Roots of Empathy in the UK

Little child looks at babyRoots of Empathy (RoE) is an evidence-based classroom programme that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression and bullying among schoolchildren.

The programme — for children ages 5 to 13 — has been delivered to more than 3,000 children in 29 primary schools in Lewisham, London since 2012.

It works by raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy, resulting in the development of social behaviours such as sharing, helping and including others.

The programme is delivered by instructors who are trained and coordinated through the Pre-school Learning Alliance Lewisham Service Hub.

At the heart of the 27-session programme are classroom visits by a parent and baby, where possible from the school community.

The parent and their baby visit the class every three to four weeks, totalling nine family visits.

The children observe the power of the baby which prompts them to explore their own feelings and temperaments, and of their classmates around them.

The curriculum is attuned to the development and interests of the children and divided into nine themes, with three classroom visits supporting each theme (a pre-family visit, family visit and post-family visit).

Roots of Empathy goals

To foster the development of empathy.

To develop emotional literacy.

To reduce levels of bullying, aggression, and violence and promote children’s pro-social behaviours.

To increase knowledge of human development, learning, and infant safety.

To prepare students for responsible citizenship and positive parenting.

Roots of Empathy results

100% of teachers who have been involved in the programme strongly agree, or agree, that as a result of Roots of Empathy, students are more inclusive or accepting of others who are different from themselves, including culture, race, special needs and gender.

“Before Roots of Empathy lots of people were being rude to each other and not knowing how the other person felt. Because empathy means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and feeling what they feel, I think that now we know what the other person feels.” — Year 5 pupil.

“I saw a more emotional and sensitive side to the children when they interacted. Roots of Empathy has allowed them to understand it is okay to talk about sensitive topics without having a negative reaction. If they are able to express how they feel I am able to break down any barriers to learning.” — Class teacher

“Overall children are more able to verbalize their feelings and deal with social issues. Children are more able to name and identify emotions that they could not before (e.g. jealousy). The children are now more aware of their own (and other’s) feelings and how to deal with them. They are also aware of how to care for themselves and a baby. Overall I think it gives them key skills to become a well-rounded citizen.” — Class teacher

“There has been a positive change in the aggressive behaviour of the children. Children are able to deal with their aggression, psychological and emotional behaviours.” — Teacher, Year 5.

“Pupils respect each other’s varied backgrounds and the thoughtful personal and social education programme run by the school enhances this. Lessons such as ‘Roots of Empathy’ contribute significantly to this development.” — Lewisham Primary School OfSTED report

“I have seen the most significant impact of Roots of Empathy in families where there have been known challenges with care and parental support.

"The children have really relished the opportunities to spend time with a baby and have observed the close relationship between child and parent. It has been beneficial to work with a baby [and father] as it has allowed the children the opportunity to see a man who is associated with sport and activity is able to fulfil the father role.

"Furthermore, in being able to see a positive male role model it has enabled a child to disclose some of the challenges he has had with his own father. I have also observed that in my class the boys are the group that are responding most to the baby and who are generally more vocal in the sessions. I find this very encouraging!” — Teacher, Year 3


See RoE in action when the BBC visited the programme in Canada 

Listen to radio presenter Richard Madeley interview Lewisham's RoE Programme Manager Lisa Scott Keen 


Where next?

Learn more about the work of the Pre-school Learning Alliance Service Hubs

Roots of Empathy.org