Schools 'letting down' bereaved pupils

Study warns of 'patchy provision' for bereaved children and calls on schools to develop coherent plans

Catherine Lough

Bereavement

Bereaved pupils are being let down by "patchy" or non-existent provision for them in schools, according to a new study by the University of Cambridge's faculty of education.

The review found a "somewhat random approach" to supporting bereaved children in schools. Some teachers reported avoiding trying to help all together, as they feared doing more harm than good.


Mental health: Political chaos means pupils face 'wretched' futures

Training: Mental health training for all new teachers, says PM

Quick read: Put counsellors in schools, say four in five parents


A significant number of pupils experience bereavement, with 1 in 29 children, or one child in every class, experiencing the loss of a sibling or parent.

Grief can have significant consequences for pupils’ physical and mental health, the study – Consequences of childhood bereavement in the context of the British school system – says.

It was conducted on behalf of childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish, and states that while "grief is not an illness", bereavement can have profound effects on children’s well-being, with some children experiencing low self-esteem, anger and insomnia.

The report says that losing a family member makes pupils more likely to engage in risky behaviour. Bereaved pupils are more likely to participate in bullying or assaults, as well as being more vulnerable to bullying themselves.

The researchers suggest that the UK’s "highly pressured" school environment may make it more difficult to schools to support their most vulnerable pupils.

The study said inequity in British schools could particularly affect bereaved pupils, as children from disadvantaged backgrounds are at greater risk of losing a loved one.

Winston’s Wish called for all UK schools to develop a bereavement plan. While a small number of schools were found to have a "planned, managed and holistic response to bereavement", a lack of clarity over government and school policy on bereavement led to "both confusion and disagreement on the forms of support schools should offer".

The report found the social context of bereaved children is highly important in supporting them through their grief. Having someone to talk to and "share difficult thoughts" with was shown to increase children’s resilience, making it less likely for them to engage in risky behaviour.

Fergus Crow, Chief Executive of Winston’s Wish, said: “This report is a wake-up call.

“Until we get to a point when we can say with certainty that every school has a plan in place to help the bereaved children in their classrooms then we are letting children down. A school bereavement policy is not a luxury, it is an absolute essential.”

Winston’s Wish advises schools to download its free guide on supporting bereaved children, and called on Ofsted to ensure its revised Inspection Framework takes the impact of grief on children into account.

Professor Colleen McLaughlin of the University of Cambridge's faculty of education, said: “Our review of research reinforces that grief itself is not an illness.

"The path that a child takes after the death of a parent or sibling is dependent on the context and multiple aspects. Some pathways make young people very vulnerable, while others do not. Support in the environment is vital, and schools are key in this."

 

 

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

New headteachers - here are 9 things you need to know

Headteacher wellbeing and sources of 'streth'

Former headteacher Chris McDermott set out to find out the true causes of leader stress and support – and in doing so coined a whole new term, as he explains here
Chris McDermott 2 Dec 2021
Transdisciplinary learning: how to embed it in your school

Why you need a transdisciplinary curriculum

At the Aspirations Academies, six hours a week are dedicated to applied transdisciplinary learning - but how does it work? And should you apply something similar at your school?
Steve Kenning 2 Dec 2021
Expert governors can now come and help schools and trusts

Why schools and trusts can now hire 'expert governors'

Providing access to expert governors for struggling settings - or those willing to pay £500 a day for their insights - could have a huge benefit across education, claims the National Governance Association
Emily Attwood 2 Dec 2021