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Management of Critical Events for Schools

Management of Critical Events for Schools

These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Clackmannanshire Emergency Planning Unit's document Responding to an Emergency and Management of Critical Events - a guide for Schools.


In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the impact of traumatic events on individuals, families and communities. Good planning can help to alleviate the impact of such events and change the potential legacy of trauma.

Critical incidents occur regularly. Incidents that are unexpected, sudden and distressing are fairly common. The development of a management plan, fully implemented and monitored, in every school, together with a staff development and training programme will not prevent the occurrence of critical events. However, with preparation and training school personnel will be in a better position to minimise the impact of a critical event on pupils, staff and the school community.

There are sound educational grounds for School Crisis Contingency planning: emotional trauma can have marked effects on academic progress and on behaviour.

Definitions of what constitutes a critical event vary. A commonly used definition is:

Any situation faced by members of a school community causing them to experience unusually strong emotional reactions which have the potential to interfere with their ability to function either at the time the situation arises, or later.

Not all trauma is associated with major incidents. Events which directly affect only one or two individuals may have a wider impact on the school community.

When critical events do occur in school communities, they commonly evoke strong emotional responses in pupils, staff and parents. Pupils and parents will look to the school for support, with an expectation that school staff will help restore the school community to normal functioning. It follows, therefore, that all staff in schools should receive training to deal with critical events.

The Authority recognises their responsibility for training and staff development in the area of critical events and will provide training for all staff in schools.

In recent years it has become evident that individual tragedies, as well as larger scale traumatic events affecting part or whole school communities, occur regularly and can have significant effects on both individuals and the community as a whole.

A planned response can help a school to maintain a sense of control, to respond more effectively, to return more quickly to normal routine, and to minimise the long term effects which critical events may have on staff and pupils.

For large scale events affecting the school as a whole each establishment will have developed a School Emergency plan. Head teachers will ensure that School Emergency plan is regularly reviewed and updated. (If necessary Head teachers can contact the Emergency Planning unit for assistance).

For smaller scale events, for example affecting an individual pupil or staff member or group of pupils, Head teachers should consider school crisis contingency planning.

The following document has been written for head teachers and the senior management team in schools. There are three sections:

  1. Guidelines
  2. Procedures
  3. Resources

The purpose of the guidelines and procedures is to assist schools in School Crisis Contingency Planning and to complement their School Emergency Plan.

The resources section contains a bank of resource materials relevant to the management of critical events for schools.

Contingency plans will have identified potential critical incidents and the in-school crisis management core group.


Management teams need to consider their responses prior to and during the five stages of any critical event:

  1. Pre Planning
  2. Immediate (within the first 24 - 48 hrs following the incident)
  3. Short term (within the next few days)
  4. Medium term (within the next month)
  5. Long term
Pre Planning

Perhaps the most important stage is that of school readiness and contingency planning. This will include the systems which the school will put in place for identifying and monitoring children in need or at risk. It will also include the development of the ethos of the school and the opportunities it provides for children and staff to learn about feelings, and about loss or trauma.

The exact nature of any event will largely determine the detail of the plans you will need to make for your immediate, short, medium and long term responses but there are a range of points which can be helpfully considered in advance of any critical event.

Immediate, Short, Medium and Long Term Response

School staff will be key figures in any immediate, short term and medium term responses. They may seek additional support from the school psychologist in each of the phases. They may involve other agencies when considering aspects of their medium and long term responses.


Pre Planning

School Emergency Plan (large scale events)

Head teachers will ensure their School Emergency Plan is accurate and up to date and that all staff are familiar with it.

'In- School' contingency planning (smaller scale events)

Please refer to the Clackmannanshire Emergency Planning Unit's document 'Responding to an Emergency and Management of Critical Events: a guide for Schools' for guidance and relevant documentation.

Plans should consider who will take over the responsibility for maintaining normal school routines and functions and communication with pupils and staff during the crisis.

Ensure plans cover eventualities if pupils and staff are out of school on school trips/excursions.

  • Identify training needs and resource needs
  • Set up monitoring and information recording systems
  • Identify training needs (relevant training will include for example grief education, working with children affected by loss and trauma, 'Talking with Children', 'Critical Events for Schools')
  • Ensure staff support systems are in place
  • Information leaflets should be sourced or developed
Immediate Responses
  • Please refer to the Clackmannanshire Emergency Planning Unit document Responding to an Emergency: a Guide for Schools
Short Term Responses (covering the few days after an incident)
  • Restore school routines if these have been disrupted.
  • Make contact with specialist agencies to seek advice. They should be able to help you to gather together helpful resource materials. Specialist intervention is not likely to be appropriate at this stage.
  • Set up systems to identify those children who are most at risk.
  • Maintain support to pupils. Provide opportunities for discussion. Classroom meetings may be helpful. Debriefing formally or informally may be necessary.
  • Ensure no staff member takes on too much. Share out tasks. Management may need to be directive. Give clear permission to staff to seek support themselves.
  • If a child has died clarify family's wishes about the funeral etc. Identify a member of staff whose task is to find out about the religious beliefs and customs of the family/families involved.
  • In the event of a colleague's death, many staff may want to attend the funeral. The Head teacher should liaise with the Head of Education to consider what support may be needed to allow staff to attend.

Monitoring and Support

  • Set up systems to monitor how pupils and staff are coping.
  • Set up support systems for pupils and staff. You may need to identify a support base and staff it.
  • Establish links with Psychological Services, Voluntary Agencies, Social Services. At this stage you will probably only be seeking advice and not direct intervention.

Resource Materials

  • Information leaflets, detailing normal crisis reactions, should be distributed. Additional resource materials should be gathered and made available.
Medium Term Responses (for the first few weeks following an incident)
  • Maintain systems to monitor children' reactions and to identify those children (and staff) who need help. Regular communication between home and school is important as children may display behaviours at home which they do not show in school.
  • Be alert to the effects a critical event may have on children and adults who have had earlier trauma or losses in their lives but who may not have been directly involved in the current incident.
  • Facilitate return to school for those involved. There may need to be special arrangements made for children who have been injured
  • Prepare other class members for how they may react to someone who has been bereaved or injured
  • Arrange support for affected staff
  • Arrange supply cover if necessary
  • Maintain your system of disseminating information, issuing bulletins even if no new information is available
  • Identify sources of specialist help so that this can be accessed quickly if necessary

Return to School

  • Arrangements may need to be made for injured children on their return to school. Ensure that a member of staff makes contact with children at home or in hospital. The Access Officer will assess the need for additional practical support. Arrange alternative teaching if necessary.


  • Systems for identifying and monitoring vulnerable children need to be put in place. Children who have experienced previous trauma but who are not directly involved in the incident may be at risk.
  • Arrange a system for home school liaison, so that the progress of vulnerable children can be carefully monitored.
  • Ensure staff support remains available.


  • Continue to issue information bulletins.
Long term response

This may need to stay in place for several years, depending on the magnitude of the events and their impact on the school and community.

Monitor and Review

  • Maintain your systems for monitoring and identifying pupils who are requiring support.
  • Maintain a system for recognising staff needs for support


  • Mark anniversaries. You may need to consult to decide how best to do this.
  • Be aware that anniversaries, the occurrence of other similar events, legal proceedings and so on may have an impact either on those previously affected or on others.


  • Consider introducing elements into the curriculum which can help staff and pupils to deal with difficult issues such as death and loss.
  • Initiatives in school such as the ' Friends' programme,' Seasons for Growth'.


  • Identify student support counsellors or seek input from the school psychological service.
  • Ensure staff supports remain in place.


You can view or download the Guidelines for Management of Critical Events for Schools document which details useful reference material for managers, school staff, parents and pupils.

Resources include reference to a number of key texts on loss and trauma theory and contingency planning, as well as guidelines for interventions with children and young people, and story and workbook material.

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Contact information

Psychological Service
Kilncraigs, Greenside Street, Alloa, FK10 1EB
Tel: 01259 226000 / 450000 Fax: 01259 226006