What is a Critical Incident?
“A critical incident is any incident or sequence of events which overwhelms the normal coping mechanisms of the school”
Examples may include:
- Death through illness of student/staff Sudden death of student or staff member
- Road Traffic Accident School trip accident
- Serious school accident Drowning
- Suicide Unforeseen tragedy (eg school fire)
- Death due to violence School Siege
Critical incidents and the seriousness of their impact may be listed under three response headings:
- Response Level 1
e.g. the death of a student or staff member who was terminally ill
- Response Level 2
e.g. the sudden death of a student or staff member
- Response Level 3
e.g. an accident/incident or deaths involving a number of students; or a violent death with a high media profile
Critical Incident Policy
The object of this policy is to set out the nature and format of the coping skills the school and ancillary services need to apply when the unimaginable happens. It also deals with the assigning of key administrative tasks to various members of staff. It is important to note that the strategies outlined in this policy should be viewed in conjunction with the following documents
- Responding to Critical Incidents: Guidelines for Schools: DES
- Responding to Critical Incidents: Resource Materials for Schools : DES
- St. Conleth’s Health & Safety Policy
- St. Conleth’s Pastoral Care Policy
- St. Conleth’s Behaviour Policy
St. Conleth’s Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT)
In the event of a critical incident St. Conleth’s will immediately put in place the management/ planning team of key personnel known as a CIMT.
The composition of the St. Conleth’s CIMT is as follows:
- Principal of the Secondary School
- Principal of the Junior School
- Deputy Principal
- Pastoral Care Team Convenor
NOTE Because of the nature of St. Conleth’s with a primary and secondary school sharing the same buildings and the close ties between the two, it is both expedient and appropriate to have the same critical incident policy applicable to both
Depending on the seriousness of the incident, others may be co-opted to the CIMT if deemed necessary. They may include:
- Chairpersons of Parents’ Association
- School Captain
- School Chaplain
- NEPS Psychologist
- A member of the Garda Siochana (Donnybrook)
Any member of the CIMT will have the option to opt out at any stage in consultation with the principal. Depending on the incident, The CIMT may also need to liaise with other bodies such as the DES, SEC, ASTI. NEPS
Immediate Role of CIMT
In the event of a critical incident the Principals and/or Deputy Principal will contact and convene a meeting of the CIMT: The Principal or in his absence the Deputy Principal will chair the meeting. The CIMT will put the Critical Incident Management Plan into operation.
The Critical Incident Management Plan (CIMP)
The CIMP is put in place to help St. Conleth’s school management and staff react quickly and effectively in the event of an incident. It is designed to help the school cope with a critical incident and maintain a sense of control and to ensure that appropriate support is offered to students and staff.
The plan will ensure that the effects of a critical incident on the students and staff will be limited and that the school can return to normality as soon as possible. Notice should also be taken of the SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) programme in schools which addresses such issues as grief, loss, stress and anger
Activating the Plan
The CIMT will do the following:
- Establish accurate facts about what happened, when it happened, how it happened and the number and names of students and/or staff involved; the extent of injuries and location of those injured
- Agree on the facts
- Discuss what agencies must be contacted (Cf. Emergency Contact List below)
- Discuss the need to close the school. However, it is always important to maintain as normal a routine as possible
- Delegate responsibilities within the CIMT and allocate any necessary jobs to be carried out. These might include contacting relevant embassy or consulate if the incident occurred abroad; visiting incident site and/or hospital; arranging for collection of personal belongings; arranging transport; arranging home visits by staff representatives: deciding on rooms for parents, students and/or media to assemble etc. For some or all of the above it may also be necessary to draw on the assistance of staff members who are not part of the CIMT
- Discuss how to break the news to relatives and close friends: who should do this? (They should always be told separately)
- Discuss how to identify vulnerable students
- Call a whole staff meeting (including ancillary staff) for a briefing when the above is done
- Prepare a press statement if necessary
- If appropriate call a school assembly and inform student population as calmly as possible
If an incident attracts a lot of publicity, local, national or international, the CIMT will decide who will deal with the media. It is recommended that this be done by the School Principal and/or School Director/School Manager. Teachers and students should be advised against talking to the media and/or providing photographs or memorabilia of the deceased.
See Section 9 of DES Guidelines for Schools Responding to Critical Incidents
Talking to Staff
- Call a meeting of all staff and allow everyone to express their views and feelings. No one should feel ignored. NOTE: The role of the Pastoral Care Team Convenor is important here
- Discuss with staff what facts will be shared with students
- Decide on the best way to inform students (e.g. school assembly: class by class/ form teachers). Students may need to be informed in an age appropriate manner
- Agree on schedule for the day.
- Establish contact with absent staff and students. Keep staff updated and dispel rumours
- Allow any teacher who feels uncomfortable to opt out of playing a role.
- Staff should be advised not to talk to the media or to give photographs to the press
NEPS: National Educational Psychological Service
If the services of NEPS is required, its response generally involves:-
- Planning – helping management to assess the significance and impact of the event, to draw up a plan, to mobilise the schools resources and access other support systems
- Information and Advice – providing information and advice to management and staff as they come to terms with the situation
- Support – being available for consultation to school staff as they support the students. The is may involve support meetings at the beginning and end of the school day
- Screening – working with teachers to identify students who are most in need of support and developing procedures for reviewing their needs and for outward referral if necessary
NOTE: NEPS does not provide counselling but rather immediate short-term support information and advice. The psychologist may see a student about whom there are particular concerns and may advise the school and the student’s parents as to whether an onward referral is necessary. Parental permission is required.
It is envisaged that the number of individual students seen by NEPS will be minimal. The psychologist may also meet with a class group or other group of students to support them in talking about what has happened and to give them information about the normal reactions to such an event.
Talking to Parents
The CIMT will decide if it is necessary to convene a meeting of parents in order to show support and to disseminate information. The psychologist may attend this meeting to outline the role of NEPS, answer questions and advise how parents can best support their children.
NOTE: Parents not directly affected by the incident, should be advised not to allow their children to be interviewed by the media or to provide photographs or any memorabilia pertaining to deceased staff or students.
Talking to Students
- In times of tragedy, young people need support from adults who know them best.
- The teachers in St. Conleth’s have this invaluable experience.
- They also have the competence and skills in dealing with students.
- They are the best people to provide this support.
- The CIMT and the teaching staff (and form teachers in particular) will be in a position to identify vulnerable students)
- Partnership with parents is also important in this regard
The over riding principle is the need to promote the safety and well-being of students and to prevent further distress. A very distressed student may need individual support. Teachers should give students the opportunity to talk about what happened and temporarily shelve all academic activities if necessary.
Routine for students is very important in time of tragedy. In the hours, days and weeks following an incident, normal routine should be maintained. In a classroom environment reassure the students that it is OK to be upset. This can best be done by the Form teacher or individual teachers. NOTE: It is important to empathise, reassure, validate feelings encourage talking if they want to talk, allow questions and to listen.
Services Funerals, Memorials following a CI
The CIMT should
- Designate a suitable staff member to liaise with the family to extend sympathy
- Clarify the family’s wishes regarding the school’s involvement in the funeral/memorial service and the nature and form of service & readings.
- Decide on attendance at funeral/s
- Have regard for different religious traditions and faiths
- The wishes of the families must always be respected (when reasonable and
Offers of Help following a CI
Schools may at times be overwhelmed by many offers of help from individuals and agencies especially when a major incident occurs. The CIMT should co-ordinate offers with the co-operation of the NEPS. In the event of a major incident, one dedicated phone line should be opened. All phone calls should be logged and all offers of help from individuals and agencies should be noted. Over supportive, well meaning or “interfering” personnel, be they parents, or outside agencies should be discouraged from hijacking the CIMP .
Returning to Normal School Activity
It is essential to return to normal school activity as soon as possible. Students should be reassured that returning to normal school activities is not disrespectful. However, this should not adversely affect the follow up work which may need to be carried out in the weeks, months, years, following a critical incident. The goal of a follow-up is to help the school community cope with the impact of the event in the longer term and to monitor those individuals with ongoing difficulties
- After an incident there will be “normal” distress often lasting several weeks or even months
- Students who show ongoing signs of distress may need to be referred on
- The CIMT should discuss the return to school of the bereaved students/s
- In the long term the school may need to consider what to do by way of a memorial.
- Remember that anniversaries may trigger emotional responses in students/staff
- While one must never forget, there must be eventual closure within the school and community to the CI
A school’s response to a death by suicide comes within the ambit of a critical incident.
One should also read and note the content of the following documents:-
- Section 7 of the DES Guidelines for Schools responding to Critical Incidents
- Guidelines for Schools on How to Respond to the Sudden Unexpected Death of a Student. :AST1 1997
- Coping with a Major Crisis: City of Dublin VEC Psychological Services
- When Something Terrible Happens: VEC Psychological Service
- Reponding to a Critical Incident (Reviewing the Policy)
Like all school policies, the above policy should be subject to ongoing review. It is recommended that the CIMT should meet annually to reassess the policy.
If a critical incident occurs, the review should ask the following questions
- What worked? What didn’t work?
- What has the school learned?
- Were there unforeseen circumstances?
- What would one do differently?
Updated September 2017