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.

Well Happy App

The NHS in London have produced a smartphone app for young Londoners which hopes to empower young people when it comes to a range of health related risks.  The project manager puts it this way:

The project I am working on is an app and website for young people in London called WellHappy. It is a free health app for young people aged 12-25 in London and it allows you to search through thousands of local support services, including mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and stop smoking services and find the nearest to you.

Like a lot of other young people, when I started to struggle, I had no idea where to turn. I didn’t want to go to my GP and I didn’t feel that I could talk to my friends or family. I wish I had had something like WellHappy to help me find the help that was right for me.

The app’s FAQ section on drugs and alcohol includes a range of advice including whether you can get expelled from school or college for taking drugs, to which they rightly say:

Yes, but your school or college does not have to automatically exclude you if they find out you have been taking drugs or have drugs on the school premises.  The school/college will have their own drug policy in place which will outline procedures to be taken.  They will also take into account the seriousness of the drug incident.

Interestingly they don’t include a similar question in their alcohol or smoking sections.

Mentor’s recent toolkit on developing a school drug policy had a case study (borrowed from the government’s 2004 guidance) on a Southwark school that sought the views of pupils that were at risk of exclusion when revising their drug policy:

A Year 10 tutor from a secondary school sought advice from the LEA to work with a group of pupils at risk of exclusion; the group contained both confirmed and suspected cannabis users. It was decided that the pupils would be approached and asked if they would participate in a focus group to discuss the school’s drug policy. This would enable them to become aware of the possible consequences of their behaviour and allow their views to be considered as part of the policy review process.

A number of issues were discussed that were relevant to both the school and to the pupils. They discussed the issue of informing parents/carers when a pupil is found using cannabis at school and agreed that this would be a deterrent if it were policy. The pupils also gave suggestions about how young people should be questioned by the school and what support could be offered.

This exercise increased the pupils’ understanding of school rules and the consequences of breaking them as well as reinforcing the school’s concern for their well-being. It enabled the pupils to feel that their views were valued.

School Exclusion Data from England

I’ve done some analysis of the Department for Education’s figures around fixed term and permanent exclusions from school for drug and alcohol issues.  The department have today released figures for 2010/11 and I’ve dug around in their data archive to look back to 2006/07.

The department’s analysis of the broader data is as follows:

  • There were 5080 permanent exclusions from state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and all special schools in 2010/11.
  • In 2010/11 there were 271,980 fixed-period exclusions from state-funded secondary schools, 37,790 fixed-period exclusions from state-funded primary schools and 14,340-fixed period exclusions from special schools.
  • The average length of a fixed-period exclusion in state-funded secondary schools was 2.4 days, for state-funded primary schools the average length of a fixed-period exclusion was 2.1 days.
  • The permanent exclusion rate for boys was approximately three times higher than that for girls. The fixed-period exclusion rate for boys was almost three times higher than that for girls.
  • Pupils with SEN with statements are around nine times more likely to be permanently excluded than those pupils with no SEN.
  • Children who are eligible for free school meals are nearly four times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion and around three times more likely to receive a fixed-period exclusion than children who are not eligible for free school meals.