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Now we’re now moving into the three tasks of Communication, Support and Monitoring. Let’s look at the first of those tasks - communication.

As leaders, you need to take charge by communicating clearly with the three groups of people: staff, pupils and parents.  How you do this will convey a sense of containment to your school community.

Initial Response

Initial Response
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It is essential that you establish a mini team that can support you as head teacher to co-ordinate the response and support each other.  This could include Deputy Heads, SENCos, Head of Years, Pastoral and Safeguarding Lead.  


Identify roles and responsibilities that you think are important within your mini-team, for instance monitoring social media.  Roles and tasks may be flexible and shared.   


With your mini team, establish the facts as best you can from credible sources.  One of the things that often happens after a critical incident is that rumour, half-truths and gossip can proliferate, particularly in today’s social media age.  By finding out what actually happened, and conveying this clearly, you will prevent the amplification of rumours and will help community members to feel safe.

Find out:

What happened?



Who was involved?

Which year group?

What’s the family context, including cultural practices?  


Helpful facts that will inform your support response (Refer to Support and Monitoring section) will include the names of those who are most vulnerable.  Your mini team can begin this process of identification.


The three groups that you will need to communicate the facts you’ve established with are: staff (Refer to 'Communicating with Staff' slide), parents (Refer to 'Communicating with Parents' slide) and children (Refer to 'Communicating with Children' slides below).

Make sure you seek support from linked and external agencies, as needed, e.g. religious leaders, police, social care, health professionals.

Request support from the Educational Psychology Service’s Critical Incident Team for phone support or a visit.

Communicating with staff

Communicating with Staff

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So the first group you’ll be communicating with will be your staff.  In some cases you will have heard the news the night before and will already have communicated with key members of staff.  Then you will communicate with the whole staff


As soon as possible, try to ensure that all school staff are present when you communicate the facts, how you will respond as a school and the designated responsibilities. Do this ASAP.


Communicate messages of support, reassurance and safety.  Share possible scripts with the staff to support them to know how to share the news and helpful ways to respond to questions.


Remind staff to be mindful of the importance of maintaining a balance between (1) enabling pupils to express their thoughts and feelings about the incident and (2) ensuring a continuation of the usual school routine. After Dunblane, it was found that children whose parents maintained their usual routines had better outcomes.

You may want to flag up at this point that staff will need to identify and monitor vulnerable pupils (See 'Support and Monitoring' section).


Make sure staff know who their point of contact is within school, if they have any queries relating to the critical incident.  Explain which agencies are supporting the school, their respective roles and when and if they are visiting.


Be aware that this incident is likely to impact some staff more than others.  Be mindful of which staff members might be particularly vulnerable (See 'Support and Monitoring' section).  Be aware that these individuals may benefit from additional support from you and other members of the mini team from the outset and may need adjustments to their duties.

Communicating with the family of the deceased

Communicating with the family of the deceased
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In the case of a critical incident involving the death or serious injury of a child, one of the most important pieces of communication you are going to do is to contact the family directly involved.


You will need to reach out to the family of the child to acknowledge the death and show compassion and care.  Most heads will phone initially and then offer a visit.  Most families really appreciate being reached out to.  It’s great if the Head can make contact; this is symbolic as they are the key representative of the school.  We would recommend going on a visit with two people, to support each other and ensure important information is recalled later.  This will help to confirm your fact finding (Refer to 'Initial Response' slide above). A member of staff may already have developed a good relationship with the family.  This person would be in a good position to support the Head on the visit.


Make sure you tell the family how the school is responding, including the key messages they are giving to children.  If you are sending out a letter to all parents following the incident, you will want to check that the family is okay with the information being shared.  This checking may be done over the phone.  Judge if you need to share the whole text of the letter with them or just share the key points communicated in the letter.


Nominate one of the people who visits to be available as the family’s point of contact.  Reassure the family that this person will check-in with them regularly and be available to provide further support if needed.


Let the family know that you can signpost to agencies who may be able to advise and support in relation to the specific kind of incident (See 'Useful links and Resources' Section).

Recent research by Dyregrov and Kristensen (2020) talks about the importance of information sharing when supporting bereaved families during a catastrophic loss. They refer to two types of information, that which is factual and explains the cause of a catastrophic event and information which can help the affected to understand their own reactions and those of others. Click here to access the full article. 

Communicating with Parents

Communicating with Parents
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Some of this repeats what we have said previously about communicating with staff.

Agree with your mini-team on the key messages a range of school staff will convey to parents in formal and informal ways. 

Informal e.g. seeing parents on the school yard, answering the phone to parents who call.

Formal e.g. letter, website, drop-in.

The attached document outlines some points to consider when writing a letter in the event of a critical incident. 


The communication to parents should include the following:


  • Acknowledgement of the incident;

  • Outline how school is responding;

  • Share messages of safety and reassurance;

  • Explain that in the first instance children are best supported by those that know them and love them;

  • Emphasise that it is important to keep both school and home routines in place as much as possible;

  • Provide guidance on how to listen to and communicate with children (See Resources handout sheet on how to support children after frightening events);

  • Advise caution on the use of social media and sharing of information;

  • Convey that support is available if needed and describe the types of support available;

  • Encourage parents to consider how they can also look after their own well being.


Sometimes parents and staff may think they should not show their emotions about the incident in front of children, but in fact it can be helpful for children to see how feelings can be expressed, shared and coped with. This can be a learning opportunity.

Communicating with Children

Communicating with Children
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Key messages remain the same but are adapted to be child friendly.


It is very important that the impact of the death is acknowledged.  Talk using words children understand, e.g. “I’m so sorry that your friend Noah has died.  That must be very upsetting.”


Answer questions as honestly as you can at the developmental level of the child (See 'Bereavement and Loss' section: 'Developmental Understanding' slides). Winston’s wish say “If the child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to hear the answer.”  Answer questions as honestly as you can with sensitivity.


Children cannot be totally protected so they need to know they can ask about the incident. Taboo subjects create anxiety in children as they will get their information from unreliable sources such as other children.  However, do not allow children to watch graphic images, particularly repeatedly.

Follow the child’s lead.  If they need to talk, let them.  If not, respect that too.


Some children will want to talk about what they have seen and heard.  It is important that children are allowed to ask questions and talk.  Adults need to be honest about the situation as children are likely to be hearing about it in the media.  It is helpful to give messages of safety, e.g. “Nobody is allowed in school that we don’t know and the Police are working hard to keep everyone safe.”


Acknowledge the children’s feelings.  All feelings are okay.  Don’t be afraid to show children how you are feeling.

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Ask for the child’s input when planning the kind of support they might find helpful (See 'Support and Monitoring' section). 


Guide peers about how they might support an affected child.  Ask them to think about the kind of language they might use that would be kind and supportive.  It may help to think through the particular words and phrases children might use.


Have a think about individualised opportunities for expression.  Be mindful that some children will find playing and drawing easier than talking.


Avoid encouraging children to share accounts of trauma they have witnessed with peers, to avoid secondary trauma.

*Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the first-hand trauma experiences of another (National Child Traumatic Stress Network – U.S.).

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At this point in face to face training there would be an opportunity to reflect on a critical incident you have responded to in the past:.


Recall a critical incident you have responded to in the past.  Imagine a question a parent might ask and a question a child might ask following this kind of incident.  Then reflect on your own or with a peer about what you would say in answer to each question.

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