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Drug Education Guidance

Drug Education Guidance

DRUGS: Guidance for schools


This paper can be downloaded as a pdf from here.


In March 2004 the Department for Education and Skills released new guidance for schools about drugs[i].  The guidance covers all drugs, including medicines, tobacco and alcohol as well as illegal substances and applies to schools for pupils aged 5-16 years.  A complementary document for Further Education Colleges[ii], whose students include 16-19 year old pupils, was published by DrugScope at the same time.  The guidance is based on extensive consultation with practitioners and pupils.  It provides guidance on all matters relating to drug education, the management of drugs in schools, supporting the needs of pupils with regards to drugs and drug policy development. 


The guidance describes the aims of drug education and reviews what is known about the most effective approaches to drug education.


The aims of drug education are to:


  • Increase pupils? knowledge and understanding and to clarify their misconceptions about: 

    • the short and long term risks of drugs

    • the rules and laws relating to drugs

    • the impact of drugs on individuals, families and communities

    • the prevalence and acceptability of drug use among peers

    • the complex moral, social, emotional and political issues surrounding drugs


  • Develop pupils? personal and social skills to make informed decisions and keep themselves safe and healthy, including

    • assessing avoiding and managing risk

    • communicating effectively

    • resisiting pressures

    • finding information, help and advice

    • devising problem solving and coping strategies

    • developing self awareness and self esteem


  • Enable pupils to explore their own and otrher people?s attitudes towards drugs, drug use and drug users, including challenging stereotypes and exploring media and other influences.


Evidence suggests that drug education is most effective when:


    • it is addressed by the whole school community oincluding all staff, parents and carers, pupils, governors and the wider community

    • it is consistent with the values and ethos of the school it is part of a well planned programme delivered in a supportive environment where pupils feel able to engage in open discussion and are confident about asking for help if necessary.
    • policy and practice for managing incidents are consistent with teaching practices

    • pupils needs and views are taken into account when developing programmes and policies

    • staff have access to training and support

    • it is supported by consistent messages form the family and community




The headteachers? summary usefully identifies the five key messages of the guidance.  These are repeated below with some additional comments:


1 All schools should have a drug education programme

This forms part of the Ofsted inspection programme, but some schools still do not have a programme which refers specifically to drug education. Other schools have excellent drug education programme, which are clear and well-implemented. The guidance notes that drug education should cover all drugs, licit and illicit, and should focus on those drugs that are of particular significance to pupils. 


2 All schools should have a drug policy developed in consultation with the whole school community

The policy should cover drug education and its delivery as well as incident management.  Consultation should include pupils and parents. The National Healthy Schools Programme has the potential to drive forward an on-going process of consultation and participation about health, linking the issues around alcohol and drugs to health-related policies more generally.


The guidance also makes the point that consultation with pupils ? through school councils, focus groups and questionnaires ? has an educational function in its own right. It helps pupils get a strong sense of the school?s approach to drugs and is an opportunity to learn about drug issues. The guidance states that:

?pupils can have a role in determining rules and the consequences of breaking them, which gives value to their views, and helps their understanding of the school?s expectations and concern for their well-being?.


3 All schools should have a range of responses and procedures for managing drug incidents

The guidance states that permanent exclusion of a child for any reason, including a drug-related incident, should be the last step in a process for dealing with problems. Exclusion should be considered only ?after a wide range of other strategies have been tried without success? and the guidance suggests a range of responses a school could consider. Schools need to consider whether temporary or permanent exclusion for possession of an illegal substance will place that child at even more risk than if he or she is kept in school and provided with support. However, the guidance also states that supply of an illegal drug is a serious breach of school rules and that this ?may be one of the exceptional circumstances where a headteacher judges it appropriate to permanently exclude a pupil?.


If a pupil is supplying drugs to other children, then this is undoubtedly a serious matter. But school exclusion will tend to exacerbate the causes and contexts of drug misuse. Children who are excluded from school are more likely to have drug problems than their peers. The 1998/99 Youth Lifestyles Survey concludes that half of all truants and school excludees have used drugs compared with only 13% of school attenders, and that seven per cent have used Class A drugs compared with only the tiniest fraction of their peers. In a more recent MORI survey, the Youth Justice Board reported that 51% of excludees had tried at least one Class B drug and 23% at least one Class A drug.



4 All staff should receive drug awareness training, have a role in implementing the drug policy and have access to continual professional development

Few teachers receive training in health education as part of their initial teacher education, and many experienced teachers will lack confidence that their knowledge and awareness of drug issues is up-to-date and relevant.


It is reassuring, therefore, that the need for drug awareness training is recognised in the guidance. Next year, the Government is funding 3,000 places for teachers on in-service training courses throughout the country as part of the on-going professional development of teachers. These courses are validated by the Health Development Agency (HDA). Teachers will be required to attend a series of seminars in their local area and produce a portfolio on their developing practice in delivering drugs or sex and relationships education. This is a start, but, even if this training continues to be a funding priority in subsequent years, it will take a long time to train all teachers to this level at a rate of 3,000 teachers per year.


5 Schools should ensure that pupils vulnerable to drug misuse are identified and receive appropriate support

There is evidence that some children and young people are more vulnerable to problematic drug use than others.  For example those who are excluded from school are more likely to have drug and alcohol related problems.  Children whose parents are drug misusers are also more vulnerable.  Mental health problems are closely associated with drug and alcohol misuse and young people whose education or family life have been seriously disrupted may also be at risk.  However, it is not always possible to identify children who are vulnerable before they get into difficulties with drugs; so this section of the document has provoked much discussion amongst local partnerships supporting schools, such as Drug Action Teams and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Is it possible to identify young people who are vulnerable to drug misuse without labelling and stigmatising children? Are the facilities available locally to intervene to support them? Will the response be fast enough to make a difference? And how will schools work with parents and carers around these sensitive issues?


A note about drug testing and passive (or sniffer) dogs

Some people believe that the new guidance has given headteachers the power to carry out drug testing in schools, but this is not correct.  Headteachers have always had the responsibility to act in the best interests of pupils at their school.  Previous guidance from the DfES specifically advised against drug testing.  The current guidance recognises that headteachers may want to consider drug testing and lists (in Appendix 10) the steps which should be in place before a school introduces either drug testing or the use of passive dogs (also known as sniffer dogs) in school.  However, the guidance makes no reference to random testing of all pupils for drugs.


In this context, it is interesting to note that where UK independent schools have introduced drug testing, they have done so as an alternative to exclusion. Typically, they have restricted testing to pupils who have been caught in possession of drugs and have made it a condition of these pupils remaining in the school that they agree to undergo random tests.  


Evidence from the USA, where random testing has been used for some time, suggests that this has no impact on the prevalence of drug use amongst pupils.  In addition a study in the UK suggests that the use of sniffer dogs in schools may increase the possibility of pupils bringing drugs to schools.  This is because pupils recognised that the passive dogs sometimes picked out pupils who had not used drugs, while apparently missing some who were thought to be drug users.


Many experts in drug education in the UK believe that schools introducing drug testing in schools will jeopardise the trust which young people need to have in the adults they meet in school, whether these adults are teachers, support staff or part of the health services. 

[i] Drugs:   Guidance for schools DfEs 2004

[ii] Guidance for Further Education Institutions, Alcohol Concern and DrugScope 2004