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Chris McGovern: Mindfulness classes are a waste of time


“The Times Educational Supplement” reports that the Government is seriously considering whether courses in “mindfulness” should be introduced to help improve pupil well-being into State schools.  According to the report, the general idea is to “focus on teaching students meditation and breathing techniques as well as how to pay attention to the present moment.” The source of this initiative appears to be Wellington College, where so-called ‘happiness’ lessons have been in place for some time under it head, Anthony Seldon.

Now, I have always been inclined to see ‘happiness’ or contentment as a by-product of doing something else, particularly as a by-product of working unselfishly to help others. But it seems students now have a right to be happy even if they have not done anything of merit to achieve this emotional state. Introspection and reflection may be important but there is no guarantee that it will make us feel a whole lot better; often the reverse.

Of course, the idea of ‘mindfulness’ sessions in schools sounds attractive and somewhat trendy but I find the idea of introducing mindfulness classes into state schools worrying. And if the Minister Liz Truss, is going to make a difference to education in this country, she must fight against the siren voices emanating from the educational establishment and this includes that of Anthony Seldon.

In fact, before treading the pathway to towards lessons in ‘mindfulness’ the Minister should try it out with a class of 30 recalcitrant 15-year-olds in one of the tougher inner city comprehensive schools back in her home city of Leeds. I began my own teaching career back, in the 1970s, in a comprehensive school of 2000 pupil close to Leeds. A typical pupil, I recall, was arrested and banned from attending Leeds United games for crashing a bottle over the head of an opposing fan. After six months he was allowed to return to the football ground on condition that his father accompanied him. When he returned to school I asked him if he had been arrested, again. “No,” he replied, “but my dad was.”

I did not provide this lad with lessons in ‘mindfulness’ but I did provide him with a very disciplined learning environment and, I believe, with some decent teaching. I think he resented it, at the time. Ten years later, purely by chance, he approached me in a Leeds pub. Did he hit me over the head with a bottle? No! He shook my hand, said “Thank you”, and bought me a pint.  Perhaps, there are more ways to develop ‘mindfulness’ than the Wellington way.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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