Responding to Tragic Events; Guidance for Schools


A critical incident is an event, usually sudden, which involves the experience of personal distress to a level that has the potential to overwhelm individuals.  The Psychological Service is often contacted when such crises occur. From past experience, these incidents are wide-ranging and unpredictable in their form. They include bereavement as a result of the death of a member of the school community - for example, following an accident or illness or traumatic incidents in the local community affecting the school.

A flexible and sensitive range of responses is required, based on sound psychological understanding of the variety of reactions and needs of both children/young people and adults at such times.

This document outlines the role the Highland Council Psychological Service can take to support both those likely to have important responsibilities to fulfil in the event of a critical incident, and those directly experiencing such incidents. 


Communication between the school and the Educational Psychologist with primary responsibility should be established quickly and clearly. This will enable schools to access support in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident, and to continue to access appropriate support in the medium and longer term as the wider ranging impact of any trauma becomes evident. This work would usually take priority over other arrangements made by the educational psychologist.

The work of the Psychological Service in the event of a critical incident should be guided by the following principles:

  • The school’s liaison Psychologist will normally take primary responsibility for the work, but may be supported by other members of the Service, 
  • Flexible and responsive support will be available in which individual and institutional needs will be carefully considered,
  • As in all other areas of work, the least intrusive most effective intervention will be offered.

The service provided by Highland Council Psychological Service is available to children/young people and their families and carers, usually through their schools and nurseries.

Involvement in a Critical Incident

Involvement may include:

  • consultation with decision-makers or managers
  • counselling for children, parents and staff, individually or in groups
  • psychological advice, for example, on bereavement and grieving processes in children, on post-traumatic stress reactions or on accessing other agencies
  • making resources available to schools which may be useful in supporting children, parents or staff
  • longer term follow up