Vision and Action 5, December 2002  
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Vision & Action is edited by Alison Closs and produced by Gina Reddie.

Any enquiries about this publication should be directed to the Anti-Bullying Network on 0131 651 6103.


Currie Community High School, 31 Dolphin Avenue, Currie, EH14 5RD
Contact: Eric Melvin, Head Teacher
Tel. 0131 449 2165, Fax 0131 451 5854, Email:
eric.melvin@ currie.edin.sch.uk

Vision & Action is published on an occasional basis to illustrate how schools that have already developed and continue to maintain a positive ethos use this to cope with a particular event or unusual demand made on their school community. We welcome comments, suggestions and offers from schools to share their experience on any relevant topic.

This Vision & Action Case Study is the first of two in the 2002 -2003 session. The death of a child is every parent's worst nightmare - no family ever fully overcomes such a tragedy. For the school attended by the child the event and the subsequent sense of loss can be deeply traumatic. However rare such a loss is statistically, most secondary schools and many primary schools have had to face it and, sadly, others will do so in the future. There is a risk that, when an event is not common, a school may be ill-prepared, despite an overwhelming wish to do 'the right thing'. In this issue Currie Community High School describes how its community coped with the loss of a pupil and tried to respond sensitively to the pupil's family. We hope that it will be a constructive contribution to other schools' general preparedness. At the same time we recognise that, just as every life is unique, so the human needs that arise from a death and the responses to those needs will also be, to some extent, very individual.


Introduction
Ronnie Winton was twelve when he died on 26 February 2001, of sudden acute peritonitis due to a very rare congenital bowel disorder. He was in his first year in our school, Currie Community High School in Edinburgh, having previously attended Riccarton Primary School. Ronnie's mother, Marion Winton, has been very much a partner in the production of this Case Study. She greatly appreciates the efforts that both the schools attended by Ronnie made to comfort the family and to ensure that Ronnie is not forgotten. As a teacher herself, she recognises that schools also have to 'get on with their business' after such tragedies. She has participated in the hope that this Case Study will help other schools to be supportive to all involved in such a tragedy, to remember appropriately pupils from their communities who have died, and to enable all to move on in their lives when they are ready to do so. We at Currie Community High School and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network Team are deeply grateful to Marion for this generosity, as we are to Wendy Haywood, Head Teacher at Riccarton Primary School attended by Ronnie and his younger brother, Michael, for her contributions.

Currie Community High School and its ethos
For 350 years there has been a school at Currie educating the children of the local community. The present 1960s building, the sixth, was completely refurbished between 1995 and 1998. As well as an attractive new entrance and reception area, the school has an excellent Learning Resource Centre, a Drama Studio and improved facilities for sport and recreation, including a Lottery-funded astro-turf pitch. The provision of ramps, lifts, shower and toilet facilities has facilitated disabled access. As a designated Community High School, operating in partnership with a neighbouring High School, an extensive programme is run for the benefit of the local community.

Currie itself has grown from a farming and weaving village to being an attractive residential suburb to the south-west of the centre of Edinburgh. There are some 950 pupils currently at the school. The school is allowed to admit up to 180 pupils in each year and there is a small waiting list. Significantly 25 per cent of the pupils attend as a result of parental placement requests. The majority of these pupils are coming from areas of disadvantage. As a result there is a very good social and academic 'mix' at the school. The development of positive home-school links is prioritised.

HMIE inspected the school in 1998 and reported that the school's ethos was 'excellent'. A perceived strength is the 'vertical' Guidance system of three Houses supported by a team of Group Tutors. This means that virtually every member of the teaching staff, other than the Senior Management Team (SMT) and the Guidance team, has a pastoral responsibility for about 20 pupils. Our Group Tutors begin their work when the pupils are still in Primary 7 of our associated primary schools and take their Tutor Group all the way through school. Group Tutors are first points of contact for any concerns, support the pupils at key stages in their progress and get to know them really well as individuals.

News of Ronnie's death
Ronnie had settled well in our secondary school, was finding his feet in first year and making good progress. News of Ronnie's death came to us in a phone call from a neighbour. This shocking news was confirmed by a member of the school's administrative staff who is a near neighbour of the family.

From previous experience of the deaths of other pupils, we recognised the need to ensure that staff, pupils and parents were informed promptly rather than hearing in an unplanned way that would inevitably cause distress. As the news had arrived in the late afternoon there was time for our SMT at Currie High School to draw breath and agree the best way forward. We also had time to attend to distressing but necessary administrative tasks such as withdrawing Ronnie's entry on the school and Authority records to pre-empt any automatic mailing that might have distressed the family. Many Authorities will have procedural guidelines and advice for schools in place, such as those very recently issued by our Authority, the City of Edinburgh.

We gave a confidential memo to all staff as they arrived the next morning, appraising them of the situation and alerting them to pupils being upset. We felt it was important that feelings be allowed individual expression but that a distressing 'mass response' should not be allowed to develop. In difficult situations, children and young people derive comfort and support from the familiar, be it classmates, staff or, indeed, the routine time-tabled day. However, something deeply traumatic had occurred and we all, staff and pupil members of the school community, needed to acknowledge our grief and that of others and to offer appropriate support.

As a school we are fortunate in having not just our experienced Guidance team, all of whom had helped youngsters deal with previous losses, but also key 'friends of the school' who had also already supported us through bereavement - our School Chaplain, Educational Psychologist, School Nurse and a member of school staff who is a trained counsellor.

Other staff members were advised of the availability of this support team and the Guidance staff were taken off their time-tabled teaching to be available if a pupil came to school upset or showed distress in class during the course of the next few school days. The letter sent home later to parents (view to the right), as well as informing them of the sad news, alerted them to how upsetting Ronnie's death might be for some pupils and advised them of the continuing additional support available at the school.

Clearly, for the pupils in Ronnie's year and particularly for his close friends and his Tutor Group, the news was very distressing. Ronnie's Assistant Head Teacher accompanied the Group Tutor to registration and officially informed the class. The Assistant Head was able to give a factual account of what had occurred and also to let them know that help was available for them.

The first day went as well as we could have expected in the circumstances. The Head Teacher was actually the teacher for Ronnie's History class, attended also by Ronnie's closest friend from his primary school. He and other teaching staff gave the opportunity for questions to be asked by pupils, reminded them of the help that was available and then got on with the planned lessons. As the day went on there was a steady trickle of pupils seeking comfort. Often the chance to sit quietly away from class was all that was needed. Senior pupils were on hand during intervals and lunchtime to look for youngsters who were obviously upset and to take them to one of the staff assigned to help. The vast majority of pupils coped remarkably well, drawing comfort from their friends. Only a tiny handful was so distressed that they needed to go home.

Ronnie Winton
Ronnie Winton, 20.9.88 - 26.2.01

 

 

1 March 2001

TO PARENTS OF PUPILS IN 1B

Dear

RONNIE WINTON

You will have learnt by now of the tragic death of Ronnie Winton, a pupil in 1H3. Ronnie died at home on Monday after a short illness.

Clearly this has come as a great shock to the school and particularly to his closest classmates. The youngsters have been spoken to by key members of staff. For those who are finding it harder to cope with Ronnie's death there is additional help available from the Guidance staff, Mrs Ingham (a trained counsellor) and our School Chaplain, Dave Anderson.

Clearly as parents you will be more conscious of how your child is managing to deal with such an upsetting experience. Please do not hesitate to contact the school if you feel that additional support from us would help.

The funeral has been arranged for Saturday 3 March at 10.00am at Currie Kirk. We will be holding our own commemorative service next Wednesday morning.

At this sad time for the school community our thoughts are very much with the Winton family.

Yours sincerely

EG Melvin
Head Teacher

The Head Teacher's letter home to all parents of the pupils in Ronnie's class.

 

 

 

It's important that the family or someone who represents them can give accurate information to the school otherwise rumours can spread and even be circulated by the press.
Ronnie's mother
Hearing of the death of a pupil at school is so difficult - to believe the news is hard, when your memory is of such a happy healthy youngster. And then, to plan what to do for the best… It was particularly difficult for us as, just the year before, virtually to the day, a pupil had died after a long illness. Ronnie had been happy here and was ready for the challenges of secondary school.
Head Teacher of Riccarton PS

 

I thought about the other children and wondered how they would be, especially Ronnie's best friend from his primary school. I hoped they would be looked after and I thought they would be. Although I was so confused at this time, perhaps later it might have been nice to know what was done to help them. It matters, somehow, that everything 'right' is done even if you aren't fully aware of it at the time.
Ronnie's mother

 

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