The nature of informed bereavement support and death education in selected English primary schools

James, Sarah (Writer on education)

October 2015

Thesis or dissertation

© 2015 Sarah (Writer on education) James. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

School-based bereavement support provision in England is considered to be improving, but remains problematic (Child Bereavement United Kingdom [CBUK], 2013; Potts, 2013; Holland & McLennan, 2015; Holland & Wilkinson, 2015). Representing an aspect of pastoral care, evidence from the literature not only indicates that schools can play an important role in bereavement support, but that training is required (Cranwell, 2007; Holland, 2008, for example), particularly given the discomfiture many school staff feel when discussing death-related issues (Holland et al., 2005; Ribbens McCarthy & Jessop, 2005). This appears to relate to socio-historical events which began in England after World War I (Gorer, 1965; Berridge, 2001; Walter, 2012) and to modernity’s secularisation in many European countries (Ariès, 1974). The result appears to be the sequestration of death as taboo (Mellor, 1992; Mellor & Shilling, 1993). Despite signs that death is undergoing something of a revival in England (Walter, 1994) the concept of death education, which is recommended by bereavement support training programmes, appears to remain problematic in English schools (Clark, 2006; Potts, 2013).

In recognition of the bereavement support context in English schools, and with a personal interest in enquiring about how provision was ‘informed’ by specialist training courses, this led to the formulation of the main research question [MRQ] for the thesis: ‘What are the perceptions of key actors with respect to the nature of ‘informed’ bereavement support and death education within selected English primary schools?’ The resulting qualitative study was conducted in eight primary schools, in which data were collected utilising semi-structured interviews from seventeen richly-informed key actors. The perceptions-based predominantly qualitative data were coded and analysed within the interpretivist paradigm, which complements the study’s underpinning anthropological leanings.

This empirical study has elicited rich, qualitative data from key actors in selected English primary schools offering bereavement support provision ‘informed’ by suitable training. In all eight schools, bereavement support provision was found to be proactive and nurturing, yet effectively ‘compartmentalised’, which also appeared to affect death education provision.

Department of Education Studies, The University of Hull
Bottery, Mike
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