The plans being announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton today will see the expansion of training in a programme stressing safety and challenging taboos about talking about suicide.
Over the next two years, his department’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) will also provide training for up to two teachers at all 730 second-level schools on how to respond to critical incidents.
Each year, NEPS psych-ologists are dispatched to schools to help staff lead the response to events involving students or staff, such as suicide, violent death, serious illness, or deaths in tragedies such as car crashes or drowning.
The training being rolled out from September will be based on NEPS guidelines on how schools respond, covering everything from planning and management of responses to tragedies during State exams or dealing with the media after an incident.
Schools are advised to focus in the aftermath of a tragedy not just on supporting students who may be vulnerable or at risk, but also on enabling a return to normal learning routines and promoting resilience and positive mental health.
“Coping with the aftermath of critical incidents has become a challenging but necessary task for a number of schools in recent years,” said Mr Bruton.
“The training that we are announcing today will ensure all schools are prepared to respond to such an incident.”
However, his department will not be paying schools’ substitution costs to cover teacher absences at the training, which will be delivered in regional education centres and takes two to three hours.
While it is not obligatory for schools to send staff, NEPS psychologists will follow up with schools who do not attend in relation to their critical incident readiness.
NEPS visits to schools dealing with critical incidents fell from 127 to 105 between 2014 and 2015, but rose again to 115 and 125 in each of the last two school years.
The department stressed that the new teacher training programme will not mean reduced NEPS supports to schools, and will not preclude direct involvement of NEPS staff in schools that seek their help responding to a critical incident.
The Department of Education could not say how many teachers will take part in the separate SafeTalk training programme, but the six new education centres where it will be offered next autumn serve schools in counties Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan, and Waterford.
The programme was already open in the past year to schools in the areas covered by six education centres in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Athlone.
The department provides substitution cover for two teachers in each school in these areas to attend the training, but schools are not obliged to take part.
Mr Bruton said the version of the training developed for teachers and other school staff by his department and the National Office of Suicide Prevention can help them address the topic of suicide in a safe way.
The internationally-used programme prepares participants to identify people with thoughts of suicide and apply the TALK (Talk, Ask, Listen, and Keep safe) steps to connect them with people or agencies who can help.