Smells like teen spirit

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Related tags: Alcohol awareness, Education, Alcoholic beverage

Fifteen teenagers sit in a classroom transfixed by a video in which teacher Barbara Pierce describes how her life was changed forever by a...

Fifteen teenagers sit in a classroom transfixed by a video in which teacher Barbara Pierce describes how her life was changed forever by a drink-driver.

After briefly but brutally describing how a motorist high on a cocktail of alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana smashed into her car ­ setting it ablaze and almost killing her ­ she coolly challenges the viewer: "Now look me in the eye and tell me you'll never drink and drive."

This hard-hitting video is just one of many tools used in the Certificate in Alcohol Awareness taught to teenagers in association with the BII.

The scheme was trialled in West London last year and now The Publican​ has joined a class of 14 and 15-year-olds at the Licensed Victuallers' School (LVS) in Ascot, Berkshire, where it has become part of the curriculum.

It's an apt choice, since the independent school is run by the Licensed Trade Charity, and about 10 per cent of students are the children of licensees.

While the LVS students have covered the perils and pleasures of alcohol since the age of 11, this course encourages them to think about their own role in those ubiquitous 'binge-drink' headlines.

For six weeks the students take two 30-minute lessons a week on the subject as part of personal, social and health education (PSHE) studies. At the end of the course they take an exam and those who pass gain an alcohol awareness certificate.

Subjects covered include licensing reform, smoking, qualifications and training.

Classes are designed to challenge the views of the students. Today they are asked not to leave the room during the video because, as their teacher says, 'it is designed to make you think'.

And it does. Now permanently disabled, Barbara lists her numerous injuries from the screen, pausing only to describe how the driver and his passenger (both under 25) were killed on impact.

Dr Paul Hodges, head of PSHE, has worked in collaboration with the BII to develop the teaching material for the students, including the use of shocking videos, government statistics and pop culture references in their handbooks.

"We¹ve received really good feedback so far," he says.

"The way we sold it to them was by explaining how good it will look on their CVs ­ it is in Year 10 that they develop their CVs so this certificate will be one of the first qualifications they have."

Though the course is not mandatory and costs extra, most teens are fully on board.

There are 110 pupils enrolled and they just can¹t seem to get enough information. Their hands constantly shoot up in the air.

"Sir, why is the UK¹s limit for drink driving (80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood) higher than Europe's? (50mg)?"

"Are there any countries where the limit is less than 50mg?"

"If alcohol takes a certain amount of time to be absorbed, can you just drink shots quickly and drive home before getting drunk?" And so the questions go on.

The lesson develops into a discussion about the importance of not getting into cars with drunk adults and how to take keys away from parents.

"You always need a phone and money to call a taxi," suggests one pupil. "You need a plan," agreed Dr Hodges. "Your parents might not like it at the time, but they will thank you in the morning." They go on to talk about the potential victims if that plan fails.

The stats refer to every single victim of drink-driving, not just the adult at the wheel. So as well as the perpetrators and their direct victims, they talk about the impact on the taxpayer, emergency staff, nearby cars and other road users.

One pupil asks: "If you drink and drive, and get a criminal record, could you ever get a job, or be a teacher even?" But Dr Hodges doesn't get a chance to answer, as a fellow pupil chimes: "If you can't look after yourself, you can't look after a class of kids, can you?"

And the class were clearly paying attention because a few weeks later The Publican was informed that all 110 students taking part successfully completed the course.

BII Schools Project

The Certificate in Alcohol Awareness (CAA) is part of the BII Schools Project in which 100 schools are now involved.

The CAA was launched at the Phoenix High School in West London last year and this week 150 pupils there will be taking the exam.

Around 550 pupils have taken the CAA since it was introduced last summer and 20,000 youngsters have used leaflets on the subject from the BII.

Teens talk

Views from the classroom on the course

Kathy Stevens, 14: "We did a quiz at the beginning and there were lots of things we thought we knew that turned out to be wrong. For example, the ages at which it is legal to drink, and when you¹re allowed a glass of beer in pubs with your parents. We thought we knew more than we did.

"I think it is mainly the people who drink too much, adults more than children, who should take responsibility for their actions when drunk, not the people who serve it.

"When you find out all the risks, it¹s really up to you to decide because it is you it is affecting ­ it¹s not going to affect whoever is selling it."

Jonathan Holmes, 15: "I have learnt a lot, though much of the course is about improving on general knowledge you already have. Studying drink-driving made me realise how many people you hurt. It doesn¹t just affect the family of the victims, but the ambulance services, even people just nearby get involved."

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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