Hertfordshire is a relatively prosperous county. The life expectancy of people in Hertfordshire is generally higher than the England average, with overall deprivation levels low. Hertfordshire’s binge drinking levels are worse than the England average, with parts of Hertfordshire noted for their high levels of alcohol-related crime relative to the national average. Hertfordshire’s health priorities include tackling alcohol misuse and teenage pregnancies, as these form the health improvement priorities for the LA, PCT, schools and colleges in the region.
Oaklands College has used a mixture of formal tutorials, as well as alcohol awareness road shows with community partners, to raise awareness and education amongst students and staff of the dangers of binge drinking. The strategy has been to ensure that, with all the information at their disposal, students will make more informed decisions when it comes to drinking alcohol.
Oaklands College is a large general further education college, with four campuses spread across south and central Hertfordshire. In the most recent academic intake, the college had approximately 3,500 full-time students aged 16–19, and 1,000 full-time and part-time staff. The college offers courses in a variety of sector subject areas, including A Levels and NVQs.
Binge drinking levels amongst students at Oaklands College are high. Many cases have stemmed from students not being aware of their limits when it comes to drinking alcohol. These instances of binge drinking have led to impaired judgement, which has in turn led to instances of poor sexual health amongst the student population, as well as students compromising their personal safety due to reckless behaviour caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
Staff members have noted that conversations around binge drinking incidents that occurred over the weekend amongst their students have increased. Staff members, particularly personal tutors, have felt inadequately trained to talk to their students about alcohol-related matters.
The Healthy FE Self Review Tool was used to assess the potential impact of Healthy FE related activities on the health and welfare of staff and students. As a result, a steering group of nine people from across the staff board was created, in the areas that were known to be well received by staff and students. The main aim of this steering group was to create subgroups focusing on various aspects of health improvement. One of these subgroups specifically focused on issues of substance misuse, including alcohol awareness.
The substance misuse tutorial is facilitated by a specialist substance misuse adviser. This optional tutorial allows tutors to pick a slot for the adviser to come in. The adviser offers tutorials for each group several times during the year, to ensure the information is kept on the student’s radar throughout the academic year.
The main aim of these tutorials is to raise awareness of the dangers of binge drinking and to help students make links between this and aspects of their personal safety such as sexual health practices.
- ‘Know your limits’ road show is an alcohol awareness and education workshop that is run once a year. It complements the learning picked up from the substance misuse tutorial. The sessions are built to be as interactive as possible. Group tutors are encouraged to participate in order to pick up learning to discuss further in subsequent tutorials. Activities at the workshop include:
- Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) who provides information and real-life examples of alcohol-induced crime and disorder experienced whilst on the beat, as well as answering any questions the students may have. Having a PCSO present reinforces student awareness of the serious consequences of excessive drinking.
- Beer goggle stand and mock pedestrian walk way demonstrates how visibility and spatial awareness can be impaired by drinking alcohol. Students are set challenges, e.g. to try to pick up keys from the ground and place building blocks in a glass, whilst wearing the beer goggles.
- Herts and Beds chlamydia screening team set up a stall and share knowledge and information with students around the links between excessive alcohol consumption and risk-taking behaviour such as unprotected sex.
- ‘Too much Teen Spirit’, a video created by media students, shows the dangers of binge drinking and how easily judgement can be impaired whilst under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the peer-to-peer information sharing element of this scheme has been well received as students like to learn from each other, rather than feeling like they are being lectured to by members of staff. The video has been played on loop at the annual ‘Know your limits’ road show and has won a Community Award.
Changing the mindsets of students around the dangers of alcohol has been difficult. Alcohol is readily available and students have found it difficult to digest the legal and health implications of drinking alcohol, especially when drinking alcohol has become such an ingrained part of their lifestyle. The college has gauged this reaction and used it to shape tutorials and workshops. The aim is not to impose a ‘don’t drink’ policy; instead, it aims to encourage safe levels of drinking by increasing general awareness and providing education around the risks involved. This includes giving students and staff a units calculators, so that if they do choose to drink, they have a tool to help them monitor how much they are drinking.
There have been challenges around engaging and supporting staff: some staff view their own alcohol consumption as a highly private matter. This can pose barriers to putting targeted staff interventions in place because the college can’t gauge what the initial need for services is. The college has sought to overcome this challenge by making learning available through leaflets and information about consumption levels (e.g. units per standard drink) without forcing it upon staff.
80% of students who attended the ‘Know your Limits’ road show understood the aims of the alcohol awareness workshop. The higher the interaction level of the workshop, the higher the awareness levels of students. Improving content to make it more interactive is now a development driver for the ‘Know your Limits’ road show.
The level of students who understand the risks associated with drinking alcohol has increased over the years. In 2008, 55% of students who attended the ‘Know your Limits’ road show felt they had ‘understood the risks associated with drinking alcohol’; in 2010 the number was 62%. This increase is largely due to the college encouraging the road show partners to make the workshops more interactive to ensure that students are fully engaged with the material.
All participants who attended the substance misuse tutorial in 2009/2010 said that they had ‘learnt something’.The number of tutorials doubled over the two years they have been run, and in the third year a specific alcohol awareness tutorial has been created as a result of the high demand from students for a standalone alcohol-focused tutorial.
Students are increasingly aware of the risks and consequences of their behaviour when under the influence of alcohol; this has been demonstrated by the increased interaction and knowledge around alcohol, as evidenced at the road shows and the tutorials.
There has been an increase in communication between students and community partners (including the PCSO) at the ‘Know your Limits’ road show. Community partners who have stands at the road shows have ensured that the communication and material provided is interactive; this has encouraged more students to engage with the material, which has lead to higher levels of awareness.
Plans are in place to embark on the Big College Health Check, as this will provide an excellent tool for measuring the outcomes of the interventions that have been put in place. The college is hoping to get more meaningful information around staff health and welfare and will aim to target health improvement resources based on this feedback.
The New Year Resolution Board will check in on how well students and staff are sticking to their New Year’s resolution over March/ April. This will also serve as a measurement tool for feedback and participation levels.
There are plans to build more sessions around staff now that student education and awareness intervention is embedded. Plans around staff education will revolve around creating a staff welfare subgroup at the next steering group meeting; this will be focused on alcohol and smoking cessation amongst staff.