Child safety: Clever Never Goes

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Staying safe: A still from some of the Clever Never Goes resources, which introduce pupils to the rule that if someone you’re not expecting to – or don’t know – asks you to go somewhere with them then: ‘Clever never goes’

The ‘stranger danger’ message is outdated and unhelpful. A new Lottery-funded initiative – Clever Never Goes – is offering schools a more intelligent approach to personal safety for pupils. Emma Lee-Potter reports

A Hampshire headteacher is playing a leading role in a new campaign to educate children about how to stay safe out of school.

The Clever Never Goes child safety programme was launched in June this year by the charity Action Against Abduction, working in partnership with the Hampshire Constabulary.

“Teaching children simply to avoid strangers doesn’t work,” explained Geoff Newiss, director of Action Against Abduction. “Most strangers will help rather than harm children. Conversely, it is often people known to children that pose the greatest threat.

“Clever Never Goes moves the focus away from strangers and instead teaches children to recognise when someone – anyone – is asking them to go with them. We want to give children practical safety skills which they can use as they get older and become more independent.”

Even though child abduction is relatively uncommon it is important that children learn to recognise the potential signs of danger. Figures published earlier this year show that police in England, Scotland and Wales recorded 870 non-parental abductions in 2016/17, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year.

The Clever Never Goes initiative has been piloted over the last 18 months at a number of schools, including Crofton Hammond Infant School in Stubbington, a small village outside Fareham in Hampshire.

Crofton Hammond headteacher Jacky Halton, who joined the 180-pupil school in 2004 and became head in 2010, was keen to get involved in the research-based programme as soon as she heard of it.

She is confident that Clever Never Goes will encourage parents and schools to move away from the traditional “stranger danger” warning and create a more balanced approach to teaching children how to stay safe – without scaring them or discouraging their natural instincts to explore.

Crofton Hammond was ideally placed to take part in the pilot. The school already teaches Philosophy for Children (p4c), an approach where children are encouraged to share ideas and discuss issues that are important to them.

The Clever Never Goes campaign revolves around a robot called Clever. Action Against Abduction received funding of £20,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery to find a replacement for “stranger danger” and the charity commissioned London-based creative agency Cubo to work on the project. Cubo came up with the idea of Clever, a character who likes to have fun and play outside.

Children learn about Clever through a series of PowerPoint slides and soon grasp the key message of the campaign. Clever uses a simple rule to help keep himself safe when he’s out and about without his parents or another grown-up looking after him and encourages children to do the same: “The rule is that if someone you’re not expecting to – or don’t know – asks you to go somewhere with them, just remember: Clever never goes.”

Working with year 2 teacher Amanda Hughes, who is a trained p4c leader, Ms Halton came up with the idea of creating a series of everyday scenarios for children to watch and discuss. These reinforce the message that children must never go anywhere with anyone – either a stranger or a person who is familiar to them – unless a plan has been made beforehand.

Pupils learn that following the rules makes them clever, gives them the confidence to trust their instincts and teaches them how to react to unsafe situations. The eight scenarios include one where a woman stops her car to talk to a child and claims that the child’s mother has sent her to pick her up. Another shows a man asking children if they would like to take his dog for a walk. There is also a video clip about online safety featuring a girl being asked to meet at the park.

Once pupils have viewed the clips, teachers are encouraged to guide them through a series of questions and discuss what pupils would do in each scenario.
After being trialled by eight schools, Clever Never Goes was officially rolled out this year. Olivia Pinkney, chief constable of Hampshire Constabulary, attended the launch where Ms Hughes demonstrated a Clever Never Goes lesson with a group of Crofton Hammond pupils.

“It was important to demonstrate a lesson with the children,” explained Ms Halton. “Teachers need to know their children really well because the lessons can open a whole can of worms. We thought originally that it could just be a standalone lesson, that a teacher would just teach it and off the children would go. But they bring to the lesson so much stuff that they have been told by their parents and so many scare stories.

“The issues we have come across include the scenario of a woman stopping and asking children if they want a lift home. A significant number of children say: ‘That’s safe because it’s a woman. Women are safe to go with.’

“Then there’s a scenario of a man who says: ‘I’m Oscar’s daddy. I’ve seen you at after-school club.’ Some children react by saying: ‘That’s fine because he says he knows me.’

“Teachers have to be skilled to deal with these comments. You have to keep bringing the children back to the issue of ‘have the plans been arranged beforehand?’”

Ms Halton and the Crofton Hammond team have now designated the last week of the summer term as Clever Never Goes Week. Even though their pupils are aged between four and seven and tend to be with their parents out of school the teachers felt that this was the most appropriate time to convey the Clever Never Goes message.

“On holiday they might be camping or playing out with their friends so we wanted to equip them with it before the summer holidays,” said Ms Halton.

“Every class does the lesson with their children and then I have a parents’ meeting. It’s no good schools giving children this message and then parents giving a different message about ‘a stranger out there who’s coming to get them and who might do them harm’. We want parents to be giving the same message as school.”

The Crofton Hammond parents have been supportive. “Many of them said they had really struggled about what to say,” said Ms Halton. “One parent said she had breathed a sign of relief because she had never known what to tell her children before. She wanted them to be a bit independent and able to walk round the corner without thinking that someone was lurking to grab them. Clever Never Goes has given her a tool she can use.

“Another told me that a year ago she had sat her five-year-old down and talked to him about ‘stranger danger’, using those words. He freaked out completely. He was terrified. She stopped the conversation and thought ‘no, I can’t do this’.

“A year later we introduced Clever Never Goes at school and in the parents’ meeting she said to me: ‘I have to tell you this. The other day he came home and told me all about Clever the robot.’ They then went off to play in the park and he wanted to play hide and seek. She said she didn’t want him to go out of her sight and he said: ‘But Mummy, don’t forget that Clever never goes and I’m never going to go either.’

“So part of our message is helping parents to be a little bit braver about giving children a longer leash. We hear so much about helicopter parents and wrapping your children in cotton wool and we want this to be another tool for parents to be more confident that children can recognise safe and unsafe situations.

“All the research shows that if a child is in a vulnerable situation a stranger is more likely to help them than hurt them – but children need to know what is safe in the first place.”

The Clever Never Goes campaign is growing steadily. The Home Office has given its support, the Safeguarding Children Boards for Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth have adopted it, and to date more than 130 schools in the region have subscribed to it. Schools can register online to receive a variety of free resources, including lesson plans, activities for key stage 1 and early key stage 2 pupils, classroom slides and access to the online 30-second scenarios to get children practising what they have learned. Parents can also download a Clever Never Goes pack to use at home.

Ms Halton, who is now a trustee of Action Against Abduction, hopes that the initiative will be adopted across the country – and internationally too.

“Our long-term aim is to get rid of ‘stranger danger’ and replace it with Clever Never Goes,” she said. “We are all very proud that the idea has come from our school and that our children have been involved in it.

“Providing teachers with an alternative to ‘stranger danger’ is an enormous step in the right direction towards keeping children safe without instilling fear.”

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education journalist.

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