We're working closely with the Association for Young People's Health (AYPH) to help schools access and use health data in their curriculum planning. Ann Hagell — AYPH research lead — wrote for us recently about what teachers are asking for when it comes to delivering health education confidently. Ann’s colleague Jeremy Sachs follows up here with a fascinating insight into young people's views.
What do secondary school students think about the introduction of statutory Health Education? What do they see as the benefits and challenges? A fantastic group of young people in a secondary school near London shared their views with us recently.
"Everybody has concerns about their own health"
Does Health Education belong in schools?
The young people we spoke with agreed that learning about health education at school is welcome. They felt that schools provides a supportive environment in which to discuss important health topics, some of which are difficult or challenging to discuss in other contexts. Teachers and staff can provide emotional support as well as further information on health issues should young people have questions or need further help.
School also exposes young people to a range of different health conditions and perspectives within peers and friendship groups. This not only helps gain a broader understanding of health but also normalises living with different health conditions and helps combat stigma.
What would young people gain from health education?
Interestingly, young people did not express any particular preference for teaching about specific areas of health. While they mentioned mental health, they were mostly interested in practical information and advice. For example, education on how to access different services and what they offered (specifically for their age group) was important. The young people realised they’d transitioned from the age of relying on parents/guardians to manage their health to a more autonomous time in their lives, but didn’t know how to practically go about making that change.
Young people also wanted to deeper look into the causes of health issues. As one student said, it was common knowledge that smoking and drugs are bad for your health, but the underlying factors and influences on why people engage in substance use was much less well known.
"When you’re sixteen, you’re now old enough to make your own GP appointments and no one ever tells you how to do that"
Are there challenges to teaching health education?
Young people were enthusiastic about learning more about health inequalities. However, everyone agreed that this needed to be done carefully, as health inequalities are likely to affect some young people in the class but not others. Care therefore needs to be taken so that highlighting health inequalities does not create a divide between young people, leading potentially to bullying or feelings of stigma. They were also concerned that young people who face inequalities could feel like their health was predetermined to be poorer than others if the topic wasn’t covered sensitively.
"I also think that with the inequalities one, if you’re going to talk to someone about it, it doesn’t mean that you are going to end up that way" Student
The young people we spoke to took great interest in their health, as well as the health of their communities. They understood the sensitivity that is required when talking about health and how it has the potential to be difficult, but despite this, relished the chance to have useful and practical conversations.
They welcomed the introduction of compulsory health education and recognised its value. The discussion demonstrated how highly young people value their own agency when it comes to managing their health, and how they appreciated good data and health education in schools to provide them with the tools to do this.
Jeremy Sachs is Project Manager with Healthcare Professionals at the Association for Young People’s Health
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