When the Department for Education published the draft primary curriculum last year, one of the noticeable changes to the science curriculum was that the proposal is to no longer require primary schools to address drugs, tobacco, alcohol or medicines.
As those of us with a history in this area will know drug education relies on the science curriculum to provide a statutory foothold for its delivery in schools and so this change sent a bit of a shock-wave through our office and beyond.
The dilemma we faced is that for many years we’ve argued that teaching drug education as part of the science curriculum has the potential to reduce the scope of what is taught, missing out the vital practical skills and development of values that are at the heart of evidence based life-skills curricula.
So in some ways removing drugs from the science curriculum could be a positive thing were Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education to be made statutory.
And while the framework document on the national curriculum review, published yesterday, does say:
All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice.
It doesn’t seem likely that it will be made statutory, at least for the time being.
So yesterday, when the proposed statutory curriculum was published, we rushed to the science curriculum to see what it had to say.
Key Stage 1 & 2
It seems that the government have had a bit of a rethink when it comes to the primary curriculum. The year six programme of study now requires schools to teach pupils to:
recognise the impact of diet, exercise, drugs and lifestyle on the way their bodies function.
And the non-statutory guidance suggests that:
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… [They might explore] the work of scientists and scientific research (including historical sources, e.g. the work of John Boyd Orr) about the relationship between diet, exercise, drugs, lifestyle and health. They might collect data by interviewing health professionals and create guidance for younger children about how bodies work and how to keep them healthy.
Interestingly I note that there isn’t a specific reference to addressing alcohol, tobacco, volatile substances or medicines. Something that may well form the basis of some of our response to the consultation.
Key Stage 3
The new biology curriculum in Key Stage 3 includes health education with a specific focus on drugs where schools are expected to address:
the effects of drugs (including as medicines as well as substance misuse) on behaviour, health and life processes such as conception, growth and development.
They are also expected to address the impact that smoking has on the breathing system at this point.
Again no specific mention of alcohol.
So if this is what ends up making up the national curriculum once the consultation finishes drug education will retain some statutory footing whatever the outcomes of the much delayed PSHE review.