Engaging schoolchildren in Stockton-on-Tees
Covering five primary schools, the scheme helps children to learn about citizenship, personal safety, crime and the emergency services in practical and exciting ways. Joint activities between schools also bring together children from diverse backgrounds.
Key Learning Points
- Let the children decide what to do. Whilst guidance from adults is needed, this element is essential to ensure buy-in from the children and stimulate their interest.
- Funding will define the scale of the Junior Neighbourhood Watch (JNW). The format of this project has proved to be extremely popular, yet the lack of funding (especially for a paid project manager) has reduced the project’s capacity significantly with it not currently able to fulfil the demand.
- Approaching the school correctly is crucial. Once one school is on board, the competitive nature of surrounding schools will likely generate additionally interest, making access to subsequent schools easier.
- A professional approach is integral to maintaining interest from participants, schools and partners. The JNW in its current form is heavily dependent on a part-time volunteer without whom the continuation of the project would be extremely hindered.
- When starting a group, seek advice on the processes required to set up such an organisation (legalities, risk assessments etc.).
The project stemmed from the police and local Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) group's desire to engage with young children to encourage and assist them in reporting anti-social behaviour and criminal activity in their community. The JNW was piloted in 2007 at a local primary school. The participating children initially learnt about what they should do if they see any suspicious or anti-social behaviour near school premises. During the school holiday period the school building was subjected to a higher risk of vandalism (being centrally located in the community) and the JNW used the theme of protecting the school building to arouse the interest of the children.
The JNW has since expanded to include five primary schools and is coordinated by a project manager on a voluntary basis. Each school has an appointed staff member to oversee activities which generally take place once every two weeks for one hour, although some activities have taken place on a weekend. The five individual schools give the JNW a geographical spread across central Stockton-on-Tees and the surrounding areas of Ingleby Barwick, Lowfields and Thornaby and include children from a range of educational, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Interest in joining the group is generated by the project manager supported by a Police Liaison Officer. Together they conduct a school assembly in which they promote the concept and types of activities on offer. Each school is then asked to select a group from those interested, thereby forming its JNW group. Once the school has selected its representatives for their JNW, the first activity is to choose a colour for their Watch uniform and design their own logo. The uniform (provided free of charge) is a physical symbol of the new group and helps to generate a sense of community amongst the children. The groups have used their logos on stationery items which they have then been able to sell to parents and the community to generate additional funds.
The activities of each of the JNW groups take place both in the classroom and within the community. This provides the sessions with a degree of informality which appeals to the young participants. For example, one session themed around cruelty to wildlife took place at a local wildlife sanctuary, giving the children a tour of the grounds and space for the set activity. Activities have also included visits to the police heli-pad and police stables. These visits allow the children to participate in events and meet members of the emergency services in an environment that delivers the information in a format that is new and exciting for the children. Furthermore, knowledge acquired is not restricted to the members of each JNW, with information regularly communicated via class and school presentations. The groups also undertake home-based tasks, applying knowledge in their home environment and passing on knowledge to friends and family members. One fire safety session requires the individuals, in conjunction with their parents, to design an escape plan for their home in case of fire, using the advice and information received from the local Fire and Rescue Services.
Where possible some activities allow for the different school Watches to undertake activities jointly, enabling children from a variety of backgrounds who may otherwise not meet to work together, reflecting the community cohesion that the project wishes to promote outside of the classroom.
The project is well supported across a number of Cleveland Police departments as well as other community services/organisations. The majority of partnership working is through the delivery of the JNW’s annual activities plan as well as input into specific events throughout the year. Previously, the Fire Service has conducted sessions on fire and firework safety, the RNLI/local lifeguards have provided beach and coastal safety sessions and the Dog, Mounted Police and Air Support units of Cleveland Police also organised visits and talks for the groups.
A high level of interest has been generated from staff and children within engaged schools. The main objective of the JNW scheme is to increase personal and community safety by engaging children during their early development. By instilling a positive message about caring for the community it is hoped the next generation will have a greater awareness and desire to keep their community safe.
The use of emergency service personnel as part of the activities provides the children with positive role models. Consequently, as well as making the children more vigilant against crime and reducing the risk that they become the victims of crime the JNW also seeks to reduce the risk that the children become perpetrators of crime.
Over the course of the year the actions undertaken by the JNW equates on average to an extra 18 hours lesson time and educates the members on themes that are not thoroughly covered in the national curriculum and promotes positive messages to the school and local community. The structure of the JNW allows for a variety of pupils to mix and communicate in a group setting over which they have input and ownership.