Support For Schools

“Death neither obeys the school timetable nor appears on it…it enters the classroom without knocking.”

Bereavement Support for Schools

As a teacher or member of staff within a school community, it is inevitable that you will work with children affected by death in one way or another. The immediacy and enormity of these experiences may vary, but in each situation, you have a genuine chance to positively affect a young life.

One young person told us: “My Mum died and my life changed forever. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. My teacher never mentioned it.”  Stories like this are not uncommon. The teacher had acted no doubt, with good intentions but the message that their pupil received was not a caring or helpful one.

How can you help?

Bereaved pupils, you encounter will be at varying stages of their grief journey. They may have experienced a death the previous night (“Their dad rang me and said that mum had died in the night of a heart attack; he could not cope with the kids so sent them to school as normal. They look like they are sleep-walking) or a few years ago (“We were doing a bike safety course and she suddenly burst out crying; I had no idea her sister died in a bike accident – I didn’t even know she had a sister who had died”).

Often, our first thought is “HELP!” and we don’t know what to say, fearing we will ‘make it worse’. The very worst thing that could ever happen in that child’s life has just happened – you can’t make it worse! The fact that a teacher cares enough to say “I was really sorry to hear about your mum dying, it made me sad” or asking “how are you feeling today? I guess things are still hard” will make a world of difference to a pupil, and demonstrate a lot of care.

Dare to ask questions and listen to the answers. Be prepared to share your own feelings if necessary, or talk about how death makes you feel and allow your student to decide what happens next, and who they talk to.

How you can prepare

All schools are now required to have a policy detailing their response to major incidents and crises. Within this plan will be details on how your school will respond to each of the 4 main deaths that can affect your school community:

  • The death of a pupil
  • The death of the parent/carer or sibling of a school pupil
  • The death of a teacher of other member of the school staff
  • A tragedy affecting a section of the school community (eg a minibus crash)

How a school might deal with the expected death (due to a long-standing illness) of a member of the school community would also be a good inclusion to this plan.

Young people may also be affected deeply by other deaths of people important to them – a live-in grandparent or a child-minder for example.

It is always worth familiarising yourself with this plan, and thinking through how you might react in these situations (as best as it is possible to imagine such a thing). Having to talk to a class about a death will feel more familiar if you have mentally rehearsed it before, and maybe researched on good language to use.

Where you can find help when it happens

In the real world, despite the very best of intentions, you will probably find yourself needing to respond to the death without the time to look back on your shelves for reference material. It may help then to know of the following resources:

Useful childhood bereavement links

Winston’s Wish National Freephone Helpline 08088 020 021
Support, guidance and information for anyone caring for a bereaved child or a child facing the imminent death of a family member.

Child Bereavement Charity UK
Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.
Support Line: 0800 02 888 40

Childhood Bereavement Network
The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) is a national, multi-professional federation of organisations and individuals working with bereaved children and young people.

Counselling Directory
Counselling Directory have developed a service that brings together all of the information needed to help connect people with the right counsellor or professional support for them.

Cruse Bereavement Care
Cruse Bereavement Care exists to promote the well-being of bereaved people and to enable anyone bereaved by death to understand their grief and cope with their loss.
Helpline: 0844 477 9400

Life Signs
The user-led voluntary organisation which raises awareness about self-injury and help people who rely on self-injury by providing a safe, friendly message board, ideas for distraction techniques and by inspiring / empowering them to find alternative, healthier coping mechanisms.

National Children’s Bureau
NCB is a charitable organisation that is dedicated to advancing the health and well-being of all children and young people across every aspect of their lives and providing them with a powerful and authoritative voice.

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide)
PAPYRUS is a voluntary UK organisation committed to the prevention of young suicide and the promotion of mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Hope Line UK: 0800 068 41 41 (for practical advice on suicide prevention)

Young Minds
YoungMinds is the national charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544

Watch the CBBC Newsround special on childhood bereavement.

Get in touch with our team