VR Safeguarding Pilot Programme For Mid-Ulster Schools

A pilot lesson programme giving students aged 10-14 access to a virtual reality world that brings safeguarding dilemmas to life is to be rolled out across 62 schools in Mid-Ulster.

Funding for 55 schools to take part has come from the Police Service of Northern Ireland with the remainder funded by the local Police and Community Safety Partnership.

Developed alongside the Police and NHS, this virtual reality based 'Skill City' and teacher led classroom learning plans will now allow schools in the pilot area to explore some of these challenging issues in a safe environment. Teacher led sessions facilitate discussions about how to avoid and if necessary, how to react to these situations.

The pilot lesson plans will cover the following topics: Mental & Physical Wellbeing; Personal Safety; Drugs Alcohol & Tobacco; What to do in an emergency; Online Safety; Friends & Family Safety & Wellbeing.

Statistics show that online child sexual abuse crimes, recorded by the Police Service, have jumped by over 80% in the last three years. From 2020-2021, 308 such crimes were reported, which shows a significant increase from the 2016-2017 figure of 178.

Also the numbers of alcohol-related offences where the victim was under 18 have risen by over the last five years by nearly 17%.

This is why tackling these issues with children of this age group in a controlled environment is so important.
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Already rolled out to nearly 300 schools across England and Wales, 360 Skills for Life Founder and Managing Director, Rob Hattersley welcomed the extension of the programme into Northern Ireland schools. He said: "We're delighted to be able to provide this programme to schools in Northern Ireland with the support of the Police Service here. Transferable skills for life such as risk assessment and decision making are vital as young people face difficult and challenging situations. The virtual reality element allows them to explore some of these situations in a safe environment with their teachers."

The Mid-Ulster area was selected as the site of the pilot programme and the programme has now been officially launched there. This pilot covers a large area including, Fivemiletown, Dungannon, Coalisland and some of Cookstown, encompassing 62 schools.

These schools represent a significant number of pupils and will provide sufficient experience to help inform any wider regional roll out the programme.

Joanne Gibson, Chief Inspector, Crime Prevention & Early Intervention Branch, Police Service Northern Ireland explained: "Access to this virtual reality world will provide an important platform to ensure our young people are educated across a wide range of key areas, with the ultimate aim of keeping them safe.

"Unfortunately we know that young people are witnessing criminality and will, at some point in their adolescence, find themselves in a challenging or unsafe scenario. We want to ensure they have access to immersive education around key safety concerns and have the knowledge and confidence to respond in a safe way."

Primary 6 and 7 Teacher from Howard Primary School Dungannon, Mrs Mitchell, said: "One of the children asked if we could do 360 again as soon as he came in the next morning which I think really highlights just how much the programme motivates the children."

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