A recent independent evaluation by the NSPCC confirmed an ongoing need for Speak out Stay safe (SOSS). Whilst most primary children have a good understanding of what abusive behaviour looks like and which trusted adults they can speak to, the children’s charity safeguarding programme is designed to boost schools’ relationships and sex education (RSE) teaching. Deputy Vice Principal Richard Ewart from Strandtown Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland shares how his pupils enjoyed the online assembly.
While COVID-19 caused countless disruptions, it did mean that a lot of organisations such as the NSPCC had to rethink how to deliver their educational programmes. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into the Speak out Stay safe (SOSS) online assembly to get it just right. The content is very powerful and purposeful. At Strandtown, a large primary school in Belfast with over a thousand P4, P5, P6 and P7 pupils, we engage with the NSPCC once every two years. This means over four years each of our students will hear their message twice. We last engaged with SOSS last May and the coordinators are excellent at keeping in touch in-between.
After coming out of our second lockdown in Belfast it was lovely to hear from the NSPCC again. The new online programme fitted in perfectly with our school’s Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PDMU) curriculum so it couldn’t have come at a better time. As a teacher I thought who better to introduce the assembly than Ant and Dec. Although the pair only presented the start of the programme our children’s attention was immediately captured. They thought this must be cool, if Ant and Dec are involved it’s going to be good. Their concentration throughout was superb and they were fully engaged in the programme. It was wonderful to see them responding with great listening and great awareness to what’s such an important subject.
As the online assembly is prerecorded it was almost word perfect, dealing with sensitive issues such as sexual and physical abuse with just the right level of care. When you see your pupils every day in the classroom those can be difficult subjects to broach. Sometimes I’m more of a close confidant to my pupils than I am a teacher, such is the relationship. So, with sensitive issues such as these it’s a huge help for SOSS to be taught by an outside organisation who handles them with such care. One of the pupils’ biggest takeaways was the saying ‘I have the right to be safe, you have the right to be safe, we have the right to be safe.’ The constant drip feeding of these key messages throughout the assembly ensure they stay front of mind.
As most of the groundwork had been done it naturally led to follow-up discussions with the children. If I use the analogy of a farmer, the hard work is ploughing the field then sowing the seed comes easy; the NSPCC did that hard work for us. From a statutory point of view the assembly ticks a lot of boxes in our PDMU curriculum such as teaching children how to look after themselves, how to look after each other and how to be an active member of the community. As well as nicely tying into annual focuses such as our anti-bullying week and safety online day, the assembly provided the opportunity for us to reinforce to the children that if they’re worried or concerned about anything they can talk to any trusted adult within the school.
Given the sensitive nature of the topic of abuse the online assembly managed it thoughtfully, purposefully and in a way that children could understand and relate to. It was at a primary level, yet the meaning was not lost. Such was the presentation of it, no child would have gone away traumatised by what they heard, which is obviously the most crucial factor. Myself and my fellow teachers also appreciated that the assembly featured voices from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland throughout. So, no matter where you were watching from in the UK you could relate to that person. It was great that there was some local ownership within the content.
Our SEND children also watched the online assembly with their peers accompanied by their respective classroom assistants. After the assembly was over each assistant found a quiet place within school to chat with their child about the various subjects that were raised throughout. We know children with learning difficulties often find it easier to open up in a small group over a whole class session, so it’s extremely valuable to provide the opportunity to ask any questions they might have. As with all our pupils Ant and Dec were firm favourites and having Buddy appear throughout to drive home the message of speaking out to stay safe was invaluable.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the SOSS online assembly to other teachers, you won’t be disappointed. Children need to hear this message and when it’s done so well why would you not let your children hear it, it’s so important that they do hear it. The children will not only enjoy hearing the message but will benefit from hearing the message. Our collective hope at Strandtown is that SOSS will lead to safer children – children who know how to reach out for help when they need it. Well done NSPCC for taking an exceedingly difficult subject and bringing it down to a child’s level. It’s vital that the message isn’t lost and for our children it really hit home.
Interested in the NSPCC’s online safeguarding programme? Receive their online assembly and supporting resources to use in your classroom discussions by signing up your primary school today.