How Barnsley Council has Supported Sustainable Improvements in SRE

Barnsley drugs, alcohol, relationships and sexual health programme is an integrated, multi-faceted, evidence based programme of work that responds to needs identified by young people, parents and carers and practitioners. The programme has achieved measurable impact in a three year period and is the 2011 winner of the FPA Pamela Sheridan Award for excellence in SRE.


There is a high level of deprivation in Barnsley. The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals are well above national average and educational attainment is below average - most secondary schools are national challenge schools. Hospital admissions for young people relating to alcohol are particularly high, and evidence collected through biannual lifestyle surveys with Year 10 pupils show that sexual activity after drinking alcohol is high, particularly amongst females. Rates of teenage conception are also higher than average at 52.5 per 1000 (2009).

The Barnsley Children and Young People's Plan for 2009-2012 identified the need to improve sex and relationships education (SRE) and drug and alcohol education. Work with schools to improve alcohol awareness and to improve access to SRE are itemised as priorities for action under the being healthy theme. The commitment and accountability mechanisms attached to the plan have been vital in initiating action and levering support.

Multi-agency approach
A 'Sex, Drugs and Alcohol' steering group was set up in 2008 with membership from a variety of agencies including the Healthy Settings Team, school nursing and public health (NHS Barnsley), the drug and alcohol action team, the youth service, Young Addaction (a substance misuse service) and the looked after children's team. There has also been input from the early-years service and contraception and sexual health services.

The steering group provided a forum where lead professionals could make crucial links, for example between education and health, sexual health and alcohol. Having such a range of partners around the table resulted in a more sophisticated map of local activity - i.e who was doing what, where and when to educate and support children, young people and families in relation to sex and relationship, drug and alcohol education. Once gaps were identified partners committed funding and expertise to develop resources and a multi-agency training programme. This greatly enhanced the capacity of the programme lead, who is SRE consultant within the Healthy Settings Team.

The action plan devised by the steering group is reported back to the Children and Young Peoples Trust so that progress can be tracked in the 3-year Children and Young People's Plan. At a more localised level there are 10 multi-agency wellbeing teams across Barnsley - and each have priorities to address substance misuse or sexual health within their action plans.

Resource development
At the outset steering group members identified the variation in SRE provision and that some schools depended wholly on external visitors such as school nurses providing one-off lessons. The first resource to be developed was a scheme of work for puberty education. A working party of teachers and school nurses discussed ideas and reflected on techniques and resources currently used with pupils. The resource was then piloted. School staff fed back that they were worried about parent's reaction. The resource was amended to include a parents' workshop.  

Young people were consulted on the content and format of the resources for 12 to 19 year olds; sex, drugs and alcohol awareness and the attitudes to condoms resource. The Sex, Drugs and Alcohol steering group worked with the Barnsley Voice and Influence Team in order to tap into their expertise in participation work and to ensure that a diverse range of young people were supported to take part.

The full range of sex, relationships, drug and alcohol education resources developed comprise:

  • Puberty education scheme of work
  • A resource for sex, drugs and alcohol awareness teaching
  • 'How to talk to kids about drugs, alcohol and sex' - a toolkit for practitioners who work with parents and carers
  • Developing on site health and wellbeing services: A toolkit for secondary schools
    Attitudes to condoms resource for small group and one-to-one discussion

The resources were developed in such a way that schools and other settings can adapt them to fit their own SRE and PSHE programme. This has been particularly important in ensuring the use of the resources since schools vary greatly in how they timetable SRE and also need the flexibility to mould the curriculum to meet pupil needs. The production of new resources has been used to stimulate practitioners and organisations to consider their whole organisation approach to relationships, sex, drugs and alcohol issues. Thus dissemination and training on resources has been an important part of a long-term change process - not an end in itself. The use of resources is monitored periodically using internet-based survey tools. Many practitioners reported that they had briefed other staff about the resources, used them to deliver sessions within a planned programme of PSHE education and in some cases co-delivered sessions with colleagues.

Individualised support for schools
Resources such as the puberty education scheme of work are available for all schools - but the programme also recognises that schools need individualised support to be able to maximise use of the resources. More than a third of primary schools took up the offer of individual consultancy/training. Support included staff SRE training, advice on SRE policies, presentations at governor meetings and supporting schools in delivering workshops for parents. Some schools were quick to take up the offer of support. For example a secondary school that was offering no SRE other than one off lessons delivered by the school nurse put forward a team of teachers and support staff for training. The school now has a planned programme of SRE and PSHE, which is shaped around the needs of their pupils.

Results from the bi-annual Barnsley student lifestyle survey have been disaggregated by school, so it has been possible to provide schools with specific information about their Year 10 cohort. This data has informed schools about pupil needs' that they may not have been aware of and is also a useful motivator to help individual schools track progress and assess impact. 

Developing capacity and sustainability
Training professionals to deliver SRE and use the new resources has been a key objective of the programme. A training programme has been offered to coincide with the publication of each new resource. Resources are only given to practitioners once they have attended training. This is in order to maximise participation in training and to ensure best practice principles are applied when the resources are used. 

The multi-agency approach took time to develop. Initially there were some issues with professional boundaries, but there is now very broad commitment.  The involvement of so many partners and the strategic link with Barnsley Children and Young People's Plan has been vital in securing sufficient resources to implement the programme, but also to secure its' future by mainstreaming SRE within local education and health initiatives. Use of the resources and training on offer for SRE is now integrated into the following:

  • Integrated Youth Support Strategy,
  • Parenting and Family Support Strategy
  • Teenage Pregnancy and Sexual Health Strategies
  • Alcohol Action Plan
  • Drug Treatment and Needs Assessment Plan
  • Healthy School Programme materials used in Barnsley

To secure sustainability accreditation of the 12 to 19 resource is being explored as well as integrating the parent's toolkit within the repertoire of courses offered by Adult and Family Learning.

Holistic approach to sexual health, alcohol and drugs
The decision to create a steering group in Barnsley that addressed 'Sex, Drugs and Alcohol' together was in response to national and local evidence that shows that sexual health, drugs and alcohol issues are often intertwined in young peoples' lives. For example, a member of the Buxton Youth Project quoted in 'Sex, Alcohol and Other Drugs (Lynch and Blake 2004) said  "We are taught about drugs and sexual health, but teachers rarely mention the links between the two. I'd like to see these subjects taught together rather than separately."

By bringing together a range of agencies with interest in sexual health, drugs and alcohol the steering group was successful in creating resources and a training programme that effectively addressed the links. For example,  sessions in the young peoples teaching pack include;

  • Sex, drugs, alcohol and the law
  • Pros and cons of sex, drugs and alcohol in relationships
  • Influences and choices (social norms, sources of pressure and ways to resist it)
  • A step too far (alcohol and sexual violence)

Uptake of the training, resources and support services has been measured and 82% of primary schools have taken up the scheme since 2009 and 100% of secondary schools.

Nearly 300 practitioners, from more than 10 agencies have attended training within the last 2 years including schools, college, children's centres, youth service, health staff, police, looked after children's team, youth offending team.

Impact is also measured through the bi-annual young people's lifestyle survey. Changes were noted between the 2008 and 2010 surveys including a reduction in the number of young people reporting being sexually active after drinking (59% in 2008, down to 55% in 2010 and more significant in females (66% in 2008, down to 58% in 2010). Full survey results are available on-line.

Key features

  • The Healthy Settings Team allocated a relatively small resource to improve sex, relationships, drug and alcohol education but this went a long way because of effective coordination of a multi-agency approach, pooling of existing resources and appropriate strategic links
  • Schools and other setting's have been empowered to develop sex, relationships, drug  and alcohol education that is sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of children and young people, that builds the long-term capabilities of their staff and that supports parents in their role at home
  • The bi-annual young people's behaviour survey provides an area-wide needs identification and monitoring tool that allows for school level information and measurement of longitudinal impact

For more information contact: Angela Kelly, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council. Email:

Published on the Sex Education Forum web-site June 2011