University of death

Charles Cowling

Image by Sean McManus whose website you can find here.


Hardly anyone buying a funeral pauses to consider whether or not an undertaker is formally trained. Consumers are trusting people. They suppose that he or she is. Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

Training for funeral directors is presently in something of a dark, even unstable, place. The foundation degree course at the University of Bath is to be discontinued. Numbers of applicants for the Diploma in Funeral Directing (Dip Fd) are falling. There’s been a falling out between two providers, the NAFD and the BIFD. The NAFD course is under review. Meanwhile, the independent funeral directors’ trade body SAIF offers some training through its virtual college, the Independent Funeral Directors College.

There’ll never be a consensus about whether or not a Dip FD is worth having; a great many funeral directors reckon not, for reasons good and bad. Some say the training’s not good enough, others that you learn on the job. But an unregulated industry has to look to itself in this matter. If it is to rebuff criticism of its resistance of regulation it needs to demonstrate that regulation is unnecessary. One of the best ways of doing so is to be able to point to high levels of industry training.

As repositories of industry codes of conduct, the NAFD and SAIF might be reckoned to be the best bodies to roll out training courses at all levels. It has been suggested that this is the reverse of truth, but we can’t pin down why. Perhaps someone will tell us.

We have been aware of outsiders surveying the funeral industry recently with an eye to supplying the sort of training that forward-looking funeral directors need. There’s a pretty broad consensus that there is a business opportunity here, with the potential for considerable benefit to the industry. Dip FD courses have been strong on mechanics, less so on those areas of the job requiring emotional intelligence, a quality in greater demand now than ever. We get too many complaints here at the GFG about rotten customer service.  Down at the undertaker’s that becomes ‘total lack of empathy’. We had one on the phone yesterday (complaining about the People’s Undertaker, you guessed). 

Just when we were wondering what would happen next, along comes Green Fuse together with the newly-formed Chester Pearce Associates offering their own Dip FD course. At first glance it looks a bit heavy on mechanics: “Caring for the body and mortuary practice – Removals from different places – Dressing and presenting for viewing – Safe handling and health and safety” but industry insiders will probably reckon these to be hallmarks of credibility. Less reassuring may be that the course is not externally accredited. But Green Fuse has an excellent track record as a training provider with an emphasis on developing emotional intelligence. They are well placed to offer themselves to the industry. If this leads to competition among training providers, that would seem, from the consumer point of view, to be no bad thing. Can’t see the NAFD and SAIF having much time for it. Strategically they need to occupy the high ground; they need to be the go-to people. But Green Fuse has always handled the politics of the industry graciously and with good manners. They have the potential to do well.

Enough from us. Find out more here.

Let us know what you think.


2 thoughts on “University of death

  1. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    Great piece but its the title that really sparked my imagination. University of death … wow …

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Coming at this from the point-of-view of someone who has a Dip.FD first, I believe it shows a standard of attainment to a potential client, even if it doesn’t mean a great deal anywhere else. I stick the letters after my name in my advertising, I have no idea whether it sways people at all, I suspect not, but I doubt it does any harm either.

    That said, the course certainly wasn’t demanding, thought-provoking or particularly interesting. From memory, the most exciting bit was an argument with the tutor over a particularly badly-worded question on VAT. Seven years later a friend of mine phoned me because she was doing the same course with the same tutor and had the same argument about the same question. So full marks for being progressive and listening to feedback.

    Should SAIF or the NAFD provide the courses? There are arguments on both sides. As their own ‘regulators’ I suppose they could, in time, filter training issues to deal with common complaints. But this would take communication between departments, admission that they were getting things wrong, and perhaps most of all, caring about standards of training, and until it becomes a requirement to hold some sort of recognition of training, there will always be an opt-out clause, which will be the easiest solution.

    Funeral Directors, in the main, are complacent and arrogant souls who don’t think they need to know any more than they do, so until that mindset is altered, I doubt there will be much progress in the training department.

    I’m guessing that an independent provider such as Green Fuse is the answer really. They will attract the individually-minded, progressive companies and their staff. Being unaccredited may mean they don’t appeal to the big conglomerates who perhaps have to tick boxes when they chose a trainer. But that may also be the strength of the new course. Training in the emotional and customer service aspects of the profession can only be a good thing.

    Like everything in Funeralworld, it’s not going to happen overnight and will be criticised by the majority. But any small bit of positivity on the training front has my backing.

    Charles Cowling

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