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Critical Incidents

Page last updated: 14/02/2024

​​This information aims to help schools and settings prepare for and respond to a critical incident. It outlines some of the key issues and areas for consideration which may arise in the event of a critical incident.​

What is a Critical Incident?

A critical incident is any incident or sequence of events which overwhelms the normal coping mechanisms of the school (National Educational Psychology Service of Northern Ireland, 2016).

Critical incidents are sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. They fall outside the range of normal experiences, potentially affecting a large number of people and can cause high levels of personal distress. The event may lead to significant distress and/or has the potential to overwhelm an individual or organisation, such that the normal coping mechanisms of the setting and running of the setting may be disrupted. 

A critical incident affecting a setting may include (but is not limited to):

  • The death of a member of the setting community through sudden accident, murder, terminal illness or suicide.

  • Serious accident involving children/young people or staff members on or off the school premises.

  • An event witnessed outside of the setting (such as a serious accident or assault).

  • A significant event in the community, e.g. terrorist incident or transport accident.

​Critical incidents vary and may cause disruption to the setting day. They may also have an impact on the setting community. 

Guidance for Specific Incidents

In the Event of a Critical Incident

If you need more support, you can complete the Notification Form  and select 'yes' to support. 

Please send completed forms to  

The Schools Communication Team review the form and coordinate the support between services (including the Essex Educational Psychology Service) . The requested services will then make contact with you, within 24 hours. 

To discuss available support, call the Schools Communication Team on 0333 013 9880.

This line monitored Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm. If you call and there is no answer, please send an email to the above address. If you email between the mentioned hours, someone will get back to you the same working day. If you leave a message after these hours, the team will return your call first thing the next working day. 

Support from an Educational Psychologist

Essex Educational Psychology Service has extensive experience working with settings to manage critical incidents and assist the return to normal working. The level of response will be determined between the school, the EP from the CI response team and other services involved. It may depend on the severity of the incident and levels of training and experience within the school. The EPs may provide the following support to settings experiencing a critical incident: 

  • Planning - Working proactively, assisting with critical incident planning and reviewing the setting's support plan and providing advice and training.

  • Assessment and Identification - Supporting staff to assess the likely impact of the incident on the school community, prioritise actions and help in the identification of vulnerable pupils and staff, school resources and cultural or religious implications surrounding the incident and how they may be addressed.

  • Information and Support - Advice/support to Head/Senior Management Team, advice/support to staff members around supporting pupils.

  • Signposting - Signposting to additional resources and support services as appropriate.

​Incidents Involv​​​ing a Death

If the incident involves a death within your community but you do not require support, you should:

  • fill in the notification form
  • select 'no' to support
  • return it to the email above​