Belfast Telegraph

NI Union calls for support for teachers in tackling pupils' 'terror and war fears'

A leading Northern Ireland teaching union has called for teachers to be backed by parents and governors in tackling "children's worries over terrorism and nuclear war".

Speaking about the challenges faced by their members, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) Avril Hall Callaghan said: "These are difficult issues to tackle but when we don’t we effectively leave children alone in their misunderstandings and fears.

"They see news reports; they hear things from their siblings, parents, and classmates. They watch TV and play video games and for many children, poverty, racism, and anti-immigrant hysteria have a daily impact on their lives."

The UTU represents teachers in primary and secondary schools, and has recommended that any discussion about these bigger world issues should be dealt with at an "age appropriate level" and that while "a primary school child won’t understand the intricacies of North Korea’s latest moves" they are able to "understand how fear and racism can cause people to lash out at those who are different from them".

Responding to the proposal, UUP MLA and education spokesperson Rosemary Barton said: "I support this call from the UTU. I was a teacher for 32 years before becoming involved with politics.

"Sadly, terrorist events were an all too regular occurrence in Northern Ireland so I know from hard experience that when attacks happen young people are often concerned and have questions. The worst thing I could have done when I was a teacher was pretend to them that nothing at all had happened.

"Every teacher will acknowledge that they are not only educating young people, but also supporting them develop in young adults and equipping them with the life skills that they will shortly need."

The PSHE Association, the national body for personal, social, health and economic education, issues a generic framework for teachers looking to facilitate a discussion on a terrorist attack.

In its advice, it says: "Terrorist attacks can create a variety of strong feelings, including curiosity, excitement, anxiety or fear. Although actual events may be geographically distant they may create feelings of personal anxiety... to pretend nothing has happened can be counter-productive.

"Many young people will want to discuss events and providing opportunities to process what has happened in the safety of a classroom can help them refocus on their other learning."

Responding to a query from the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesperson for the PSNI said that it did not deliver any educational programmes related to terrorism in schools.

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