Guidance for education professionals

This has been a challenging time; the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, and it continues to do so. While getting back to school may signal the start of a new year, the legacy of the previous two terms cannot be overlooked.

This page covers how pupils may be feeling, the potential impact on vulnerable and bereaved pupils, and how schools and other education settings can support pupils and staff.


Anxieties

Many pupils will feel anxious about returning to school. They will have seen and heard debates about the safety of reopening schools and whether a second or subsequent wave of infections is on the way. Discussions about young people and the spread of the disease, local lockdowns and conflicting messages are also likely to affect even the youngest pupils.

It may feel difficult or unsettling to be away from home, even if it has been challenging in some ways to stay at home for so long. For some pupils, the normality and security which they crave may not be realised. School may feel uncertain and changed, with new rules and different ways of working.

Pupils may also feel that they have not been able to keep up with their studies and might think they have fallen behind.

Some pupils will have had regular contact with their friends, while others may not. It might feel strange to reconnect with their peer group and can take time to re-establish friendships.


The impact of bereavement

Some pupils may have experienced a bereavement at this difficult time. This may have meant that they were unable to visit the person prior to, or following, their death; they may not have been able to attend a funeral or to grieve with extended family members or friends. Many rituals or culturally normal routes to support following a death will not have been possible and young people may not have had access to the support of their wider community.

The intensity of living within a grieving household, without normal routines such as school and clubs, may have taken its toll on a bereaved young person.

For bereaved pupils, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have increased their anxiety about other family members or friends dying.

Even if a pupil has not been bereaved, there will have been an increase in their awareness of death and their security may have been shaken. They may worry about their own health or the well-being of those they are close to.


The return to school

It may be helpful to offer an opportunity for pupils to reflect on the lockdown, to talk about what has happened and to acknowledge any bereavements. As your pupils will come back with a range of experiences, it may be useful to consider activities which will enable those who have been bereaved to respond to the death and for other pupils to offer support to those who are grieving or to give thanks to people who have helped them, such as family members, friends, keyworkers, the NHS etc.

Suggested activities:

  • Tying messages or pictures to a tree, fence or other part of the school.
  • Creating a collage on a wall
  • Posting messages in a jar
  • Decorating pebbles
  • Writing poems or letters

Acknowledging bereavement

For those pupils who have been bereaved, it is important to acknowledge what has happened and to meet with the pupil and their family/carers to agree strategies to help them manage their grief while they are in school.

Watch our short guidance film on returning to school after someone has died.


Offering Support

Bereaved young people are much better placed to manage their grief when they feel supported in school as well as at home. By offering a flexible normality, schools can do a great deal to help a bereaved pupil.

It is important for young people to know that grieving is the natural response when someone dies, and we all grieve in our own way. Reassure them that whatever they feel is OK; they may feel overwhelmed by their feelings or they may feel nothing at all. Some pupils may need strategies to help them manage strong feelings, and an option of some ‘time-out’ can be very helpful.

They may feel that they missed out on the chance to say ‘goodbye’, for example not being allowed to visit a person prior to their death, or not attending a funeral. Give them an opportunity to express what they would have liked to say, and help them to write a letter, plant some seeds, create a memory jar or organise a small memorial event for the future.

The support that members of staff in school can provide to a bereaved young person should not be underestimated. Small gestures mean a great deal; it can be helpful to be there to listen to them or to just sit with them, if they need you. Bereaved young people can be very good at masking their emotions, so even if they seem to be managing well, it can be useful to check in with them from time to time.


Sensitivity of vulnerable groups 

Some pupils may not have been able to resume their normal activities at the same time as their peers, and there may be pupils feeling particularly vulnerable at this time:

  • If they have been shielding to protect themselves, or other vulnerable family members.
  • Following news reports highlighting the disproportionate impact of Covid-19.
  • Due to the attitude of their peers, for example if there is an assumption that the virus only affects old people.

Support for young people, families and staff

Child Bereavement UK can offer support and information through our National Helpline on 0800 02 8880 40, Live Chat here on our website, or by emailing: [email protected]

We are here to listen and explore support options with bereaved families and anyone supporting children and young people (up to age 25) or families facing bereavement.


Resources

For staff, our free resources, Supporting a bereaved pupil and Managing a sudden death offer information and guidance when a pupil grieves or when a pupil or member of staff dies. Managing bereavement: A guide for schools has information to help school to create a bereavement aware culture, including a guide to writing a bereavement policy.

The Elephant’s Tea Party is a free initiative for schools which raises the topics of death and grief in a sensitive and age-appropriate way

The following short guidance films may also be helpful: Coronavirus - supporting children through difficult times, Coronavirus - supporting bereaved children, Supporting your child when someone has died by suicide, Supporting a child with autism spectrum disorder, Returning to school after someone has died, Supporting a child after a frightening event and For teachers when a pupil returns after being bereaved.

Also available from our online shop:


Webinars

See our webinars for teachers and education professionals who need guidance on supporting bereaved pupils or students.