Skip to content ↓
Priory Woods School & Arts College

Priory Woods School & Arts College A Special Place to Learn

Bereavement Policy


We understand that bereavement is an experience which will be faced by all members of our school community at some point. It will be a more difficult experience when the loss is of a member of that school community – a child or staff member.

We believe that it is an issue to be addressed openly and guiding principles need to be outlined and developed in an objective manner.  This policy will deal with bereavement following the death of a school pupil or staff member and will also address the procedures which will be followed should a child become terminally ill or die whilst at school.

The policy is based on practice that has grown over time with the far too frequent bereavements we have suffered at Priory Woods School & Arts College. This is practice that has been seen to have been supportive and helpful by those affected.


We believe that children and adults alike have the right to:

  • Be given space and time to grieve
  • Be given support from whichever source is deemed the most appropriate – if possible, of their own choice.
  • Encounter a caring environment in which they feel safe to demonstrate grief without fear of judgement.

We recognise:

  • That grief may not always be apparent to the onlooker, but its invisibility makes it no less real.
  • That differing religions/cultures view death and bereavement from different perspectives and all viewpoints should be taken into consideration and given equal value in the school environment.
  • That the death of a child has huge repercussions beyond the immediate teaching/care team of that child and every effort should be taken to inform and deal sensitively with the far reaching contacts.


The purpose of this policy is to give all staff a confidence in recognising and adopting a particular procedure. It should be noted that a universally accepted procedure outline will, in itself, not enable everyone to feel comfortable in dealing with the practicalities of death and bereavement. To this end, the school will maintain a list of staff who have indicated a willingness to offer support in this way.

One of our main concerns must inevitably be the immediate family of the deceased and as a school we state our commitment to any such family as may need practical, emotional and ongoing support.

Upon notification of the death of a pupil:

The school may be notified in an infinite number of ways. Past experience has shown that if death occurs during school hours parents usually let the school know directly and the person answering the phone will put them through to the most senior member of staff on site.

Where a death occurs in the holidays or at weekends the parents will contact whoever they can – they may have the phone number of a member of staff who cares for the child at home for example.

In that instance the member of staff who takes the call will immediately contact the most senior member of the school team possible and that person will then assume responsibility for the dissemination of the information.


It is important to agree, if possible, with the parent that the school will take on the role of informing concerned parties. Past experience has shown that parents are happy to have this burden taken away from them as they have many people unconnected with the school to contact.

There can be no exact list of people to contact. It will be different for each child. The school should ensure that all people who are close to the child are told in a sensitive and supportive manner rather than risk them hearing it ‘on the grapevine’. Bereavement is very difficult and the school needs to ensure it does not add to the sorrow by leaving people feeling marginalised.

If school is in session the headteacher will inform the SLT and admin staff as they need to help in the next part of the process. She will then immediately inform the child’s class staff. Where possible the SLT will move into the class to allow the staff to come out and be told together.

These staff then need to be given as much time as they need to process the news and start to grieve. Should a member of staff be so distressed, then they may be sent home on full pay for that day. An appropriate private space will be dedicated to these people and to anyone else in the school who had a close relationship with the child.

The deputy head will arrange cover for the class and the head will begin the process of informing other classes – those with staff closest to the child first. This is never easy in a busy school. It is easy to see where these two functions will overlap as staff may need to be taken from one class to manage the ‘bereaved class’. 

It may be practical  to call a teacher out of a class and ask her to let her staff know. Where the child is less known to the class this may be appropriate.

The next step will be informing people not at school. Again there can be no definitive list but these should include:

  • Current school staff not in school that day – including therapy staff
  • Previous school staff who worked closely with the child
  • Social Work team
  • SEN team
  • Medical team – the school nurse will communicate to them
  • Transport department
  • Chair of governors
  • Respite centres
  • Other professionals who work with the child – Ed Psych
  • Parents – if children have been informed it is appropriate to put out a note to parents informing them of the loss they may need to support or comfort their children. Some parents may need to be telephoned if their relationship is closer but may not have been informed by the family.

Telling the other pupils will be a decision for the head and the class teachers. With different aged pupils there will be different decisions made. The class teacher of the class with the loss may be the best person to tell the rest of the children in that class.

Where it is felt that the children will understand the head will visit the classes, usually with a photo of the child, and let the pupils know what has happened. The finality of death cannot be diminished, however if there are mitigating circumstances that may help,  such as that the child was in pain and now is free of pain, this can be used to help alleviate sorrow. The head must try to avoid adding worry – if the child died in hospital we do not want to give children a fear of hospitals for example. Children must be told that while they may feel sad they do not have to feel guilty if they go on to have fun and pleasure in their day ahead. They must not feel obliged to assume a burden of grief.

Children must be allowed to ask questions at this time or at any point in the following days or weeks. Staff must answer honestly and to the best of their knowledge. This is  not a time to propound one’s own religious beliefs but it is has always been seen as acceptable to tell the children that their friend is now in heaven. This is acceptable across cultures and whilst not a concept that can be fully grasped by the students it does seem, from past experience, to have had benefit in helping the children understand that the child has moved on to a new and happy place.

THRIVE groups may provide an avenue to explore grief, loss, bereavement and feelings where appropriate.

Memory Walls/Tables

Once sure that all relevant people have been informed the TLR for Emotional Wellbeing will set up a memory wall/table in an identified area that will reflect the child e.g. a ‘football’ wall for a football fan, a wall of trees for a child that enjoyed trees,  whatever is relevant and appropriate for that child, depending on age gender etc.

There will be a memory book for anyone to come and write their favourite memories of the child. The book is open to anyone – staff, students, parents, transport staff etc. Parents who do not live near are given the opportunity to send a message via email or to be pasted in the book. People who have written in these books appreciate this chance to ‘say goodbye’. Parents may wish to receive the book and may find it comforting and it may  help over time to read the comments. Photographs will also be added.

The book could be passed on at the funeral, or later, as deemed appropriate by the family and the natural time for the table/wall to be taken down may be at this point, or later, as determined by school.

It should be ensured, as far as possible, that seeing this wall/table on entry to the school,  is not the first way people close to the child are informed of the death.


The Head will make sure that all staff are asked if they wish to attend the funeral. It may be that the school could not run safely if everyone were granted their wish and in that case difficult decisions will be made according to how close people are to the child and family.

The head, or in her unavoidable absence, the deputy, will always attend as a mark of respect.

The memory book will be taken to the funeral and passed on to the parents.


Following a bereavement in school, it is only to be expected that many members of staff will be emotionally affected and would benefit from the provision of a calm environment in which to meet with other colleagues and spend some time in reflective mode. One such means of accomplishing this would be to allocate a specific room e.g. the Rainbow or Meeting Room for the duration of a lunchtime to enable staff to meet and share their thoughts over a coffee or tea. It should be emphasised that anything shared on such occasions should be held as confidential and not for public airing.

Memory Assemblies and Memory Roll

It may be appropriate to hold a memory assembly for the child. This can happen when staff feel strong enough to participate. Staff need to be able to show pupils that it is perfectly normal to feel upset at the loss of a friend, and tears cannot be helped,  but they must not break down in front of the children.

The school will maintain a list of those pupils who have passed away whilst still at school. This list of pupils can form the basis for an assembly of remembrance  at which we can talk about and remember our friends and keep their memories alive.


The school has a nurse on site at all times and she will always be called if staff have concerns about a child’s health at any level. 

If the school nurse is not on site and staff have concerns they will contact the school trained first aider who will call an ambulance. This decision can be taken by the first aider. If she/he requires a second opinion she will talk to the head or most senior team member on site. She/he can also obtain backup from the nursing team at James Cook University Hospital if required.

The nurse will assess the situation and telephone for the ambulance service. She will immediately  inform the Headteacher or most senior member of staff on site.

The nurse or Head Teacher as appropriate to that situation will then telephone the parents and agree that they will meet the ambulance at the hospital or come to school, whichever is quickest.

If the child stops breathing the nurse or trained school staff will administer CPR.

Some parents have given the school a protocol to be followed which may include no mechanical resuscitation. Whilst the school respects the parents’ decision we will insist on the inclusion in that protocol of the need for school staff to administer manual CPR. 

Once the ambulance has arrived at school, the child is given over to their care and it is the ambulance team’s decision as to where the child is taken or which form of treatment is administered.

If the parents have given the school a protocol to be followed in the event of death occurring e.g. no resuscitation this protocol will be handed to the paramedics.

Any change in circumstance following the first call to parents should be reported to them, although staff must not impart shocking or worrying news to a parent travelling  in a  car alone.

Even if it is obvious that a death has occurred in school, the procedures outlined above must still be followed as a nurse is unable to confirm a death – that is the responsibility of a doctor.

Once the child is placed in the ambulance a member of staff will be appointed to travel to the hospital either in the ambulance or in their own transport. The purpose of this is to be a familiar face to the child’s family on their arrival at the hospital.

This person will remain in regular contact with Headteacher.

The Head teacher or Deputy Head, will notify the LA if there is a death in school

The above procedures and protocols will then apply as for a death out of school.


If a crisis situation occurs whilst a child is out on a trip, then the adult with the child or the trip leader should telephone for an ambulance first and then contact the school to inform the Headteacher. The school will take the responsibility of contacting the parents.

Again, once the ambulance team reaches the child, the child becomes the responsibility of the ambulance team and they will direct any subsequent actions.

The off sites visits protocols give guidance for such situations and should be followed.

The LA must be informed and the headteacher will do this.

The above procedures and protocols will then apply as for a death out of school.


For staff:

The school buys in the Medical treatment Insurance Scheme which includes a Counselling Service and staff will be reminded about this service.

CRUSE has offered support in times of bereavement.

For Pupils:

Experience has shown that most pupils can be supported by the school staff, and that each child will have a favoured member of staff to approach. The school nurse can help some pupils understand. The Educational Psychology team and CAMHS can offer support to pupils who may need more help.

Social Stories may be one way to help pupils to understand loss and the Autism team have some generic stories and will help staff produce specific stories as needed.

The TLR for Emotional Wellbeing will ensure that we have suitable books and other materials to help children discuss death and come to terms with loss.

For the family:

Parents will be told that they are welcome in the school and will be encouraged to come and visit. The first visit to the school is often difficult and  will be arranged sensitively in accordance with the parents’ wishes.

It will then be for the parents to decide if they wish to maintain on going links, each family will be different, however the school will always be there to act as a source of support and information.


All the same principles and procedures apply as they do for the death of a pupil.

In addition to the above the school will notify the LA as employer.

Reviewed Spring 2018

Date of next review Spring 2019

List of online resources and information useful website offering practical ideas for helping those bereaved in the family and school community. website of Keech Hospice Care, our local Children’s Hospice. Gives details of its facilities and the support it offers.

www.chums.infoa bereavement support service for children who have suffered a loss bereavement support service for children who have suffered a loss

www.juliesplace.coma support resource for bereaved siblings  British Heart Foundation site to help children come to term with loss using carton creatures. An animated film and we have a printed pack to go with it.   Information on the way bereavement affects children  An organisation offering bereavement support  federation of organisations

Books on Bereavement

John Burningham (Puffin, 1998, ISBN 0099-43408-3)
Designed to stimulate discussion rather than to tell a story, the book has a series of scenes of a little girl and her grandad, with comments from each or both of them. At the end, she is shown staring at his empty chair, without comments. The book allows the adult to direct discussion about not only the good things that the child remembers, but also the not so happy memories.

De Bode and Broere ( Evans / Helping Hands, 1997, ISBN 0237-51755-8) 
A picture book about loss and memories, and potentially a good stimulus to talk about a bereavement.

L & M Brown (Little, Brown, 1996, hb, ISBN 0-316-10197-7) 
Charming busy anthropomorphic pictures of dinosaurs illustrate topics and questions and a range of answers about death: Saying Goodbye; Customs and beliefs about death; Why do people die? What does "dead" mean?. It is also quite acute psychologically, acknowledging that disbelief, anger, fear, and sadness are common feelings when someone dies. Expensive, but attractive and appealing to children.

Sheila and Kate Isherwood (Oxford, ISBN 0-19-272368-5)
A girl's grandfather has died and looking back over the happy times they enjoyed together helps her to cope with the loss. Very specific episodes and illustrations give it a life-like feel. Sensible and sound if a little stereotyped in its pictures of family life, it could help children to think about how to remember someone. 

Jonathan London and Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 1994, ISBN 0-8118-0505-0) 
Liplap the rabbit's grandma has died, and his mother tells him of the rabbit legend that "long ago, when the first rabbits died, they became stars in the sky. And to this day, they come out at night and watch over us. And they remind us that our loved ones shine forever in our hearts… When Liplap asks if a star might be his grandma, his mother replies, "I think you could wish it were."  Could be considered "twee" and lacking honest engagement with the subject,

Posy Simmons (Jonathan Cape, 1987, ISBN 0-2240-2448-5) 
When Fred the cat dies his owners, Nick and Sophie, attend his funeral and learn about his secret life as a famous singer. The story raises the idea of celebrating a life in a good-humoured and touching way, with entertaining pictures and not much text.

Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (Belitha Press, 1997, ISBN 1-85561-760-9) 
full title: Beginnings and endings with lifetimes in between – a beautiful way to explain life and death to children. This book places human life and death firmly in the natural world, and the tone is quietly reflective: "All around us everywhere, beginnings and endings are going on all the time.It may be sad, but it is the way of all things. For plants. For people. For birds”. Whilst not exactly comforting, it tells the truth, puts death in perspective, Don't let the rather murky cover put children off - it belies the attractive illustrations within of plants and creatures, alive and dead.

Susan Varley (Collins Picture Lions, pb, 1992) 
An old favourite, a charming illustrated book in which a very old and much loved badger dies. The forest animals gather and reminisce about the important part Badger played in their lives, and as time passes memories of Badger make them smile. These memories were different for each of them, including very recognisable things like a favourite recipe or showing someone how to knot a tie - Badger's "parting gifts.

Martin Waddell (Walker Books,1990, ISBN 0-7445-7256-8) 
Death is seen very much as part of life in this nicely illustrated story of life in the country, which conveys the idea that life goes on and that old creatures give way to young ones. But it is a bit too matter of fact about loss - barely is the old dog dead than the children have found a new one, is there an implicit message that dead pets (and people?) are easily replaced.

Martin Waddell (Macdonald Young Books, pb, ISBN 0- 7500-0307-3) 
Bill's grandma is a widow, and he learns about her "other Bill" by looking through her photo album with her. A bit too stereoptypically suburban and middle class for general appeal perhaps. Some like its ordinariness, gentleness and factual accuracy, and couldn't fault what it had to say about death and living on in memories and in the family.

H Wilhelm (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985) 
A touching story of the love between a little boy and his dog, who have grown up together. When the dog dies, the boy says that, although he is very sad, it helps that he used to tell the dog "I'll always love you" every night. An opportunity to discuss the importance of telling how you feel. Aimed at 4 to 7 year olds and delightfully illustrated.

(Wayland, ISBN 0-7052-1406-6) 
Not specifically about death, but about different ways of expressing sadness. Could be a useful opening for a conversation about a bereavement, or about coping with feelings.

Juliet Rothman (Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-054-1) 
This story of a little girl whose brother has died is intended for children aged 8-12. "A difficult subject handled very well and movingly",