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Lockdown procedures: informing parents and pupils
Follow our guidance when discussing lockdown procedures with your pupils. Download our template letter to parents and read examples of letters from primary and secondary schools.
Our associate education experts David Roche and Jonathan Block helped write this article
Talking about lockdown procedures with pupils: before and after a drill
Talking to pupils before a lockdown drill will help you manage any anxiety they may feel.
You can do this in an assembly, or in the classroom.
Talking to pupils in the classroom may be preferable (especially for younger pupils) because:
- It allows staff to discuss lockdown in a familiar environment
- Pupils may feel more comfortable asking questions (about lockdown or the reasons for it) with staff they're more familiar with
- You can show pupils what they'll need to do, rather than tell them
- Staff can tailor the way they discuss the drill based on the pupils they have in their classes (for instance, pupils who speak limited English may need visual aids, or pupils with special educational needs may need additional guidance, support or specific procedures)
Schedule your lockdown drill to take place soon after you've spoken to pupils.
Whether you talk about it in an assembly or in classrooms, make sure pupils know:
- What the procedures is, step-by-step
- How the school expects them to behave
- That this is just a drill, and they aren't in any real danger (it helps to compare it to a fire drill)
There's more guidance for staff on talking to pupils of different ages in the next section.
- Praise your pupils, explain how their good behaviour kept them safe and out of harm.
- Talk to your pupils about how they felt and have time to answer any questions they may have.
- Ask if there was anything that your class could have done better when reacting to the drill.
- Remind your pupils that it was a drill and there is nothing for them to worry about
- Then go straight back to 'work as usual'
'Moggy's Coming' is a book that can help you explain lockdown or dangerous situations in a way young children can understand.
Childline has guidance for children and young people about what to do if they're worried about the world around them.
The NSPCC has guidance on talking to children who are worried about terrorism.
How to talk about lockdown with pupils: guidance for staff
Staff should already be clear about what your school's process is and how they're expected to manage during a lockdown.
Use the guidelines below to help you talk about lockdown to pupils in an age-appropriate way, and share them with your staff.
The guidelines were taken from an article on explaining lockdown and calming childrens' fears.
Primary school pupils
For children in primary school:
- Use simple language
- Be honest about what lockdown is for, but don't go into too much detail
- Focus on the step-by-step process. Focusing on the process can prevent young children from getting too stressed about why the lockdown might happen
- Emphasise how unlikely a real lockdown would be
- Compare the drill to things they're familiar with (like fire drills)
- Stay calm. If you're calm, pupils will probably be too
- Tell them that your job is to keep them safe, and that these procedures are a way for you to do that
Try saying things like:
- "We're practising this in case a dangerous person comes into school and we need to stay safe."
- "There probably won't be a dangerous person in school/dangerous event while you're at school, but it's good to know what to do just in case."
- "This is just like a fire drill: we practice what to do in case there's a fire at school even though a fire probably won't happen."
- "We're going to practice hiding and being quiet in case there is someone in school who wants to hurt us and we need to stay safe."
- "If we stay still and quiet, the dangerous person will think our classroom is empty and will go away."
- "When the alarm rings, be totally silent and sit under your desks/tables. I will lock the door. If we stay still and quiet, we'll be safe."
- "It's OK to feel nervous or scared. But this is just a practice, and nothing is really going to hurt you."
Older pupils will probably be more aware of the kinds of bad things that can happen. Make sure you give these pupils time to express their concerns or fears, and to ask any questions.
By the time pupils are in secondary school, they'll probably be aware of the kinds of dangers they could experience.
With these pupils:
- Be honest
- Allow them to drive the conversation about procedures by asking questions or expressing their fears. One of the most important things you can do is listen
- Explain that even though this is just a drill, its important to take it seriously so that everyone in the school can be safe and well-prepared
- Be clear about the procedures, and how you expect them to behave
Download our template letter to parents
Use this letter is to inform parents that the school has a lockdown procedure and will be practising it soon. It includes:
- An explanation of what lockdown means and why the school has this procedure
- Space for you to summarise your lockdown procedure
- A section where you can set out instructions for parents in the event of a lockdown
Adapt this letter to reflect your school's context.
Tips for creating a letter from scratch
Make sure you:
- Take a matter-of-fact tone to emphasise the fact that lockdown is a standard health and safety procedure
- Explain what 'lockdown' means
- Provide a few examples of when a lockdown procedure may be necessary
- Emphasise that the school has a duty to keep students safe and take proactive steps towards this aim
- Make it clear that it is good practice for schools to have many health and safety procedures, even for unlikely situations
- Explain that a lockdown practice is similar to a fire drill, as this is a term parents are likely to be more familiar with
Examples from lockdown letters from schools
St Stephen's School in Halifax, write a parent's lockdown letter explaining the 3 drills they have implemented
- fire drill
- Hold and secure drill
- Lockdown drill
The letter explains that staff will speak to all pupils before and after the drills have taken place reminding pupils that this is a practice and the children are not in danger
Charterhouse Square Independent School in London, explain in their letter to parents that they:
Won’t be discussing terrorism, intruders or anything of a nature that could potentially worry the children. [They] will be describing the exercise as keeping safe should an animal escape from the zoo and it will in effect be a giant game of hide and seek.
Mersey Vale Primary School in Stockport, send their lockdown procedure letter to parents/carers a week in advance of the drill. This allows parents to understand the school process as well as allowing time for parents to discuss the drill with their children if they need to.
The letter explains:
- What a lockdown procedure is
- Why they carry it out this drill
- Instructions for parents in the event of an actual lockdown
Denefield School, a secondary school in Reading link to their lockdown procedure letter on their letters to parent/carers section of their website.
- That this is part of their school critical incident plan along with the date the school plan to discuss this with their pupils.
- The school lockdown procedures
- That the school have not received any information that indicates any immediate risk
At the end of the letter, they share links to helpful websites, should parents wish to discuss this further:
David Roche is a former headteacher currently working as an education consultant and school improvement partner.
Jonathan Block has extensive experience of school leadership as an interim headteacher and education consultant.
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