School-based education programmes for the prevention of unintentional injuries in children and young people

About the review question

We looked at the evidence on the effects of programmes in schools that aimed to prevent accidental injuries in children and young people. Preventing injuries in children is important because injuries are common in this age group and the effects on the child and the family can be severe and long-lasting. Schools are potentially a good setting within which to provide education programmes aimed at preventing such injuries occurring. However, it has not been examined in detail whether this works or not. We found 27 studies to help us address this question.


We wanted to discover whether teaching children in school education about injury prevention resulted in them having fewer injuries, improved their knowledge about injury prevention and improved their behaviours in relation to safety. We also wanted to assess whether this type of approach was good value for money.

Study characteristics

The evidence is current to September 2016. It includes the results from 27 studies of 73,557 children. It included boys and girls aged four to 18. The studies compared injury prevention education with either the usual curriculum or an alternative programme unrelated to injuries. The studies we included were aimed at preventing a range of injuries. We excluded programmes that focused on just one cause of injury. The review measured the effects of the educational programmes on the occurrence of injuries in children, their safety skills, behaviour and knowledge. The review also looked at whether school-based approaches are good value for money.

Key results

Only a few studies reported the effect on injury occurrence in children and so these effects were inconclusive. This does not mean that school-based programmes are ineffective but rather that more evidence is needed. The review did find evidence that school-based injury prevention education programmes can improve children's safety skills, safety behaviours and safety knowledge. However, the evidence was inconsistent, with some studies showing a positive effect and others showing no effect. Only one study reported on how cost-effective school-based programmes were and so again it is difficult to draw conclusions from this evidence alone.

Quality of the evidence

The studies were generally of poor quality for all the measurements of effectiveness of the programmes but particularly for behaviour and knowledge. This is because information about how the study was conducted was not usually reported very clearly in the study reports or there were major flaws in the way that the studies were undertaken. More research is needed that is of higher quality.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether school-based educational programmes can prevent unintentional injuries. More high-quality studies are needed to evaluate the impact of educational programmes on injury occurrence. There is some weak evidence that such programmes improve safety skills, behaviour/practices and knowledge, although the evidence was of low or very low quality certainty. We found insufficient economic studies to assess cost-effectiveness.

Read the full abstract...

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children aged four to 18 years and are a major cause of ill health. The school setting offers the opportunity to deliver preventive interventions to a large number of children and has been used to address a range of public health problems. However, the effectiveness of the school setting for the prevention of different injury mechanisms in school-aged children is not well understood.


To assess the effects of school-based educational programmes for the prevention of injuries in children and evaluate their impact on improving children's safety skills, behaviour and practices, and knowledge, and assess their cost-effectiveness.

Search strategy: 

We ran the most recent searches up to 16 September 2016 for the following electronic databases: Cochrane Injuries Group Specialised Register; Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials; Ovid MEDLINE(R), Ovid MEDLINE(R) In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations; Ovid MEDLINE(R) Daily and Ovid OLDMEDLINE(R); Embase and Embase Classic (Ovid); ISI Web of Science: Science Citation Index Expanded; ISI Web of Science Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Science; ISI Web of Science: Social Sciences Citation Index; ISI Web of Science: Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Social Sciences & Humanities; and the 14 October 2016 for the following electronic databases: Health Economics Evaluations Database (HEED); Health Technology Assessment Database (HTA); CINAHL Plus (EBSCO); ZETOC; LILACS; PsycINFO; ERIC; Dissertation Abstracts Online; IBSS; BEI; ASSIA; CSA Sociological Abstracts; Injury Prevention Web; SafetyLit; EconLit (US); PAIS; UK Clinical Research Network Study Portfolio; Open Grey; Index to Theses in the UK and Ireland; Bibliomap and TRoPHI.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), non-randomised controlled trials (non-RCTs), and controlled before-and-after (CBA) studies that evaluated school-based educational programmes aimed at preventing a range of injury mechanisms. The primary outcome was self-reported or medically attended unintentional (or unspecified intent) injuries and secondary outcomes were observed safety skills, observed behaviour, self-reported behaviour and safety practices, safety knowledge, and health economic outcomes. The control groups received no intervention, a delayed injury-prevention intervention or alternative school-based curricular activities. We included studies that aimed interventions at primary or secondary prevention of injuries from more than one injury mechanism and were delivered, in part or in full, in schools catering for children aged four to 18 years.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Two review authors identified relevant trials from title and abstracts of studies identified in searches and two review authors extracted data from the included studies and assessed risk of bias. We grouped different types of interventions according to the outcome assessed and the injury mechanism targeted. Where data permitted, we performed random-effects meta-analyses to provide a summary of results across studies.

Main results: 

The review included 27 studies reported in 30 articles. The studies had 73,557 participants with 12 studies from the US; four from China; two from each of Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the UK; and one from each of Israel, Greece and Brazil. Thirteen studies were RCTs, six were non-RCTs and eight were CBAs. Of the included studies, 18 provided some element of the intervention in children aged four to 11 years, 17 studies included children aged 11 to 14 years and nine studies included children aged 14 to 18 years.

The overall quality of the results was poor, with the all studies assessed as being at high or unclear risks of bias across multiple domains, and varied interventions and data collection methods employed. Interventions comprised information-giving, peer education or were multi-component.

Seven studies reported the primary outcome of injury occurrence and only three of these were similar enough to combine in a meta-analysis, with a pooled incidence rate ratio of 0.73 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.49 to 1.08; 2073 children) and substantial statistical heterogeneity (I2 = 63%). However, this body of evidence was low certainty, due to concerns over this heterogeneity (inconsistency) and imprecision. This heterogeneity may be explained by the non-RCT study design of one of the studies, as a sensitivity analysis with this study removed found stronger evidence of an effect and no heterogeneity (I2 = 0%).

Two studies report an improvement in safety skills in the intervention group. Likewise, the four studies measuring observed safety behaviour reported an improvement in the intervention group relative to the control. Thirteen out of 19 studies describing self-reported behaviour and safety practices showed improvements, and of the 21 studies assessing changes in safety knowledge, 19 reported an improvement in at least one question domain in the intervention compared to the control group. However, we were unable to pool data for our secondary outcomes, so our conclusions were limited, as they were drawn from highly diverse single studies and the body of evidence was low (safety skills) or very low (behaviour, safety knowledge) certainty. Only one study reported intervention costs but did not undertake a full economic evaluation (very low certainty evidence).