NSPCC regional head Caroline Watts on ‘Speak out. Stay safe’ visits to schools

IN THIS week’s column I would to thank the many volunteers who help the NSPCC make a huge difference to thousands of children’s lives in Yorkshire.

I am talking about the men and women who help us deliver the NSPCC’s ‘Speak out. Stay safe’ assemblies. Over the last academic year alone they have visited 593 primary schools across Yorkshire and Humber, speaking to an incredible 131,425 children about staying safe from abuse and neglect. They come from all walks of life but are united in their dedication and passion for helping children know that if they are ever worried or upset then they should tell a trusted adult or contact Childline.

In the average primary school class, at least two children have suffered abuse or neglect, making it vitally important that all primary schools help to equip their children with the knowledge and skills to speak up if something is wrong. One mum whose seven-year-old son was sexually abused by a 13-year-old friend of the family when staying at his dad’s house said: “If it hadn’t been for the Speak out. Stay safe. assembly, I honestly think the abuse would still be happening. It gave my son the words to articulate what had happened to him and to be able to say it was not ok.”

For each of the primary schools we visit, NSPCC volunteers present two slightly different assemblies – one for the younger children in Key Stage One, and another for the older Key Stage Two pupils. Our friendly mascot, the speech bubble Buddy, helps children understand about different types of abuse and neglect so that they can get help if or when they need it. This includes talking in a very child-appropriate way about neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and bullying. For some children who are suffering in silence, they may not know what is happening to them is wrong but it is vital they know that it is never their fault and they won’t get into trouble for sharing their worries. We help children to identify a trusted adult they can speak to if they are worried about themselves or a friend. They also learn about Childline and how the service can support them.

It is also good for schools to be mindful of the fact that the ‘Speak out. Stay safe.’ Service could be a great help in reinforcing the key lessons about abuse and neglect that will be compulsory for all primary schools in 2020, as part of the Relationships Education curriculum. This will require all schools to ensure that children know how to report concerns or abuse and have the vocabulary and confidence to do this by the time they go to secondary school. We know at the NSPCC that it can be difficult for teachers and parents to know how to tackle this sensitive but incredibly important subject. So far, the NSPCC has visited 87% of primary schools across the UK but we want to encourage any schools that have not received a visit from us to sign up, so that we can empower as many children as possible to recognise and report any worries they have. So why not, if you are a parent, school governor or teacher, ask your safeguarding lead to sign up for this free resource for your school.

One primary school which knows the benefits of having Buddy and his helpers come into school is Knavesmire Primary School in York. Hannah Gibson, Deputy Headteacher of Knavesmire Primary school, said: “The children respond so positively to the NSPCC’s safeguarding messages, for me it underlines why it is so important that children are given the tools they need to help protect themselves. Children who suffer abuse often don’t recognise what is happening to them is wrong so it is hugely important to make sure our pupils are given the information and knowledge they need to help protect themselves against abuse, cruelty and neglect.”

“The assemblies are a wonderful free resource for schools which underlines the existing safeguarding work already carried out at our school. Our pupils find the assemblies really engaging and absolutely love Buddy, the mascot.”

Schools can request an NSPCC school visit via the NSPCC Learning website at nspcc.org.uk/speakout