Teaching terrorism - a change in approach

Chris Taylor, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, details the latest counter terrorism safety campaign for young people which Counter Terrorism Police hope will be saving young lives for many years to come

Not too long ago, the idea of teaching terrorism awareness and safety advice in schools would have been unheard of. Why would parents, teachers and school governors want to risk frightening children for the sake of saving them from something that was very unlikely to affect them? But following this year’s attacks and the young age of some of the victims, it was clear that children needed to be spoken to about terrorism, and the risk it poses.

On Tuesday 14 November 2017, the second phase of a specially designed counter terrorism safety campaign for young people will be made available to schools and youth groups, the first time such advice has ever reached into the classroom.

Adults should be familiar with the messaging by now, it has been in the public domain since 2015. Existing advice to RUN to safety, HIDE if you can’t, and TELL the police when you’re safe was already well known amongst older age groups, but needed to be adapted if a younger audience was to be reached. So, ‘ACT for Youth’ was created, a ground-breaking information campaign which teaches children how to react in the unlikely event of a knife or gun attack.

Designing a counter terrorism safety campaign aimed, for the first time, at children aged 11 to 16, and introducing this campaign into the national school curriculum was a bold step, but one that our experts knew would have the best chance of keeping future generations safer.

Lucy D’Orsi, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, and the UK’s lead for Protective Security, said: “Terrorism is understandably at the forefront of people’s minds right now, and while this public awareness is piqued it makes sense to introduce changes which will make everyone safer in the long term. We knew we needed to educate a younger audience and we knew that, if done correctly, this could be a campaign which will continue to keep people safe for decades to come.

“We all grew up with public safety films of our respective eras, ‘stranger danger’, ‘clunk click’ and others. They all had a profound effect, and gave young people advice which they would internalise and eventually pass on to their children and so on. We created this campaign with that aim in mind, to produce a generation of young people who not only would know exactly what to do in the unlikely event they were ever caught in gun or knife attack, but would pass that information on to others.”

Growing up with terrorism
To develop an effective campaign, Counter Terrorism Policing experts needed to know what young people thought about terrorism, existing safety advice and also how they like to get their news and information. The subsequent research, based on the views of 11-16 year olds from a range of backgrounds, was illuminating.

The younger generation felt that they had ‘grown up’ with terrorism and while some showed fear and trepidation, they overwhelmingly felt ready to talk about the threat and how to try and survive an attack. But it also demonstrated that existing safety messaging had not reached them, and while many said they would know to run as a first instinct, a worrying number felt it a good thing to stop and film incidents on their mobile phones.

One 12-year-old who took part in the research said: “I would video a terrorist attack but only for evidence, not for social media for people to comment on, but just to warn them.”

Armed with this information, and the fact that the 75 per cent of the 11-16 year olds got their news and information from popular social media channels such as Snapchat and Instagram, our CT security experts, communications professionals from the National Counter Terrorism Policing HQ and partners from the NSPCC, collaborated to create a campaign that would reach into a young person’s world and impart life-saving information in a way that they could relate to.

With help from the NSPCC, we would also be able to educate parents to talk to their children about terrorism in an age-appropriate way. The campaign would form two distinct phases, the first using a collaboration with The Sun newspaper to create an impactful social media campaign starring celebrities from entertainment and sport.

The second, a specially designed package of teaching materials created with the support of the Department for Education and the PSHE Association, which would become the first ever counter terrorism safety campaign to be included in the national school curriculum.

With The Sun’s influence, they were able to enlist the support of celebrities such as Bear Grylls, Leicester City and England footballer Jamie Vardy and double Olympic gold medallist Jade Jones, while their reach upon social media channels was huge. With a total reach of just under 30 million - crucially including 3.9 million aged 11-16 years, and 1.3 million 13-17-year old Snapchat viewers – our messaging could extend to that previously untouched audience. And with the support of The Sun’s editorial team, we knew the messages would be reaching not just children, but their parents via the newspaper.

Launched on 28 September, the first phase landed with huge impact in the public domain. With support across police forces, government, the media and online, the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ celebrity films and messages reached more than 20 million people, a figure which continues to grow.

Lucy D’Orsi commented: “The launch of the celebrity piece really made young people sit up and take notice. But it was only ever meant to introduce the basic ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ messaging to that younger audience. We knew such a launch would have fantastic short-term impact, but the overall aim was building something which would become familiar to children for generations to come. Introducing this into the curriculum was our way of doing that, and we are delighted to have had the support of such key partners in the DfE, the PSHE Association and the NSPCC.”

A substantial message
If the first phase of the campaign was designed for children to digest in short, sharp, social media-style bursts, the second phase would take that simple messaging and expand it into something much more substantial. An animated film was created by Embolden Media Agency with close consultation from NaCTSO, DfE and the PSHE Association.

It follows three young protagonists as they find themselves in midst of a gun and knife attack at a shopping centre, with all three talking through different elements of the safety advice over a ‘graphic-novel’ style animation. It is designed to be impactful and hard-hitting, but not terrifying for younger viewers.

This animated film forms the basis of a half-hour lesson plan which not only covers the Run, Hide, Tell headlines, but also extends to other advice. Advice such as looking out for, and reporting, suspicious activity and behaviour. The lesson plans have been developed for two age groups, children aged 11-13 and those aged 13 and older. The film, lesson plans and teaching materials will be made available to teachers and schools on the launch date of 14 November.

Wide-spread support across the education sector, government and youth organisations such as the Scouts means that millions of children across the UK will potentially benefit from this safety advice, and hopefully, their children and their children’s children.

D’Orsi concludes: “The chances of being caught up in an attack are rare, but we must still be prepared. It can be scary for parents and children alike to talk about terrorism, but that is exactly why we have worked so hard with the relevant partners and agencies to develop a campaign which tackles this difficult subject with tact and care. And I feel we’ve done a fantastic job of that, and am incredibly grateful for the hard work and professionalism of my policing colleagues and partners such as the PSHE Association and the NSPCC.

“I fully expect this campaign to become this generation’s ‘stranger danger’, and that is incredibly important. It is a public safety film that changes the way young people think about terrorism, and equips them with knowledge that will not only save many lives, but also make the lives of terrorists more difficult.”

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