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Response to the PSHE Education Review

The following is the Drug Education Forum’s response to the government’s PSHE education review.

Our response focuses on the issues for drug education as part of PSHE education.  The Drug Education Forum supports the delivery of drug education as part of the PSHE education curriculum, but believes that there are specific issues that the review needs to address about the current state of school delivered drug education.

We share the Prime Minister’s view that,

“education about drugs is vital and we should make sure that education programmes are there in our schools and we should make sure that they work.”

We believe that this review has a critical role to play in ensuring that the Prime Minister’s vision is achieved.

In discussing drugs we adopt the same definition of drugs as used by the 2004 drugs guidance for schools:

‘Drugs’ refers to all drugs including medicines, volatile substances, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs’

What do you consider the core outcomes PSHE education should achieve and what areas of basic core knowledge and awareness should pupils be expected to acquire at school through PSHE education?

As the Independent Advisory Group on Drug and Alcohol Education argued in their 2008 report drug education should be an entitlement for all pupils.

The Drug Education Forum believes that PSHE can make a significant contribution to the ongoing wellbeing of young people and their ability to maintain their wellbeing against the many circumstances and situations that have the potential to endanger it.

We believe the core outcomes for drug education should be that:

  • The risk factors associated with drug misuse are reduced, and the protective factors enhanced.
  • Students have sufficient time and the appropriate atmosphere of enquiry to explore the issues of drug use, societal values in relation to drugs, and to develop their attitudes towards drug use.
  • Students choose to abstain from drug use, or delay the onset of their first use, or where they are using reduce the harms associated with use.

Evidence increasingly suggests that these outcomes are achievable through the use of well researched and tested programmes.  However, there is little to suggest that schools are using programmes that achieve these outcomes.

In part we believe that this is because there has been too much emphasis on the knowledge element of drug education – being able to describe the effects of particular substances, their legal status, and the health outcomes associated with their use.

This year the Drug Education Forum developed a set of principles for good drug education, based on a review of the evidence base for what is effective in developing and delivering programmes that have the sort of outcomes described above.  We recommend them to the PSHE education review.

Have you got any evidence that demonstrates why a) existing elements and b) new elements should be part of the PSHE education curriculum? Your answer should provide a summary of the evidence and where appropriate contain the title, author and publication date of research.

We are pleased to note that there appears to be a strong downward trend in young people’s drug use. However, the ongoing research into the prevalence data for young people’s drug use show that drug use by school aged young people remains a serious social issue for England,.  For example, 25% of pupils aged 15 took drugs (excluding alcohol and tobacco) last year, and 10% of the same age group said they had been drunk 3 or more times in the last month.

In the last year the emergence of mephedrone has started to be picked up in survey work with young adults in particular.  It appears that the drug is now amongst the most widely used by this age group, with estimates of use between 4 and 10% of young people having used it at least once.  We note that the ACMD call on the PSHE review to ensure that primary school age children are given information about legal highs.

The evidence that the regular use of alcohol at an early age impacts on educational outcomes makes the case for addressing these issues compelling.  Examination of longitudinal data shows that those who drink weekly age 14 achieve on average on average 5 GCSE grades lower than non drinkers at age 16 and were more likely to engage in shoplifting, graffiti and vandalism.

We contend that there remains a strong case for schools to help their pupils develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes in relation to drugs.

The Drug Education Forum is not, however, complacent about the quality of drug education received by pupils, and believe that there is a strong case to be made for improving the quality of provision by:

  • Promoting the use of evidence based programmes and approaches
  • Ensuring regular time-tabled curriculum time
  • Developing specialist PSHE teachers
  •  Tying programmes to wider school activities which have been shown to reduce drug use.

Which elements of PSHE education, if any, should be made statutory (in addition to sex education) within the basic curriculum?

It is already a statutory requirement that schools safeguard the wellbeing of all their pupils. We believe that PSHE is the most fertile area of the curriculum for the discharge of this duty. It will remind schools of this duty if it is specified within PSHE Programmes of Study, along with an expectation that PSHE will address the threats to wellbeing that young people may face.

The DEF believes that if the government are not prepared to make PSHE education statutory in its entirety then drug education should share the same statutory footing as sex education as a minimum.

Pupils have consistently said that they see teachers as a helpful source of information on drugs and have been able to describe positive health messages they take from drug education.

However, we do not believe that changing the statutory status of drug education is sufficient to address the weaknesses that have been uncovered by Ofsted and others in the last two years.

Are the national, non-statutory frameworks and programmes of study an effective way of defining content?

The two highly significant drawbacks with the current non-statutory basis for PSHE education are:

  • There is no incentive for schools to engage professionally trained PSHE education teachers, and no pool of professionally trained teachers for them to draw upon even if they wanted to, to bring the standard of PSHE education teaching into line with other key curriculum subjects.
  • There is no incentive for schools to alter, (where such alterations are needed), the staffing, time-tabling, programme-planning, methodology, and assessment of PSHE education because there is no systematic inspection of the subject.

There are few inspectors able to properly inspect and report on the quality of a programme and little incentive for schools to improve the quality when the focus is on reporting on results in the statutory subjects. It remains impossible for a school to get anything greater than a satisfactory for PSHE/health and wellbeing if their results in the statutory subjects are satisfactory or less.

Without properly trained teachers, and without skilled local consultation preceding programme-planning, content will never be guaranteed to be relevant to young people’s needs, nor will it be possible to ensure the relevance of content that will grab and engage young people, by addressing these expressed needs. We have yet to hear of any examples of schools conducting full pupil consultation before planning programmes to address their identified needs in PSHE education. Until and unless the status of PSHE education is raised, along with an expectation of systematic inspection of the subject, this situation is unlikely to change, and content will continue to be hit and miss.

How can schools better decide for themselves what more pupils need to know, in consultation with parents and others locally?

Schools need to be able to access up to date evidence on what is likely to be effective in achieving the outcomes they and society want from drug education.  In addition the government should emulate the national database of programmes hosted by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration in the USA.  This database can be accessed by school administrators and others in order to choose the programme that may be right for their school ( We believe that a similar database would be of use to schools in this country.

We believe that schools should use our principles of good drug education ( and should demand that the organisations that support their provision work to the principles of supporting school drug education (

Schools should undertake a needs assessment with their pupils.  In order to do this we advise the use of the following tools:

Key Stages 1 and 2

The ‘draw and write’ (or ‘Jugs and Herrings’) approach is appropriate for this age group. You can find information on this approach at: (page 95 has an example exercise).

Key Stages 3 and 4

UNESCO provides a free needs assessment resource ( Alternatively, SHEU provides a needs assessment tool that is already used extensively in the UK (although it must be purchased).

Schools will also find it helpful to make contact with local public health officials in order to develop their understanding of local drug issues for young people.  However, as far as we can tell, there is no requirement on local authorities or health services to collect data on prevalence of drug use for their areas.

How can PSHE education be improved using levers proposed in the Schools White Paper, such as Teaching Schools, or through alternative methods of improving quality, such as the use of experienced external agencies (public, private and voluntary), to support schools?

There is mixed evidence for the effectiveness of external agencies supporting school drug education.  For example, schools should be discouraged from using agencies that adopt a ‘scared straight’ approach (see here for a recent example we noticed in the press as the evidence is that it is a counter-productive method of dealing with drug issues.

On the other hand, there is evidence from a Canadian review of cannabis prevention programmes that suggests that facilitation of programmes by programme developers and their students was one of the elements that made them more effective.  Why teachers were less likely to achieve the same outcomes is currently unclear.  However, there is considerable evidence that teachers adapt programmes.

As a minimum we recommend using the principles we produced which will ensure that there is a common understanding of what the external support is there to provide between the visitor and the school