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Coalition government policy

Coalition government policy

With the coalition government now one year into a five year term it seems appropriate to review their achievements to date and what we know they are planning to do over the coming year.

Endorsement from the top

Earlier this year David Cameron said that all children should have access to effective education programmes about drugs however as yet the government is not offering an endorsement to schools of what those programmes might be or investing in the evaluation of programmes in schools.

The Drug Strategy

Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery, the government’s drug strategy, was published late in 2010 and outlined key aims for reducing the supply of, and demand for, drugs.

Regarding drug education they wrote:

“All young people need high quality drug and alcohol education so they have a thorough knowledge of their effects and harms and have the skills and confidence to choose not to use drugs and alcohol”

They also promised to:

  • Provide accurate information through drug education and targeted information using FRANK.
  • Use wider search powers to tackle problem behaviours in school, and to tackle drug dealing in schools.
  • Work with the local voluntary sector and police to prevent drug and alcohol misuse.

A more detailed overview can be found here.

The Home Office’s business plan for 2011/12 sets out the following as priorities for the delivery of the strategy:

  • Work with other government departments to ensure the effective local implementation and delivery of the drugs strategy, including the switch on of drug testing across England and Wales enabling local areas to decide whether to conduct drug testing and related interventions to tackle drug-related offending
  •  Review how law enforcement and health agencies share information and data on harmful patterns of drug use and emerging new drugs in order to help ensure that there is an effective and early response through public health messaging, law enforcement or legislation
  • Conduct pilots to improve the capabilities to identify new psychoactive substances or so called ‘legal highs’ and review findings to determine future roll out of these improvements
  • Work with the Department of Health and other government departments to ensure that cross-government Drug Recovery Payment by Outcomes pilots are developed to meet the needs of drug misusing offenders to deliver crime and reoffending outcomes
  • Work with the voluntary and community sector to deliver field-generated local innovative programmes that prevent substance misuse related offending by young people
  • Provide support to the Positive Futures Programme to ensure that they are able to reduce offending, prevent serious youth violence and reduce drug and alcohol misuse within their local communities


The importance of the government’s communication about drugs through FRANK is made clear in the drug strategy which says:

“Through the FRANK service, everyone, at any age, will have accurate and reliable information on the effects and harms of drugs, including new substances. They will be able to access advice, information and support if they, their children, or someone they know is at risk of drug misuse.”

A Freedom of Information request about the budget for 2011-12 resulted in a response which said:

“At present there are no plans submitted for expenditure approval on the FRANK campaign.”

A Department of Health report, Changing Behaviour, Improving Outcomes: A New Social Marketing Strategy for Public Health, makes clear the impact of removing funding from the FRANK campaign; in the last year there has been a decline in the number of telephone calls to the helpline by 22% and a fall in the number of visits to the website by 17%. The report says:

“while the centre will no longer run single issue campaigns in this area (young people’s health), we will make available the brands and creative assets from successful programmes (such as FRANK and Sex: Worth Talking About) for local areas to use and adapt (within sensible guidelines) if they choose.”

An Alcohol Strategy

The Department of Health are leading on developing this strategy which we don’t think will be the subject of public consultation.  Early indications are that as with the drug strategy the alcohol strategy will have something to say about the use of preventative interventions in school and elsewhere to reduce the harm that alcohol does to individuals and society.

Public Health England

While there is some debate about the government’s wider plans for the NHS the setting up and purpose of Public Health England is becoming much clearer.

Healthy Lives, Healthy People, the Public Health White Paper, said:

“As young people move through their teenage years and make the transition into adulthood, our aim is to strengthen their ability to take control of their lives, within clear boundaries, and help reduce their susceptibility to harmful influences, in areas such as sexual health, teenage pregnancy, drugs and alcohol. And they should have easy access to health services they trust, for example accredited ‘You’re Welcome’ young-people-friendly services. Public health funding, alongside the new early intervention grant, will allow local areas to develop a tailored approach that responds to the needs, age and vulnerability of the young person, and particularly targets at-risk groups.”

Following the White Paper there has been a public consultation on a range of indicators on which the local and national service will be judged.  Given the range of activity that is expected to come under the public health banner the indicators being considered are broad, but do include both direct indicators for drugs (mainly adult use) and proxy indicators that may help commissioners understand the risks that young people in their area face.  In our estimation these are the critical measures for the area we are interested in:

Rates of adolescents not in education, employment or training at 16 and 18 years of age

  • Truancy Rate
  • Rate of hospital admissions per 100,000 for alcohol related harm
  • Hospital admissions caused by unintentional and deliberate injuries  to 5-18s
  • Number leaving drug treatment free of drug(s) of dependence


The schools white paper The Importance of Teaching has resulted in the Education Bill which is going through parliament. As well as allowing for Free Schools to be established the Bill will change the powers schools have around discipline, in particular the powers teachers have to search pupils for drugs including alcohol and tobacco.

Guidance on how schools can use these powers have been under consultation are expected to be published ahead of the start of the new school year in September 2011.

PSHE internal Review

The DfE have committed to an internal review of PSHE. This review will be carried out by civil servants and will look at how the government can support schools in their delivery of PSHE.  Judging from what the School’s Minister, Nick Gibb, has said it is possible that the PSHE curriculum will be paired down but we are confident that drug and alcohol education will remain a core part of the subject curriculum.

In a session with the Lords Select Committee on HIV and AIDS the Minister said:

“We do need to be careful not to cram in to PSHE every single thing that the Daily Mail or the Daily Mirror decides that our children should want to learn about. I mean, every week we get representations that a new thing should be added to the curriculum, whether it’s first aid or knife crime or parenting. And you can very easily fill up the whole curriculum with those issues. It doesn’t mean they’re not important. What we’re saying is maybe more discretion for teachers is needed”.

Alongside this, but entirely separately, is the Curriculum Review which will look at what subjects should be included in the national curriculum. Some drug knowledge is currently part of the science curriculum and is likely to remain so.

Healthy schools

The government has now stopped the funding of the national healthy schools team.

As a legacy to the national programme there are a set of tools that schools can use to take forward their own work on health and wellbeing.

Other matters

Outside of government work there have been other key developments that are noteworthy.

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use 2010

This annual survey will be published later in July. Last year’s focus was on drug use so this year’s focus will be on drug smoking and drinking. The ongoing funding is not guaranteed but with the demise of TellUs we hope this invaluable source of information will continue.

Liz Fuller, the lead researcher, presented to the DEF and her slides are available here. Our own interpretation of the research is available here.

NHS Statistics on Alcohol

This year’s report was released in May 2011 and reported on hospital admissions in 2009/10. It stated that 3700 children aged 16 and under were admitted to hospital during 2009/10 wholly attributable to alcohol.

Local spending on young people’s substance misuseThis data enables us to see the differences between annual budgets within an area and also between areas. This annually published data is part of an important set which enables us to see how the picture varies across the country. There is a slideshow here which presents the data;

As so much of the funding decisions have been devolved to local levels, the government has not had to make many of the decisions regarding drug education.

LEAs have to decide if they are going to continue the support provided to schools through their Drug and Alcohol Teams and other support services. The National Health Education Group has carried out a survey to find out how many LAs are hoping to continue to provide drug education support to schools. 79 of the 152 LAs in England responded.

In secondary schools: 

  • 44% said they would continue to provide support
  • 28% did not yet know
  • 28% said they would no longer be providing support.

In primary schools:

  • 42% said they would continue to provide support,
  • 24% did not yet know,
  • 34% said they would no longer provide support.

Last updated June 2011