Children give road safety the X-Factor

The Road Safety X-Factor is about making road safety relevant to children by injecting a bit of fun and theatre into it, whilst getting the message about keeping safe on the roads across. It’s a fine balance but just by making the day special it generates a lot of interest in the subject and it has worked very well over the past 3 years.”

– Aisha Butt, Hounslow Traffic, Transport Planning and Road Safety Team

Hounslow council and Ealing council continue to invest in junior road safety officers (JRSOs) – children who are supported to promote road safety among classmates in their primary schools. The JRSO scheme is part of overall work to reduce the number of children who are killed or seriously injured (KSIs) on the roads in the borough.

Over the last three years (2012-14) the councils have developed an innovative approach based on ITV’s X-Factor which gives road safety a higher profile in the schools and thanks the JRSOs for their work. The project received the London Road Safety Council’s Laurie Bunn award for Innovation in Road Safety education, training and publicity in 2014.

Children taking part in the 2014 JRSO X-Factor final

The project team have been keen to share what they have learned so that the model can be replicated in other local authorities. This article provides an overview. A more detailed version is available which gives a step by step approach on how to run the project in your area (PDF, 256kb).

This article covers:

The project in a nutshell

Almost 50 pupils from six Hounslow and Ealing schools battled it out to be crowned Junior Road Safety Officer X-Factor champion in an event a Hounslow’s civic suite in June 2014.

The event saw the children perform their own road safety-themed acts, having won the right to represent their schools in the final through auditions in the spring term.

The content for the event was led by the children themselves. The performers have all passed auditions in their own schools which were organised by each school’s own junior road safety officer – a child who works to promote road safety among classmates– and all the acts have been written by the children themselves.

Celebrity lookalike judges and glitzy decoration and lighting gave the event a glamorous feel. The format is something the children can really relate to, and makes learning about road safety fun.

Tim Melhuish (Ealing Council), 'Sharon Osbourne' and 'Gary Barlow' at the 2014 JRSO X-Factor final
Tim Melhuish (Ealing Council), 'Sharon Osbourne' and 'Gary Barlow' at the 2014 JRSO X-Factor final

All the performances were about road safety, walking and cycling.

As well as the performances, the pupils (JRSOs and the performers) took part in three road safety themed workshops to develop their knowledge and skills – including a BMX skills session, Treasure Hunt and Crime Scene Investigation scenario.

All pupils and teachers got to vote for their favourite act and the winning act in 2014, Street Wise from Hounslow Heath Juniors, had written lyrics to the music from the Pharrell Williams song ‘Happy’.

Background

The project grew out of a Transport for London (TfL) awards day for JRSOs which included a ‘Rhythm and Rhyme’ category. When that programme ended, Aisha Butt decided to take the idea further locally as part of her work as a School Travel Adviser. She explained:

"The X-Factor thing exploded and everyone was interested in that, so I thought why not make the JRSOs in the school the X-Factor judges, have them run their own auditions and boot camp – make it more interesting."

The target group are KS2 (ages 7-11 years old) but some schools open it to KS1 (ages 4-6 years old) as well. The aim is to increase road safety awareness among children in anticipation of them beginning to travel to school more independently by the time there are in year 7. Injury rates shoot up for pedestrians and cyclists in this age group across the country.

The process

In Hounslow, 15-20 schools run JRSO schemes. Five schools are invited to take part in the X-Factor programme each year, with involvement rotating so that the same schools do not take part every year. Aisha has supported the pupils to run auditions in their respective schools and for the school to select its winning in an assembly at the end of May.

The final takes place in June and is not just a singing dancing show. The pupils (the JRSOs and the performers) also attend three workshops designed to boost their road safety knowledge.

The final creates momentum that promotes the JRSO scheme. The children go back to their schools saying, ‘it was amazing’. This makes it easy to recruit new members.

The workshops

The aim of the workshops is to inform and empower JRSOs in their role and also to pass on road safety information to the performers in an engaging way. The three workshops are run in parallel and the pupils get to take part in all of them during the course of the day. In 2014 there was a treasure hunt, a BMX skills session and a crime scene investigation (CSI) centred around a road crash.

The treasure hunt, which was held in parkland close to the civic centre, involved searching for clues that were all related to healthy lifestyles and road safety; the BMX skills session was also in the park. It promoted active travel and gave the children a chance to race against each other.

The CSI workshop was new for 2014 and was rated a great success by the children and teachers. The children are presented with a scenario – there has been a crash and a young person has been killed. Actors play characters involved such as the child’s friend and the paramedic who attended the scene. The children at the workshop are the investigators. They are asked to find out what happened and who is responsible. As the information emerges is becomes clear that the causes are not clear cut.

The judges

The judges usually comprise one from each of the two local authorities plus the celebrity lookalikes. The idea of celebrity lookalikes as judges was a response to feedback from the children after the 2012 event. They wanted the final event to be more like the X-Factor on TV – more glitzy. It was decided to hire lookalikes to imitate famous TV judges. In 2013 the star was ‘Simon Cowell’ and in 2014 it was ‘Gary Barlow’ and ‘Sharon Osbourne’. These performers have added the glamour required and get involved in the road safety workshops, chatting with the young children and posing for ‘selfies’. This approach has helped raise the profile of the role of the JRSOs, as the children talk a lot about the event afterwards and mention this element at school assemblies and in newsletters.

Awards

The children and teachers at the final vote for their favourite act and the winner/s get a trophy.  All the performers get a certificate from the mayor.

There are also prizes for the winner of the treasure hunt and the BMX workshop (those who completed the tasks quickest).

Lessons from running the Road Safety X-Factor

Hounslow and Ealing have run the programme each year over a three year period and the process has evolved. Feedback from the children themselves has helped shape it and the final is now more ‘glitzy’. The professional look-alikes add further authenticity. The workshops have also changed, with the CSI workshop replacing a road safety quiz.

Achievements

The JRSO scheme is thriving in Hounslow and Ealing. The X-Factor gives the scheme additional status and makes it easy to recruit new JRSOs. It makes raising road safety in school easier and provides a useful framework that other activities can be built around

Sustainability

The costs of the project, including the event in the civic suite, are funded from the two councils’ existing budget, funds provided by Transport for London (TfL). The model is now sufficiently strong that Aisha believes it can be continued by colleagues now that she has moved into a different role. She will still be able to mentor her successor.

Looking to the future, there is scope to attract greater press coverage and more involvement from local businesses – including being involved as judges.

Filming the event

Photos and videos of the project a good way of showing children what happens at the final. As the project has developed, it has produced higher quality videos of the event each year. These short films are uploaded to YouTube. Photos of the events have been uploaded to Flickr. Together they give a great sense of how the day works and provide excellent publicity for the scheme.

Running your own road safety X-Factor project

Aisha Butt has set out a ten step plan on how to running your own programme (PDF, 256kb)Hounslow also has a toolkit which covers its wider Junior Travel Ambassador work which can also be downloaded for free.

More information

  1. Videos of the Road Safety X-Factor Finals YouTube
  2. Photos of the Road Safety X-Factor Finals on Flickr
  3. Junior Travel Ambassadors toolkit (PDF, 979kb)

Related links

Contact

Aisha Butt, Transport Projects Officer, Hounslow: 020 8583 2563.

Updated December 2014