What Can Schools Do?
Schools can use the SHAHRP webpage material to support school-based decisions for including evidence-based* alcohol education in their curriculum and for teacher training in alcohol education. The following section provides a brief overview of how alcohol education fits into a community approach to reduce alcohol related harm in Australian society.
Well designed school drug education is an important element within a community approach to youth drug issues, and systematic examination of the literature supports this finding. One of the reasons school-based drug education is important is that school curriculum-based programs are one of the few settings that provide sustained, direct contact with young people in an environment that supports learning. Research has shown that programs that focus on a single drug, rather than multiple drugs, are more effective in creating behaviour change (1,2) and as alcohol is the drug that causes the most harm to young people (link to why alcohol) it is a critical focus for schools. SHAHRP is the first rigorously conducted and evaluated program with meaningful behavioural effects to show school-based alcohol education can play an important part within a community framework to reduce alcohol related harm.
Alcohol education is mandatory in various jurisdictions and when not mandatory is often given priority status and policy recognition by schools and education departments, which creates a place within the curriculum, provides opportunity for teacher training and for sourcing of evidence-based programs. Evidence-based programs, like SHAHRP, can provide direct links to behaviour change and it is important for schools to make this assessment and distinction when selecting programs.
Alcohol education in schools is most effective in influencing behaviour during the period when the program is being delivered and this supports the need for booster sessions over several years. It is unlikely that school programs can have a continued long-term effect after young people leave school (or even after the immediate delivery of a program). As young people leave school they are exposed to more peer influence, have more disposable income, are drawn to public venues for social activity and, in the case of alcohol, are starting to reach legal age. Logically then, expectations about school alcohol education impact should be limited to the time young people are at school or exposed to school programs, and that other strategies should be adopted as they leave school and are exposed to a new range of experiences. This does not diminish the usefulness of school alcohol education as a prevention strategy, but rather acknowledges that its greatest impact is at a time when use and experimentation are high, and when information and experiences about alcohol are just being learnt. A range of other community interventions, which take into account the changing circumstances that young people experience as they leave school, are required post schooling. Given this background, school alcohol education is best seen as one strategy within a whole-of-community response to alcohol and young people. Singularly, it cannot hold all the answers, and frameworks that target several areas of intervention within different settings over a lifetime are much more likely to reduce problems and benefit the community. Schools are just one part of this process, but an important part, particularly during the time students are at school and when experimentation with alcohol, use and harms are high.
- Foxcroft DR, Tsertsvadze A. Universal multi-component prevention programs for alcohol misuse in young people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD009307. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009307.
- Flay B. Approaches to substance use prevention utilizing school curriculum plus social environment change. Addictive Behaviours. 2000;25(6):861-86.
*Evidence-based program are programs that have been assessed (impact evaluation), and have achieved a statistically significant level of behaviour change in the target group.