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Podcast: going virtual with Speak out Stay safe

Last updated: 19 Oct 2020 Topics: Podcast

How we’ve adapted our safeguarding programme to be delivered online in primary schools

Over the last few months, our Speak out Stay safe volunteers and staff have been unable to visit primary schools to help children understand what abuse is and that they have the right to be safe. In order to continue to reach every child during the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to launch an online version of the programme that can be used in the classroom.

Hear us discuss:

  • how COVID-19 has affected the Speak out Stay safe programme and children’s lives
  • the development of the online programme and the process behind it
  • what the differences are between the face-to-face and online programme
  • how we’ve worked with external organisations to create further resources for teachers
  • what the NSPCC’s Schools Brochure is and the support it offers schools.

About the speakers

Karen Squillino is the head of the NSPCC’s Schools Service and has a lead role in the development of the NSPCC’s Speak out Stay safe programme. She is a registered social worker who has 28 years of experience in child protection and safeguarding.

Sally McFawn is an area coordinator at the NSPCC, managing the Speak out Stay safe service across Surrey. She has worked across various roles within the Schools Service and has over 10 years of experience working with children and families. You might have seen her presenting our online assemblies.

NSPCC Learning Podcast

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Further resources

> Get more information about Speak out Stay safe online

> Listen to our previous episode on Speak out Stay safe

> See our safeguarding and child protection resources for schools

> Sign up for monthly child protection updates

> Develop your knowledge of child protection with training


Podcast transcript

Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.

Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. One of our episodes from May 2019 focused on our Speak out Stay safe programme which is for five- to eleven-years-olds in primary schools in the UK and Channel Islands. Its aims are for children to recognise abuse in all its forms, know that abuse is never a child’s fault and that they have the right to be safe and to know where to get help if needed. So do listen to the first Speak out Stay safe podcast if you want to know more.

The programme has always been a face-to-face service, with staff and volunteers going into schools. And so naturally, COVID has had a huge impact on the delivery of Speak out Stay safe. I had a chat with Karen Squillino, who heads up the NSPCC’s School Service and Sally McFawn, who is an area coordinator for the service and who very brilliantly presented the first virtual Speak out Stay safe assembly.

We spoke about how Speak out Stay safe has been adapted so that it still remains available to primary schools. We talked through the journey of getting Speak out Stay safe online and what’s different about the virtual offer. We also talk about what the response has been from schools and touched on what other safeguarding support is being made available for schools.

I began by asking Karen how COVID has affected the Speak out Stay safe service.

The Speak out Stay Safe programme is a programme that's delivered in primary schools, face-to-face by a team of staff and volunteers. So obviously the pandemic has created a situation where we're not able to deliver as usual. We took a decision back in the middle of March to stand the service down and that was just prior to lockdown. At the moment, the school assemblies are not taking place. Obviously schools are functioning and children have been educated in schools. But we've retained the decision not to deliver because of the way that children have been educated in schools in terms of being in bubbles and assemblies not taking place et cetera.

Going on from that, can we talk about how the service has been adapted so that it's still being made available to primary schools?

Yeah absolutely. As I said, we stood the service down in March but what we wanted to ensure was that we were still able to get those essential safeguarding messages out. And it became apparent really quite quickly that the impact that COVID was having upon children. You know it made it even more pressing. So back in June, we delivered a virtual assembly with the help of some celebrities which was great. We got really good traction and reach with that assembly but it was a one off. So moving fast forward into autumn term and the decision that we weren't going to go back into schools face-to-face, we wanted to develop something that teachers could deliver themselves.

What we've done is develop an online programme: 'SOSS online' and that programme consists of a key stage one assembly and a key stage two assembly. And we've also developed some teacher guidance as well to support conversations after the assembly and also throughout them too.

We've also worked in partnership with Twinkl, who are an education publishing house, to develop some content for teachers to deliver prior to the online Speak out Stay safe assembly. So a really good sort of wrap around package to ensure that children are able to receive those safeguarding messages during this period of time that we're not able to be in school face-to-face.

You've got this really brilliant, well established service that we've been providing for years. I'm sure it's been no mean feat to turn this service in from a face-to-face service to a virtual one. So this is the big question and maybe Sally we can come to you first. Can you talk us through the journey of getting Speak out Stay safe online and virtual? How's it been?

Wow. What a journey it has been. To be completely honest, I think going back to June in the middle of lockdown when we had to get that key message out there - because we are still here for children and wanted to make sure that everyone knew the Schools Service was still here even though we couldn't get out and visit schools - I think that it was quite daunting to begin with. I think it's a very big task to set ourselves. But I was amazed at how quickly the turnaround happened. I mean the team that put it all together was fantastic. Personally for me, having to take time to learn about directing, because it was all over Zoom, I was being directed on how to put sheets up on the windows to make sure that lighting was nice, everybody watching you who you've never met before and showing them around your house to show where you wanted to record. It was very interesting and very different.

Surreal I bet.

Yes, yes but it was amazing. I think to have a contribution from Ant and Dec, from David Walliams in June was fantastic. Having Ant and Dec and David Walliams involved was a real big pull for the children as well. I think my children are more excited to see Ant and Dec than mummy. But it was definitely different.

I think I realised I was being a presenter on film rather than in a school when they told me I should powder my nose because it was looking a bit shiny. But it was daunting but it was really rewarding. I've definitely learnt a lot and I think that the feedback we got was absolutely brilliant. And I just felt really proud to be a part of such an amazing thing we put together as a school service.

But then leading onto the virtual offer now, definitely this time round when we were recording it, we had a bit more time and that was quite clear. I had a film crew turn up with masks on, so my husband didn't have to be a director like in lockdown. It was a lot more time with us on that but it was fantastic. And a lot of work got put into it but also I felt really supported. And I know all of us did club together to make sure it worked.

There's been a real impact of COVID upon children's wellbeing and the challenges that they've had during lockdown and going back into school. We wanted to make sure that we really acknowledged that in the online content, so we've worked really hard. There's been a huge team of people working together to make sure that we retain true to Speak out Stay safe, with the traditional model. But that we've really exploited the opportunity to add in content that is really of the moment and really speaks to children. Just to ensure that we've got increased impact with the programme.

Can we talk also about accessibility of the virtual programme?

Yeah okay, so we have created content that is as inclusive as we could possibly make it. What we've done is develop a Welsh set of films as well as the English ones. We've got them subtitled. We've also got BSL (British Sign Language) in there as well. We took great care to ensure that all four nations were represented in the programme. And we've also got a specially adapted SEND version of the programme.

We've touched lightly on what's stayed the same from the face-to-face version and the virtual version and what's changed. Could we go into that a little bit more? I know our aims have remained the same but can we talk through what's the same and what's different?

The programme that we deliver is a safeguarding programme that’s for children aged five to eleven. That has remained the same. What's also remained the same is the reach. So obviously the online programme will be able to reach across the UK and the Channel Islands as our face-to-face programme does and our key objectives have retained the same as well. So the programme helps children to understand abuse in all of its forms and to recognise the different signs of abuse. And we also look to ensure that children understand that abuse is never their fault and that they've got the right to speak out and be safe.

One of the other elements that we've retained as well is that we are encouraging children to understand where they can get help and the sources of support available to them. So we are talking about Childline as well as trusted adults as forms of support. So there's quite a lot of the content of the online programme that is very true to the original face-to-face programme.

The other element that has changed is the fact that we've been able to ensure that there's content in that is really, really relevant to this current situation. And how we've done that is Childline has been able to provide us with a real wealth of information about some of the things that children have been saying about the coronavirus. So what we've been able to do is to make sure that we embed some of those sort of issues and concerns and really speak to them in the content. For example in our key stage one assembly, we really acknowledge that things have been different for children in school. They may have been in school or they may not have been in school, depending on whether they’re key workers' children or not, for example. So really talking to that and acknowledging that there's been quite a lot of upheaval for the children. And we talk about how coronavirus has changed children's lives. Just sort of mentioning some of the differences, hands washing, think things like that. And then we knowledge about how those changes might make children feel. So it's really inclusive and engaging and acknowledging of the current situation.

The key stage two assembly is very similar in respect to the things that we call out in terms of COVID. One of the additional things that we mention in the key stage two assembly is a real nod to the amount of time that children have spent online. And we talk a little bit more in detail about online abuse than we would do in the face-to-face assemblies.

Do we have kind of lesson plans for that now and teachers are doing that? How's that part working?

Yes, so we put together a real detailed set of teacher guidance which includes resources for them while the assemblies are actually being delivered. And the way we've actually constructed the assemblies, we've put 'pause breaks' in, for example, so teachers can actually do some interactive discussion with the children.

Ah great.

It's not just a single flat delivery. It really encourages interactivity with the children. And so we've got the lesson plans and the teacher guidance. But then as I mentioned earlier we've also some content that we've developed in partnership with Twinkl. So that includes display material and there's a pre-assembly pack that they've put together that talks about children's rights. So a really sort of gentle way in to the Speak out Stay safe online assembly. We've also got a team of area coordinators across the UK. There's 60 area coordinators who are there to support schools through this as well. So there's a named person for every school for the assemblies.

Can we talk about what the response has been from schools?

We're delighted. We kicked off about a week ago now - we've already got eight hundred schools who've expressed interest. Now that's the inbound sort of traffic, so that's schools that are coming to us but we're proactively reaching out to schools as well. And it was important that we did that because we have reached ninety nine percent of primary schools, but there's still nine percent that we haven't, so we're proactively reaching out to those schools we've never been into.

There's also a whole swathe of schools that weren't able to avail of the service over the spring and the summer term because of school closures. So we're prioritising those schools as well. As I said a whole team of people across the UK and Channel Islands reaching out proactively to schools to secure sign up.

Thanks, Karen. And Sally as an area coordinator, how's it been for you? How have things changed for you?

Like Karen said, there's a group of us across the UK reaching out, but actually they're just so happy to have that support. I think it's been really daunting for children to go back into school and things being so different but also for teachers. So the feedback's been really positive to have extra support for them to offer the children and to have the support that, you know, when we send them over the assembly, the link to the assembly, it's not just that, they get the additional resources that we've talked about. And there's a lot of wealth of information for the teachers to pull from. And I think all in all, it's just been really positive and it's made our job so much easier with how much added resources are available to the school when they sign up.

So I've got relationships already with teachers in local areas, but for them to go, “oh, thank you so much for contacting us and offering us this”. You know they're so busy especially in this time, with having to introduce bubbles and change completely how they work. As much as we've been adaptive, they're having to be so adaptive. And I think they're just welcoming it. They're welcoming whether it's virtual, obviously they want us to be back out there with them. We all would like to go back to a bit of normality but actually just to have this as a kind of a stop gap is fantastic.

Great. And it's giving that consistency isn't it, so that's good to hear. Thanks Sally. So Karen, can you talk to me about the schools’ brochure that's been created by your team and what that's about and who it's for?

We've got a brochure that's mailed out in October. It will go out to every single primary school across the UK. And that just catalogues all of the school-facing offer that the NSPCC has. So we've got a whole range of resources for schools. Obviously Speak out Stay safe, but there's child protection training courses that schools can avail of, there's other teaching resources. We've also got the monthly Safeguarding in Education Update that teachers can sign up to. We've got lots of briefings and factsheets on relevant topics.

And there are also other services as well that said that schools can avail. We've got a number across the UK. So the brochure is slightly different across each of the devolved nations because the offer looks different but it just brings together the whole of the schools' facing offer for the NSPCC.

Fantastic. Thanks for that Karen. It'd be good to speak about it on the podcast for anyone listening, if there's a school and they want to sign up, where should they go and what should they sign up to?

So they need to access and then they'll be taken to a registration page where they can sign up. And then one of our team will be touched ensure that they've got all the resources that they need.

Well Karen, Sally, what you're doing is brilliant, what your teams are doing is brilliant. It's great that Speak out Stay safe is still carrying on and children are still hearing those messages about abuse and harm. So I'm really pleased to hear it. Thanks so much for speaking to me.


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