Small scale research in three secondary schools in Cardiff
to evaluate the impact of .b mindfulness lessons with Year 9 and Year 10 pupils

Background to the Research

Clare McRobbie

Head of Pupil Development and Wellbeing

Cathays High School.

A Professional Learning Community was set up in Cardiff to share good practice and research the impact of the .b Mindfulness lessons (MiSP)on pupils in three secondary schools in Cardiff. There were representatives from Healthy Schools, Educational Psychologist, Secondary Schools, Teachers, Teaching Assistants and freelance Mindfulness teachers on the PLC. The practitioners involved in the actual research were Clare McRobbie - Head of Pupil Development and Wellbeing Cathays High School, Kerry Webster - Educational Psychologist, Cardiff High School and Joanna Hughes - .b teacher, Bishop of Llandaff.

The members of the PLC met each term from Oct 2014-June 2015. The pupils involved in the research were from one class in each year group in the following schools:

Year 10 - Cathays High School -the lessons were taught on a weekly basis in the Welsh Baccalaureate lessons (PSE-Health and Emotional Wellbeing) by Clare McRobbie, Head of Pupil Development and Wellbeing.

Year 9 - Cardiff High School – the lessons were taught in the PSE lessons by Educational Psychologist, Kerry Webster.

Year 9 - Bishop of Llandaff - the lessons were taught in the RE lessons by Joanna Hughes, .b teacher.

Limitations

The PLC members had decided to set the research up as a RCT initially and used pre and post Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire with the each class, the Mindfulness in Schools Questionnaire and focus group interviews as methods of evaluation. The lessons were taught in January- April 2015. The data was collected and focus group interviews were carried out by Jessica Draper (trainee EP in Cardiff). Unfortunately the Strength and Difficulties post questionnaires were not completed in one of the schools and so the members of the PLC decided to write up the small scale research report collating and analysingthe data collected from the young people in the Mindfulness in Schools questionnaires and the focus groups interviews only. Thus the research was no longer a RCT.

It is difficult to accurately combine data from the three schools due to the lack of consistency in approaches. Due to practicalities, it was necessary to combine some of the sessions into one and at times the gap between lessons was as much as three weeks due to events within two of the schools.Such significant gaps between lessons are not ideal, particularly as some pupils within the focus groups cited that they felt that fortnightly sessions were too infrequent.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all the members of the Cardiff Mindfulness PLC for their valuable contributions and support in this small scale research project.

Gareth Cloude - MBSR, .b and Paws.b teacher

Claire Coutney - ELSA Teaching Assistant, .b teacher ,Bishop of Llandaff High School, Cardiff

Joanna Hughes - .b and Paws.b teacher

Clare McRobbie - Head of Pupil Development and Wellbeing, Cathays High School, .b, paws.b and .b Foundations and MBSRteacher

Alison Rayner - Nurture Manager, Cardiff High School

Karen Trigg - Healthy Schools Team Leader- Cardiff

Kerry Webster - .b and paws.b teacher -Educational Psychologist, Cardiff County Council

Elizabeth Williams -.b and paws.b teacher

Jessica Draper - Trainee Educational Psychologist, Cardiff

Small scale research in three secondary schools in Cardiff to evaluate the impact of .b mindfulness lessons with Year 9 and Year 10 pupils

Jessica Angharad Draper

Trainee Educational Psychologist

Executive Summary

Text Box: Mindfulness is a way of directing attention to experiences as they happen, rather than focusing on worries about the past or the future. Mindfulness has been shown to be beneficial for pupils for a variety of reasons including improving attention, memory, resilience and general emotional wellbeing. Three secondary schools in Cardiff were involved in research focusing on the impact of .b mindfulness lessons with year 9 and 10 pupils. The .b mindfulness course consists of 10 sessions and the course was conducted with one class in each of the three schools. The three schools were Bishop of Llandaff High School, Cardiff High Schools and Cathays High School. Information gathered from the pupils and staff involved in the mindfulness sessions highlighted the following areas as being key to the successful implementation of mindfulness within schools: • Frequent sessions (ideally once a week) • Start teaching mindfulness practices from year 7 (or even before) • Provide pupils with practical examples of situations where the mindfulness practices might be useful • Explore the possibility of running the mindfulness sessions at break time, lunch time or after school • Pupils need to feel that wellbeing is valued within their school and is regarded with equal importance to exam results

Mindfulness Questionnaire

All of the pupils who participated in the mindfulness sessions completed a post-intervention questionnaire to attain their views on the mindfulness course and the mindfulness practices. The questionnaire consisted of nine questions which explored pupil’s perceptions of the value of the sessions and their views on the content of the sessions.

Information gathered from the 68 questionnaire responses shows that over 60% of pupils had found the mindfulness course to be enjoyable and interesting and had also felt that they had learned something from the course. Furthermore, over 50% felt that they might, or were very likely to, use the mindfulness techniques that they had learnt during the sessions. Pupils highlighted many positive uses of the mindfulness practices with the main benefits being cited as using the techniques to calm and relax them, helping them to cope with stress, anxiety and worrying, helping them to perform better in exams and helping them to concentrate better. The 7-11 and .b mindfulness practices were highlighted as the main techniques pupils felt they might use again in the future. As 7-11 and .b are two of the least time-consuming practices, it is not entirely surprisingly that these were the most popular within this demographic as pupils might get bored or not feel that they have enough time to engage in the longer practices. Encouragingly, over 70% of the pupils who were involved in the mindfulness lessons indicated either that they might use the practices now and again or that they would use them quite often. Finally, just over 50% of the pupils who participated in the lessons felt that the length of the course was about right while just over 40% felt that the course was too long.

Graphs for all of the questions contained in the questionnaire and a summary of all of the qualitative comments can be found in Appendix 1.

Focus Groups

One focus group was conducted in each of the three participating schools with each consisting of four pupils who took part in the mindfulness sessions. The three focus groups consisted of seven girls and five boys from years 9 and 10. The following questions were discussed in each focus group alongside a warm-up activity whereby the pupils noted down both positive and negative thoughts on the mindfulness lessons on post-it notes:

  • 1.In what ways do you think you have benefitted from the mindfulness .b lessons?
  • 2.Are there any negative effects of mindfulness .b lessons? Please explain.
  • 3.What sort of practise have you engaged with outside the lessons (if at all)?
  • 4.What has encouraged you to use or prevented you from using the mindfulness techniques taught to you in the lessons?
  • 5.What do you think would support you to practice mindfulness in the future (if at all)?
  • 6.In your opinion what do you think your school could do to help you develop mindfulness across the whole school?

Opinions on the Mindfulness lessons

Overall, the pupils in the focus groups were very positive about the mindfulness intervention and ten of the twelve pupils had engaged in mindfulness practices outside of the lessons. One of the main benefits of using mindfulness practices was cited as being reducing stress and anxiety, something that may be particularly beneficial in the run up to exams. The pupils liked that the meditations varied in length from a few seconds to five minutes meaning that the strategies could be used in a variety of contexts, even when they only have a short time frame available. Some pupils commented on how they found it interesting to see what other people do to calm down and to have the opportunity to learn from their experiences. In line with this, pupils felt that it was useful to be taught mindfulness strategies so that it can be used as an option if it is needed.

One particular pupil commented on how his grades had improved since he had started using mindfulness practices at home which has encouraged him to use them more regularly. Additionally, several of the pupils commented on how mindfulness practices are beneficial in reducing stress, calming down and helping to block out distractions. As a consequence, pupils felt that the use of mindfulness practices helped them to feel more relaxed in general and this was cited by some pupils as the main benefit. It was felt that other people’s positive opinions on mindfulness encouraged them to use the techniques and it was found to be useful in helping the pupils to take a step back and reflect. In addition to the positive benefits to academic attainment, pupils also cited how the practices can be useful in creating a positive mentality when engaging in sports as well as reducing conflicts as it provides an opportunity to pause and not react straightaway.

Graph 1 shows the practices that the pupils in the focus groups had engaged in following the sessions.

Graph 1: Mindfulness practices the pupils engaged in outside of the lessons

Generally, the pupils’ positive feelings towards mindfulness practices outweighed the negatives. Many of the negative thoughts were regarding practicalities such as the time it takes to complete the practices as well as finding a suitable environment to complete the mindfulness practices. Pupils also felt that, for those who did want to engage with the lessons, it was sometimes hard to concentrate as other members of the class did not always take it seriously and therefore, distracted those who did want to focus. Several pupils commented that they felt that the activities could have been better targeted at their age range with some citing that the intervention would have been better for younger years whilst others felt that the examples were not relevant to their current circumstances. Some pupils commented that they felt that the intervention was inappropriate for the year 9 and 10 age group as they are at an age where peer pressure is very pertinent and pupils might be made fun of by their peers for wanting to engage in the practices. Additionally, it was felt that engaging in the activities amongst a class who were disengaged could feel quite embarrassing for those who did want to concentrate.

Quotes on the pupils’ positive and negative thoughts on the mindfulness lessons can be seen in Appendix 2.

Suggestions of how mindfulness could be developed within schools

In order to support the use of mindfulness practices in the future, the pupils felt that it would be beneficial for them to have more frequent lessons which are taught in smaller groups so that it is easier to concentrate and so that they do not forget everything between the sessions. Furthermore, pupils should be able to choose whether they want to participate in the mindfulness lessons as it was felt that the experience would be more positive and more enjoyable if it was run in a class with pupils who really want to learn about mindfulness; this is particularly pertinent as engaging in the lessons in a class with many pupils who were not concentrating and would “mess around” was highlighted as one of the main aspects that prevented the pupils from using the practices. It was suggested that an initial ‘taster’ session could be given to the whole class and then pupils would be able to select whether they would like to engage in further sessions.

Although some pupils found it interesting to learn about the background to mindfulness, others stated that it would be better if more time was spent engaging in the practices during the lesson. Pupils also felt that it would be useful to have more examples of how they could use the practices in real-life in reflection of situations relevant to the particular age group.

It was suggested that, in order to embed mindfulness practices more cohesively into the school, it would be useful for more teachers in the school to know about, and engage in, the practices. Furthermore, it was felt that it would be useful for a quiet space to be made available at break time, lunchtime or after-school where pupils could go to complete the practices. It was also suggested that it would be useful to have half an hour to engage in mindfulness practices as a whole class before exams. Finally, the pupils involved in the focus groups felt that it would help for the mindfulness practices to be taught at a younger age, perhaps starting when pupils enter the school in year 7, so that these strategies can be mastered in advance of starting national exams. Overall, pupils felt that in order for mindfulness to be cohesively embedded into school practice, the school’s ethos would need to shift towards having a greater focus on wellbeing rather than just being about exam results.

Mindfulness practitioners’ views on the lessons

Information provided by the mindfulness practitioners indicates very different experiences of conducting the mindfulness course. It seems that the internal practitioner was able to have more control over the frequency of the lessons and was able to integrate the sessions into the curriculum more cohesively through giving the sessions more of a distinct purpose, such as contributing to the Welsh Baccalaureate.It was felt that the lessons were well structured, contained useful video clips and could be adapted to the classroom environment. Many of the pupils engaged well and enjoyed the lessons, particularly the activity based tasks. It is clear that the mindfulness lessons were not valued by all pupils.

The importance of having the support of senior members of staff within the school was highlighted as being vital to the successful implementation of the course.Furthermore, it was cited that it would be beneficial for more members of staff within the school to be trained in mindfulness practices in order to allow for mindfulness to be adopted more cohesively across the school.

In the future, it was felt that it would be valuable to develop a whole school approach to Mindfulness by engaging parents in the process as well as all school staff and partner primary schools. Personal and Social Education (PSE) or Welsh Baccalaureate were highlighted as lessons when it might be particularly appropriate to teach the mindfulness sessions with the possibility of taster sessions being run at break /assemblies/ lunch times to introduce pupils to the practices. Finally, reflecting the views of the pupils, it would be beneficial for sessions to begin in year 7.

Summary

Recommendations for schools

The following areas were highlighted as recommendations for schools who would like to promote mindfulness in their school:

  • Essential to have the support of the SLT/SMT
  • Frequent sessions (ideally once a week)
  • Start teaching mindfulness practices from year 7 (or even before)
  • Provide pupils with practical examples of situations where the mindfulness practices might be useful
  • Pupils need to feel that wellbeing is valued within their school and is regarded with equal importance to exam results
  • Develop a whole school approach

Future research

Within the study, one of the sessions was run by a member of staff within the school while others were run by external practitioners. It would be interesting for research to further explore whether any differences exist between courses run by staff that the pupils are familiar with compared to practitioners from other organisations. Furthermore, it would be interesting to explore the impact of the mindfulness sessions longitudinally by selecting measures which could be used prior to the intervention, immediately after the intervention and then at selected time points several months or years after the initial teachings.

Conclusions

Overall, it seems that mindfulness practices could have a beneficial role in supporting pupils in secondary schools in areas such as concentration and exam performance as well as helping pupils to cope with stress, anxiety and worrying. Many of the pupils who attended the mindfulness sessions found the strategies to be beneficial with a high proportion stating that they might adopt the techniques in the future. The research highlighted some key areas for development and recommendations for good practice, which could help to support the wider implementation of mindfulness practices within schools.

Appendices

Appendix 1 - Graphs of data collected from the mindfulness questionnaires

Very DullOkay Excellent

Very Little SomeA great deal

NeverI might doVery likely

Looking at the course as a whole, what did you like about it?

  • The silence
  • Sleeping
  • FOFBOC
  • I liked the experience of the whole course
  • Relaxing
  • Taking in the good
  • Offering techniques for relaxation
  • It was relaxing and was a bit of a stress relief
  • Everything
  • The thought buses
  • The calmness
  • The meditation, recognising and extending our learning
  • Learning new techniques to keep calm
  • Experiencing things in another light (e.g. eating a Malteaser mindfully)
  • I liked learning the new techniques
  • Different experiences, valuable life lessons
  • Helps deal with anger and stress
  • Taking a moment during meditation, and just try and think about nothing
  • Meditation

What did you least like about it?

  • Moving mindfully
  • Samuri walking (x3)
  • Lessons took far too long to complete, and I already knew a lot of the things we ‘learnt’
  • The amount of meditation was a bit tedious
  • Felt like we were being forced to do this, whereas meditation was more of a choice
  • The amount of lessons, having to go over things repeatedly
  • The lessons dragged
  • FOBOC
  • Too long
  • Lessons were a bit boring
  • Mindful walking in public may be considered strange in public
  • Moving mindfully
  • Mindfulness made me lethargic and sleepy

Appendix 2 – Positive and negative thoughts on the mindfulness lessons from the focus groups in all three schools

Positive thoughts on the mindfulness lessons

Negative thoughts on the mindfulness lessons

“I found some of the lessons quite interesting and liked most of the meditations we did”

“Helps calm you down”

“Reduces stress in lessons”

“Reduces stress before and after revision”

“May reduce stress in exams (haven’t tested it yet)”

“I liked the thought buses and just letting yourself think whatever and not trying to stop it”

“I liked the .b as it will help me before exams when I get stressed or nervous, making me feel calmer”

“I liked the one where we imagined somewhere peaceful in the future”

“Mindfulness helps me when I feel anxious or scared about something. I can just sit down and focus on my breathing. The thing I liked the most about it was that you can do it anywhere and at any time. If you can’t sleep Beditation helps me.”

“Mindfulness makes you relax and makes you think more freely”

“Peaceful”

“Calming and stress relieving”

“7-11 helps me calm down”

“You were able to experience different techniques to help with stress”

“It was useful for me to help me calm down when I’m stressed”

“It was quite interesting”

“I liked FOFBOC”

“The explanations were too long and not much time to do the meditations”

“Some techniques are time consuming”

“Slight disruption during some lessons”

“You need to be in complete silence to make it work and sometimes I don’t get that”

“I didn’t like the mindful walking, it seemed stupid and I’m not sure why it was relevant. I didn’t like the mindful tasting either. Sometimes people found it hard to concentrate as people would start laughing.”

“It was sometimes a bit boring”

“It may be boring for some people”

“Might need to catch your attention more”

“Can be considered boring at stages”

“The process was really long”

“I thought that a lot of it was a bit ridiculous like the mindful eating because it didn’t seem like something I’d ever actually do”