Maynooth University programme evaluation

Research plays a critical strategic role in Drinkaware and our work is subject to robust independent evaluation. This ensures each programme we deliver and every resource we produce is evidence-informed and has the potential to facilitate behaviour change so we can achieve our public health goals. 

The final phase of evaluation of the three-year longitudinal research of Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme (JC AEP) was completed in 2020. Independently led by Professor Sinéad McGilloway, Founder and Director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at Maynooth University Department of Psychology, in collaboration with Dr John Weafer of Weafer and Associates. The final summary report can be read here. 

The objectives of this mixed methods study were to: 

  • Assess the nature, extent and experience of alcohol use amongst a sample of Junior Cycle students in post-primary schools throughout Ireland
  • Investigate attitudes and beliefs towards, and knowledge of, alcohol amongst the students
  • Assess the perceived effectiveness, experience and acceptability of the programme in the school setting amongst both students and teachers. 


Following the three-year longitudinal evaluation, three key indicators on attitudes, behaviour and future intent were found among students: 

Increased knowledge of alcohol harms and consequences 

  • The culmination of the research indicated that students are more likely to report knowing the facts about alcohol. From 22% pre-programme in 2018 to 50% after the delivery of the AEP in Year three 2020
  • Students’ knowledge of alcohol consequences and harms increased, specifically knowledge of its impact on mental health, 46% Year three (+23% from 23% pre-programme), physical health, 49% Year three (+20% from 29% pre-programme), and the consequences of underage drinking, 52% Year three (+14% from 38% pre-programme). 

 Positive behaviour and behavioural intent regarding abstinence 

  • Students participating in the programme, who said they had no intention or interest in drinking, rose from 30% in 1st Year to 54% in 3rd Year
  • 89% of students thought the programme had helped them to make informed choices and decisions in relation to consuming alcohol 
  • The proportion of students who indicated that they had never drunk alcohol remained fairly stable from pre-JC AEP delivery (60%) to Year two (59%) of the programme
  • Notably, there was a sharp decrease of 17% from Year two to Year three, whereby the largest proportion of students reported having at some stage consumed alcohol, albeit mainly on special occasions, or rarely (42%). These findings indicate a significant ‘tipping point’ at the age of 14 going on 15 Years in terms of the likelihood of most young teenagers taking their first drink 
  • Among these students, those who reported having ‘no interest or intention of drinking’  increased to 54% in Year three from 30% pre-programme
  • Students who stated an intention to delay drinking for as long as possible declined marginally to 22% in Year three vs 25% pre-programme
  • 15% of students in year 3 stated that they intended ‘never’ to drink and 18% of students stated that they intended to start ‘when they feel like it’
  • Almost four in ten (38%) of the Year three students who were drinking had also experienced one or more negative effects of alcohol consumption, such as physical fights, arguments, accidents/ injury, and/or feeling physically sick/ vomiting 

 Ease of access at home continues to facilitate underage alcohol use 

  • Of the students who had consumed alcohol, the largest proportion (48-49% in Yearone and three and 57% Year two) had their first drink either at their own, or someone else’s house, supporting findings from the most recent HBSC Report
    and highlighting the role of parents and other significant adults as primary influencers
  • Most students reported that they had no difficulty in gaining access to alcohol and especially as they got older
  • The Drinkaware Index 2019 findings relating to first drink indicated that family plays a significant role in the individual’s first drink, with 27% being introduced to alcohol by a parent or close relative. 


  • 94% of teachers felt there is a strong need in schools for a programme such as the AEP (compared to 81% in Year one) 
  • 94% of teachers believed the programme to be ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ (compared to 98in Year one one and 96% in Year two) 
  • 93% of teachers in Year three thought the training provided by Drinkaware was ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ (vs 84% in Year one) 
  • 94% of teachers enjoyed delivering the programme to students (vs 86% in Year one) 
  • 77% of teachers would recommend the programme to other schools without hesitation (57% in Year one and 73% in Year two) 
  • Teachers comfort level in delivering programme rose from First to Third Year. This suggests that as teachers become more skilled in delivering the programme over time and illustrates why it is important for teachers to have continuity in delivering the programme. 


  • Consistently high proportions of students in each Year of the evaluation, rated the JC AEP highly. For example, more than six in ten (63%) students in Year three, rated the AEP as ‘excellent’ (10%), ‘very good’ (22%), or ‘good’ (31%)
  • 60% said that they would recommend the AEP to other students/schools
  • Large proportions of students in Year three (as in previous Years), rated the presentation (80%), delivery (82%), materials (78%) and content (77%) of the programme as ‘good’, ‘very good’, or ‘excellent’. 

 Parents can be protective and/or enabling underage drinking

  • 49% (Year three) first consumed alcohol either in their own or someone else’s home
  • 44% (Year three consider their parents to have relatively tolerant views of their drinking behaviour provided that they ‘don’t drink too much’
  • At the same time, 26% Year three students said their parents were unaware of their drinking  
  • 19% (Year three) students indicated that their parents do not like to see them drinking at all and 17% (Year three) students who had not started drinking indicated parents’ reaction was a factor in their decision of not doing so.  


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