Blog: The last taboo in education

Published: 18 Jun 2019

Author: Sarah Helton
Blog: The last taboo in education

Sex, drugs, relationships, religion… all of these subjects are covered in UK schools, but what about death?

Death tends to be put into a box and buried at the back of our minds. Typically it is hidden away and only considered when we’re moving towards old age. Then, when we are faced with our own mortality, we begin to consider what death means. Hopefully, by this age, we have gained some understanding of life and death to help us.

But not everyone has the luxury of being able to put off all thoughts of death until old age. And is this approach healthy? As the Japanese author Haruki Murakami says, “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”

"If young people do not get support and care following a bereavement, their schooling and lives could be forever impacted."

Some of our school children are faced with this at a young age, due to the death of a loved one. Are they prepared for this? Are they well supported, following a bereavement?

When a young person’s best friend dies from leukaemia, can they focus on their looming SATS? When a child’s father dies unexpectedly, will they be able to return to school and leap straight back into learning?

If our young people do not get the support and care that they require and deserve following a bereavement, then their schooling and lives beyond school could be forever impacted.

I believe that drastic improvements are required in our school system to be able to confidently answer ‘yes’ to the questions above. However, drastic improvements don’t require a radical overhaul or huge amounts of money. I think they can be achieved through just a few simple additions:

  1. By including the issues of bereavement and grief, and their impact on learning, in all teaching qualifications.
  2. By including the issues of life and death in the school’s curriculum.
  3. By developing bereavement plans for bereaved children who are returning to school.

My Churchill Fellowship in 2018 explored what is best practice for supporting bereaved children who have special educational needs/disabilities, in Scandinavia and the USA. Having been in the field of SEND for nearly 25 years, and having worked with many bereaved children, I am desperate to improve the support these young people receive. 

My fellowship took me much further than this, however, and made me realise that changes - as outlined above - need to occur across the whole of the education system, for all of our children.

Read Sarah's report

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