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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Children 'must learn about death'
Teachers are often at a loss about what to say
Schools are being asked to teach pupils more about death to help them cope with the loss of a family member.

A child is bereaved of a parent every 30 minutes in Britain, leaving 70% of schools to deal with related problems at any time. One in three loses a sibling during childhood.

But the National Children's Bureau says teachers are often afraid of "saying the wrong thing".

It is calling for issues surrounding death to become part of science and religious studies lessons.


The NCB's director of children's development, Gill Frances, has written a book of advice to send to schools.

It recommends ignoring euphemisms, such as "passed away" and "sleeping", for fear pupils will think family members are going to return.

Ms Frances said science lessons could discuss death in terms of the lifecycle of the natural world.

Religious education could look at cultural traditions surrounding it, like funerals and mourning.

Some schools, Ms Frances said, had been guilty of insensitivity when dealing with bereavement.


In the booklet, Childhood Bereavement: Developing the Curriculum and Pastoral Support, she quotes one bereaved boy as saying his teacher "wouldn't let me make a Father's Day card".

"It wasn't fair. I do have a father; I just can't see him."

Ms Frances said: "Many teachers want to help, but feel anxious about supporting bereaved children in their care and are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

"In turn, sometimes children and young people want to talk openly about their loss, but find that those around them avoid the issue.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to adjust your approach to different children."

The guide contains practical guides for schools dealing with bereaved pupils.

It advises contacting the family before he or she comes back to school.

Pupils should also be encouraged to express their feelings through artistic outlets such as drawing and poetry.

Ms Frances said: "A lot of primary teachers keep animals in the classroom. Often they are hamsters, which don't live long.

"The children get upset when the animals die, but they learn to cope with it.

"We need to discuss death, rather than leaving the subject alone until it actually happens."

The guide, which will be sent to every local authority, was written on behalf of the Child Bereavement Network.

Support line for bereaved parents
29 Mar 04  |  Bristol/Somerset


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