'Schools can help with the trauma of terrorism'

As the anniversary of the Manchester attack approaches, help is at hand for classroom discussions, says Lord Jim Knight

Jim Knight

Manchester bombing

It is 22 May 2017. Ariana Grande has just ended a thrilling evening’s entertainment for a largely teenage audience at the Manchester Arena. Parents are waiting to collect their children at the entrance.  

Just as the auditorium empties, Salman Abedi detonates a nail bomb. He kills 22 people, injures hundreds and traumatises countless others. There is panic as parents and children run in all directions, trying to find each other in a smoke-filled nightmare. There is, of course, fear in the frantic search for loved ones, and terror in the hours and days that follow.

Six weeks later, a researcher from the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust is speaking to a teacher at a secondary school near Manchester about the bombing and the classroom resources produced by the trust, a charity set up in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings. 

Asked why students, some of whom had been caught up in atrocities, need such lessons, this was her reply: “It’s not graphic or I wouldn’t be teaching it. I think it’s more important to help the children understand and deal with this than pretend it’s not going on.”

What did the teacher mean when she said it is important to help the children deal with trauma? 

'An emotional learning experience'

The sad truth is that these attacks are not one-offs. Since Miriam Hyman’s death in the 7/7 London bombings, there have been attacks in Glasgow and Manchester and the capital, and the murders of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox. And yet the chances of being involved in one of these terrifying incidents is miniscule. So how do we teach children about these things responsibly and confidently?

This particular school had taken advantage of an education resource produced by the Miriam Hyman Trust in association with the UCL Institute of Education. It centres around one family’s response to the London bombings of 7 July 2005, engaging teachers and their students in an intellectual, social and emotional learning experience. 

This is one example where the sharing of expert resources can really help. Teachers grew in confidence as they saw their students’ response and their willingness to engage with the subject. 

These themes can be explored across the curriculum, from dance and citizenship to history and geography. Finding time for this is not always easy, but it can also equip pupils with life skills in coping with difficult situations. 

The anniversary of the Manchester attack is an important moment to remember those victims. It also an opportunity to bring relevant learning into the classroom at this poignant time.

Lord Jim Knight is chief education adviser to Tes Global, the parent company of Tes


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Jim Knight

Lord Knight is chief education adviser to TES's parent company TES Global, and a former minister of state for schools 

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