Safety education for young people is taking a giant leap forward through StayWise (staywise.co.uk). Programme Executive Chris Bigland talks to FIRE Editor Andrew Ledgerton-Lynch about the ground-breaking collaborative online platform that is elevating safety messaging locally and globally.
StayWise, the collaborative online safety education platform, has been developed by the National Fire Chiefs Council in collaboration with partners including the Royal Life Saving Society, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, HM Coastguard, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Injury Minimisation Programme for Schools.
StayWise has been developed to link key safety messages to the national curriculum meaning pupils can learn about fire safety in a maths or science lesson or write a fire escape plan or a newspaper article about an incident as part of an English lesson. The team have published hundreds of resources for primary school age and they are now starting to introduce new content for Key Stage 3 and 4.
The site offers free lesson plans, videos and activity sheets and interactive games to help educators teach young people potentially lifesaving advice within core curriculum subjects.
All blue light services are being encouraged to adopt StayWise, with the benefits of the education platform for all organisations including reduced time in planning lessons, reduced costs in creating resources, improved engagement with schools and youth environments. This is due to the resources being pre-linked to the national curriculum, and trust and confidence that the resources will meet the target audiences needs having already been through a rigorous quality assurance process.
An enthusiastic advocate of fire safety education from early in his career, Chris Bigland, StayWise’s Programme Executive and Deputy Chief Fire Officer at Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, spoke to FIRE about the rapidly developing programme and why it stands as one of the most ambitious collaborative initiatives the UK Fire and Rescue Service has ever undertaken.
Influencing the National Curriculum
I asked Chris how he got the brief in the first place.
“I joined Royal Berkshire in 1997 and in 2000 I was temporarily promoted to Leading Firefighter in the School’s Team. From then on I was hooked on the importance of prevention and safety education.
“One of the key challenges in my role back then was accessing curriculum time when ‘fire’ had been pigeonholed into very specific and narrow areas of the curriculum, for example the topic on the Great Fire of London or at best, a safety week. I used to say, and still do, that if we’re imaginative enough we can help bring most of the curriculum, certainly primary, but secondary as well, to life with the use of a fire crew and a fire engine.”
“My mission was to leverage as much of the national curriculum as possible to get as much contact time for children with safety messages, this meant being creative.
“For instance, even now if I asked most colleagues whether we should be helping six-year-olds to tell the time the general response would be ‘no, of course not’, but this is where we can be creative and relevant to the curriculum whilst fostering a safer community.”
Chris sets the learning experience around the context of a Breathing Apparatus team entering a building via the Entry Control Officer and turning the whole scenario into a maths challenge for primary school children.
“We’re making a really cool resource at the moment which takes a mandatory learning outcome about adding and subtracting units of time and makes it real by setting the challenge in a real-world context. In the video challenge we’re able to describe and show a BA team entering a building, we explain that they are safe to do so because we’re trained, equipped and carry our own ‘fresh air’ on our backs. We reinforce that the young people mustn’t go near a fire, and to GET OUT, STAY OUT and GET THE FIRE BRIGADE OUT [safety message complete!]. The video continues and the Entry Control Officer asks the children to help keep the firefighters safe by working out what time they will have to do their task.
“Can you help me to add 20 minutes? What time will it be in 20 minutes? Hey presto – we’ve just made the lesson real and with purpose! The video runs a number of adding and subtracting challenges and different timings, so it can be used with differing complexity and multiple times to suit the learner’s capability.
“So anyway, that was the principle we applied all those years ago; make the messaging fit with the curriculum and then use our world to bring their learning to life. By finding ways to authentically work our messaging into the curriculum we can vicariously co-opt the countries teachers into our Prevention teams.”
The StayWise team with Programme Executive Chris Bigland
Amplifying Behaviour Change
“Having moved services and continued on my own professional journey, StayWise found me again about five years ago. Phil Garrigan, who Chairs of the Children and Young People Executive Board, asked me to join the Board to transition StayWise from Royal Berkshire into the national portfolio. I was amazed at how many people remembered the work we had done all those years ago and the interest of new colleagues who saw the potential, so we were lucky enough to have significant interest relatively quickly.”
Chris understates his role in assembling what is a remarkable coalition of collaborators ranging from charities to emergency services and a plethora of supporting organisations. “It’s a cast of thousands, but this time we started at executive level and sought agreement across the professional councils to really engage all the agencies at the highest levels. There are so many benefits to organisations, whether it’s the vast range of materials, cost saving, time saving, evidencing really good practice to our staff the public or the Inspectorate; it really does sell itself (although it’s free!).”
The use of the site does appear to provide good evidence of efficiency by reducing duplication across the sectors involved and should improve effectiveness considerably, he added. “Previously we all produced what we needed to deliver, for example in activity books that covered all our key messages. What we didn’t universally do was to think fully about our audiences. A teacher will want the section of that activity book that relates to the task they are dealing with; they don’t have time to sift through and find the one item in the book they could use.
“Through StayWise we can point to the exact age group and subject or curriculum focus area, alternatively we can point to a topic bundle; again specific to an age group or we can more broadly point to a topic that covers all ages if the whole school are engaged in a themed week. All of this reduces the time burden for users and provides a tailored and cross-referenced response to schools instantaneously. Gone are the days that a school would have to wait for a service to reply. Now we can give our customers and our communities what they want and what they need as opposed to what we think they should have.”
The small team that Chris leads has gone to Herculean efforts in creating the website, linking everything on it to the national curriculum, pulling all those resources from those organisations, putting it through quality assurance process using teachers, experts, plus working with colleagues from different government departments. “Instead of creating something 45 times, we do it once, we do it well, we all share ownership and we’re able to support learning, community safety messaging and behaviour change in the most efficient way. The whole point is to amplify behaviour change to help people to protect themselves, which is part of our job, right?”
“Instead of creating something 45 times, we do it once, we do it well, we all share ownership and we’re able to support learning, community safety messaging and behaviour change in the most efficient way”
Backtracking for a moment, I ask how it gained support in the first place, especially from the Department for Education and government departments.
“I originally started with the one school and the Local Education Authorities Healthy Schools Advisor; we were supported by Kidde at the time. As we built the site and grew the conversation, more services across fire and rescue engaged. It was straight out of the film Field of Dreams – if you build it, they will come… and they did! Eventfully we had three quarters of the fire services engaged, the RNLI, several police forces and the Injury Minimisation Programme for Schools. Once we’d got that critical mass we started to work with the Department for Education, the Department of Health and others. Once we’d demonstrated the benefit and gave our partners confidence things took off.
“We have done much the same over the last five years but on an entirely different scale. We worked across the organisational councils, entered into partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, who have been amazing, and have had significant support from the Home Office.”
How many key stages does it cover?
With over 500 resources currently on site for use, Chris says it is primarily directed at primary school age groups, “but we’re starting to add secondary school resources now”.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to add some higher science resources. Data science and analytics are critical skills these days and some of the organisations we’re starting to work with have some really high-end materials; just in fire science and engineering our potential for learning opportunities are limitless.”
He stresses that before he can chase down the next iteration of the website and add more functionality, he must deliver on the promise made by the NFCC to the sector: deliver the main resource library for the benefit of all services. However, it is easy to see why he gets so excited about the opportunities for expansion. First up, he emphasises, “let’s deal with reducing duplication, then let’s improve efficiency and effectiveness of our education offer, then we can create high confidence in our users who in turn will champion the website and we’ll make huge leaps forward in reducing deaths and injuries”.
“We can continue going into schools and doing it the way we’ve always done it, or we can equip our workforce and half a million teachers to educate and prepare our communities together.”
The subject matter, Chris enthuses, opens the door for previously unexploited learning opportunities. Pointing to an image of a fire escape plan, he says that a huge number of subjects could be explored, from creative writing and literacy, art and design, developing sensory acuity, through to the progression of the fire incorporating fire science, the cost of fire, implications for the economy, insurance premiums and so on. “And then we get into the exciting stuff; what about computer science? You can code how the occupants leave the property using programming. What about animation? Can you create a short film about safety in the home?
“One key message for us can be explored in different ways within the national curriculum, across many subjects, to bring learning to life.”
Local Delivery with Global Reach
Not content with reinvigorating the website purely for the English national curriculum, Chris sees the collaboration as a potential global initiative, discussing with colleagues’ overseas ways to introduce foreign languages. “Why wouldn’t we share what we’re doing. We’re all seeking to save lives. If we can work across the UK why not further afield? This could be a global cooperative.”
He points to a meeting that morning with the StayWise team in Wales who are testing the translation between territories, ensuring they meet the Welsh Language Act requirements and providing resources which are linked to the Welsh curriculum by teachers in Wales, future proofing the Welsh offer against the Future Generations Act.
The approach tested in Wales can then be used to roll out StayWise in other devolved nations, together with ongoing conversations across the globe with countries considering their own versions.
“We’re managing to help organisations and agencies and government departments meet their moral and legislative obligation all the time. But as they do that, and evolve their resources, they give them back into the centre. We’ve effectively got an international clearing house.”
Is everybody engaged? How comprehensive has been uptake from fire and rescue services?
Up until now Chris says that over the last year they have been gently pushing but it has been more organic and word of mouth. “But we’re now at the point where all the major functionality is complete. We are now in the process of working with the implementation team at the NFCC to visit services and help them fully adopt the site.”
A key consideration is evaluation, evidencing impact and enhancing community risk management plans. “Being able to pinpoint who has registered on the site, which schools are using which resources, means a service can plot use and impact of interventions. If a service sees an upturn in an incident type in certain areas, the service can use resources from the site to do a target intervention with a school. The service can then plot prevention activity and resource use from the site against the incident trend. We’re trying to give people good evaluation tools where they can plot behaviour change and see what the impact of their prevention work is having. That’s something that the HMI and authorities have repeatedly called for in terms of seeing more evaluation of prevention activity. Well, here it is.”
“The whole point is to amplify behaviour change to help people to protect themselves, which is part of our job, right?”
There is overlap here with other NFCC programmes and the conversation FIRE had with Digital and Data Programme (DDP) Lead Andy Hopkinson (see FIRE May). Is it all connected?
StayWise sits across the Prevention Programme, Community Risk Project, and the DDP, as well as Productivity and Efficiency, a new work stream programme within the NFCC, Chris maintains. “It contributes to so many NFCC programmes and that’s why the economic and social value programme (see FIRE September interview with Programme Lead Dan Quinn) is interesting because I really want StayWise to be measured through the ESV programme once we’re fully embedded in services. I want to be able to evidence the value added to the territories we work within.”
Having taken it this far, is it time to step back or will you continue with StayWise?
“I will continue to lead the work as long as the NFCC want me to. Having designed the functionality on the night shift at Slough Fire Station all those years ago and having now built it twice, it would be hard to let it go now.”
The ambition is to keep growing and expanding – they are already starting to shape a Global Board with country-based leads. “There’s another country coming online in a couple of weeks,” Chris informs. “In each country, we establish a national practitioner lead group to run their own site and then join our network.”
Chris points to conversations with the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and looking at ways to expand on the relationship with UL and work with industry at the same time: “We’re seeing traffic to the site from all over the world, so it has to be worth a conversation to see what can be achieved.”
The opportunity to expand is in no small part due to the engagement and support from a number of organisations and government departments. Chris singles out the Home Office and Fire Safety Unit as being an essential partner: “They recognise the importance of the work we’re doing and support our progress through the Prevention board. This led to a number of new resources in 11 different languages being created. Particularly worthy of note is seeing the Home Office use StayWise as the Fire England websites educational resources library too; something I hope we can replicate with other government websites.”
Another of Chris’ ambitions is to grow the resource library, to make it more interesting for people at home and in schools. “I hope it is valuable; I think we’re up to 11 languages at the moment, including Pashto because of the Afghan crisis and more recently Ukrainian. We’re adding British Sign Language as our 12th language.
“It’s really important for us is to grow the library all the time and respond to what people need so that they are served by this one resource library. If I could appeal to everyone who reads this article to register on the site and use the resources then we can get a much richer data picture and that will help us to develop future resources to help us serve services better.”
The last 12 months have seen an 86 per cent increase in new users, nearly 7,000 users so far this year. The site has received 35,000 unique page views, with the average user looking at four pages per visit. StayWise’s resources have reached beyond the UK. Although 76 per cent of users were from the UK, StayWise has reached 116 countries this year with the biggest visits behind the UK being from the USA, China and Australia.