The Positive Choices trial: update to study protocol for a phase-III RCT trial of a whole-school social-marketing intervention to promote sexual health and reduce health inequalities.
BACKGROUND: Positive Choices is a whole-school social-marketing intervention to promote sexual health among secondary school students. Intervention comprises the following: school health promotion council involving staff and students coordinating delivery, student survey to inform local tailoring, teacher-delivered classroom curriculum, student-run campaigns, parent information and review of sexual/reproductive health services to inform improvements. This trial builds on an optimisation/pilot-RCT study which met progression criteria, plus findings from another pilot RCT of the Project Respect school-based intervention to prevent dating and relationship violence which concluded such work should be integrated within Positive Choices. Young people carry a disproportionate burden of adverse sexual health; most do not report competence at first sex. Relationships and sex education in schools can contribute to promoting sexual health but effects are small, inconsistent and not sustained. Such work needs to be supplemented by 'whole-school' (e.g. student campaigns, sexual health services) and 'social marketing' (harnessing commercial marketing to social ends) approaches for which there is good review-level evidence but not from the UK. METHODS: We will conduct a cluster RCT across 50 schools (minimum 6440, maximum 8500 students) allocated 1:1 to intervention/control assessing outcomes at 33 months. Our primary outcome is non-competent first sex. Secondary outcomes are non-competent last sex, age at sexual debut, non-use of contraception at first and last sex among those reporting heterosexual intercourse, number of sexual partners, dating and relationship violence, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy and unintended pregnancy for girls and initiation of pregnancy for boys. We will recruit 50 school and undertake baseline surveys by March 2022, implement the intervention over the 2022-2024 school years and conduct the economic and process evaluations by July 2024; undertake follow-up surveys by December 2024; complete analyses, all patient and policy involvement and draft the study report by March 2025 and engage in knowledge exchange from December 2024. DISCUSSION: This trial is one of a growing number focused on whole-school approaches to public health in schools. The key scientific output will be evidence about the effectiveness, costs and potential scalability and transferability of Positive Choices. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN No: ISRCTN16723909 . Registered on 3 September 2021.