Tackling difficult subjects - tips for teachers

Students and teacher in classroom Image copyright Other
Image caption Don't report on anything which the children might find uncomfortable

Discussing sensitive topics in school is always difficult but no subject should necessarily be off limits for School Reporters.

Ros Smith, deputy editor of the project, started her career as a science teacher and explains how teachers can go about helping their School Reporters cover difficult topics, keep true to the principles of journalism and also stay within what is comfortable for the students to discuss.

What advice would you give to teachers when dealing with difficult subjects?

The key thing with School Report is that the news stories should be those that the students want to cover, but on any given day there can be everything from crime to sex scandals, so it's not always that simple.

People's views differ greatly on what is appropriate so, like all journalists, teachers should be able to justify publishing a report if there are any complaints. They should also refer to their own school policies and consider the age of the children involved.

There is some great advice on our Keeping your News Safe and legal page - read that first!

A good rule of thumb we mention on there is: "Don't report anything which makes you uncomfortable".


Tip 1

Put your pupils first. A big story in the news will touch their lives whether they report on the story or not. Before either stopping a story, or going ahead, have a good chat with them about the story. What do they think? How does it reflect on the pupils and the school? What are they worried about? What would the head teacher and parents think? After that discussion you might decide it's not a suitable story at all.

Tip 2

Be careful how you identify pupils. Some of your School Reporters might have personal experience of big news stories and think they are happy to talk about it on air. They might be happy to say something in class but when it is online they might not feel the same. Also, be aware that they might implicate a friend too, without meaning to. Think of other ways you can use their comments anonymously, perhaps as just text.

Tip 3

Broaden the story out. Rather than focusing on the specific issue or example, think beyond that. For example, if the story is about underage drinking, rather than focusing on that issue, you could take a different approach. Where can young people get advice on issues around drinking? How does drinking affect your health?

Tip 4

Use experts you already know. What experts do you have in your school who could be interviewed about that topic? A police school liaison officer or a school nurse? You might also have good contacts in the community.

Tip 5

Get reliable evidence. Sometimes stories can become sensationalised, so think about where you can get more factual and age appropriate information - perhaps from a charity or support organisation.

Tip 6

Flag it up early to your head teacher and parents. If you do decide to do a sensitive story, make sure your head is happy with the content. Ultimately what your pupils report on is up to them. If the young people are going to be interviewed, make sure the parents are happy. They might have been ok for their child to report on general news but not something more personal.

Tip 7

Think about the audience. Your school might be happy to do the story, but something to consider is the audience for your news. Perhaps your reporters have younger brothers and sisters who will watch their reports. Consider taste and decency for this age group too.

Are there any stories you should definitely avoid?

On School Report we recommend that you don't report on crime stories - this is because the rules around reporting crime are particularly complicated and require special training. If there is a big crime story that everyone is talking about, you could consider the approach I mention above - broaden the story out. Again you can find more information about this on our Keeping your News Safe and Legal page.

Where can teachers get more advice?

If you are not sure about something then call School Report HQ. Or e-mail us at schoolreport@bbc.co.uk. We are always happy to talk things through - that is what we do at the BBC when we aren't sure about a story so feel free to do the same!

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