Redcliffe Gardens School Head Sarah Glencross examines how to discuss news stories, particularly with younger children

While the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla is a news story children have been responding to with enthusiasm, this is a rare example of a good news story making front-page news. If we consider last year, news included the sad death of The Queen and war in Ukraine. Then there are the ongoing stories about climate change and the cost-of-living crisis. Many breaking news headlines are worrying for us all but they can be particularly frightening for younger children if not handled sensitively.

Developing an understanding of world events and global issues is an important part of a good education, but current affairs and political threats need to be discussed in an age-appropriate way. Many schools use assemblies or ‘circle time’ to talk about news-related topics. Secondary school students have exposure to news at home and, of course, via their smartphones and social media channels, and increasingly schools are having to provide students with workshops on how to spot ‘fake’ news. These encourage students to evaluate news sources and examine why governments or organisations might want to spread false information. Students might be encouraged to have an open classroom discussion and to explore topics from different angles and different points of view. For example, the recent death of the Queen can be placed in a historical context and perhaps can open up debate into the role of the monarchy and republicanism.

These concepts are a little too sophisticated for the younger prep school pupils. They will relate more closely to specifics, for instance the very moving images of Prince George and Princess Charlotte at the funeral of the late Queen. Quite often these issues dovetail closely with a school’s PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) programme and can be approached from a pastoral care and emotional wellbeing perspective. This might entail happiness and wellbeing projects such as ‘Think Positive’ and ‘Time for Laughter’, providing ‘worry’ buckets for pupils to share their concerns and, when appropriate, speaking to children individually and providing them with comfort and reassurance.

King Charles
King Charles visited Redcliffe Gardens School in March 2022

Whatever the age of the students, combatting any feeling of helplessness is very important and finding a way for pupils to respond positively to a crisis can be mutually beneficial. Fundraising is an excellent way to provide age-appropriate information and to help children engage positively with global issues – recently we saw many schools in the UK fundraise considerable amounts to support the Ukrainian refugees. In addition, at Redcliffe, students, staff and parents supported the Refugee Response programme run by the local church providing refugees and asylum seekers with hot meals and English lessons.

Last March, we were lucky enough to have a visit from His Royal Highness, King Charles III, who came to learn first hand about the important work the church was doing. Climate change and environmental issues are another area where many schools are doing fantastic work in harnessing students’ energy and passion into positive action. Many schools run schemes to discourage car use for the school run, promote recycling, cultivate their own vegetables and plant trees.

For younger children there are age-appropriate news resources such as The Week Junior, First News, and BBC’s Newsround, which can be invaluable. But being in a smaller school where teachers can quickly spot and step in if a pupil is upset can also really help. Sometimes just taking time to really listen to a child’s concerns and letting them know that it is OK to be worried is what is needed most.

Redcliffe Gardens School

Further reading: The King Alfred School on real-world learning