Mindfulness-based interventions in schools

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behaviour, socio-emotional outcomes and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioural strategies, or relaxation-skills training.

A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomised or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 pupil participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the US (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%) and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4–28 weeks), number of sessions (6–125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).

The findings show that MBIs in schools have a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional outcomes, but do not improve behaviour or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioural outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues find a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behaviour and academic achievement.

Source: Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students (March 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:5

Does yoga improve academic performance more than PE?


A recent study published in Mind, Brain, and Education looks at the impact of a yoga programme on the academic performance of secondary school students.

At a New York City public high school, 112 students were randomly assigned to one of four yoga or six PE classes. The students were in Grades 9-11 (age 14-17); 59% were Hispanic and 22% Black, 11% Asian, and 8% White. Both PE and yoga classes met twice a week for 45 minutes throughout the academic year. The yoga curriculum used mindfulness and yoga-based exercises to help students focus on their work and respond appropriately to challenging situations. The PE class included weight lifting, fitness exercises, and common games, varied by the class teacher.

Student achievement was measured using their grade point average (GPA) from the previous and current academic years. Students and staff also completed a number of psychosocial measures, including the Response to Stress Questionnaire and the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure.

The study found no difference in GPA between students assigned to the yoga classes and those assigned to the PE classes. Students who were assigned to the yoga classes were associated with lower scores on the psychosocial scales, although this was not significant. There was a higher level of participation by students in PE classes than yoga classes. However, researchers found that students who had high levels of participation in yoga classes had significantly better GPA than those who had high levels of participation in PE classes.

Source: Yoga Improves Academic Performance in Urban High School Students Compared to Physical Education: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Mind, Brain, and Education (2016).

Positive results for mindfulness programme

Elementary school pupils who took part in a mindfulness programme showed improved social-emotional competencies and maths achievement.

The study in Canada took place in four elementary schools, which were allocated at random to deliver either a mindfulness programme or a social responsibility programme as a control. In total, almost 100 grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) children took part. The mindfulness programme, MindUp, consisted of 12 lessons taught once a week, each lesson lasting around 45 minutes. The programme included mindfulness activities such as breathing and attentive listening and lessons encouraging acts of kindness and community service.

Children in the MindUp programme showed significant improvements in executive function, self-reported well-being, and self- and peer-reported social behaviour. They also demonstrated better maths performance.

The authors argue that although this study is small, it shows potential for this kind of training to improve cognitive skills, social-emotional competence, and well-being in a real-world setting.

Source: Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial (2015), Developmental Psychology, 51(1)

Mindfulness programme shows promise

A study of the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) has shown that it reduces depressive symptoms, lowers stress, and increases well-being in teenagers.

The MiSP programme is a complex intervention that includes elements for young people who are stressed and experiencing mental health difficulties, for those in the normal range of mental health, and for those who are flourishing. It consists of nine lessons given weekly. A non-randomised controlled feasibility study matched six secondary schools teaching the MiSP programme with similar schools. Pupils aged 12-16 took part in the programme and were tested before the intervention, after the intervention (two months later), and at follow-up (three months later). After the intervention, there was strong evidence of lower depression scores for those receiving the MiSP programme. At follow-up, there was evidence of increased well-being, lower stress, and lower depression scores.

The authors say that the next step should be a randomised control trial, with longer follow-ups, to examine key processes and outcomes, and pay close attention to generalisability.

Source: Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: Non-randomised Controlled Feasibility Study (2013), The British Journal of Psychiatry.