project.” - Child taking part in the CMT-Pupils programme.

CC-HE has been trialled with over 400 hundred University of Derby students. The results reveal that it helps students address unhelpful group behaviours, employ more helpful group behaviours and develop enhanced feelings of inclusivity, especially when team working.

"It made you more aware of things like eye contact and how important it is to make sure that you're including everybody and not just letting one person dominate the conversations." - Student taking part in the CC-HE Programme.

International reach

As part of our CMT-Teachers and CMT-Pupils research, the team have collaborated with several schools across the East Midlands and the North West of England, as well as several schools in Coimbra, Portugal, in collaboration with Dr Marcela Matos.

Professor Maratos has also been working with schools and teachers across Wales in collaboration with Learning Mindfully (Liz Williams), as well as working closely with Derby City Council to ensure our CMT-Teachers and CMT-Pupils curriculums can be made available to select schools within our local community. Plus, the CMT-Pupils curriculum is currently being rescoped to produce a version suitable for younger children, led by PhD student Julie Hurst. The team's research is also expanding further afield as they work with researchers in Ireland, Italy, Poland and Australia. 
As part of our CC-FE/HE research, all psychology students at the University of Derby take part in CC-HE as part of their curriculum. This is now being trialled with Social Work students. In addition, Dr Caroline Harvey, is consulting with staff at the Universities of Manchester and Hong Kong to investigate a trial of CC-HE with their students. If you are a PhD student who might be interested in this research, please take a look at our opportunity: Exploring the impact of compassion-based initiatives in higher education.

Services on offer

For those curriculums we have now effectively trialled and rigorously evaluated, our main focus is on providing these in-house initiatives for school staff and educators, school pupils, and students within Higher education. We will soon be offering single one-off sessions with staff, in which introductory materials and simple practices that can aid wellbeing are overviewed in a single CPD session.

Compassionate Mind Training for Teachers (CMT-Teachers) aims to improve the wellbeing of both staff (and students) across primary and secondary schools. As part of the staff curriculum, we deliver an insightful programme to help those working in educational settings gain greater understanding of emotions – including emotion regulation in the brain and the body. We also share a variety of compassion-based practices to cultivate emotional well-being. Our initiative is based on the latest science and practices as devised by our teams of experts and others. The course comprises six 90-minute modules designed to be progressed over one school term or two half terms. Module content encompasses:

  • Definition of compassion

  • Exploration of emotions and the stress response

  • Building the compassionate mind

  • Using the compassionate mind to address stress

  • Using the compassionate mind to address self-criticism

  • Compassion, compassionate communication and compassionate flows: a whole school ethos/use in everyday life.

CMT-Teachers, developed by Professor Maratos and colleagues at the University, has now been trialled with over 600 educators across the UK and Portugal. Rigorous evaluation of its effectiveness has been published in international peer-reviewed journals and reveals the specific CPD to improve both psychological and physiological health. This includes improved emotion regulation, protection from burnt-out, anxiety and depression, increased compassion towards self and others, and better heart and cardiovascular functioning. CMT-Teachers, therefore, allows for an affordable approach to improving staff well-being, which can improve the classroom environment and pupil well-being/behaviour. Testimonials are available on request.

Compassionate Mind Training for Pupils (CMT-Pupils) aims to improve the wellbeing of students of both primary and secondary age (those in year 6 and 7). As part of the initiative, we have developed a six PSHE lesson series that helps pupils gain greater understanding of their own emotions – including how emotions work in the brain and the body. We also introduce a range of fun practices and exercises that are based upon our compassion-based ethos as well as positive psychology. Our initiative is based on the latest science and practices as devised by our team of experts. Content of the sessions includes:

  • Materials based upon understanding emotions (including difficult emotions of fear, anger and anxiety)
  • How we often experience mixes of emotions (the three circles model)
  • Practices that can be used to help understand and regulate such emotions
  • Practices that encourage calming and contented emotions, as well as a more positive mind-set and the flow of compassion (i.e., compassion for self, compassion for others and compassion from others)

CMT-Pupils, developed by Professor Maratos and colleagues at the University, has now been trialled with over 200 UK pupils in Year 6 and Year 7 using controlled trial designs. These trials have revealed the curriculum to improve feelings of social inclusion between pupils (and their teachers), allows children to better emotionally regulate, resulting in improved classroom behaviour; and protects children from increases in anxiety, self-perfectionism and self-criticism (all which are, or can, lead to serious mental health conditions). CMT-Pupils therefore allows for an affordable approach to improving pupil well-being.

To expand, per school, only a small number of teachers need to be trained in CMT-P curriculum delivery. Once trained, these individuals can then deliver CMT-P to all children in year 6 and/or year 7 in their school as part of SEAL/PSHE provision.

The CMT-FE/HE student initiative arm aims to improve group functioning, along with feelings of wellbeing and group belonging in HE by embedding compassion in the taught curriculum. During this programme students are taught to understand the importance of compassionate communication skills (CCS) and the impact these skills can have on themselves and those around them. Students are taught to interact with one another through the lens of compassion, and to become more aware of their own communication style. Using video materials produced by Dr Harvey and Professor Maratos, they are also encouraged to reflect upon helpful and unhelpful group behaviours and, relatedly, techniques that all group members can use to help a group communicate and function more effectively.

Students who have engaged with the CCS approach report feeling more aware of the impact of their own communication style, including improved interactions with peers inside and outside of the classroom. Students who struggle to engage with group discussions have also reported feeling more supported and included, with staff observing clear benefits of the CCS curriculum regarding student inclusion and self-awareness. Training in this curriculum will be available shortly.

Select publications

Our curriculums have been scientifically scrutinised and evaluated. Our well-being initiatives in education are unique in that our researchers have published evidence relating to the psychological and physiological beneficial effects of the Compassion in Education curriculums/CPDs in internationally peer-reviewed journals and edited books. Below are just a few publication examples:

The research of Professor Maratos and colleagues has also been featured in the Psychologist and the Times Higher Education. In addition, Professor Maratos has produced several media pieces and blogs around the topics of wellbeing, compassion in education and child mental health.


To support the Compassion in Education research, the team of researchers have previously received funding from the University of Derby, The Reed Foundation and the Compassionate Mind Foundation.

If additional funders would like to be involved or learn more about the research, please contact Professor Frances Maratos, who would welcome the opportunity for a discussion.

Meet the team

Academic Frances Maratos, smiling.

Professor Frances Maratos
Professor of Psychology and Affective Science

Frances Maratos’ research informs applied emotion regulation, compassion and wellbeing interventions worldwide. She is widely published and has excellent grant capture. Frances is the exiting Chair of the College of HPSC Research Committee. Her Professorial appointment reflects not only her international research profile but also her longstanding commitment to the University.

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Dr Caroline Harvey

Dr Caroline Harvey
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Caroline teaches a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules on our Psychology programmes. She supervises PhD students and is an active researcher. Caroline's research is focused on two broad areas and she leads on research concerning compassion in higher education and also works as part of a team that are interested in the links between nature and wellbeing.

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