Grief and bereavement education: Resources, support and a staff survey

Written by: Gail Precious | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Findings from the independent UK Commission on Bereavement make a compelling case for loss and bereavement to be taught in schools. Gail Precious urges educators to respond to a survey seeking their views on the matter

A year ago, I wrote in Headteacher Update about a unique opportunity to involve your pupils in the UK Commission on Bereavement.

The commission was coordinating one of the largest consultations on bereavement support ever undertaken in the UK. The aim of this work was to better understand the different experiences of bereavement and to map-out the kinds of help that are most useful to those who have been bereaved of someone close to them. The Commission heard from more than 1,000 adults and almost 100 children and young people.

Supporting communities across the UK to normalise reactions to grief will help to build resilient and compassionate communities. Among a range of recommendations to support this process, the commission called for grief education to be a key topic that should be included in the curriculum.

This recommendation was developed following engagement with 31,000 students voting on the topic of grief education with one of the Commission’s partners, VotesforSchools.

The responses from young people were helpful and thought-provoking: 58% of primary, 38% of secondary, and 65% of college students voted to have lessons in school on how to cope with loss and bereavement.

As one student said: "If it is going to be taught, it should be taught when children are young, because losing someone can happen at any point in a child's life – not just high school or college. It would help to be prepared and for this topic to be freely discussed, not taboo."

Better access to resources, support for student mental health, and more acknowledgement of bereavement and its impact were all ideas put forward by children and young people alongside lessons on coping with grief.

But this is just part of the story. The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) knows that there are many dedicated school staff who have supported, and will continue to support, bereaved children and young people in their setting.

We want to understand more about what these staff think about grief education. We want to know how they are supporting students to learn about these topics at the moment, and what barriers they think there are.

As such, another short survey will help us understand the key concerns of school staff around the UK, and what could help them have supportive conversations about grief and bereavement with the children they work with. The survey is open until the end of this month (January 2023) so please have your say.

While we are keen to hear from school staff, we also know that thinking about grief and bereavement can be daunting, particularly if you have been bereaved yourself.

There is lots of support out there for anyone affected, from films with personal and professional stories from the Good Grief Festival (including its excellent The Grief Channel on YouTube), to emotional support from Cruse and local bereavement services based in communities around the country.

CBN has developed a range of resources to help school staff provide learning and support around bereavement. Schools can start by working though the free Growing in Grief Awareness toolkit and start to build a whole-school approach to the topics of bereavement and bereavement support in schools.

Using the Growing in Grief Awareness framework can help your school to:

  • Be better prepared to support pupils dealing with the death of a parent, sibling, friend or someone else important in their lives.
  • Improve staff confidence in responding helpfully to bereaved pupils and parents/carers.
  • Find curriculum resources to help pupils learn about managing bereavement.
  • Demonstrate to inspectors, parents and other key stakeholders how bereavement is being addressed.
  • Strengthen partnerships with local and national services for pupils who need additional support.

Schools will also value our popular postcards that help bereaved children and young people to signal what they need from teachers and other adults in their life.

Elsewhere, our members Child Bereavement UK, Grief Encounter, Partnership for Children, and Winston’s Wish all have lesson plans and support on offer for those working with children and young people in educational settings.

Alongside this, many of our local members can provide training and support for bothsupporting bereaved pupils and helping you provide a safe platform for children to learn the vital life lessons of coping with grief.

But to make sure these resources are relevant to your needs and tackle the concerns you have, we need you to take part in our survey. Children and young people are calling out for grief education, and schools are key to ensuring their response gives them all the help they need.

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