The death of a student can be traumatic for both school staff and pupils. A student’s death can unnerve other pupils and challenge any feelings of security they might have felt prior to the death.
It is likely that many of the students will have questions and will want to know details relating to the death. As stated elsewhere, school staff should endeavour to answer all questions in an open and honest manner, using language that is appropriate to the students’ age and level of understanding.
You may notice that lessons become disrupted as students may be observed becoming restless and unable to concentrate. There may also be an increase in behavioural difficulties and academic grades may deteriorate. If the death occurred on the school premises some pupils may not want to return to school for fear of dying in a similar way or in the same place where their classmate died.
If any of the children or young people witnessed the death, irrespective of whether the student died on school premises or not, they may need to be referred for specialist help. Any specialist help school staff believe would benefit the child or young person will need to be discussed with their family before any referral is made.
If you are required to inform your class or the whole of the student body about the death ensure that you have the permission of the family of the student who has died first and only explain the details / circumstances that they have consented to making public. Deliver the facts in a sensitive and truthful way and encourage pupils to ask questions as this will help to dispel any current or potential rumours or misinformation from circulating within the school.
Try not to be alarmed if some of the students laugh or make inappropriate comments, this is how shock can sometimes manifest. Likewise, some children or young people may burst in to tears. Ensure that all pupils who are upset or feel uneasy are supported to talk (in private) about how they are feeling.
It might be useful to have one or two colleagues with you when you break the news so that they can take distressed students in to a quieter room and can look out for any students who look particularly anxious or unsettled. It may also be useful to allow a class / school discussion whereby all students can communicate their feelings and be reassured. Ground rules such as, “No talking over, or interrupting someone, when they are speaking”, “No making fun of others comments or questions”; are helpful as they encourage students to speak without fear of recrimination.
How Can I Help?
- If there are pupils who wish to attend the funeral of the student who has died encourage them and ensure that their family and the family of the person who has died are in agreement. If their family consents, explain to the pupil / s what the funeral will consist of and what to expect. This is particularly useful if the student / s have not attended a funeral previously
- Talk with students and other school staff about holding a memorial service for the pupil who has died. It might be helpful to plant a tree or erect a plaque in remembrance of the pupil who has died. If this is something the school would like to do, involve those students who have expressed an interest in participating
- The school could open a book of remembrance dedicated to the student who has died where students and school staff can write about the student who has died and include pictures and poetry. This can prove cathartic to many bereaved children and young people. The students and school staff may decide to give the completed book to the family of the student who has died
- Reassure pupils that school staff are there to listen to them and support them whilst they grieve
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