The Borough of Wigan in the North West of England has a teen pregnancy rate significantly higher than the national average (ONS 2006). Wigan and Leigh College has implemented a number of initiatives to provide support for students in this position and to help reduce the teen pregnancy rates in the area. These initiatives are part of the college’s good health and wellbeing practice, which also focuses on other issues including alcohol and substance abuse, and healthy eating.
About Wigan and Leigh College
Wigan and Leigh College is a large general further education college with 4,030 full-time and 14,500 part-time students. Courses are available from entry to degree level, and the college is a partner in Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) in logistics, computer networking technology, and construction regeneration.
Cath Hurst, Principal of Wigan and Leigh College, wanted to provide services for staff and students that would encourage them to live healthier lifestyles. Cath believes that good health practice improves retention and academic results, and evokes a sense of community and belonging within the college. The college has focused on sexual health and teen pregnancy due to the high rate of students leaving the college prematurely to give birth.
Wigan and Leigh College originally began participating in Healthy College Standards (otherwise known as the Kirklees Standards) in 2005 and, in order to secure staff and student support, numerous information sessions were held. These were often led by members of their health partner organisations such as the mental health and teenage pregnancy teams at Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Health Trust, the local PCT. They also gave away ‘freebies’, and encouraged staff to get involved as much as possible. Freebies were given out just before the Christmas break, and during freshers week, and included condoms, lubricant and leaflets, all of which was funded by the PCT.
Along with teen pregnancies, one of Wigan and Leigh’s key health concerns is binge drinking, which in turn is leading to poor sexual health practice. The college is addressing these two issues by highlighting the relationship between them. According to Cath, students found it is more socially acceptable to talk about drinking alcohol than to talk about sexual health, and there seemed to be a relationship between drinking and poor sexual health practices. Therefore the college provided drama performances and tutorial sessions to raise these issues. The college has found that talking about the effects of alcohol can lead readily into discussion about safe sex. Involving the college nurse in these sessions helps her to build a relationship with the students, who then feel more confident discussing their health concerns.
Wigan and Leigh College has implemented a number of other initiatives in line with the Every Child Matters agenda, which was introduced by the government in 2006. Some of these include:
- providing healthy meal deals, including a daily healthy meal option that is competitively priced;
- STI screenings for students;
- a helpline through Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Health Trust for staff and students suffering from mental health issues;
- the college secured funding from the PCT to open consultation rooms to be built onto the back of the gym; these rooms will be accessible for all students to receive help for any health-related issues;
- appointing a sports co-ordinator to encourage students to get involved in more physical activity;
- a nurse, whose post is joint-funded by the college and the health trust, available full-time on campus now increased to two extra nurses funded by the health trust;
- providing support workshops to staff wanting to quit smoking;
- a teenage pregnancy coordinator from the local authority available on campus;
- promoting ‘keep active’ sessions (eg walking and cycling ) at lunchtime;
- increasing sexual health tutorials from eight sessions a year to 92 sessions a year, given by the college nurse; and
- training student liaison officers in advisory and referral agents for sexual health.
Since introducing good health and welfare practice, the college has seen demand for the services soar, presenting the challenge of managing students’ expectations with what can realistically be delivered within the college’s financial and resource capabilities. Cath recognises that limited budgets could ultimately be the main challenge faced by many colleges who are providing services based on Every Child Matters. Although the government provides funding to support the health agenda, more long-term financial support could be an issue. However, Wigan and Leigh College is already looking at ways it can avoid this potential problem by working closely with the Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Health Trust, which provides a lot of support and services to the college for free. Cath has found that strengthening relationships with partner organisations is invaluable in terms of implementing these changes.
Since Wigan and Leigh College began particpating in the Kirklees Standards and providing health and welfare services for students and staff in 2005, it has seen an improvement in both retention and academic results. In particular, retention rates improved with hair and beauty therapy students, to which support was deliberately targeted in account of previously low retention figures. College retention rate increased in 2008/09 by 2% (5% for students age 16–19), meaning an overall retention rate of 87% at present.
Although teen pregnancy is still a problem at the college, thanks to the support of the nurse and the teenage pregnancy co-ordinator these students are much more confident about returning once they have given birth.
A total of 341 students and 40 staff used the new college’s consultation rooms in 2008/09.
Students and staff are becoming more involved in physical activity at the college, and raising money for charities through sponsored walks. For example, the college’s foundation students raised over £1,000 for a cancer charity recently.
The health services have had a real impact on the health of staff, with one staff member discovering he had prostate cancer after taking part in the college’s free screenings. As a result, this member of staff was diagnosed early enough to be able to seek treatment and survive the illness.
Similarly, a number of students, two of whom had not been sexually active for 18 months, have sought treatment for chlamydia after being diagnosed through the college’s free screenings.
According to Cath, Wigan and Leigh College’s health and wellbeing initiatives have evoked an overall sense of belonging that wasn’t necessarily present before – what she describes as ‘a real sense of community’. Staff and students are getting real support for health-related issues through workshops, information sessions, access to the nurse and support groups, which is also helping to reduce staff stress levels. Sickness rates were at 7% in 2002; they are now below 3%.
To ensure the continuation of the college’s provision based on Every Child Matters, and to ensure that actions are taking place to promote good health practice, every area of the college’s curriculum is being monitored. For example, the college’s sixth-form-led Red for Heart Week included fitness challenges and competitions; hair and beauty students provided relaxation massages for National Stress Day; and bricklaying students released their stress by pressure-washing walls. Curriculum security staff provided training on how to avoid threatening situations.
Cath believes that having a senior management member of staff to promote good practice has been crucial to the college’s success, particularly in cases such as staff spreading the word to colleagues about the success of sexual health talks in tutorials. She would encourage other colleges to look at how staff can adapt their roles to help promote an initiative. Cath recommends that colleges take a holistic approach to health services and speak to people who are interested and ask them to spread the word.