Longer term issues
Keeping clear, accurate records of what has happened is vital, and is especially helpful when pupils transition between teachers, classes, key stages and schools.
Within this, it is important to note important dates that may be difficult, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
Protecting the child’s welfare
Children grieve in different ways at different times and their understanding and acceptance of death will also change over time. At different times they may cry, get angry, be quiet, be noisy, talk about the person who died, not talk about them, and play or behave as though nothing had happened.
It is important to be aware of what are ‘normal’ symptoms following a bereavement, and to understand symptoms that may indicate a serious mental health condition that requires expert treatment.
Remind staff to look out for changes in performance and behaviour that may be connected to the bereavement, such as a pupil losing interest in their classwork, or becoming disruptive or withdrawn. Talk regularly to the child’s parent or carer – some children appear to be fine at school but can be very upset or disruptive at home, and vice-versa.
You should also watch out for warning signs that a bereaved family is vulnerable and struggling to cope and inform Children’s Services if you are concerned for a child’s safety.
Alcohol or drug abuse and mental illness could lead to a family being temporarily unable to care for their child(ren) without support from social services, other family members, or good health care.
The support you offer should be regularly reviewed to ensure it meets the needs of the pupil(s). If you feel that specialist support is required, please discuss this with parents or carers.
It is also important that children feel involved in any decision-making processes that may affect their welfare.
If you feel it is appropriate to do so, and the family has given permission, you may decide to hold a memorial event, or involve pupils in other memorialising events, such as the creation of a memory book or fundraising for a particular charity or cause.
If a pupil or member of staff has died, you may also consider creating a memorial at school, such as a tree or a bench with a plaque.
If you have created a memorial, make sure that it is maintained well and that its importance is explained to future pupils.
Looking after yourself and others within the school community
As well as being challenging for pupils, a sudden or unexpected death or bereavement within a school is difficult for all school staff, as well as the wider community. Supporting children who have been suddenly bereaved can be emotionally draining and demanding.
To ensure that you can offer the best support possible to children who have been bereaved, you will also need to look after the health and wellbeing of yourself and your staff. Here are some simple measures you can put in place:
- Peer support. Talk to colleagues about how you feel and be aware of others who may be finding the circumstances particularly difficult. Consider your own past experiences that may make it particularly challenging for you to provide support.
- Speak to an expert if you are struggling to cope, for example you could call the helpline at a bereavement charity. If your school or trust provides access to confidential counselling services through an employee assistance programme, make sure staff know that these services are available. You can put up posters in your staff room, or tell staff through emails, staff meetings or on an individual basis.
- Take part in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Physical exercise and social activities can help reduce stress levels.
- Understand how you are helping. You do not have to be a bereavement expert to support a child who has been bereaved. Offering a listening ear, reassuring support and answering questions openly and honestly are all very important. Studies have found that just having someone to talk to can significantly increase a child’s resilience, and help protect them against some of the potential difficulties and challenging behaviours associated with child bereavement .
- Ask for help if you feel that a child is not coping well; consider how they can obtain access to expert support, and talk to the family.
- Take time out to rest if you find yourself feeling exhausted, or ‘burned out’ .
Duty of care
If a member of staff has been seriously affected by a sudden or unexpected bereavement, and it is affecting their health and ability to work, talk to your human resources department about how you can make sure you are fulfilling your duty of care requirements as an employer.
Sudden provides practical and emotional support to people bereaved by any kind of sudden death, and to the people who care for them.
 Holliday, C., Lytje, M. and McLaughlin, C. 2019. Consequences of childhood bereavement in the context of the British school system. [Online]. [Accessed 18.06.2019]. Available from: