Peer education

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What works with school age students?

NICE Guidance for Smoking Prevention in Schools found that approaches led by young people, nominated by the students themselves can be most effective at reducing smoking prevalence among young people. Therefore, a whole settings approach should also include some element of ‘peer education’.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the best way to educate young people about smoking is to use ‘social influence’. This approach assumes that most young people misperceive their peers' behaviour. This means that they either significantly 'under' or significantly ‘over’ estimate, the amount a behaviour takes place or how much approval it receives. In the case of smoking, this would mean significantly over-estimating the number of other young people who smoke and attributing far more peer approval associated with it than actually exists.

The social influence approach seeks to change misperceptions amongst young people. For example, it may help to emphasise that the social norm is not to smoke or that most people want clean air. This can involve young people carrying out insight and surveys with fellow students and then highlighting the norm through social media campaigns and other appropriate approaches.

What are the benefits of carrying out some peer-led, social norm approaches to smoking in school?

  • It makes it clear that students have a role in influencing what happens in their school
  • It emphasises the importance of caring for each other and protecting health
  • It allows students the freedom to be creative and deliver messages in a way that is more likely to be well-received by their peers
  • It allows students to identify topics that are important to them, rather than adults in authority
  • Developing and delivering initiatives is useful experience for the workplace and uses many transferable skills
  • Work for developing interventions can often be included as part of other subject areas, e.g. PSHE or tutorials
  • It helps students take ownership of their smokefree site
  • The vast majority of work is undertaken by students themselves

What are the disadvantages of peer-led approaches?

  • The school should take a hands-off approach and have a degree of open-mindedness about what the students produce. It is fair to set clear guidelines about what is acceptable from the outset but would be unfair to let students develop a campaign and then to not allow its use.
  • Although student-led, there still needs to be a member of school staff who has oversight of the campaign to ensure that the information provided by students is factually correct.
  • There may be some small costs associated with it to enable students to be creative.
  • Students need to be allowed the time and space to undertake the project.
  • Time and effort may be required to showcase the outcomes.

What initiatives could students undertake?

The scale and level of initiative will be dependent on the time and support available at the school. However, some suggestions are below:

Student-led Tutorial Task - Students develop and undertake a short tutorial with peers. Usually, students are more comfortable doing this with a younger age group.

Student-led Campaign Task - Students identify a misconception that is common amongst their peers, research the facts and communicate this in a manner that is engaging for their peers.