08 December, 2016 - Minister for Education and Skills launches Critical Incidents Guidelines and Resource Materials for Schools

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today launched the 3rd edition of Responding to Critical Incidents: NEPS Guidelines & Resource Materials for Schools (2016).

The publication is based on international research on best practice in critical incident response along with the wealth of experience of NEPS psychologists and schools who have been involved in responding to incidents over many years. The Minister extended his thanks to all for their contribution.

The revised publication offers a practical step by step guide to schools in how to respond effectively when a critical incident occurs in order to minimise the potential traumatic effect on the school community. It includes templates, advice and information on how to set up a Critical Incident Management Team and develop a Critical Incident Management Plan. 

Detailed information is also provided on how schools can be proactive in developing policies and procedures that promote mental health.

New or revised information and advice have been included in the Guidelines, including:

  • Revised section on Suicide / suspected suicide including information on suicide prevention and what schools need to do; information on preventing suicide contagion; how to compassionately deal with a suicidal student returning to school after an attempt
  • Information on suicide risk and guidance where student expresses suicide ideation
  • Teachers helping students in time of crisis: listen, protect, connect, model and teach
  • Guidance on social media use
  • Useful Websites and Helplines for Accessing Resources
  • Some additional information, including a comprehensive FAQ guide

Minister Bruton said:

“The key to managing critical incidents is forward planning. Best practice indicates that in the aftermath of a critical incident, students are best supported by people they know and trust.  NEPS psychologists’ primary role is to advise and support the school staff who know the students well and who are best placed to support them”.  

“Schools now face much greater pressures. Fostering health, wellbeing and personal development enables learners to fully participate in school. Under the programme for Partnership Government we have committed to investing additional resources in the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) to ensure earlier intervention and access for young children and teenagers. We are also implementing a new are of learning at Junior Cycle called Wellbeing, which will build on the work to date in post-primary schools to support students’ wellbeing.”

Minister Bruton praised the work of schools and the invaluable experience and competence that teachers have in dealing with children and young people in times of distress. He emphasised the importance for school staff to adhere to the advice and information contained in the publication for support with this difficult work.

Minister Bruton expressed his appreciation to NEPS on the publication of the revised Guidelines, knowing that schools will benefit greatly from this highly accessible advice and information. He also acknowledged the other agencies who have worked jointly with NEPS psychologists in responding to incidents.

Finally, the Minister extended his sympathy and admiration to all the schools and families who have shown wonderful strength, compassion and resilience at times of tragedy.


Note for Editors

This NEPS publication has been updated and has combined the Critical Incidents: NEPS Guidelines for Schools (2007) and Critical Incidents: NEPS Resources Materials for Schools (2007) into one single publication.


NEPS: National Educational Psychological Service – the psychological service of the Department of Education and Skills

Definition and Types of incidents.

NEPS defines a Critical Incident as an incident or series of events that overwhelms the normal coping mechanism of the school. The kinds of critical incidents experienced by schools includes suicide or suspected suicide, death due to violence, accidental death including road traffic accidents and drowning, and death through illness. 


The guidelines are divided into the following sections covering the broad areas of prevention, planning and intervention

  • A general description of the role of NEPS
  • Prevention
  • Preparation and planning
  • Issues around suicide, road traffic accidents and violent death
  • Dealing with the media
  • Critical incidents during certificate exams
  • Resource materials in the form of handouts

Prevention: This section briefly describes elements of schools’ policies and practices that promote mental health and wellbeing. It highlights the need for staff training and awareness as well as procedures for responding to vulnerable students. 

Preparation & Planning: This section gives detailed information on how to prepare for critical incidents. It covers:

  • What is a critical incident
  • The establishment of a Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT)
  • Key administrative tasks
  • A checklist for reviewing policy and plan


The next three sections set out a recommended action plan for schools. It offers a step by step guide through the various stages of the response:

  • Short term actions – Day 1
  • Medium term actions – Days 2/3
  • Follow-up actions
  • Information and advice is also given in dealing with particular types of incidents and issues that may arise.
  • Guidelines on some of the issues arising in relation to death by suicide/ suspected suicide, road traffic accidents and violent deaths are addressed
  • The media section contains guidelines on how schools can best deal with media interest. Advice on use of social media during a critical incident is included.
  • NEPS’ role during certification examinations is addressed.

Revisions – Suicide/Suspected Suicide, Social Media

Currently youth suicide rates in Ireland are the fourth highest in the European Union (WHO 2013). Concerns about youth suicide have led to increasing demands for schools to assume a role and responsibility in the prevention and management of suicidal behaviour among young people. The revised publication has an extended section on Suicide/Suspected suicide including information on suicide contagion.

Social Media is now part of everyday communication and information sharing. Most students are avid and competent social media users. Care in use of social media is advised in the aftermath of a critical incident. The revised Guidelines offers guidance to school on the use during a critical incident.  

NEPS Model of Service

In common with many other psychological services and best international practice, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has adopted a consultative model of service.  The focus is on empowering teachers to intervene effectively with pupils whose needs range from mild to severe and transient to enduring. 

NEPSCritical Incident Response Service

At the specific invitation of school authorities, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) can provide assistance to all schools in the event of a critical incident when this is considered appropriate. Schools should contact the local NEPS office to request assistance.