Why this topic matters
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has had a profound impact on the social landscape of Britain. Having occupied a central position in the political and cultural history of this country, the Queen has been an ever present figure throughout most of our lives.
As with many adults across the country, students may mourn the Queen or feel a sense of instability at the passing of such a stoic figurehead. Others may be curious about the ensuing pomp and circumstance, or those who protest at royal processions. They may also want to know more about the monarchy, its functions and its continuity with King Charles III.
Following the days of national mourning which culminated in the Queen’s funeral, teachers can approach this significant period with support, understanding and context to put students at ease. From using this as an opportunity to teach about loss and bereavement to learning about the late Queen’s participation in history, her values and her constitutional role.
Connections to the curriculum
History: explore how Britain has changed throughout the Queen’s Reign. What significant events was the Queen part of?
Art and Design: research how the Queen has been depicted in art and the media. What do the different depictions say about the ways in which she is viewed?
English: write a poem or story that explores how people may mourn the Queen’s death or the death of a loved one.
Politics: explore the constitutional role of the monarch in terms of both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power.
PSHE: discuss how to support people when they are grieving.
How to approach it
Compassion: Explore mourning and how to help others that grieve
The central focus of this period is of course around the death of a monarch. As such, one of the most important things to cover here is how to deal with loss, mourning, and bereavement. Students may feel any of these things themselves, they may notice family members grieving or they may observe mourning in the media. There is also the potential for this period to bring up unrelated grief children may be feeling or have felt in the past. Winston’s Wish, a charity set up to help grieving children, has designed some comprehensive lesson plans for KS1-4 around loss and bereavement. Through these resources you can work with students to understand death, what it means to mourn and how we can help others that have experienced loss.
Learn: Look at the Queen’s life in context
The Queen's death marks the end of an era in which Britain and the world has changed dramatically. For many people it has felt destabilising, especially as it comes at a time of already significant instability in which Britain's identity, role in the world, and future has come into question. To put all of this in perspective, it's helpful to understand what the world was like when the Queen ascended the throne, what ups and downs Britain faced during her reign, and the questions we face now she has died. From the end of empire and the beginning of the commonwealth to the development of mass social media, the life and work of the Queen can be used here for a time of reflection and reassessment. We can ask: What was the world like then and what is it like now? What will it be like in the future and how do we get there? To help with these questions the New York Times offers a great video and lesson plan that covers the Queen’s reign and the social change that occurred around it.
Balance: Allow for grief, criticism and civil disagreements
Although the Queen was hugely popular and the media coverage of her passing is understandably supportive, it is still important to allow space for those who have questions about the role of the monarchy and of the Queen herself. In 2021 YouGov estimated that 41% of 18-24 year olds supported an elected head of state. With this in mind, it is important to strive for balance in any conversations which take place. These include questions about the constitutional role of the monarchy and it’s continuation under King Charles, about the connections to empire, or about the handling of sexual assault allegations. The passing of the Queen may bring up many different emotions other than grief, and it is important to provide a safe and respectful space for these to be expressed. The Association for Citizenship Teaching has produced a useful guide on the constitutional role of the monarchy in Britain that could act as an interesting stimulus for these discussions.
Action: Use the Queen’s service as inspiration
Finally, however one may view the monarchy it is clear that the Queen’s diplomacy, her long public service and her good humour can serve as inspiration for us all. From delicately handling difficult politicians, to near constant engagements over 70 years, well into her old age, the Queen was evidently someone who lived out her values. The key here is to celebrate these deeply held values of duty and service to others by showing that anyone can do the same in their own lives. Discuss with students to help them think through what gets them excited and what their passions are. Then work with them to imagine how they could take inspiration from the Queen’s commitment, tact and kindness and apply it to their passions. A useful tool for this is Education Unlock's ‘Big Change’ pack which asks students to reflect on their hopes and aspirations for the future.