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.

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.

London Identification and Brief Advice Practitioner’s Network

Over the last few months I’ve been pleased to be part of the advisory group for the Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) Network.

IBA is an evidence based, effective intervention to identify and intervene with individuals drinking at levels above recommended guidelines.  I wanted to support the network in part because of our experience on the Street Talk project where we found that this sort of approach fitted well with young people who were already taking risks with their health.

The network isn’t for drug and alcohol specialists rather it aims to support staff, practitioners and clinicians working in London to deliver what is quite a simple but effective approach to reducing harm.  If you’ve had training in this area, or want to be more effective in how your organisation can support those at risk then the network could be a way of supporting you.

You can find out about the IBA network by clicking on this link. You will be able to find out about the aims and download the latest newsletters. The network provides support, information, advice, resources and updates on the most recent research in this area.

Membership is free and it’s very easy to sign up. If you would like to join the network or come along to our next meeting on 20th June at Guildhall in London please email

The public’s support for public health interventions: plain packs & MUP

YouGov have asked the public what they think about the two big public health interventions that didn’t make the Queen’s speech this year – plain packs for cigarettes and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

There’s been some speculation as to why these policies haven’t been taken forward, was it the dark arts of lobbying, or more about the political rise of Ukip, or the failure of the policies to command the support of key ministers in the Cabinet.

What I’m interested in though is why there seems to be such different responses to these changes by the public and I’m left wondering whether it is a matter of the values messages, or just the length of time that those in tobacco control have been advocating for these sorts of interventions.

Of course it could be that one appears to be cost-free to the consumer and the other isn’t. Continue reading

Teenage Alcohol Use and Educational Attainment

A few days ago I wrote about the links between substance misuse and other risky behaviours and educational outcomes pointing to US research which suggests that the correlations are clear even if the causation isn’t.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to attend a conference organised by the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources programme about alcohol use by young people and young adults.

As the organiser’s name suggests the focus was on what some of the longitudinal data tells about the outcomes for young people who use alcohol.

I’m sure that CLOSER will share all the presentations but I want to focus on a paper that formed the basis of the first presentation, by Dr Jeremy Staff of Penn State University, who looked at what we can learn about the educational outcomes of young people who use alcohol. Continue reading

UNICEF Report Card 11 – a parochial view

As my CEO, Paul, makes clear, in our media release today about funding for prevention and early intervention through the public health grant, the UNICEF report on the health and well-being of children and young people shows us just how far we still have to travel when it comes to reducing the harm that drugs and alcohol are doing to children and young people. Continue reading