Best practice principles for alcohol education

To inform the development of the AEP, Drinkaware commissioned Professor Mark Morgan to conduct a comprehensive literature review of existing school-based alcohol prevention programmes. The findings from this research outlined a suite of best practice principles for effective alcohol education and recommendations for future programme development. Download the full report

Key recommendations for best practice

  1. Overall Aims and Principles

1.1 It is recommended that the overall guiding aim for school programmes focusing on alcohol should be based on harm reduction. This view is based on research findings as well as contextual information regarding the cultural context of drinking in Ireland.

1.2 The fundamental principles for changing behaviour should be multi-faceted and include information and knowledge regarding consequences of consumption and should incorporate social influence as a major factor. Furthermore, there should be an emphasis on the development of personal, social and critical thinking skills.

1.3 A guiding principle for a prevention programme should be the creation of a positive (rather than a punitive) atmosphere around the programme

  1. Organisational Features

2.1 We recommend that prior to the launch of school programmes, efforts should be made to gain the support of families and community. While it may be difficult to obtain active involvement, the relevant partners should be made aware of the plans for the programme and its rationale

2.2 There should be a whole school approach in the planning and delivery of a programme rather than a reliance on individual teachers. This involves engaging the whole staff with the programme including Principals and school management, being guided by cross-curricular links and aligning the programme with school policy.

2.3 In linking with other curricular areas, particular attention should be given to integrating programmes with the new approaches to health and wellbeing

2.4 The programme should be delivered largely by existing trained staff members. Outside expertise can usefully be availed of but with a clear understanding of how this input will fit with other contributions.

2.5 Suitable training for teachers should be put in place taking account of their experience and the recommended interactive style of presentation

2.6 Care should be taken to ensure that the programme is being implemented as planned and an unobtrusive monitoring system put in place in this regard. This might involve a conversation about the topics discussed with students and their views on what might be added or discarded. There should also be an opportunity for teachers to get feedback on their style of delivery

  1. Pedagogical Principles for Programme Delivery

3.1 Alcohol programmes should be delivered in an interactive style involving student input, rather than by means of a didactic approach.

3.2 There should be opportunities for student engagement since this results in greater retention and as well as an impetus for belief change.

3.3 A feature of the interactive style should be the correction of misperceived norms regarding drinking by young people

3.4 Peers or external experts may be involved as leaders/facilitators provided that they enhance the involvement and engagement of students in the programme

3.5 Programmes should be developmental and age appropriate.

  1. Measurement, Evaluation and Sustaining Implementation

4.1 There is a need to ensure that the programme is implemented in a way that is broadly in accordance with what was intended

4.2 In the case of an existing programme that has been adopted, it is important to justify any amendments that are made to the original specifications

4.3 Evaluation of outcomes should be undertaken as resources will allow and taking into account the difficulties of a rigorous design. Particular attention should be given on a regular basis to the process of programme delivery and the response of students to their experiences

4.4 Results of evaluations should be interpreted in the light of the broad findings emerging in the literature examined here. As in the evaluation of any intervention, particular local circumstances can result in anomalous findings when considered in the context of the general picture

4.5 While maintaining the spirit and objectives that guided the programme, attention should be given to novel methods of delivering the material, especially based on technology and innovations

4.6 The implications of curricular changes should be taken into account both as regard changes in content and methodology.

About Professor Mark Morgan

Professor Mark Morgan is HERC’s Visiting Research Fellow. He was appointed as the first Creagan Professor in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. His scholarship can be categorized under four broad headings: motivation and job satisfaction, substance misuse and prevention, literacy, and educational disadvantage, and are derived from his training and experience as primary teacher and social psychologist.

Recognising the need for a scholarly programme tailored to meet the needs of Irish educational leaders whose fields of practice were under-researched Mark has attracted substantial funding from Atlantic Philanthropies. This enabled him to establish at St Patrick’s College what has become an innovative Doctor of Education programme. It was the first of its type in Ireland and a measure of its success is that his prototype has been widely replicated throughout the Irish university sector. Already many of its graduates are following Mark in making substantial contributions to new and emerging areas of scholarship related especially to primary education. Professor Morgan is working with Professor Slowey on a Process Study of the Development of the DRHEA.

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