AN internationally acclaimed anti-bullying programme where real babies are brought into classrooms to meet pupils is to be rolled out across Scotland.

A £1.2 million investment by ministers will mean Scotland is the first country in the world to deliver Roots of Empathy, where a baby and its parent visit primary classes to take part in activities and discussions which help pupils understand their own feelings and empathise with others.

The programme is delivered by the Action for Children charity, with research from work already carried out through the scheme in Scotland showing pupils who have taken part experience positive behavioural change.

The research, carried out by North Lanarkshire Council, which ran a pilot of the scheme starting in 2010, included 785 primary pupils and showed well over half displayed an increase in "prosocial behaviour" such as helping, sharing, co-operating, and volunteering.

Almost 60% showed an increase in cognitive empathy, the distinction between oneself and another, while more than half displayed an increase in emotional empathy, understanding the feelings of another.

Previous research states Roots of Empathy classrooms show an increase in helping behaviour (up in 78% of pupils), peer acceptance, sharing, and perspective-taking, and less social aggression in around 39% of students.

Roots of Empathy was developed by educator and parenting expert Mary Gordon in 1996. She came up with the concept while working in Canada, first as a teacher, where she noticed many of her five-year-old pupils were not emotionally equipped to deal with school, and later as she helped families where domestic violence was an issue.

More than 500,000 children have taken part in the programme worldwide, including in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, England and Germany.

It was first brought to Britain by Action for Children Scotland in 2010, when the scheme was piloted in North Lanarkshire. The programme is currently delivered in 20 local authorities by the charity; and will be introduced to all 32 Scottish local authority areas by September 2013.

By then it will be reaching in excess of 400 primary classes and more than 10,550 new pupils over the course of two years.

Children's Minister Aileen Campbell, said: "This research clearly shows Roots of Empathy makes a real and positive difference to the children taking part. Making this programme avail-able to all councils is a major step forward and reflects our continued investment towards helping make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.

"Roots of Empathy underlines our commitment to early intervention and the importance of positive relationships as the cornerstone of a better Scotland. This is an investment in the future; by encouraging empathy and respect in children we are giving them the foundations to be positive, successful adults who will pass those skills on to their own children."

Paul Carberry, of Action for Children Scotland, said: "Over 6300 children from the Western Isles to the Borders have benefited from Roots of Empathy since we first brought it to Scotland in 2010. This new research shows the innovative programme has made a significant impact on their development at what is a very important age.

"We are very grateful to the Scottish Government for its continued support, allowing us to take our Tiny Teachers to classrooms across the country."

Ms Gordon said: "It is heartening to see Scotland take such a significant and important step in the education of its future citizens.

"I am proud Roots of Empathy will play a part in the social and emotional learning of Scottish children, increasing empathy and prosocial behaviours while decreasing aggression, including bullying."