1. ITV Report

Children's Titanic lessons

"Are you sure they are all first class passengers Mrs Docherty?" shrieks a loud and commanding voice across the playground of West Hove Junior School.

Sporting period dress and an upper class accent, headteacher Janis Taylor is marshalling the entire school in full costume towards the doors. Those dressed as crew go through one entrance, first class passengers in pearls and oversized charity shop dresses through another. "Welcome aboard the RMS Titanic," booms Captain Smith, aka Mr Beattie, from Year 5.

West Hove in Sussex has just spent an entire term transforming the school into the Titanic - on the day we visit one class is being read the ninth ice warning received by the doomed ship and thinking about what would have been going through the minds of those on board.

Children have been learning about travel and industry, the class system, what the building of the Titanic meant for Belfast and Edwardian life. But staff have been extremely careful about how they approach the story.

"We haven't dwelt a lot on the ship hitting the iceberg - we are looking more at what happened to survivors," said Mrs Taylor. "We have had some conversations with parents and carers that have been concerned, but we have been able to reassure them that we are looking at it sensitively. None of the children are real characters on the Titanic, they are themselves and we are working on the notion that they are all survivors.

"Although of course you can not deny the fact that it was the most terrible tragedy and a lot of people did die. "

We are looking at it sensitively. None of the children are real characters on the Titanic, they are themselves and we are working on the notion that they are all survivors.

– Janis Taylor, headteacher, West Hove Junior School
Children at West Hove Junior have been dressing up in costumes from 1912 Credit: ITV Meridian

At West Hove they've taken the view that to use the 100 year anniversary as a tool for learning was too good an opportunity to miss. It's certainly inspired the children who are regularly turning up at the head teacher's office with paintings and pieces of work they have done at home.

Christine Alsford looks at a pupil's Titanic project Credit: ITV Meridian

It's also been a chance for the pupils of High View special school in Folkestone to learn new skills. Year 3 teacher Melinda Young explains how because communication skills for the children are limited they didn't have a vocabulary to talk about what happened in 1912. The children had no understanding of words like "voyage", "survivor" and "unsinkable".

"The first thing we did was to make up flash cards looking at vocabulary around the Titanic - children then learnt to read them or match to the teachers signing the words and gain an understanding of what the words meant."

She's convinced that the children have understood the story and that it's an appropriate subject for young children with special needs.

"They were quite concerned about the number of deaths there were and why there weren't enough lifeboats. They have also been very interested in the class system.

"They've actually shown a great maturity in understanding tragedy and loss. Part way through our studies the Costa Concordia disaster happened and it became very very real then - they could make a direct comparison between now and then and how disasters still happen."

Pupils at Highview Special School in Folkestone learning about the Titanic Credit: ITV Meridian

They were quite concerned about the number of deaths there were and why there weren't enough lifeboats.

"They've actually shown a great maturity in understanding tragedy and loss.

– Melinda Young, Highview Special School

For older children, the risks of causing distress through the telling of the story are lessened. Secondary pupils at Wildern School at Hedge End near Southampton recently got the chance to ask questions of Titanic descendant Harry Dymond. He visited the school to tell the story of his grandfather Frank - a tough fireman. Students were given a detailed and graphic account of his role including keeping third class passengers below deck while first class were loaded into lifeboats. They also heard how his courage on Lifeboat 15 saved 68 passengers.

Among the things the younger generation wanted to know: "Faced with the same situation, would you have done the same as your grandfather?" (Answer: I would like to think so) "Did he ever get any official recognition for what he did?" (Answer: No) And how much is his original sailor's seabook now worth? (Answer: At least £20,000).

Says Mr Dymond: "Their questions have been challenging and thought provoking. I hope it's made it real - for them it brings history back to life. I think it's important that we remember - Titanic is one of many disasters that we really shouldn't forget."

Titanic descendant Harry Dymond talks to pupils at Wildern School Credit: ITV Meridian
Frank Dymond, fireman on the Titanic in charge of lifeboat 15 Credit: Harry Dymond

How have schools been teaching children about the Titanic disaster? Christine Alsford has been finding out. She talked to; Janis Taylor, headteacher of West Hove Junior School in Sussex; Melinda Young, from Highview Special School in Folkestone; Titanic descendant Harry Dymond who talked to pupils from Wildern School in Hampshire about his grandfather's story of survival.

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