Keeping safe: preventative education in Northern Ireland


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.




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.

> Read the full series of reports in the NSPCC Library

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.


The NSPCC and Department of Education in Northern Ireland are working in partnership to pilot and evaluate the Keeping Safe programme between 2015 and 2019. Keeping Safe helps schools to adopt a whole school approach, ensuring that preventative education is embedded in all aspects of school life.

Classroom resources have been designed under three 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.
How it works

How it works

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 three 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.

Training and support for staff

Training and support for school staff

This programme aims to build the capacity and skills of the whole school community to teach the most sensitive keeping safe messages and embed the programme in all aspects of school life.

The training is provided using face to face delivery and online resources. It:

  • introduces the programme and ensures all staff know that they play an important role
  • considers how preventative education can be embedded in all aspects of school life
  • assists staff to communicate about preventative education
  • helps staff prepare themselves, the children and the classroom for programme delivery.

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



Keeping Safe was delivered to over 7,000 children in primary and special schools in Northern Ireland from September 2016 to June 2018.

This pilot is one of the largest of its type in the world. The results have the potential to influence policy and practice around preventative education in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and internationally.

We carried out a randomised control trial (RCT) to gather robust evidence about the effectiveness of the pilot. Schools were assigned to either an ‘intervention group’ who implemented Keeping Safe immediately, or a ‘waitlist control group’ who did not implement the programme. 

We collected data from children, parents and teachers during the summer school term in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The last round of data collection was completed in June 2018. Schools who were in the ‘waitlist control group’ received training in June 2018 so that they could begin to teach Keeping Safe in their school setting.

The preliminary analysis of the data collected after one year has been completed and so far there are signs that the knowledge and skills of children who took part in Keeping Safe was significantly better then those in the control group.

A process evaluation was carried out alongside the RCT impact evaluation. The initial findings indicate that Keeping Safe is highly regarded by governors, school leadership, classroom teachers, learning assistants and parents. Children reported enjoying programme lessons, assemblies and homework.

We will use the key learning from the final analysis of the evaluation to refine the programme and inform the roll out of Keeping Safe across Northern Ireland. We’ll also decide whether the programme has potential to be used in other nations.

We also carried out an evidence review and needs assessment to find out how best to train teachers to deliver the Keeping safe messages and embed them into school life.

Read the research report