Critical incident policy

Our school code of conduct is:

“Try, Grow, Achieve”

Definition – of Critical Incident

“Is any event which may cause significant disruption to the smooth running of the school, and which requires a co-ordinated response to manage it successfully”

Whilst handling crises is a normal part of school life, some incidents are of a more critical and overwhelming character in which staff, pupils and parents may experience acute, even prolonged, distress.  It is the response to these incidents, which is covered by this policy.

Some examples are as follows: the murder of a pupil, serious and fatal accidents during school trips, student suicide, major fire or other building damage, meningitis death.


This policy cannot cover all possible events yet it provides a framework for a co-ordinated response and a template for recording decisions made “in the heat of the moment” which may be subject to subsequent scrutiny.  A major fire at the weekend, a serious accident on a school trip or major community violence will require different types and scales of response, involving different agencies.

It comprises 4 Sections as follows:-

Section 1 – Being prepared

Section 2 – Immediate action after a critical incident

Section 3 – The next stage – handling the reaction of the people affected

Section 4 – Council’s Emergency Response arrangements

Appendix 1 – Checklist of action

Appendix 2 – Emergency contact details

Appendix 3 – Emergency Log Sheet

Appendix 4 – Decision Log Sheet

Section 1: Being Prepared

Our Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT) comprises the Consultant Head Teacher, Deputy Headteachers, business manager, Chair of Governing Body, Vice-Chair.  This team has access to all necessary school information.

The composition of this team will be revised annually as part of the overall policy review.

It is the responsibility of each member of the CIMT to hold accurate current contact details for each other member.

The Council has its own emergency planning arrangements and key staff can provide support and advice.  This is covered in Section 4 of this policy.

Section 2: Immediate Action

The nature of critical incidents renders flexibility imperative. However, the following steps constitute a logical framework.

Action 1 – Obtain and Collate Information

As much information should be gathered on the incident as possible.  This is particularly important for an incident off the school premises where information is more difficult to obtain and may be subject to unhelpful rumour.

Someone at the school – usually one of the CIMT – will be nominated to co-ordinate a log of events throughout the incident, using the Emergency Log Sheet (Appendix 3) and the Decision Log Sheet (Appendix 4).

Some examples of information required:-

  • Exactly what has happened, where and when?
  • If off school premises, name and contact number of an adult at the incident site, and is help required from the school?
  • Extent of injuries, number and names.
  • Location of injured, name and contact number of accompanying adult.

To brief the CIMT, it is also important to know:

  • Who has been informed?
  • What has been said?
  • N.B. Where an incident involves the Police, they may take control of some management issues including the management of the media and provision of incident information.

Action 2 – Gather and brief CIMT

The first member of the CIMT to learn about the incident will inform the rest of the team.  Unless operational circumstances dictate otherwise, the CIMT will convene at the School.

Action 3 – Inform the LA and trigger the Support Network

It is essential to inform the Strategic Director (Children, Young People and Learning Services) of any incident of a critical nature.  If the Strategic Director is not available, one of the officers stated in Appendix 2 should be contacted.  Through the central Borough number, key officers can be contacted out of hours.  The LA may be contacted directly by the media or parents and will need to be in an informed position.

Assistance may include physical resources such as equipment and materials and the services of staff such as Press and Public Relations (for media liaison), occupational health, health and safety, care staff, call centre staff for public information, or other specialist staff.

In the event of a serious incident the LA’s executive management team, with emergency planning colleagues, will co-ordinate how the LA will be able to support the school.

Action 4 – Incident Room and Dedicated Phone-line / Inform Governors

The person, or team, dealing with incoming calls should provide an agreed, factual statement along with reassurance of action being taken at the incident site.  It is important to avoid speculation and not to make statements about further information or developments unless confident that it will be available.  To avoid conflicting information, this should be written down and read.

The school office 01892 520562 or a mobile phone belonging to a CIMT member, will be used to make outgoing calls.  In an extended incident, the Borough has an emergency incident room with dedicated lines which may be able to provide alternative communications facilities.

A member of the CIMT will contact a member of the Governing Body who will cascade details to the rest of the governors.

Action 5 – Contact Families directly affected

This is to be implemented quickly and with sensitivity.  Names and contact details for any excursion party will be centrally available.  Messages should relay known information and assurances of appropriate action being taken and should indicate if further information will be available.

It may be appropriate for parents to come into school to be ready for further information.  Some people may need immediate emotional support.  In this case, the police should be asked to provide a Family Liaison Officer to facilitate the flow of information and prevent the CIMT from becoming overwhelmed and ineffective.

Action 6 – Informing Parents not directly affected

If there is a possibility of legal liability, police action, or a health issue, the Council’s legal, insurance and corporate health and safety unit would need to be contacted before the school issues information to parents.  Where health is potentially at risk, contact will be made with the Health Authority.  Whilst any emergency would involve Accident & Emergency, the school should discuss any wider issues with their attached School Nurse, or in cases of communicable diseases, and the Health Protection Agency for South West London, the telephone number of which is detailed in Appendix 2.

It may be sufficient to inform parents by sending a letter with children.  In some cases it will be appropriate to call a meeting at the school, especially if the incident is one which will generate concern about some aspect of the school’s organisation (e.g. injury following violence at school).

A prepared statement should give necessary facts, expression of sympathy/concern and possibly a message for the community.  It is important to remember that a letter is likely to be accessible to the media.  Guidance should therefore be sought from the Council’s Executive Head of Communications or the Strategic Director, (Children, Young People and Learning Services) where necessary.  It may be preferable to delay this letter by 2 or 3 days until all information is available but in some circumstances it will be important that the letter goes out immediately.

Action 7 – Informing Teaching and Support Staff

It is vital that all adults who are in contact with pupils are kept well informed and feel secure in handling questions and comments.  A schedule for updating information will be arranged e.g. during breaks, at the end of the day or before school begins.  Such meetings ensure that knowledge is shared and questions are answered in an informed manner.  Staff should be cautioned not to talk to the media or respond to questions from reporters.

Action 8 – Informing Pupils

This is best done in classes or small groups with particular care being taken to protect and support children close to someone involved with the incident and any staff who are unable to handle the emotions or distress confidently.  Children should receive a consistent account of the incident while allowing for differences in their ability to understand.

Action 9 – Encourage people involved to talk

In some instances, people involved (both children and staff) should be able to talk about the incident and its effects before going home.  “Hot debriefs” are particularly important for staff involved. Significant psychological harm can be reduced by doing so.  They also allow immediate learning points to be drawn out and included in a strategy to return to normality as swiftly as possible.

Action 10 – Be ready to deal with the media

The CIMT will seek advice from the Council’s Head of Communications about handling the incident before agreeing to be interviewed or releasing names of children and staff involved in the incident.  Management of the media by those who are inexperienced can lead to greater problems in dealing with the incident.

Under the authority of the Strategic Director (Children, Young People and Learning Services) or his nominee, the Council’s Executive Head of Communications will co-ordinate the management of the media with the school.

Pupils, parents, governors, teaching and support staff may be approached directly by press, radio or television reporters during the earliest stages of an incident.  In an out-of-school incident, the media might learn of it before the school and therefore have information which is different to that of the school.  In the most difficult circumstances, the Police will be asked to provide some protection against media intrusion.

In some instances, media interest might persist over a period of days, weeks or even years (e.g. Dunblane) and be re-triggered by a funeral, court action or anniversary.

Guidance Points

Whilst the Council’s Executive Head of Communications should co-ordinate the management of the media, it is likely that news agencies will wish to speak directly to a representative of the school.  Guidance will be given to a school at this time regarding when this is appropriate.  When it is, and a representative of the school speaks to the media, the following principles will need to be followed:


  • Do respond to “what” and “when” questions.
  • Do tell your story quickly, accurately and get your key message(s) across.
  • Do consider, when possible, the needs of your audience.
  • Do choose your own time when to report to the media.
  • Do prepare and rehearse so that everybody has the same story.


  • Don’t reply to “how” and “why” questions.
  • Don’t speculate.
  • Don’t bluff or lie.
  • Don’t make “off the record” comments.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Don’t make excuses or blame others.
  • Don’t respond to “blind quotes” (e.g. “One of your staff tells me that…do you agree?”
  • Don’t say “No comment” – explain why you cannot comment.
  • Don’t allow words to be put in your mouth (e.g. “Would you agree that…?)

Effective, direct communication within the school community can limit the impact of sensational media coverage.

Pupils, teaching and non-teaching staff, governors and parents need appropriate, accurate, up-to-date release of information and should be strongly encouraged neither to speculate nor to give currency to rumour.

Section 3:  The Next Stage – Handling the Reactions of People Affected

People will react very differently; some will readily give vent to their feelings whilst others find it more difficult.  Pupils’ ages and development will affect their understanding and feelings.  The nature of the incident itself has a major bearing on the feelings generated.  The most common reactions include denial, distress, guilt, anger and helplessness.

There are, however some common needs that should be recognised and addressed:

Consideration 1:  Information About the Incident

Inform all staff and give guidance on how to support and talk to the children affected.  Confront the ‘truth’ and take care with the form of words used in announcements.

Outline the measures or arrangements in place that will provide further help for distressed children.

Provide information to families on the types of help and support available to them and their children.

Consideration 2:  Explicit Knowledge of the Incident

The management of a critical incident can result in high levels of stress for those involved:

  • acknowledge the emotional state of staff and children and allow time and space when needed.
  • some staff may not wish or be able to be directly involved in supporting children.
  • the burden of support may fall disproportionately on a small number of staff.

Acknowledge that the incident may act as a trigger to children that are emotionally vulnerable, even if they are not directly involved.  This may result in difficulties in behaviour and relationships.

Be sensitive to the effects on staff or children’s concentration and performance.

Be sensitive to the effect on home and social life for families and peers.

Consideration 3:  Opportunity to Talk through or Otherwise Express Personal Reactions

While attempting to ensure continuity and normality, staff should encourage children to talk about their feelings and be prepared to listen to them.Groups of children may be offered support from external professional organisations or individuals who can ‘debrief’ them, to help them understand their reactions and develop coping strategies.  Parental permission should be sought in this instance.  It may be appropriate to resist expectations of immediate counselling – if appropriate, counselling is recommended 1 to 4 weeks after an incident.

Staff closely associated with children involved should be offered opportunities for debriefing and counselling.  (See section 4 for available support).

Exceptionally some children may need therapeutic help for a considerable time, or at some time following the event.

Consideration 4:  Those Providing Support, Need Support

Be aware of possible delayed reactions from those actively involved in responding to a critical incident.  Staff who are co-ordinating the school’s response should be supported and properly scheduled for relief periods.

Teachers are vital in supporting pupils through a critical incident: but teachers involved in delivering this need and deserve informed guidance and emotional support themselves.

The needs of Head Teachers and senior staff have not always been fully acknowledged.  The Critical Incident Management Team should be aware that the strain of leading a school through a critical incident can obscure personal feelings.

Consideration 5  Formal and Informal Recognition and Rituals

Arrangements may be made to express sympathy to the families directly affected by the incident.

Injured children can be visited in hospital.

Children can be encouraged to send cards and letters.

Plan to attend a funeral, if welcome.  (School closure is possible at the discretion of governors).

Discuss the desirability of holding special assemblies, memorial services and a remembrance book.

Anniversaries are key times and the school should ensure such occasions are planned for and handled with sensitivity and support.

Consideration 6  Continuing or Quickly Re-establishing Normal Routines

Every attempt should be made to provide as much continuity as possible for children.

Maintain the normal school day so children will be less likely to feel unsettled.

Parents can be invaluable (eg as classroom assistants) in enabling the school day to run as smoothly and ‘normally’ as possible.

Consideration 7  Return to School by Pupils or Staff Directly Affected

Some staff or pupils may not return to school immediately after an incident and will therefore need special assistance when they do return.

Some may have been injured or distressed and will need significant support to reintegrate back into school life.

Section 4:  Sutton Council’s Emergency Response and Management Arrangements


The Borough has an emergency response service.  Key staff within the Children, Young People and Learning Services Group can also be contacted to respond in an emergency or critical situation (see contact names in appendix 1).  In the event of a critical incident key staff can be contacted on a 24 hour all year basis via the Borough’s 24 hour number stated in appendix 1.

Evidence from recent incidents in schools shows that even the most ‘self sufficient’ schools find the help and support of the LA invaluable in the event of a critical incident.

Council’s Major Emergency Plan

The Council’s Emergency Plan is designed to provide a flexible, needs based response to an incident based on the effects arising from it, rather than the cause of it.

A range of services can be called upon including:

  • Co-ordination of a PR service including media management and advice
  • Provision of legal advice (including setting up of a disaster trust)
  • Liaison with Council Members
  • Collection and collation of data
  • Maintenance of health and hygiene including health services liaison
  • Counselling victims, families and friends
  • Building services eg provision of temporary accommodation and giving advice on dangerous structures
  • General help and support to allow the school to continue its main business

The above list is not exhaustive and in the event of an emergency there are many other ways the Borough may be able to help.  For serious incidents, Children, Young People and Learning Service’s Executive Management Team will co-ordinate assistance from the LA, bringing in expertise from elsewhere in the Council as necessary.  For example, a major fire at a school would require the support of many officers in the Council for the school to re-open as soon as possible.Appendix 1


(Detail contained within the main guidance)

Action to take within Hours of the Incident

  • Action 1 Obtain and collate information about what has happened
  • Action 2 Gather and brief the Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT)
  • Action 3 Inform the LA and trigger its support network through the emergency
  • contact numbers
  • Action 4 Put in place an incident management room and a dedicated telephone line
  • and inform governors
  • Action 5 Contact families whose children are directly affected, using an agreed, written statement.
  • Action 6 Make arrangements for informing other parents
  • Action 7 Inform teaching and support staff
  • Action 8 Inform pupils
  • Action 9 Encourage people involved to talk
  • Action 10 Be ready to deal with the media

Next Actions (within days)

  • Action 11 Develop a plan for handling the feelings and reactions of people, including
  • yourself (section 3 of guidance)
  • Action 12 Anticipate further media interest
  • Action 13 Consider possible further information to parents not directly involved

Appendix 2

List of contacts in the Borough

Office Hours:

Borough Emergency Planning Officer     020 8649 0683

   Ben Platt 07736 338749

Head of Pupil Base Planning

(with Emergency Planning responsibility)

   Nigel Simms 020 8770 6551

Members of the CYPLS Executive Management Team

   Strategic Director – Tolis Vouyioukas 020 8770 6502

   Exec Head of Education Learning and Intervention

   – Peter Simpson020 8770 5605

   Exec Head of Planning and Commissioning

   Sharman Lawson 020 8770 6650

   Exec Head of Safeguarding, Child Protection and

   Corporate Parenting – Stephen Richards 020 8770 4007

Project Manager – Emergency Planning Contact

   Paul Gray 020 87706523

Executive Head of Communications:

   Paul Middleton 020 8770 4048

Health Protection Agency for South West London 020 8812 7850

   Out of Hours 0208 390 4008

Out of hours Borough emergency number 020 8770 5000

Appendix 3


INCIDENT NAME  _____________________________  OFFICER NAME  _______________________  DATE  ________  SHEET NO  ___

Ref No


Message From

Message To

Details Brief Summary

Action Taken



Appendix 4


This sheet provides a template for recording decisions which may be subject to subsequent scrutiny.