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The Long Cry of COVID-19:
Investigating how child bereavement policies address inequalities caused by grief in Italian and British primary schools 

What is this project about?

On average 92% of children and young people will experience a ‘significant’ bereavement before the age of 16 (Carter, 2016). Before the Covid-19 pandemic it was noted that up to 70% of schools have a bereaved pupil on their roll at any given time (Child Bereavement UK, 2009). Given the number of estimated Covid-related deaths in both Italy (145K) and UK (178K) it is anticipated that schools across both countries will encounter higher numbers of students dealing with a bereavement of a parent, relative, and/or even teacher which has been caused by Covid-19.

We anticipate that school bereavement policies, which are generally customised on a case-by-case basis per school, might perpetuate inequalities through the lack the support/guidance necessary for managing high proportions of grieving students. We are proposing to conduct a small exploratory comparative project to investigate the following questions at primary schools across Italy and England:

  • An analysis of the range of current school bereavement policies available to guide and support teachers through the management of increased numbers of bereaved pupils

  • Assess if there are new or emerging inequalities arising as a result of having a larger bereaved student population by different characteristics e.g., per geographical location given Covid-19 outbreaks

  • Identify if there are different patterns emerging from schools which subscribe to different philosophical/pedagogical approaches (e.g., Reggio Emilio / Froebelian / Montessori) to support bereavement

  • What perceptions do teachers have about how male versus female pupils react to bereavement support in each country and do children grieve differently given their cultural beliefs

Why does this matter?

Globally for the first-time schools are collectively coping with bereavement, which might result in having long-term effects and potentially expose new and hidden inequalities that might emerge because of this social and emotional shift due to the pandemic. A country comparison of bereavement can be perceived as a culturally taboo subject that varies respectively across different cultures within each school (BERA 2021). While scholarship has identified the lack of logistical support which can cause inequalities like the lack of funding for grief counsellors/pastoral support or limited time for pastoral training for teachers (Abraham-Steele & Edmonds, 2021).

Our small-scale study would collate evidence for schools to design or borrow policies from other institutions to make their customized bereavement policy more robust. We are more interested in examining the challenges teachers encounter from a personal level and hope we can illuminate a range of strategies that teachers have effectively experimented in their classroom to deal with pupil’s grief/loss. As a result, we may collect a data base of good practices that can be circulated among schools and provide guidance especially to those teachers whose schools have not developed specific policies on the matter.

Want to participate in this project?

We are recruiting 7 primary schools from Italy and England (each) preferably a range of schools who are underpinned by different philosophical ethos where we will analyse the school's current bereavement policy and procedures. Within each of these schools we will recruit 15 school teachers to participate in interviews about how they have utilised their school's bereavement policies or have personally adapted them for use in their classrooms with their pupils. We aim to understand how teachers approach comforting bereaved children and to appreciate what specific adaptations have had to be made given the large scale loss experienced by children during the COVID-19 pandemic. A general survey built upon principles from current literature alongside current bereavement policies will be administered to primary school teachers across both countries. If you are a school leader or teacher interested in participating please contact the team.

Research Collaborators (Co-Investigators):

 

Dr Valentina Pagani

Valentina Pagani is a junior researcher at the University of Milan-Bicocca, Department of Human Sciences for Education “R. Massa”, where she teaches Research Methodologies in Education. Her research interests deal with qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in education, evaluation of school quality, and student voice studies.

 

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Dr Mariele Macaluso

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Dr Mariele Macaluso is a postdoctoral researcher in economics at the University of Bologna, while she is currently moving to the University of Foggia. Her research focuses on the impact of institutional and technological changes on the labour markets, primarily related to migration and inequality. As part of her work, Mariele is currently working on the influence of skill-based policies on the selection process and the socio-economic performance of immigrants in the destination countries; and the impact of new technologies (AI and robotics) on gendered working dynamics and labour mobility. She has recently been a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment (IRLE), University of California - Berkeley, where she primarily contributed to a project on migration and inequality at Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI). Mariele is involved as a researcher in three interdisciplinary BA projects on the impact of robots on employment, industrial growth, and inequality in the OECD countries; the role of technology in addressing education inequalities; and how child bereavement policies addressed inequalities during Covid-19.