New yoga trial aims to tackle high exclusion rates

Schools in Norfolk are turning to yoga in a bid to bring down exclusion rates.

GP practice the Acle Medical Partnership is working with three schools on a new trial which will see pupils at risk of exclusion taught “the benefits of yoga and mindfulness” to help them cope with life, “both in and outside the classroom”.

The scheme will be targeted at pupils on the autistic spectrum and those with social or emotional challenges.

The pilots, part-funded by the NHS, Acle and the schools involved, will be delivered by charity Special Yoga. They are being run in response to concerns among GPs about “over diagnosis of attention problems” and rising exclusion rates.

Jyoti Jo Manuel, founder of Special Yoga, claims yoga teaches children with autism, challenging behaviour and mental health issues “to cope and respond to stress, tension, worry, anxiety and depression”.

“Teaching children specific breathing strategies and yoga poses to support them in activating the parasympathetic nervous systems, which is responsible for rest, relaxation and digestion and helps to reduce anxiety, release difficult emotions and tension in the body.

“With this project children are learning coping strategies that can be used at home and within the school day, so they may live calmer, happier, more peaceful and healthier lives.”

Pupils at the schools will be offered group yoga sessions over a 12 week period, while their parents and teachers will get additional training on how to use the exercise.

Chris Edwards, the headteacher of Reedham Primary School, one of the schools taking part, said her school had a “larger than normal” number of children with autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorders and ADHD, and warned of a “growing pressure in the system and the diagnostic process is taking far longer than it should”.

“In the meantime, without an official diagnosis, a number of these children are unable to access the full range of support services available to them and their families.

“In school we have seen how the practice of yoga has a profound impact on certain children. They appear to be calmer and more at peace with themselves and their surroundings.”

The project has been backed by north Norfolk MP and former health minister Normal Lamb, who said it would “address the needs of children who are at urgent risk of isolation, both in schools and society”.

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  1. Tom Burkard

    Although any humane form of discipline is to be welcomed, by far the most effective therapy is honest academic achievement. This requires a well-structured curriculum with a clear progression with enough direct teaching to ensure that pupils achieve achieve automaticity at each step. When schools understand and apply Rosenshine’s ten principles of instruction, all pupils–regardless of putative ‘special needs’–become fully engaged in learning.

    This thinking has informed Ofsted’s ‘Bold Beginnings’ report, and has also influenced the development of the new inspection framework. Until schools get this right, mindfulness and yoga are just tinkering around the edges of the problems of disengaged pupils. After all, spending your formative years largely in a fog of confusion is more than any child should have to suffer.

  2. Hi Tom, I agree with you that no child should spend their time in a fog of confusion, but that is the reality of what a lot of children are experiencing. This is exactly what the yoga classes are helping them with. I am the children’s yoga teacher (and a school teacher) and I have been working with the children involved in this study.

    I think it is key that this approach is not passing judgement or blame on schools and what they are doing or not doing. These particular schools undoubtedly have a well structured curriculum with clear progression. The head teachers, teachers and staff are highly skilled and committed.

    The children we are doing yoga with are finding it very difficult to access education due to sensory differences, mental health or emotional needs which are beyond their control or ours. They just need a little extra support like we all do sometimes!

    We are sharing with them tools and techniques for them to use in order to manage their emotions, calm their nervous system so that they can concentrate and focus on their learning.

    The children report that they feel better and are better able to focus after yoga. I appreciate I am biased but I honestly think it doesn’t matter what educational principle or structure we apply to learning if the children physically aren’t able to sit still and concentrate. They are grateful to be given tools to help them focus on their learning because they want to be able to access their education just as much as we want them to.