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Keane, Martin (2009) Kerry Life Education evaluation report. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 29, Spring 2009, p. 21.

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The Kerry Life Education (KLE) project is delivered from a fleet of mobile buses called 'Life Education' classrooms that visit primary schools in Co Kerry. The project includes a mix of health promotion and information and covers diet, self-esteem, peer dynamics, bullying and alcohol and substance use. It has been visiting schools since 2004 and is estimated to reach between 5,000 and 7,000 students per year. An evaluation of the KLE project has recently been published.1

Methods of evaluation
This was a process evaluation aimed at uncovering the perspective of schools, parents and professionals on the operation and relevance of the KLE project. A survey questionnaire was sent to 68 schools that had participated in the project; the response rate was 84%. The principal of each school was asked to complete the questionnaire using a consensus view between principals, teachers and parent representatives. A different survey questionnaire was sent to eight key professionals in the fields of health promotion and education; six responded. In addition, data from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) dataset for 2006 were analysed and comparisons on a number of variables were made between students in KLE schools and students from comparison schools in Kerry.
The perspective of schools
The majority of schools (89%) reported the teaching, content and presentation of KLE to be excellent and appropriate for children, and 95% wanted the project to continue. Ninety per cent reported that KLE was good or excellent at supporting individual components of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme,2 such as learning about the body, making decisions and relating to others. Ninety-three per cent reported having a substance use policy, with 94% reporting that KLE provided either good or excellent support to the development of substance use policy. Only 46% reported that parents had received input from the KLE project. Ninety-six per cent perceived the impact of the project on students to be good or excellent, with the same figure anticipating the potential impact over time to be good or excellent.
The perspective of key professionals
Three of the six professionals who responded were not familiar with the work of KLE prior to being surveyed. When they did learn of the project, respondents reported mixed views. Public health professionals expressed cautious optimism that KLE could provide consistent information on substance use, contribute to a holistic approach to health promotion and increase the number of health promotion sites available to young people. In contrast to the view of the majority of schools, the two education professionals expressed concern that KLE was short-term and did not reinforce the consistent approach taken in SPHE that seeks to develop life skills during school-going years.
Comparison of KLE student data with HBSC data
The evaluators compared data for Fifth and Sixth Class students who participated in the KLE project with HBSC 2006 data from comparison schools in Kerry. Lifetime consumption of alcohol was lower among Fifth Class KLE students than among students in comparison schools. Differences favouring KLE students were noted on a number of other variables, including being satisfied with life, taking more frequent exercise, consuming less soft drinks, snacks and chips and being less likely to be involved in incidents of bullying.
When interpreting these favourable results for KLE students it is important to note that the sample was small and was 75% female. In addition, the differences observed between KLE students and students not receiving the intervention cannot be attributed solely to the intervention of KLE as any number of factors may explain these changes. Further research under more controlled conditions is needed before any substantive conclusion can be reached. Nonetheless, the KLE project is popular among school personnel and parents in Kerry and it would be interesting if further research investigated the perception of young people regarding the project.
Evidence shows that short-term interventions delivered on a once-off basis are not very useful in making drug education effective in young people's lives. However, when used in conjunction with a comprehensive programme such as SPHE, they can enhance understanding of the issues being addressed and contribute to a perception in the community that potential substance use among young people is being tackled. Such a perception can undermine the belief among young people that substance use is 'normalised' and tolerated by the community. However, it is important that short-term projects are premised on the same theoretical basis as the more comprehensive programme that they are supporting, otherwise different perceptions can arise among stakeholders regarding how interventions operate. Such differences are noted in this evaluation - between public health professionals and educational experts - and it would be helpful to address such differing views if the KLE project is to support the delivery of SPHE in Kerry in the future.
1. Jackson T, Kelly I and Dee A (2008) Kerry Life Education project: an evaluation, Cork: Department of Public Health HSE South.
2. SPHE stands for Social, Personal and Health Education and is the main life-skills programme delivered in primary and secondary schools in Ireland. The programme uses the Walk Tall component in primary schools to support the implementation of substance use education.
3. McGrath Y, Sumnall H, McVeigh J and Bellis M (2006) Drug use prevention among young people: a review of reviews. Evidence briefing update. London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

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