Dear Ms Alexander, Mr Efford and Mr Brokenshire
I am writing to you as the MPs who either represent my constituency and/or the constituencies where many of my students live. It has come to my attention that Nic Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe County has been successful in securing a half hour debate on Mindfulness in Schools in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 6th September at 4pm and I implore you to attend and if possible promote the need for a specific budget to teach mindfulness in schools.
As a secondary school teacher who has taught for fifteenth years in schools in and around London I would like the government to understand just how important teaching Mindfulness is to our young people. For too many years an assessment driven education system has been narrowing the skills taught to, and the experiences gained by, state educated children in the UK. The effects are acute. More and more of our young people are suffering from anxiety and teachers see many lose their ‘sparkle’ as their school career progresses and the academic pressures mount. As Grace Barrett, Natasha Devon and Nadia Mendoza from the Self-Esteem Team emphasise, suicide is the second biggest killer of 10-24 year olds in the UK. The Mental Health Foundation also suggests that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Clearly something needs to be done.
And yet since the Daily Telegraph wrote nearly a year ago that:
“Social media and NHS waiting lists are driving a mental health epidemic among our children”
and it appears that with campaigns like #letters2tess little has changed. In fact anecdotal evidence from people in the service and also young people being helped by CAMHS suggest it is nearer breaking point now then it was last September.
So why do I think Mindfulness may be the answer? There is a growing body of research that shows it has a very positive effect on many of the young people who are taught it. Dr Martin Segilman of the University of Pennsylvania proved, in his 30 year study, that teaching 10 year-olds the skills of optimistic thinking (which can be linked to the ‘gratitude’ principle of Mindfulness) cut their chance by half of becoming depressed in adolescence. Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor, Universities of Exeter and Southampton, who does extensive work with the Mindfulness in Schools Project states that:
“Mindfulness is…likely to have beneficial effects on the emotional wellbeing,mental health, ability to learn and the physical health of school students.Such interventions are relatively cheap to introduce, have an impact fairly quickly, can fit into a wide range of contexts and are enjoyable and civilising, for pupils and staff.”
As the ‘Mindfulness in Schools Project’ point out it is extremely advantageous for everyone to be taught accurate information about mindfulness so they can choose to integrate it into their lives if they wish. This was also supported by the report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group in October 2015. Experts concede that mindfulness is not only an excellent way of helping students well-being but it is also extremely helpful with other aspects of their life and learning too. It is so much more than a way of treating mental illness, helping character and confidence too as well as having lots of other positives.
This year, with all of this in mind, and as someone who had found mindfulness extremely beneficial personally, I paid for myself to become qualified in teaching MISP’s .b course. Since introducing some of my students to mindfulness I have had extremely positive feedback. For example two of the students said:
“These sessions were extremely helpful and I think that it would be so beneficial to try to introduce them formally into our school. The sessions helped us find methods to deal with exam stress in a much more effective way than anything I’ve come across in school.”
“Mindfulness is a skill which I think all students should learn.”
However, having a few highly-motivated professionals paying for their own courses is not going to make a real difference.
We need courses to be run for teachers to learn mindfulness for themselves as they need to embody it before it can be taught effectively, and we then need teachers to be taught how to teach it. Only then can it become a normal part of the school day (just as it is in many independent schools across the country like Wellington College, Dulwich College, and Tonbridge School).
The issue is that this all takes money. Though the point of this letter is not to dwell on the current financial pressures being put on the education system (I think it will surprise many parents to know that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies “secondary schools face sharpest cuts to funding since 1970s.”) it must be acknowledged that this is a barrier to implementation. It is understandable that senior leaders and school governing bodies will not priortise spending money on Mindfulness courses when they are stuggling to cover staff salaries and textbooks. So why am I asking for your help? As I have already alluded to the only way that we will integrate mindfulness in schools is to have a specific ‘pot’ of money allocated to promoting it and for this to be made available to schools to access it easily.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to reading the transcript from the up-coming debate on 6th September and sincerely hope that with your help progress in funding mindfulness in schools, is made.
Secondary school teacher of Humanities and Mindfulness
cc: Justine Greening, Minister for Education & Nic Dakin, MP.
An update: Nic Dakin MP referred to this in his speech in the parliamentary debate on 6th Sept 2016. He said:
“Teachers need the training to deliver the courses. This week, one teacher contacted me to say that she had paid for herself to become a qualified mindfulness teacher, and she has seen a remarkable impact on her students from the courses she teaches. As she rightly points out, however, we need courses to be run for the teachers themselves, because they need to embody mindfulness before it can be taught effectively. We then need teachers to be taught how to teach it.”