Our services 8

Roots of Empathy

What is Roots of Empathy? 

Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based programme that has shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising pro-social behaviour such as sharing, helping and including others.

The programme was developed in Canada by Mary Gordon with the first programmes launched in 1996 and has now reached over half a million children across the world. At the heart of the programme are classroom visits by a parent and baby. Through guided observations of this loving relationship, children learn to identify and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and those of others – developing emotional literacy and empathy.

Check out the Roots of Empathy website for further details:

In 2012 the Alliance in Lewisham gained funding from the BIG Lottery Improving Futures programme to deliver a 4 year early intervention project called Family Pathways. As part of the Family Pathways funding we were able to deliver Roots of Empathy in Lewisham primary schools, one of the first programmes in England. The programme carries on with the support of local funding, including funding from London and Quadrant Housing in 2017-2018 and Phoenix Community Housing in 2018-2019.  This enables the cost to be subsidised for our local schools, giving a low unit cost and excellent value for schools’ currently stretched budgets. We have now reached over 4000 children across primary schools in Lewisham.

The Roots of Empathy programme is proven to:

  • Support children’s emotional development, resilience and self-esteem
  • Reduce aggressive behaviour and bullying
  • Build a sense of class belonging


What are the goals of Roots of Empathy? 

  • To foster the development of empathy
  • To develop emotional literacy
  • To reduce levels of bullying, aggression, and violence
  • To promote children’s pro-social behaviours
  • To increase knowledge of human development, learning, and infant safety
  • To prepare pupils for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting

100% of teachers strongly agreed or agreed that as a result of Roots of Empathy, pupils are more inclusive or accepting of others who are different from themselves, including culture, race, special needs and gender.

For further information on the current programme delivery in Lewisham, or to request a programme in your school or your area, please contact:

Celia Akenhead, Roots of Empathy Co-ordinator, Pre-school Learning Alliance



Impact of the Programme – Research Findings

Since 2000, the Roots of Empathy programme has been evaluated in both comparative and randomized controlled studies designed to measure changes in the behaviour of participating   students. Independent research has been conducted on three continents.

Consistently Positive Results

Key research findings show that children perceived a more positive classroom environment by the end of the programme (e.g. increased sense of classroom belonging and peer acceptance). Children also exhibit:

  • An increase in prosocial behaviour (e.g. sharing, helping and including)
  • A decrease in aggression, which is particularly significant given that children in the comparison classrooms showed increases in aggression across the school year
  • An increase in social and emotional understanding
  • An increase in empathy
  • An increase in knowledge of parenting

Studies conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at specific types of aggression (i.e. proactive (bullying), physical, relational and reactive. All of these studies showed a significant decrease in aggression in the programme groups.

Lasting Results

In 2001, the Government of Manitoba commissioned a three-year follow-up study of Roots of Empathy, measuring prosocial behaviour, physical aggression, and indirect aggression. The three target grade levels were Kindergarten, grade four, and grade eight. The results of the follow-up study also indicate that improvements in prosocial behaviour and reduced aggression are maintained and enhanced for years afterwards.

Within a Roots of Empathy classroom, these changes in student behaviour translate into a community where helping, sharing, perspective-taking and peer inclusion are the norm.

Independent research in Scotland 2015, University of Glasgow stated that ‘The Roots of Empathy intervention tends to have its greatest impact for children with the lowest empathy and pro-social skills and who are the most aggressive. The programme appeared to benefit pupils experiencing personal, familial or health-related challenges, who displayed greater  resilience than was expected.’                                                                               

In addition, independent research in Northern Ireland, at Queen’s University in 2016  assessed the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the schools-based social and emotional learning programme, Roots of Empathy. ‘The evaluation found that Roots of Empathy was well-received by schools, children and parents and did have a measurable and positive impact in increasing children’s pro-social behaviour and reducing their aggressive and difficult behaviour. There was also some evidence that the effects in relation to reducing difficult behaviour may have been sustained for three years beyond the end of the programme. The programme was also found to be cost-effective.’