Schools Substance Abuse Plan ‘Flawed’

The strategy to educate Welsh children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and substance abuse is not working effectively, according to a report.

The Welsh Assembly Government must revise its guidance to schools on how to educate pupils, the report, published by school inspectorate Estyn yesterday, says.

Inspectors say that WAG guidance to schools may help delay the age at which children in primary schools start smoking and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

But at secondary schools level the guidance has had little effect, the report, commissioned by the WAG, warns.

At the end of their last year at primary most pupils said they would never misuse substances, but by the age of 15 one in four are regular smokers, according to the report Education About Substance Misuse.

It says UK-wide research shows 40% to 50% of 15-year-olds drink alcohol at least weekly and around a quarter of 15-year-olds use other drugs, mainly cannabis, at least once a week.

Estyn warns that recent research shows classroom-based exercises may not work well in persuading pupils not to try drugs.

“The Welsh Assembly Government circular has had little impact on changing the attitudes and values of a significant minority who continue to smoke, or drink alcohol to excess or use illegal drugs such as cannabis,” the report warns.

The WAG has not provided enough guidance for schools or teacher training organisations on how to work with specialist agencies to help to prevent the causes of substance misuse, the report adds.

And although most secondary primary schools in Wales have policies for teaching pupils about substance-misuse, many do not evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes.

“This means there are gaps in pupils’ knowledge and understanding of some of the issues such as the physical, emotional and mental health consequences of taking illegal or legal substances.”

It added that children were also unaware of potential consequences relating to violent behaviour, unsafe sex, and damage to an unborn child due to substance-misuse.

It recommends setting up a national substance misuse education group for Wales to provide a new, more effective teaching programme.

Susan Lewis, Chief Inspector for Education and Training in Wales, said, “Schools have an important role to play in helping to influence the attitudes and values of young people. Evidence shows that children and young people are not fully informed about all the personal risks they are taking by using a particular drug.”

The Government funds most of its substance-misuse education work in schools through its All Wales Police Liaison Core Programme.

Although 97% of schools take part in this programme it is not as good as it could be because of poor communication and planning, says Estyn.

“A lack of joined-up thinking nationally and locally with the 22 Substance Misuse Action Teams in each local authority in terms of planning, co-ordinating, resourcing, teaching, monitoring and evaluating means that substance-misuse education programmes in schools are less effective than they might be.”

‘I ask pupils what drugs are prevalent’

School substance misuse adviser Ann O’Connell said it was vital to talk to children about the issue from as young as seven or eight.

Mrs O’Connell, who works for the voluntary organisation Drugaid as education and prevention worker for schools in and around Merthyr Tydfil, said head teachers were very aware of the problems.

“I go into schools to talk to pupils and schools will ring me if they have an issue with substance misuse rather than dealing with it themselves,” she said.

“I go in and do assembly with years 10 and 11, the 14 to 16-year-olds, because they are the most vulnerable and impressionable.

“I ask the teachers to leave and have their full support in this. I then ask pupils what drugs are prevalent. We have a discussion and then I hang around for half an hour afterwards for anyone to speak to me. From that we get quite a few referrals.

“It helps to talk to the pupils on their level. Substance misuse is quite high. I would be fibbing if I said there was not a problem. Binge drinking is increasing and we see quite a lot of cannabis use in people aged 14 and up.

“Trends change. We are seeing solvent misuse and cannabis misuse at the moment.”

Mrs O’Connell said substance misuse occurred across all social and economic areas.

“It does become a way of life in some areas, especially if you come from a substance misusing family.

“Sometimes substance misuse is a social integration thing and becomes a problem from there.”