Keeping Safe: cluster randomised trial evaluation

Publication date 2021

Results and learning from a cluster randomised trial on the impact of Keeping Safe in Northern Ireland, an education programme that teaches children about abuse

The NSPCC’s Keeping Safe programme for primary schools, developed in Northern Ireland, supports school staff and parents to deliver keeping safe messages to children about recognising abusive behaviours.

This report presents results and learning from a cluster randomised trial evaluation on the impact of Keeping Safe. This is the first cluster randomised trial evaluation in Europe of a comprehensive whole-school programme for children aged 4-11 years that covers all types of abusive behaviours and bullying.

The trial was conducted in 64 primary schools in Northern Ireland, collecting data from 3,551 children, 6,385 parents and 485 teachers between June 2016 and 2018.

Download Keeping Safe: summary of Cluster Randomised Trial evaluation results in primary schools in Northern Ireland
Download the summary (PDF)
Download Keeping Safe: full report of Cluster Randomised Trial evaluation results in primary schools in Northern Ireland
Download the full report (PDF)


Key finding

Keeping Safe is an effective whole-school programme with positive outcomes for children, parents and teachers.

The trial found that children taught the programme for two academic years had significantly higher levels of knowledge and understanding of abuse concepts than those in schools where Keeping Safe was not taught. Parents and carers whose children were taught the programme were found to have significantly improved knowledge of keeping safe messages and improved confidence to talk to their children about these messages, and teachers were found to have significantly improved confidence in teaching sensitive programme concepts.

Other findings

Young children can be taught sexual abuse concepts without causing anxiety.

After two academic years, children aged 6-9 years when the trial started showed significantly higher knowledge and understanding of appropriate and inappropriate touch and no difference in self-reported anxiety, compared to children not taught the Keeping Safe programme.

It takes time and repeated exposure for children to learn and understand sensitive concepts about abuse, and for teachers and parents to become knowledgeable and confident.

While children’s knowledge and understanding of some concepts improved after one year of teaching, for other more sensitive concepts, such as appropriate and inappropriate touch, significant change only became evident after two years of teaching. Similarly, parents’ and carers’, and teachers’ knowledge and confidence continued to improve in the second year.

School and individual child, parent and carer, and teacher characteristics impact programme effectiveness and outcomes.

Programme outcomes are impacted by characteristics such as age, gender and school management type, as well as the level of deprivation in the community and the level of diversity within the pupil population.

Related resources

> Read the Keeping Safe process evaluation

> Learn about our findings from implementing the Keeping Safe programme in special schools


Please cite as: McElearney, A., Adamson, G., Murphy, C., Rogers, S., Radcliffe, D. (2021) Keeping Safe: an effective whole-school programme that teaches children to recognise abusive behaviours and tell: cluster randomised trial evaluation results in primary schools in Northern Ireland. London: NSPCC