A SENSE of calm is sweeping across the county's classes as schools try to still an 'anxiety epidemic'.

The Diocese of Oxford has launched a pilot project at three Oxfordshire schools, teaching pupils methods such as 'stillness', and plans to roll it out at 20 others next year.

Information published by the diocese referred to an ‘epidemic of anxiety’ in schools, and said the project equips pupils with a 'toolkit' for coping with the pressures they might face.

Goring CE Primary School, Buckland CE Primary School near Faringdon and St Edburg's CE Primary School in Bicester are taking part, as well as a primary school near Maidenhead.

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Angela Wheatcroft, headteacher at Goring in South Oxfordshire, said: "We are about six to eight weeks into the pilot and we have found that it’s having a really positive impact, not only on the pupils but also on the staff as well."

The 'toolkit' consists of a series of contemplative and spiritual practices and prayers, with three modes of delivery.

The daily mode sets sessions lasting five-10 minutes, the monthly or half-termly mode for 15-20 minutes, and termly for 30-40 minutes.

As well as pupils taking part in the activities, every staff meeting at the schools now starts with a period of contemplation.

For those taking part daily, the toolkit sets 'stilling' on Mondays, 'noticing' on Tuesdays, 'dwelling' on Wednesdays, 'mending' on Thursdays and 'blessing' on Fridays.

The practice of stilling sees pupils close their eyes with the classroom lights off, place their hands on their knees with their palms upwards, be still and think of good things about their day.

They then place their palms downwards and are asked of things they are burdened by, and to let them go.

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Ailsa Toolin, a Year Six teacher and religious education co-ordinator at Goring, said: "There's a lot of stresses and strains on young children today...their little lives are so busy, filled with so many things to do.

"The children really enjoyed that opportunity to be still, to take five minutes out of the busyness of the day and just stop and have time to think.

"Feedback has been that those times of calmness and quiet have allowed them time to think about themselves and their feelings, and things they can do to improve their sense of wellbeing."

Last year 2,512 children at schools in the county had identified social, emotional and mental health needs, up from 2,434 in 2017.

A report in October revealed that the rate of social, emotional and mental health needs of Oxfordshire pupils is 'increasing and above the national average'.

There are 10 more pilot schools lined up to join the pilot in the spring term, and another 10 in the summer term.

The project is a collaboration between Ian Macdonald and Charlie Kerr, the diocese's youth and school chaplaincy advisors.

They are in the process of tweaking the toolkit for family and youth-specific versions, which will be introduced in 2020 at youth groups, in the home and at churches.