If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad

If the government won’t describe what should be in the PSHE curriculum then who better to take a crack at it than the subject association.

They say:

In the absence of a new programme of study from the DfE, the PSHE Association, in consultation with a wide variety of agencies and PSHE practitioners, has produced this revised programme of study based on the needs of today’s pupils and schools. Our programme of study identifies the key concepts and skills that underpin PSHE education and help schools to fulfill their statutory responsibility to support pupils’ spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life.

To get the resource all you have to do is sign-up to their newsletter or if you want the wider benefits to join the PSHE Association.

School alcohol policy can effect drinking – but only if pupils think it will be enforced

School rulesA few years ago the survey the government commission about school children in England’s smoking drinking and drug use stopped asking schools whether they had a drug and alcohol policy, they found that (almost) everyone did, but what hasn’t been clear is whether those policies are effective.

If you take exclusions as an indicator (and I’ll admit it might not be a very good one) the messages are a bit mixed as I discussed in more detail back this time last year.  Then it seemed that while permanent exclusions for drugs and alcohol had been falling and fixed term exclusions had remained roughly stable they had both been increasing as a proportion of the overall exclusion rates.

New research carried out looking at school alcohol policies in the US and Australia suggest that they key element is not in having a policy but in whether the pupils think it will be enforced.

According to the write up of the research on Science Daily:

even if a school had a suspension or expulsion policy, if students felt the school didn’t enforce it then they were more likely to drink on campus. But, even if a school’s policy was less harsh — such as requiring counseling — students were less likely to drink at school if they believed school officials would enforce it.

They other key finding they describe is that harm is reduced if pupils think that the likely result of being caught is that they get an intervention by a teacher on the dangers of alcohol use, rather than being excluded.

The ADEPIS toolkit for schools wanting to review their drug and alcohol policy published earlier this year may be a useful way of helping pupils get a better understanding of what the school’s policy is and a helpful reminder to the rest of the school community about what their response to incidents should be.

Alcohol and Drug Training for Social Workers

Back in April I looked at the number of young people in the care system that were identified as needing treatment for substance misuse.  The bald figures were that 1 in 29 young people in care were identified as needing treatment, which compares to 1 in 240 amongst the general population.

One of the questions I asked was whether the system is good at identifying need and acting on those needs.

A new report from the University of Bedfordshire, published on the Alcohol Research UK website, suggests that social workers aren’t getting the level of training they feel they need in this area.

The key finding seems to be that there is no consistency in how drug and alcohol education is delivered to trainee social workers, with three quarters of respondents saying that they felt there wasn’t sufficient focus on the issue in what was provided.

Looking at the detailed report I can’t find any reference to preventing drug and alcohol misuse though this may be included in the modules that look at how to talk about alcohol and other drugs.  By contrast there are courses that talk about treatment interventions.

In children and family modules the topics that are reported as being covered most often are:

  • Impact on children and families and parenting
  • Identifying problematic alcohol use
  • How to assess risk relating to drug or alcohol issues
  • Working with or referring to specialist alcohol and/or drug workers
  • Reasons people use and misuse substances

The University of Bedford have what look like a number of useful resources on their website including:

Other papers can be downloaded here.

73% of European Countries require alcohol prevention in school

The World Health Organisation in Europe report that 73% of European countries have a legal obligation to include alcohol prevention in the school curriculum and just over half have national guidelines for the prevention and reduction of alcohol-related harm in school settings.

As readers of my last post will know England, unfortunately, won’t be part of that majority that require school based alcohol prevention.  This despite the fact that the country comes 9th for early drunkenness according to the Health Behaviours in School-age Children report.

But they can however point to NICE guidance on interventions in schools to prevent and reduce alcohol use among children and young people.

I can’t help noticing that the NICE guidance was produced in November 2007 and is due to be reviewed again next year.

One can only hope that it doesn’t suffer the fate of the guidance on sex and relationships education and alcohol which has been in suspended animation for the last three years.

Alcohol – the missing component of the new science curriculum

On the day that the new national curriculum is unveiled we see that according to surveys undertaken by the School Health Education Unit one in ten primary school leavers say they have drunk alcohol in the last week.

As we know the Department of Education’s standard line on these things is to point to the science curriculum and then say that this can be built on through PSHE education.

So it is worth looking at whether in this final version of the curriculum the DfE have made any changes to the way they describe what schools need to teach when it comes to smoking, drugs and alcohol.

Assiduous readers of this blog will recall we looked at the proposed curriculum back in February and will therefore be prepared for the scant attention that is paid to drug education as a part of the science curriculum.

  • There is no reference to alcohol (except as part of organic chemistry in Key Stage 4).
  • In Year 6 pupils “should learn how to keep their bodies healthy and how their bodies might be damaged – including how some drugs and other substances can be harmful to the human body.”  And might look at the scientific research about the relationship between drugs and health.
  • In Key Stage 3 the biology curriculum includes teaching “the effects of ‘recreational’ drugs (including substance misuse) on behaviour, health and life processes.” What ‘recreational’ means isn’t defined.
  • Also in Key Stage 3 there’s an expectation that science teachers will touch on the impact of smoking on the “gas exchange system”.
  • Other than a mention for alcohol as part of organic chemistry there is no guidance for schools about teaching young people about drugs, alcohol, or tobacco between the ages of 14 and 16.

Overall this is, I think, the lightest of light touches and the failure to address alcohol specifically is worrying. I also can’t see how it will be credible for the next Focal Point report to say (as the last one did) that:

School-based drug education forms a central part of the United Kingdom’s approach to universal drug prevention.

What is clear to me is that without support from a fully developed PSHE curriculum it will be hard for schools to show how they are delivering a curriculum that meets the needs of their pupils when it comes to drug and alcohol education.

PQ: how much time do schools spend on drug education?

Conservative MP Nick de Bois asks the Department of Education what estimate they has made of the time schools dedicate to teaching students about the risks associated with (a) illegal drugs, (b) prescription drugs and (c) legal highs.

Liz Truss, the Minister with responsibility for these issues, responds:

The Department does not estimate the amount of teaching time schools dedicate to teaching about illegal or prescription drugs, or legal highs.

All pupils should be educated about the dangers and effects of drugs, and drug education forms part of national curriculum for science. This ensures that pupils are taught about the effects of drugs on behaviour, health and life processes. Provision in this area can be built on and extended through non-statutory personal, social, and health education (PSHE), should schools choose to do so.

Understanding the risks associated with drugs is an important part of young people’s education. To support this we launched the Alcohol and Drug Education Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS) on 13 April 2013, run by the charity Mentor UK, which provides high quality information and advice to practitioners, including teachers. The Department is also funding the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions (CAYT) up to March 2014. CAYT have set up an open-access data bank of quality assured impact studies on services and programmes that support the development of young people. The database will enable schools, commissioners and others to choose the best programmes with a strong evidence of impact.

While I’m sure this answer is accurate there are things they could have said that would have answered Mr de Bois’s question in a more straight forward way. Continue reading

Dame Sally Davis, Chief Medical Officer, calls for more investment in prevention & end to silos


Two quotes from Dame Sally Davis, the Chief Medical Officer:

The rise of lifestyle diseases and chronic disease means we should probably put any rises of money we get into prevention rather than into more acute care. But we’ll only get that if we build the evidence base while using economic modelling to make the case.

We have absolutely got to build the case for investment, but we have got more economists in the department working on the job and we are commissioning more economics on prevention.


We can, in fact, crack lifestyle diseases. But we need to stop tackling them in silos with a tobacco cessation clinic here, a contraception clinic there and alcohol treatment somewhere else. We need a broader cultural change across society to achieve that, and one that embraces Public Health England, schools and the health care system.

Norman Fowler calls for Prevention Strategy

FowlerAs part of a wider set of interviews carried out to reflect on the 65th anniversary of the NHS Sir Norman Fowler makes some points that may resonate with readers of this blog.

He says:

far, far too little time and money is devoted to preventing ill health. It is still simply not taken remotely seriously enough. Much of my experience is with HIV at the moment and with the recent select committee we did point out that the Government was spending £760 million a year on drugs to treat people with HIV. I’ve got no complaint about that, but they spent £2.9 million a year on government publicity to prevent HIV. Actually they’ve now reduced even that. It does show something of the kind of priorities that we have.

And I think that prevention needs to be given priority. I mean it’s all very well having a separate budget, and I’m all in favour of that, but what it really needs is to be given a lead, a strategy, a belief, because without that people are still not going to take it very seriously.

And that goes way beyond HIV. It goes to all the things that people talk about – sugar, obesity, smoking, alcohol. You are going to be shot at if you go into that area. People are going to talk about the nanny state and all that. But that just has to be taken on. If you do these things one by one, it is highly dubious whether you really have an impact. I’d be all in favour of a separate prevention budget. But what it really needs is a strategy and a belief and someone with that belief to push it forward.

Responsiblity for Young People in Drug and Alcohol Policy

NO CHAOSChildren & Young People Now report the end of the Department for Education’s policy responsibility for youth policy.  This is a move that has been coming down the pipeline for some time, but I’m not sure that it’s as welcome as some other parts of the sector are saying in their comments to CYPN.

From our perspective it means that the vital policy link between a variety of risky behaviours, including substance misuse, is now no longer held in a single team but is spread across departments and will now be hindered (when it comes to substance misuse) by focusing on drugs, alcohol and tobacco in isolation.

Only last year the National Audit Office was praising the drug strategy as an example of joined up working across departments, saying:

Several joint strategies relate to early action. For example, the Home Office leads on the overall Drugs Strategy, and within this the Department of Health and the Department for Education lead jointly on reducing demand, including preventative measures.

Well that’s less true today than it was then.

The information we have is that the Home Office will now lead on the work the DfE would have previously done on young people and substance misuse. Although even that isn’t entirely sure as there is likely to be a substantial role for Public Health England and the Department of Health may still have some sway.  Meanwhile it is clear that other parts of youth policy – positive activities, youth voice etc. – are now to be addressed to the Cabinet Office.

The areas the DfE are reserving to itself are any education aspects, so things like behaviour and attendance, safeguarding and alternative provision will continue to be a DfE policy responsibility. The DfE will also continue to have responsibility for drug and alcohol education issues – though if the PSHE review is anything to go by we shouldn’t expect too much from that quarter at the moment.

PQ: Spending on drug and alcohol issues by NHS & local authorities

The Labour MP, Seema Malhotra, asked the Department of Health about the spending on drug and alcohol prevention and treatment.

The reply suggests that currently this data isn’t available (though we know that local authorities do already report their spending on young people’s substance misuse services), but that this may change.

Anna Soubry, the Public Health Minister, says:

Each local authority is free to determine their actual spend on alcohol and drug prevention, treatment and recovery based on an assessment of need. They will be required to report their spending in these areas on an annual basis.

What isn’t clear from the answer is whether the DH expect this to be broken down so that it is clearer how much (or little) is spent on prevention, treatment and recovery.

Given the importance that many government policies place on preventative work and in the context of how the last Focal Point report found it impossible to identify prevention spending at a local level it seems to that it would be important that this distinction is made.