ALL eyes are on Buddy as the children sit cross-legged on the floor of the school hall.

Buddy looks like an oversized, squashed pea, with two large eyes and arms coming out of the side. He is actually a giant speech bubble and the mascot for the NSPCC's latest campaign, Speak Out Stay Safe, aimed at helping young children spot the signs of abuse and how to deal with it.

In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and the current crisis surrounding the scale of child abuse in football, the NSPCC's campaign – which seeks to reach every primary school child in the country – could not be better timed.

It also coincides with the 30th anniversary of Childline.

We have come to Lord Deramore's Primary School in York to see some of the youngest children in the school – aged between five and seven – take part in a special assembly run by NSPCC volunteers.

The challenge here, acknowledges Sue Perutz, safeguarding governor at the school, is how to alert children to the risks out there and what they should do about abuse, without frightening them.

The volunteers break the ice by asking children to name things that are round, like Buddy. "Lollipops" answers one eager girl at the front. "Good answer," encourages the NSPCC's Angela Nickless. "And what's your favourite colour of lollipop?" "Blue," replies the little girl.

Angela carries on: "Buddy likes children having rights and some of these rights include the right to be safe and the right to get help if they need it."

And so begins the gentle, but clear, message of the day: if there is anything children are worried about, they should speak out. The session goes through the different forms of abuse a child might suffer, from bullying, name calling and hurt feelings, to hitting and neglect (not enough warm clothes or food). They are also told that "privates are private" and that it is wrong for anyone to touch the parts of their body covered by underwear.

York Press:

NSPCC volunteers (l-r) Anna Wrigley-Howe, John Owen-Barnett and Angela Nickless

Volunteers John Owen-Barnett and Anna Wrigley-Howe show the children how to turn down their thumbs to the chant of "It's not OK" to the different forms of abuse youngsters may face.

An animation is played featuring a girl called Sam whose carers aren't nice to her and who is hungry. She opens the fridge to find it almost empty. Sam goes on to tell her teacher how unhappy she is and things start to improve.

"Which grown-ups might you turn to if you are not feeling safe?" asks John enthusiastically. Hands shoot up, indicating the children are truly engaged with the session. The answers are good too: teachers, headteacher, support worker, policeman, friends, parents and grandparents are just some of the responses.

John then tells the children about Childline – how they can ring it at any time of the day or night, that it is free and that no record of the call will show up on the phone bill. He then shows them a clever way to remember the number, 0800 11 11. Using his right hand he forms a zero, then he makes one with his left hand and places it beneath the right to make an eight, then separates them again to make two zeros, then points with his thumbs to indicate the four ones. Running them all together, it makes a fun game for the children to follow and for the number to sink in.

When the children leave, they are given a "Speak Out Stay Safe" sticker and encouraged to share at home what they have learned in the assembly.

York Press:

PRAISE: Sue Perutz, safeguarding governor at Lord Deramore's Primary School, York

Afterwards Sue is full of praise for the NSPCC team. "They tailored it beautifully to that age group," she begins. "There was nothing there to upset them. It was not probing, but gave a good message: speak out, stay safe, and the Childline phone number. Maybe that will lodge in their minds and they will be able to use it if the time comes. I think it empowers them, telling them what to do if they are unhappy."

Lord Deramore's headteacher Sheena Powley thinks it is great that the NSPCC tailors a special assembly to younger children in the school on top of the work it does with older pupils.

"I think it is brilliant. I think it is really important how we as adults communicate and ensure voices are heard. It's a very, very good programme. I really like the way they talk about very difficult areas. Abuse is not Ok. It just isn't."

The NSPCC has been working with older primary-aged children for several years, but this is the first time they have targeted younger children.

Tracey Weaver, NSPCC area coordinator for North Yorkshire, said: "Findings from Childline were that the majority of children contacting them were secondary-school age. These children didn't know what to do at the time and had to wait to they were old enough to find somebody to talk to. That's why the programme was developed so children don't have to wait until secondary school – they can have the safeguarding education at primary school and learn how to recognise abuse and know what to do about it."

It is proving effective already, she adds: "There have been instances across the country – cases that have come as a result of children having these assemblies and workshops and having disclosed information and action has been taken. People have been imprisoned."

Mel Holland is the NSPCC schools service manager for the North. She outlined the scale of the problem: "One in twenty children will be victims of sexual abuse – that is more than one child in every classroom, throughout the course of their childhood, up to the age of 17.

"One third of those children never tell anyone. Obviously, if a child tells somebody, the perpetrator can be brought to justice."

Speaking about the current focus on historic child abuse in football, she said: "This could be worse than Savile. Just because one person has spoken out, others have. It is the snowball effect."

In 90 per cent of cases, adds Mel, the child knows the perpetrator, adding incidents by strangers are much less common.

The NSPCC is seeking to take its preventative Speak Out Stay Safe programme into all primary schools in the UK, with repeat visits, so that a child in Year One might have three visits before they head off to secondary school.

It relies on a huge band of volunteers to carry out this work, and the charity looking for more people to come forward to do these roles.

York Press:

VITAL WORK: Volunteers Pam Abbott, left, and Louise St Pierre, who run the NSPCC Speak Out Stay Safe programme in Ryedale

Volunteers Pam Abbott and Louise St Pierre run assemblies and workshops on safeguarding at schools across Ryedale.

Pam is a retired teacher with 38 years service, and undertook extensive training for her new role.

In her four years in the job, Louise has visited more than 300 schools and taken the NSPCC's message to more than 19,000 children.

The pair visit two or three schools a week.

If a child discloses anything during any of the sessions, the volunteers pass that on to the school for them to pursue. "We are not counsellors, we cannot counsel children," says Louise. They would inform their own manager and they would follow up with the school at a later date, she added.

The best thing about their role is that they are making a difference to children's lives.

Louise said: "You know you are doing your best for that child and giving them the tools they need to keep themselves safe. From the amount of children we have seen, we know we are changing children's lives."

Pam added: "The children are getting the tools they need to speak out."

Louise added that it was important to identify abused children as early as possible. "Children abused in early life go on to be damaged as adults. We can stop that damage."

Parents can find out more about how to speak to their children about abuse via the NSPCC's website:

The Speak Out Stay Safe programme is free at the point of delivery, but the NSPCC is a charity that relies on fundraising. To donate, visit or send a cheque to NSPCC registered charity, Weston House, 42 Curtain Road, London, EC2A3NH, made payable to the NSPCC registered charity.

If you are interested in volunteering visit