Minds@Play randomised controlled trial

Dr Jon Quach
E: jon.quach@unimelb.edu.au

Project Details

The first three years of primary school are crucial for establishing a foundation for long-term student academic, social and mental health outcomes. Numerous longitudinal studies have demonstrated that students’ ability to regulate their attention and emotions and comply with teacher instructions during the early schooling period predicts subsequent school adjustment, participation and success. In contrast, students lacking these skills are at increased risk for a host of detrimental outcomes including poorer academic performance, behavioural and emotional problems, and poor peer and teacher relationships.

Identifying evidenced-based approaches to help students develop attention and emotional regulation skills thus play a critical role in proactively supporting the mental health and academic performance of young people. Mindfulness is an approach that has rapidly gained popularity globally, with rapid uptake in schools across Australia. Mindfulness-based interventions aim to improve student skills in areas such as attention, self-regulation and executive functioning, and thus directly target the skills students need to function well in school. However, there are a glaring lack of robust studies which have examined whether mindfulness interventions do lead to better long-term outcomes for students. Further, to be sustainable and scalable, mindfulness practices need to be embedded within classrooms, delivered by teachers, following established pedagogy, or may do more harm than good. Mindfulness-based programs potentially provide a powerful social and emotional learning approach, but alternatively could waste valuable time and resources and result in unintended consequences.

This new study funded by the Australian Research Council addresses this significant gap in evidence. The study will commence in Term 1, 2020 and will be conducted in 22 primary schools across Melbourne, following 800 Grade Prep students across 2 years to understand the long-term effects of a mindfulness intervention. Developed by Dr Ben Deery, the intervention aims to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to integrate mindfulness practices within their classrooms, drawing upon the existing or low-cost classroom resources. Outcomes will be based on student, parent and teacher perspectives, enablers and barriers to schools implementing the intervention, and the costs compared to benefits.

This project is significant and innovative in that it:

  • Trains teachers, providing a theoretical and practical foundation to the program, enabling the program to be integrated directly into classroom practices
  • Tests the efficacy of a teacher-led mindfulness program.
  • Targets at risk communities, local government areas which have a high proportion of children starting school with teacher-reported emotional and social difficulties that impact on their learning, providing early intervention and support for those at risk for poor academic and social outcomes.
  • Uses a cluster randomized control design, addressing calls for robust studies.
  • Will be provided across two years, providing a more sustainable approach to developing attention, self-regulation and executive functioning skills.
  • Considers the implementation, identifying for whom and under what conditions the intervention may be beneficial.
  • Includes a cost-effectiveness analysis, providing the first economic evaluation of mindfulness interventions in primary schools.

Importantly, this is the first study internationally which will examine the use of mindfulness in students starting school.

Collaborators

Dr Jon Quach

Professor Janet Clinton

Dr Ben Deery

Associate Professor Emma Sciberras

Associate Professor Peggy Kern

Associate Professor Lisa Gold

Ms Francesca Orsini