Keeping safe: preventative education in Northern Ireland

Last updated: 04 Sep 2018

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 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 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.

What will taking part mean for my child?

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.

Training and support for staff

Training and support for school staff

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:

  • give 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
  • 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.



This programme is being 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.

What does the evaluation involve?

The RCT design means that schools have been randomly assigned to two groups. The first group introduced and taught the programme between 2016 and 2018. The second group 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.

The data

Evaluation data has been collected on three occasions between 2016 and 2018:

  • before the programme is introduced in schools
  • at the end of the first year in May 2017
  • at the end of the second year in May 2018.

This included 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 have also been 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.

What happens if a child speaks out

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.