School staff and CHILdren's professionals

Up to 70% schools have a bereaved pupil on roll at any one time. Many staff members feel anxious about supporting a bereaved pupil in school or early years settings, or addressing bereavement and loss in the curriculum, but there are resources, training and support to help you in this sensitive work.

On this page you can read:

  • Tips from bereaved pupils about how to help
  • More suggestions
  • Support around exam times
  • School allocation
  • Support for early years practitioners

Tips from bereaved pupils about how to help

Showing that you care about what has happened and how they are affected, and listening to their needs are some of the most helpful things you can do for a bereaved pupil. Even a simple acknowledgement (‘I was sorry to hear what happened…’) can make all the difference.

A group of bereaved pupils working with Seasons for Growth (Scotland) a CBN Subscriber, have come up with a list of suggestions for support. Your pupil may find some of these approaches helpful and printing off the list to discuss with them will help you to open up conversations with them and their family. Remember, however, that their needs will change and you may need to check that the support you are giving is still appropriate as time moves on. Your support will help, although it may not always appear so.

Pupils say...

  • Inform other teachers, especially supply teachers about my loss although I may not wish to talk to them about it. Keep this on record.
  • Talk to me about what has happened. I may need more information, advice and education about loss.
  • Arrange for me to get extra help with my work so I don't get behind, especially before exams.
  • Realise that I have a lot on my plate. Try not to put the spotlight on me too much. I will participate when I can.
  • Help me to cope by treating me the same as everyone else.
  • Let me know about groups for children and young people who are also coping with loss and change.
  • Ask me how I am feeling. It may not be obvious.
  • Give me a note that allows me permission to leave class briefly, without having to explain myself if I feel overwhelmed.
  • Understand that I will not 'get over it' or 'put it behind me' but with time I will learn to cope with all the changes.
  • Give me extra encouragement for all the things I am managing to do and keep me in mind.
  • Find a way of getting my attention back in class, without others noticing and making me embarrassed.
  • Wait until I am ready to talk.
  • Remember that I am still me, just feeling a bit lost at the moment.
  • Help me to find new dreams of the future and make plans.

More suggestions

With around 1 child or young person in 29 experiencing the death of a parent or sibling, we are asking all schools and colleges to think about the well-being of bereaved children and young people across the whole school. Consider giving a senior manager responsibility for this provision, which involves:

Proactive, flexible pastoral support and the curriculum

A whole school approach to bereavement can include a variety of provision including one to one support, peer support, books and resources in the library, a safe environment, support for staff and the inclusion of loss and bereavement in the curriculum in PSHE and other subject areas.

Local and national childhood bereavement services can advise on providing pastoral support and developing the curriculum, and can give information on how faith and culture may affect the customs, beliefs and bereavement support needs of children and their families. Several years ago we published a guide to developing the curriculum and pastoral support, still available as an e-book.  Our films about children and young people's experiences of bereavement can be used as lesson material. The Winston's Wish and Child Bereavement UK websites have a schools/professionals areas including quick tips and lesson plans for key stages 1-4, and schools and professionals can also register for access to the Grief Encounter information area.

A system for managing and communicating important information about children and young people's bereavements

Children and young people want choices about how information about their bereavement is shared and how their class and other peers are told. Check out with them and their family about how they want this to be done, and how they want to be supported in school. 

Many children receive excellent support in school or early years settings the year they are bereaved, but sometimes important information doesn't follow them up to their new class or into their new school. Keeping a note on a child's file of important dates such as the anniversary of a death or the birthday of the person who has died can help subsequent staff maintain an awareness of potentially difficult days for the pupil and family.

Staff training

All members of the children’s workforce should have awareness of the support needs of bereaved pupils. Many local and national childhood bereavement services can provide training and support to schools, through INSET days, twilight sessions or telephone and email contact. A particular bereavement often triggers a search for such training but staff in this situation often report that it would have been useful to have had the training before the event. Include anyone from whom bereaved children and their families might seek support, such as teachers, lunchtime supervisors, early years practitioners, learning mentors and office staff.

Training will also build links with your local service so that you are better able to support bereaved pupils in partnership. Your local authority Critical Incident Response Team may also be able to provide training.

Incorporating bereavement into relevant policies

Your local childhood bereavement service may be able to help you draw up a bereavement policy, or it may be more appropriate to incorporate bereavement into existing policies such as those for PSHE, bullying and critical incidents. 

Support around exam times

There are procedures for consideration if a pupil sitting a public exam has experienced a bereavement or if a family member is seriously ill and expected to die. Read our briefing.

School allocations

There are particular challenges at school transfer time for pupils who have been bereaved or who have a family member who is expected to die. There may be reasons why a certain school would or would not be suitable under the circumstances and families will appreciate understanding and support at that time. Read our briefing here.

Support for early years settings

Children of all ages experience grief although their ways of expressing it may be hard for adults to understand. Young children may need particular reassurance, time and patience. They will need adults to give clear simple information, help them feel safe and make it easy for them to talk and ask questions.

The downloadable training resource Not Too Young to Grieve can help early years practitioners respond to the needs of young children. The course is based on an animated DVD available from public libraries or from Leeds Animation Workshop.