Alcohol education: Advice and resources

Written by: Lesley de Meza | Published:
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To mark Alcohol Awareness Week, the charity Drinkaware has provided resources to help schools tackle the dangers of alcohol during PSHE sessions. Expert Lesley de Meza offers some advice

PSHE has sometimes been driven by “problems” which need to be solved, for example, binge-drinking.

In a desire to “solve the problem”, children and young people become targets of interventions which, in many cases, they find irrelevant or detached from their experiences.

We are each individuals and therefore different from each other. We may live within families where daily consumption of alcohol is the “norm” and not necessarily in a measured way, totally ignoring the UK Chief Medical Officer’s unit guidelines which state that there’s no safe level of alcohol consumption (unit guidelines are the same for men and women and both are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week).

Others live in families where alcohol is never consumed and, of course, some of us will be part of households where alcohol use is an occasional, perhaps celebratory event.

It seems to me that while education about tobacco is properly in place across the curriculum, the inclusion of education about alcohol, particularly at primary age, is less planned and far patchier.

There is research to suggest that drinking alcohol can begin from age eight onwards and the average age of a young person’s first drink is 13.3 years.

Children’s views on alcohol are shaped by exposure to many different influences, such as cultural acceptance of alcohol use, religion, family, friends and the media, including television programmes. By teaching alcohol awareness from an early age, we can prevent false information from those influences having a negative impact.

We must remember that all schools have a statutory responsibility regarding pupil wellbeing and safeguarding (Children Act 2004). We have a duty to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

Some children will be perfectly happy to talk to their parents about alcohol while others prefer asking their questions at school.

As a teacher you can provide opportunities to do this, for example by using case studies as a basis for discussing problematic issues and researching information. Group work can help to develop confidence and reassure children that they are not alone.

Alcohol education within the PSHE curriculum is much more likely to be successful if it starts with positive beliefs among children and young people about their desire to be healthy. Emphasising positive social norms from the outset presents a more realistic approach to delivering PSHE.

Normative approaches help children and young people understand what their peers are doing, and these are generally positive behaviours. This approach has been developed to counteract findings which show that people of all ages generally think there are fewer healthy and more risk-taking behaviours than is actually the case.

Alcohol awareness education should be delivered within a planned programme of the spiral curriculum in PSHE – an approach to education that introduces key concepts to learners at a young age and covers these concepts repeatedly, with increasing degrees of complexity.

Perhaps more than any other subject, PSHE works with real-life experiences. However, it is not a forum for personal disclosure.
Before delivering any alcohol awareness sessions, it is imperative to ensure a group agreement or ground rules are in place.

These are designed to protect both you as teacher and also your students. It is therefore important to establish a safe learning environment, including depersonalising and confidentiality that is understood by everyone.

It is, in my opinion, imperative that the statements in this agreement come from the pupils themselves and are not given or imposed by the teacher. I tend to use “Rights and Responsibilities” as a start, stating that right is contracted to a responsibility: e.g. “I have a right to privacy ... I therefore have responsibility not to ask personal questions.”

Each lesson should have an intended learning outcome, so that learners know exactly why they are participating. Lessons should be broken into bite-size chunks, beginning with a brief introductory activity, followed by group work (pairs and/or whole-class activities), before always ending with a review and reflection activity to embed (and individualise) the learning. Alcohol awareness education should start with assessment for learning – recognising the need to “start where young people are”.

It is likely that your learners will arrive with prior understanding, almost understanding, misunderstanding and gaps in understanding. Sessions should be based on the principle of the teacher as a facilitator of “active learning’.

We know that active engagement in learning, rather than being passive receptors of information, is most effective in PSHE teaching and learning. So, what is “active learning?” It is not content-free. It will provide pupils with a body of information to underpin decision-making, risk-assessment and control, such as:

  1. Whole class brainstorm.
  2. Pairs work – doing something e.g. identifying categories.
  3. Group work – reviewing work of pairs.
  4. Group work – learning by considering options.
  5. Individual work – applying learning as “reflection” by considering a statement in respect of what one’s own response might be.

The positive outcomes of alcohol awareness education should be clear: by learning about alcohol (such as how it is made and what it does to the body) and the consequences of drinking alcohol, young people will be more prepared to make an informed, sensible choice.

Indeed, a group including leading scientists and drugs experts stated that if the government’s classification regime were scrapped and replaced by one that more honestly reflects the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco, alcohol would be rated a class A drug and tobacco class B.

They explained in their conclusion that we should review the penalties in the light of the harms and try to have a more proportionate legal response: “The point we are making is that all drugs are dangerous, even the ones that people know and love and use regularly like alcohol.”

That is one very good reason why alcohol awareness education is necessitous.

  • Lesley de Meza, together with her writing partner Stephen De Silva, acted as a consultant and writer with Drinkaware for Education, a set of free alcohol awareness resources for nine to 14-year-olds from Drinkaware. Lesley is known internationally for her PSHE work, specialising in education about sex, relationships, drugs and emotional wellbeing.

Further information

  • Drinkaware for Education is a free, curriculum-linked alcohol education programme designed to support teachers of nine to 14-year-olds when introducing and developing alcohol awareness. The programme is accredited by the PSHE Association: https://resources.drinkaware.co.uk/Education
  • The Drinkaware Trust is an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity that works to reduce alcohol-related harm: www.drinkaware.co.uk
  • Alcohol Awareness Week runs from November 14 to 20, 2016, and is organised by Alcohol Concern: www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/alcohol-awareness-week


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