Keeping children safe in Northern Ireland Why preventative education is important in schools


Many children are unable to recognise abusive behaviour or identify who poses a threat to them. And they may not know how and where to seek help.

Preventative education can give children the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves safe and it can also help 
to disclose abuse earlier.

We know that school staff and parents don’t always feel confident about speaking to children about sensitive issues like sexual abuse and domestic abuse. This programme is designed to help schools and parents deliver these messages and keep children safe from abuse. 

What is the evidence base for the programme?

This project has been shaped by international research and practice as well as a comprehensive needs assessment and practice unit completed in 2011 by NSPCC on behalf of the Department of Education Northern Ireland. 

Key findings

  • There were significant gaps in children’s knowledge and understanding about issues such as sexual abuse and domestic abuse. Children felt they would be unsure about telling a trusted adult about their experiences of abuse.
  • Teachers were willing to teach sensitive topics but wanted training and ongoing support in this area.
  • Parents were keen for their children to be taught keeping safe messages but were uncertain about how to communicate with their children about sensitive issues.
  • All statutory and voluntary sector partner agencies recognised the need to work together to develop effective preventative education.

An audit of practice in primary schools showed that:

  • schools were already teaching children some safety messages but there were gaps around the more sensitive issues
  • there was a disproportionate emphasis on the risks presented by strangers
  • teaching methods didn't maximise opportunities for children to practise key skills
  • younger children and those attending special schools were less likely to be taught keeping safe messages.

How will this programme be delivered?

The NSPCC and Department of Education in Northern Ireland are working in partnership to pilot the programme in 90 schools between 2015 and 2018. It involves the adoption of a whole school approach ensuring that preventative education is embedded in all aspects of school life.

Classroom resources have been designed under 3 themes:

  • healthy relationships
  • my body
  • being safe

The programme includes:

  • age appropriate lessons which can be taught as part of the Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PD&MU) curriculum
  • tailored school assemblies designed to engage children in learning about keeping safe
  • school staff receiving guidance about how to reinforce safety messages to children in all classes from P1-P7.

Information for teachers and parents

Teachers and other school staff will deliver key messages to children about keeping safe from bullying, all forms of abuse and neglect.

At the beginning of each term school leaders will deliver a prepared assembly to introduce the theme for the term. Following this assembly each teacher will deliver 3 lessons tailored to the age group of their class. The lessons use eBooks, character animations, stories, rhymes, and interactive whiteboard activities to engage children in the learning.

For each lesson, homework has been developed to involve parents so that learning can be reinforced at home. Resources have also been developed for parents to help them feel confident about communicating sensitive messages to their children.  

This programme will help build the capacity and skills of the whole school community. 

The training will be provided using face to face delivery and online resources. It will provide an introduction to the programme, consider how preventative education can be embedded in all aspects of school life, assist staff to communicate about preventative education and provide training about delivering the programme in the classroom.

The teaching and learning resources and school capacity building materials will be available on the C2K network in schools. Guidance and resources will also be provided for staff to help them further reinforce keeping safe messages through the ‘informal curriculum’ through posters and visual stimulus, engaging in conversations, making observations, involving children in devising rules, reward systems and through role modelling of positive behaviour.

If your child’s school is delivering this programme, your child will be taught important messages to help them keep safe from all forms of abuse and bullying. 

Each child will be asked to take part in the evaluation of the programme to assess if their knowledge and understanding about keeping safe has improved. This may involve questionnaires, drawings or teacher observations as appropriate to the child’s age. 

All children's responses will be confidential and the results will be reported in a way that ensures individual children cannot be identified.  

Ethical and safeguarding processes will be adhered to at all times.

How will the programme be evaluated?

This programme will be evaluated using a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) to gather robust evidence about programme effectiveness.

The evidence will inform the Department of Education policy as well as the development and roll out of an effective preventative education programme in the future so that all children in Northern Ireland will eventually benefit from this work.

The RCT design will mean that schools will be randomly assigned to 2 groups. The first group will introduce and teach the programme between 2016 and 2018. The second group will continue with usual practice during this time and will teach the programme between 2018 and 2020. Both groups will take part in the evaluation.

Teachers and parents will be asked for their consent to take part in the evaluation. We will ask for parental consent for children to take part in the evaluation, and for children to provide consent for their own involvement. We will also teach children how to tell us if they have changed their mind and want to withdraw from the evaluation.  

Evaluation data will be collected on 3 occasions between 2016 and 2018; before the programme is introduced in schools, at the end of the first year in May 2017, and at the end of the second year in May 2018. This will include a questionnaire for children to measure any change in their knowledge, understanding and skills to keep safe from abuse, as well as a questionnaire for teachers and parents to assess their confidence in communicating sensitive messages to children. 

Some children, parents and teachers will also be involved in focus groups and interviews to help us learn more about their experience of introducing and taking part in the programme. This will help inform any revisions to the programme and the process by which it is introduced in schools.

Ethical approval for the evaluation process and questionnaires will be sought from the NSPCC Ethics Committee. Children, their parents and teachers will have helped to develop the evaluation process so that it is child friendly, and non-invasive for schools. They will also have been involved in agreeing and testing the questionnaires.   

It is important to note that if a child tells us something that causes us to be concerned about their safety or that of another child, we will follow the school’s Child Protection Policy and report this to the Designated Teacher for Child Protection.     

Please complete the relevant surveys below to help us evaluate the Keeping Safe Programme.

You'll need to enter your unique ID before you begin. This can be found on the postcard stapled to the front of your paper survey.

Teacher survey

Parent survey

Our work with schools

Find out how our schools service can help your school keep children safe from abuse.
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Keeping children safe

Find out how you can keep children safe from abuse and other dangers, both online and in the physical world.
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Keeping safe

A series of reports which highlight our findings from research on the development of effective preventative education in primary schools in Northern Ireland.
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