The way forward as Dunblane reopens

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
There will be extra teachers in Dunblane primary this morning as it reopens. They will help in the task of returning the school to a place of learning rather than a focus of international attention and uncomprehending grief. The school's permanent staff have already shown by their professionalism and humanity that the pupils could not be in better hands.

This week we have tried to cover Dunblane's story not by adding to the details of the human tragedies but with a view to uncovering any lessons which may be learnt. Those in and around the school who are having to cope with their own feelings and memories may find value in the experiences of others disaster has touched.

It also has to be said that Dunblane's teachers, with members of the emergency services and council officials, may have something to record which will help in a future disaster. Repeatedly, people this week have pointed to how experience accumulated after Lockerbie, Piper Alpha and back as far as Aberfan has carried over to Dunblane. The messages are not always comfortable. Healing takes far longer than media attention. The worst pain may not be the most immediate. A quiet child is not always more at ease than a visibly distressed one.

In loss of young lives, Dunblane does not stand alone this week. In the Philippines, more than 150 pupils celebrating the end of the school year died when fire swept a disco. Although Dunblane will soon be as busy and noisy a place as any other primary, that will not in itself betoken normality. But psychologists advise that most children (and adults, too) are highly resilient. Severe trauma is not the norm, although its symptoms have to be watched for. Pupils will cope best by having the routine of their lives in the classroom and in the home restored as soon as possible. It was important for the school to be up and running again before the Easter holiday.

The effects of the disaster on public policy can be assimilated and assessed over a longer time. Lord Cullen's inquiry was instituted to set out the events dispassionately and because instant initiatives born of anger and frustration are unlikely to be well judged. We need to look at gun legislation. School security has to be reviewed. Supervision of leisure-time activities for children and their location in school buildings also merit study.

Advocates of one remedy or another have every right to express their view now, but debate leading to legislation or regulation should be set in the context of Lord Cullen's findings. That was what happened after Piper Alpha, on which Lord Cullen also reported. It was the procedure adopted during the Orkney child abuse controversy, when Lord Clyde, another Court of Session judge, brought calm analysis to a scene of hysteria.

Just as there can be no instant lifting of Dunblane's grief, so the issues thrown up by the tragedy do not permit of immediate solutions. Yet there is already an atmosphere which may influence future decisions. The strength of community which has borne up Dunblane offers a lesson to us all. Structures governing education (and the nation at large) will always produce argument. But isolation is the enemy of the good.

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