Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College is situated within Darlington in North Eastern England. The town experiences a high level of health inequality within its borders and also when compared to the rest of England. For 2010, NHS Darlington has highlighted ten key health issues to focus on and set targets to achieve over the next four years, amongst which are: reducing teenage pregnancy; raising awareness of the health issues relating to smoking; and reducing hospital admissions caused by alcohol. There is a five-year strategic plan in place in this area, which is being delivered alongside the sustainable community strategy for Darlington Borough Council through a partnership working approach, which will improve the health and wellbeing of the population of Darlington. Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College is working with these partners and the wider community to create an environment for both its learners and its staff that is conducive to improving health and wellbeing for all.
About Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College College
Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College is a mixed sixth form college for students over the age of 16 and has proved a popular choice for learners in the region: more than 1800 learners are currently enrolled. The college is the major provider of GCE AS and A level courses for young people from Darlington and the outlying areas in South Durham and North Yorkshire. The vast majority of students at the college are aged 16 to 18 and are on full-time Level 3 programmes. It has an outstanding record of achievement both in academic terms and in how it supports its learners throughout their time at the college; it achieved Beacon Status in 2004 for its high quality provision, and was awarded a Grade 1 Outstanding across all six categories by Ofsted in 2007. Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College has continued to expand, and 2005 saw the completion of a £5 million capital project providing excellent new purpose-built facilities, including a new sports hall.
The challenge to the college has been how to embed the messages around health within the material of college life and its culture. Carrying out the Healthy FE Big College Health Check, according to Ian Perrier, the college’s health education and promotion coordinator, has really helped with this in many ways, from raising student and staff awareness of the issues, to providing evidence to support and shape the cross-college health and welfare strategy:
‘Big College Health Check gave us an opportunity to ask our students and staff about a range of issues, in a way that had never been possible before. It was evident that the findings would be communicated to us in a clear, confidential way that would help us identify and shape future priorities. This turned out to be the case and we have been able to share the data with our local PCT, who have been instrumental in helping us move forward with our work.’
Getting involved with Healthy FE
Getting involved in a national focus on raising the profile of health and welfare issues within colleges fits well with the college’s own ethos of providing a high level of pastoral support; the college’s culture has always been based on providing the best possible pastoral support and listening to and supporting learners’ views. The Healthy FE agenda, particularly the Big College Health Check was timely and provided the college with the means to apply a structure to its approach to health and welfare. Prior to engaging in the Healthy FE programme, the college was looking to identify health and welfare needs among its staff and students and was seeking a way of tackling any issues arising from them. It had investigated doing an in-house questionnaire or buying in the services of a learner questionnaire provider. With the launch of the Big College Health Check, the college enthusiastically participated in the pilot as it felt that this would be the best means of getting the baseline data to appreciate where there were gaps in their approach to improving health and welfare across the college. The Big College Health Check findings reinforced the college’s own belief that there was a need for an increased focus particularly upon issues relating to healthy eating, alcohol and drugs. Right from when it first received the initial information about the launch of the Healthy FE agenda, Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College has embraced the process wholeheartedly, appointing a college representative, Ian Perrier, to attend the regional networking meetings, and promoting participation of staff and students in the Big College Health Check. The regional network meetings have allowed the college to develop a good dialogue with their local PCT and to share good practice with colleges both in the region and across the country.
Using the Big College Health Check
BCHC has proved a very versatile and well-organised tool. It covers a wide variety of issues, is sufficiently specific, and has allowed the college to gather staff and student feedback without incurring ‘survey fatigue’ by using one comprehensive survey rather than a host of smaller surveys throughout the year. The college took the decision not to make participation compulsory, but instead encouraged staff and students to take part on a voluntary basis. The college was very pleased with the level of participation; overall it achieved 28% participation of all staff and students (aiming for 20% student participation, it achieved 26% – 496 students; and 51% of staff took part). It puts this success down to a number of factors: tying the Big College Health Check in with its Health and Wellbeing fortnight and keeping access flexible during this time by placing an icon on the college intranet, through effective marketing and sheer persistence. Participation was encouraged by running an end-of-survey draw for prizes. The college spent £100 on health-related prizes (water bottles, bike lights, electronic mind games, recipe books), giving away 20 prizes in total, having displayed them in the college foyer to promote participation further.
Engaging in the Healthy FE programme has assisted the college in applying the results. Through attendance at the National Conference in London, a plenary session which brought colleges and PCTs together by region resulted in the Darlington PCT getting onboard with working with the college to a far greater extent than before. By sharing use of the Big College Health Check online tool and being able to provide remote access, the PCT has worked closely with the college on analysing data and suggesting strategies for tackling identified needs. The Big College Health Check has reduced the time and work pressures on many college staff involved in health and welfare.
Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College carries out a host of events and activities across the year, including:
- Health and Wellbeing fortnight: chlamydia screening sessions, BCHC, promoted sports events and extracurricular activities such as cricket, volleyball and boxercise
- LGBT history month held in February – Gay Advice Darlington and Durham visits organised. Ties in the Health and Welfare issues with this
- Nurses around in common room to promote their services, as well as running regular clinics
- Health-related activities integrated into the tutorial programme
- Health Roadshow held in October – various providers in the local area come into college, e.g. Samaritans, blood pressure monitoring team
- Free fruit day held in September organised with the college catering providers
- Health Promotion Committee with Healthy Eating subgroup meetings held each term
- Involvement with local food retailers: visited and took photos of their businesses (with consent) and asked what the healthy options are that they supply
- FESCO in residence
- Links with local leisure centre
- Staff training for key guidance team from local drug and alcohol team
- Close links with CAMHS.
Finances to support health and welfare in college are likely to become increasing strained, so the college, working with its local health partners, has become more aware of what public funds they can bid for. They recently won a bid to support their healthy eating initiative. Again, the value of the Big College Health Check comes into play, as it provides evidence which the college can submit to support its bids. The college operates a traditional ‘group tutor’ student support system, which has been instrumental in promoting the health and welfare initiatives and events. It also shouldn’t be underestimated how much is owed to the involvement of curriculum support, the team of administrative support staff who have played a key part in promoting the health agenda. The college is developing its marketing methods through the greater use of the intranet and more traditional advertising methods.
The college now feels that it is well on its way to creating a cross-college health ‘culture’ with the full support of senior management and greater community and partnership working. There is still a way to go, but the college feels confident that it has made real progress since embarking on the Healthy FE agenda because it has never felt to have been an imposed-upon, invasive procedure but a means by which the college can structure its approach, monitor the progress and impact of its practices and provide a forum for sharing good practice with others. Although it hasn’t had a recent Ofsted inspection, the college is aware how taking part in the Healthy FE programme can provide useful evidence to support its inspection. Ian Perrier feels that the Healthy FE programme has been devised with Ofsted inspection in mind.
There is still work to do in being able to define the impact of its measures, although the college recognises the part that health and wellbeing play in student success. As yet it cannot directly link the two, but believes that, by carrying out the Big College Health Check every other year, the college will have robust data by which to judge the impact. Some of the benefits enjoyed by having a more clearly-signposted and robust health and welfare agenda are intangible and therefore difficult to quantify, but still have clear value; for example how sharing best practice through attending regional network meetings has impacted upon the college.
The college hopes that by having a case study profile on the website it will encourage other colleges to share information; it welcomes contact from other colleges to pass on its own ideas and practices.