Drama workshops used to help primary school pupils to protect themselves from exploitation and online abuse

A group of primary school pupils in a classroom

An improved resource to help children recognise the signs of exploitation and stay safe is being launched today by Merseyside’s Police Commissioner.

Twelve months after launching the ‘Send me a Selfie’ education programme focusing on helping primary school children to identify inappropriate language and misogyny, Emily Spurrell is supporting the relaunch of an enhanced programme that primary schools can use to protect children.

Developed by educational charity Ariel Trust and funded by Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership, the ‘Grassing or Grooming’ resource is designed to support children to develop the skills they need to identify and resist grooming associated with gangs and violent crime.

Supported by Merseyside Police, it focuses on helping young people to recognise the warning signs of abuse and report it when they have concerns.

A crucial part of the programme is equipping the young people with the language and awareness to identify worrying behaviour and give them the confidence to use it through interactive drama workshops. During these sessions, pupils are encouraged to step into the role of a bystander, a victim, and a perpetrator, helping them to learn the skills to intervene or ask for help.

The programme has been delivered in more than 100 schools across Merseyside since it was first launched in 2021. It was independently evaluated by Liverpool John Moore’s University researchers last year who found after taking part in the training, pupils felt 55% more confident explaining what grooming means to a friend.

This evaluation has been critical to further enhance the resource by providing additional support to teachers to give them the confidence to use drama in their classrooms.

This has included employing drama specialists to work alongside less confident teachers, equipping them to use theatre-based teaching strategies to work with pupils.

This work has been carefully documented and it is being made available to every year 5 and 6 teacher on Merseyside, including providing them with access to log on to the project website and watch their colleagues using best practice from the world of theatre.

Rock Ferry’s Headteacher Sara Radley said: “The Ariel Trust’s Grassing and Grooming Project has had a profound impact on pupils at Rock Ferry, significantly increasing their awareness of online grooming risks. This collaborative effort underscores the school’s dedication to prioritising the safety and well-being of our pupils and we cannot praise the initiative highly enough.

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “We know education is key if we are to keep our young people safe - it’s vital we empower them to recognise the warning signs when someone is trying to exploit them and what to do.

“The resources created by the Ariel Trust are brilliant at giving pupils the words and language to use in a way that is age-appropriate and really resonate with our young people.

“We’ve seen the difference the Send me a Selfie programme has made, and I’m pleased to support the launch of this enhanced version of the ‘Grassing or Grooming’ programme focused on supporting teachers to use this drama-based approach to help children develop.”

Director of the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership Supt Georgie Garvey added: “We’re passionate about empowering young people with the knowledge and the tools to protect themselves, both in the real and the online world.

“This is a pivotal age for children, as they prepare for secondary school and exposure to a more grown-up world - a world in which social media will be no doubt be a big part of their lives. Through this resource we want to engage young people, make sure they understand what unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour is and how to report it if they experience it.

“By investing early, we can prevent exploitation and abuse from taking place and keep our young people safe.”

Ariel Trust’s Director Paul Ainsworth said: “Young people want to talk about the misuse of social media, they experience this all of the time. It is our responsibility to provide them with a structured environment in which they can talk about solutions, not just the problems. They love playing the role of the bystander and practicing skills they can use to intervene positively and to help their friends.”

Any school wishing to use the ‘Grassing or Grooming’ resource should contact [email protected]