19 September 2019

A survey commissioned by Child Bereavement UK has revealed that only 10% of teachers have received bereavement training during Initial Teacher Training or subsequent professional development. This is despite 86% of teachers saying they have experienced a death in the school community, and nearly three quarters reporting teaching pupils affected by someone significant.

A parent of children under 18 dies every 22 minutes in the UK; this equates to around 111 children being bereaved of a parent every day. 1 in 29 children aged 5-16 have been bereaved of a parent or sibling, which on average is a child in every class. Schools have an opportunity to support children and young people in their grief, however many teachers say they lack confidence in how to do this.

The report, Improving Bereavement Support in Schools, funded by the True Colours Trust, surveyed over 1000 teachers and staff in pastoral, outreach and management roles within primary and secondary schools. In addition, case studies were gathered from seven schools from Scotland, South Wales, South West England, South Central England and North West England, and seventeen in-depth interviews with teachers were undertaken. The research aimed to gain a better understanding of the drivers and barriers for schools in accessing training and effectively supporting bereaved pupils.

Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals both when a child dies or is dying, and when a child faces bereavement. The charity has trained around 3,500 schools and 14% of calls to its national helpline are from teachers seeking guidance around bereavement.

92% of teachers surveyed for the report said that schools should prepare ahead in case there is a bereavement in the school. However, only a third (34%) of those teachers felt their school was equipped to manage a death when it occurred.

Despite the impact of bereavement, only 2% of teachers said that their school had a clear, practical bereavement focus with most saying that the topic was only addressed conceptually in subjects such as English, Philosophy and Ethics, PSHE and Science. Teachers surveyed called for a greater emphasis on death and bereavement in the curriculum, but many said they had not received adequate training to give them the confidence and knowledge to provide this support, and stated they were overwhelmed by other demands. Just 20% of teachers said that bereavement support and training was a priority in their school with 68% listing budget as a barrier and 34% citing time constraints.

One teacher commented:

“I can’t believe that individual teachers are not trained and in 2018 this shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t just focus on Maths and English. Nothing is getting better and nothing is being done and feeling your way through the issues isn’t enough.”

Commenting on the research, Tracey Boseley, Child Bereavement UK’s National Development Lead for the Education Sector, said:

“We know that bereavement can have a significant impact on children and young people. Outside the home, school is often the most consistent influence on their development, so schools have a very important part to play in supporting bereaved pupils to help them build resilience. The results of our research clearly show that teachers want to be better equipped to do this.”

Children’s mental health has had a high profile in recent years; the Department of Health’s Future in Mind report (2015) recommended the future development of support services to include teacher training and evaluation of mental health promotion and prevention in schools. In 2018 the Government responded to the Department of Health and Department for Education’s green paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision by advocating a whole-school approach to mental health, with a recognition of the need for substantial, high-quality training and, if necessary, the commissioning of additional provision.

Tracey Boseley added:

“We know that bereavement can have a significant impact on children’s mental health - children bereaved of a parent are 1.5 times more likely to develop a mental health disorder. More focused, ongoing training for school staff is needed to help pupils cope with bereavement - preventative measures, intervening early, and providing holistic support for the pupil and their family can all help reduce the risks of negative outcomes.”

In response to the research, Child Bereavement UK has developed a learning resource for schools: Supporting a Bereaved Pupil, in partnership with the London Grid for Learning. This comprehensive, free-to-access resource is aimed at empowering teachers and education professionals to support bereaved pupils. Topics covered are Children’s understanding of death; Managing grief; The role of the school; Death and grieving in the curriculum; Taking care of yourself and A pupil’s perspective.

Commenting on the resource, Dan Bowden, Headteacher at Greenvale Primary School in Sutton said:

"Supporting a Bereaved Pupil provides simple, straightforward and easy to digest advice from fellow professionals about a very difficult topic that most teachers will encounter at some point in their careers. The considerations, suggestions and videos ensure that the resource is accessible and provides sound advice that can help a school community to support families at their most challenging of times."

Child Bereavement UK’s 2018 research revealed:

  • 86% of respondents said they’d experienced a death in the school community.
  • Only 34% felt their school was equipped to manage a death when it occurred in their school community.
  • Only 2% said death and bereavement was a practical focus of the curriculum at their school.
  • 92% said schools should prepare ahead in case they experienced a bereavement
  • Only 10% of teachers had received training during Initial Teacher Training or subsequent professional development.
  • 89% had experienced no bereavement training.
  • Only 21.4 % said bereavement support and training had been a priority in their school.
  • 68 % listed budget as a barrier to accessing training. 34% listed time.

For support, training and information go to: www.childbereavementuk.org


Notes for Editors

Child Bereavement UK www.childbereavementuk.org

Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals both when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, and when a child is facing bereavement. The charity has trained more than 100,000 professionals since it launched in 1994, helping them to better understand and meet the needs of grieving families.
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True Colours Trust www.truecolourstrust.org.uk

The True Colours Trust is passionate about making a difference to the lives of disabled children and their families and supporting people with life-limiting and/or life-threatening illnesses. The Trust was established in 2001 and works in the UK and Africa.