In a crisis, the safety of the students and the support offered by the schools are paramount
– On behalf of the Finnish National Agency for Education, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the victims and their families. In this situation, schools and educational institutions around Finland need crisis counselling and support, says Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General of EDUFI.
Anticipation, planning and training are important
In a threatening or crisis situation, operative responsibility lies with the local officials in charge. It is the responsibility of the education provider (in Finland these are usually municipalities) to make sure that schools have an up-to-date crisis plan, including a description of the roles for the different actors. A well-prepared plan for offering psychosocial support to students in and after a crisis helps schools to act promptly in the aftermath of crises.
The national core curricula prepared by EDUFI as well as the regulation on the basic principles of student welfare in vocational education issued by EDUFI outline the elements that a crisis plan should include. The crisis plan is a part of a student welfare plan, which is drawn up for each educational institution. The student welfare plan is prepared in co-operation with students, guardians and staff. The crisis plan describes for instance how to prevent, prepare for and act in sudden crisis situations. It also includes guidelines on organizing psychosocial support in the school. The education provider ensures that the plan is in place and that it is in line with the core curriculum. At school level, responsibility for the crisis plan lies with the head teacher together with student welfare professionals.
EDUFI has also prepared a guidebook for education providers, school principals and heads of ECEC units containing practical advice on security planning and management. It offers concrete models on how to identify and prevent different safety risks, prepare comprehensive risk management plans and to implement them.
Multi-professional crisis groups bear responsibility in schools
Schools and educational institutions usually appoint a group which familiarizes itself on how to plan and organize psychosocial support in sudden crises. This group can be the school student welfare team, which is a multi-professional team consisting typically of the principal, special education teacher, guidance counselor (for junior high), school social worker, school psychologist and school nurse.
The tasks of the crisis group include
• describing the division of tasks and chain of command in the team
• identifying the key local and regional stakeholders and agreeing on the common principles and practices for co-operation with them
• inducting the staff at the school into the plan by arranging training and materials
• making sure that all the adults at the school as well as the students and their guardians know how to act in various situations and understand how information is provided at different stages of the crisis
• organizing action in a crisis situation
• taking care of the immediate need for psychological support and possible further action, as well as
• evaluating post-crisis the action taken and making the necessary changes to the crisis plan.
The basic principles of psychosocial support in schools
It is important to keep in mind that in addition to the people who are directly involved in a crisis situation, a crisis attracting wide public attention can cause reactions and shake the feeling of security also elsewhere in the country. Education providers are advised to arrange an opportunity for pupils and students to talk about what has happened and to get answers to their questions, if they so wish. Handling of the topic should be done in an age-appropriate way, and for example children in ECEC should be guarded from detailed information and picture that can cause anxiety.
EDUFI provides schools and educational institutions with materials to help organize psychosocial support in sudden crises. The material assists in understanding what happens to people in sudden crisis situations, what kind of support is needed at the different stages of the crisis, and how each professional can act in their own role and to collaborate with other professionals in the best possible way.
– Violent incidents such as this as extremely rare in Finland, but we cannot rule them out altogether. The best way for schools to ensure they are capable of acting effectively in crisis situations is to anticipate different situations, prepare plans on how to act, and to train for these situations regularly. EDUFI supports education providers by information and advice, and by providing materials and training related to security issues, says Director Matti Lahtinen, responsible for security issues at EDUFI.