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Reality check for young pupils; Pupils at a North East school have been getting a "reality check" on their views about sexual behaviour and alcohol misuse. Health Reporter HELEN RAE explains.


N innovative Aapproach to tackling beliefs about sexual behaviour and alcohol misuse is being used in a Tyneside school.

The "social norms approach" centres on dispelling myths about a problem being the norm among peers.

Gateshead Primary Care Trust's (PCT) Sexual Health Service is leading the "reality check" project at Kingsmeadow Community School in Dunston.

Pupils at the school aged 11 to 15 were asked a series of multiple choice questions relating to their own sexual behaviour and use of alcohol, and that of their classmates.

The results of this anonymous survey then informed a coordinated campaign of positive health messages for the whole school, involving a high-profile poster campaign and interactive feedback sessions.

Kevin Stoodley, Development Worker with Gateshead PCT's Sexual Health Service, said: "We found pupils tended to grossly overestimate the extent of problem behaviour within their peer group, while underestimating the positive life choices and healthy attitudes held by the majority.

"Our survey showed that many 13 to 14-yearolds incorrectly assume that their peers are sexually active when this is not the case. And 14 to 15-year-olds tend to mistakenly over-estimate the importance of alcohol in the lives of others in their age group."

Most of the initial survey work was done in 2009.

Now, the original sample group has been surveyed again and it is hoped to do this regularly over the next few years to track whether perceptions of what is the norm alter and, consequently, risktaking behaviours reduce. Gateshead PCT has also now secured funding from the NHS Workforce Development Innovation Fund for a two-year project sharing the good practice and experience gained at Kingsmeadow School across the North East.

The work will include the development of a practical toolkit for using the social norms approach in schools.

Headteacher, Barbara Rouse, considers that the "reality check" project contributed to Kingsmeadow recently being categorised, after an OFSTED inspection, as "good with outstanding features", with one of the outstanding features being "care, guidance and support".

Ms Rouse added: "The project has been very successful because the students have been given detailed information about the actual behaviour of their peers.

"This information makes it easier for them to resist ill-informed peer pressure and make positive health choices."


PROJECT - Kingsmeadow School pupils pictured with Kevin Stoodley, of Gateshead Primary Care Trust's Sexual Health Service, and one of the posters resulting from the "reality check" project. Left to right, Rachel Swinney, Ashley Fraser, Kieran Jaas, Kaine Ashall, Laura Wood and Kerry Hedley CAMPAIGN - Kingsmeadow School pupils with some of the posters resulting from the "reality check" project. Back row, left to right, Kaine Ashall, Kieran Jaas, Laura Wood; front row, left to right, Kerry Hedley, Rachel Swinney and Ashley Fraser
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 5, 2010
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