By Dr Aisling McElearney, NSPCC Children’s Services Education Advisor in Northern Ireland
Any child, whatever their background and wherever they live, can experience child abuse. So it's essential that, as well as school staff being trained to recognise and respond to abuse, we give children the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves and speak out if and when they need to.
Since 2013, we've been working in partnership with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to develop and pilot Keeping Safe. It's a programme of preventative education that aims to keep children safe from abuse by embedding learning across the whole of school life. Keeping Safe focuses on three key areas - healthy relationships, my body and being safe - and combines age-appropriate lessons, school assemblies, homework and workshops for parents. The programme has been evaluated by one of the largest randomised control trials of its kind in the world. The initial findings showed that the knowledge and skills of children who took part was significantly better than those in the control group. We're completing the final analysis and the full evaluation reports will be available later this year.
Helping schools teach sensitive subjects
It's clear that preventative education works. And teachers and schools are keen to incorporate teaching of these sensitive subjects into their lessons. But even for the most experienced teachers, these are challenging subjects. Teachers told us that they don't always feel comfortable or confident about delivering these lessons. We knew it was essential that we provided training and support for staff as part of the Keeping Safe programme. And we wanted to be sure that we were doing that in a way that worked best for teachers, providing professional development that fits in with your workloads and demanding schedules.
So, we carried out a needs assessment, via an online survey, with 318 teachers from mainstream and special primary schools in Northern Ireland. And we reviewed literature about professional development - 'what works' in providing teacher training and support.
Teachers' preferred learning styles
The survey asked teachers about their preferred learning style, how they were accessing training and support and their views and experience of elearning and blended learning (when online and face-to-face training are provided together). Almost all of the teachers who took part (99%) had accessed professional development in the last 12 months. Responses about preferences and experiences differed according to teachers' roles and length of experience. The majority of teachers told us that they preferred approaches that facilitate collaboration, reflective practice and learning by peers - the approaches that research tells us work best in improving practice in the classroom. Teachers are open to online learning, recognising the access it provides to the latest high quality resources. Our research found that online and blended learning approaches are at least as effective as face-to-face training.
Learning must be flexible and adaptable
Of course, we all learn differently and we all have our own methods for taking on and applying new information and skills. So, we recognise it's important that we provide flexible and adaptable approaches to learning. What we've learned has been embedded in the development of the Keeping Safe programme - and we're sharing the learning to help develop RSE in England and Wales.
But it also provides food for thought for how we - both at the NSPCC and elsewhere - can best support teachers with their professional development requirements. NSPCC Learning provides a range of resources and training for education professionals and other adults who work and volunteer with children.
We provide face-to-face training in a variety of subjects, which also enables professionals from different areas to get together and share learning and best practice. And we provide a range of elearning from introductory courses like Child protection for schools and more specialised subjects like Safer recruitment in education and Harmful sexual behaviour in schools. All of our online courses are CPD certified and can be completed anywhere, at any time and at your own pace. They combine films with experts and peers, quizzes, scenarios, reflective tasks and tools for you to use with colleagues to ensure that your learning is truly interactive.