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Cambridgeshire Festival of Education: Surprising results of putting kindness on the curriculum

By Ben Comber

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

Teaching children empathy and kindness can help them outside the classroom. The concept will be explored at the county's first Festival of Education.

Festival events

Lecture Theatre:

Rachel Snape



Vic Goddard

Independent Thinking


Natalie Scott

Educating Refugees


Lucy Rycroft-Smith

Flip the System UK


Professor Pam Burnard Arts, Creativity and Education


Rob Loe

Relational Schools


Dame Alison Peacock Chartered College


Rachel Snape


Theme: Optimistic Leadership

Room 2

Dr Sarah Baker

Importance of Play


Kay Blayney

Teaching Agency


Room 3

Natacha Wilson

Random Acts of Kindness 11.15am-12.15am

Sarah Mears and John Biddle - Empathy Lab


Room 4

Ellen Ferguson

The Happy Teacher Project


Simon Glenister

Noise Solution + My Cambridge + Cambridgeshire Culture


Room 5

Maria O’Neil

Healthy Toolkit


Susan McKay

Parent Teacher Leader


Room 6

Kaboodle Theatre


Rachel Bailey

Mind Up


Room 7

Jonny Walker

Hope Mongering


Victoria Hewett

Feedback Not Marketing


Maths, English, science – all subjects that no-one would argue against being taught in primary classrooms up and down the country. But what about kindness? Should the social skills that children develop throughout their lives be given a push-start at school?

Workshops at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education will answer just that, using the surprising findings of studies and pilots based in schools in the county.

Empathy and kindness are just two skills that can be taught and have been seen to make significant positive change in the classroom and beyond.

Sarah Mears, library services manager for Essex County Council, will present a workshop that will reveal the findings of her work as a member of EmpathyLab.

EmpathyLab is based on the growing body of work that shows reading helps increase the ability to empathise, and that being better able to empathise has knock-on effects beyond the classroom.

She said: “I have seen the impact of books on children’s well-being. EmpathyLab is a new way of using books. It helps children understand others and themselves by understanding the world from a character’s point of view.

“We have done a year and a bit now with a group of primary schools where we have been piloting a group of activities. The results are really surprising, more so than we were expecting, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in our workshop, some of the theory behind EmpathyLab and why we think it works.”

Sarah said one school in Great Yarmouth has revealed some surprising behaviour from children who read Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird.

“They have all written letters of welcome to refugees in the community,” she said. “It’s getting them to see things from their perspective. It had a really positive impact on children’s understanding of the world and their empathy for for others. It manifested in playground behaviour and in the community.

“It’s quite a challenging estate that they live on and parents have strong feelings about refugees for example. But these children will share what they’ve learned about the refugee experience and express different views to some of their parents’.”

The Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation is similarly seeing benefits of teaching kindness. Research and education consultant Natacha Wilson said the foundation is working with many Cambridgeshire schools and she too is leading a workshop at the festival.

She said: “Emotional skills are important for the long-term development of children. It’s growing both the heart and the mind. All children develop their mental and social skills in the same way that we learn maths and English, and we develop them throughout our lives.

“If you place kindness at the heart of school values there are definite improvements in terms of behaviour and academic results and the school culture, it has a positive impact on the way that teachers and children interact.

“Ultimately it’s about making sure pupils can make sound decisions when they’re called to, and about getting children to talk about their emotions before they act on them.”

The RAK Foundation has been developing a curriculum for teaching kindness.

Natacha continued: “Some of it can be really simple, like writing a gratitude letter, and some can be more in-depth like roleplay.

“We have very clear goals and aims and ‘I can statements’ and 12 kindness concepts that are at the heart of the curriculum.

“At the heart of it, it’s about having a kind, compassionate approach to yourself.”

Mental health and well-being is one of five themes that will be explored at the festival.


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