From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Sexual Health of Young People in Alternative Education Settings

Most surveys of young people’s health behaviours are conducted within mainstream secondary schools. However, many of the most vulnerable young people do not attend mainstream schools and instead attend alternative education settings (AES). As part of the evaluation of the Healthy Respect sexual health programme, during 2009 we collected data from over 200 young people in a range of different AES across central Scotland, in collaboration with Napier University, Edinburgh. We included secure and supported units, AES for problematic school attendees and for those with physical disabilities and complex educational needs. The two largest groups of young people within these institutions were those with social, emotional and behavioural challenges (n=96) and those with special educational needs (n=84). The information was collected by a trained researcher, mainly through one-to-one structured interviews, but when appropriate young people self-completed a short questionnaire in private.

With support from the Scottish Government, we have compared the health behaviours of young people in AES with those of their mainstream school counterparts. Preliminary findings suggest that similar health issues affect people in a wide range of different AES. Compared with those in mainstream schools, a higher proportion live with relatives other than biological parents or in care or foster homes (14% vs. 2%) and they are almost twice as likely to smoke, regularly become intoxicated with alcohol or cannabis, have experienced sexual intercourse and experienced unprotected sex.



Henderson M, Smith D, Elliott L, Nixon C, Wight D. Vulnerable young people in alternative education settings: their sexual health needs, experience and use of sex education and sexual health services. MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit Occasional Paper no. 21, Glasgow, 2011

open access  

Former Staff

  • Denise Smith

External Collaborators