Opening address – Drug Education Forum, present and future

12/07/2011

The following is the introduction to our recent seminar by Brian Dobson the Chair of the Drug Education Forum.

First of all, a very warm welcome to this varied range of policymakers and practitioners in the field of drug education. This is the last of a series of seminars which the Drug Education Forum has held across the country. It is an opportunity to hear about and discuss up to the minute research and innovative practice in drug education and related fields.

The Drug Education Forum is the membership organisation for national agencies with an interest in all aspects of drug education.

Since its establishment in the early 1990s, the DEF has become the national reference point on drug education policy. We have worked closely with, and influenced, government and, through our website, blog – and now Twitter – platforms, we provide an acclaimed information service available to all. We work in partnership with other organisations, including the Drug Education Practitioners’ Forum, whose Chair, Lesley Johnson, joins us today.

Yet, despite our reputation and acknowledged contribution to the field, we, along with other third sector organisations, have had our funding withdrawn. This senseless vandalism further damages the profile of drug education and reduces the likelihood of children and young people receiving their entitlement to quality drug education within a comprehensive PSHE education programme. According to research by the National Health Education Group, 40% of local authorities have withdrawn advisory and training support for drug education. In its 2010 PSHE education review, Ofsted found no example of outstanding drug education. We will be hearing today from Eleanor Formby about her important DfE mapping study of PSHE education whose findings add further to these concerns.

Meanwhile, as the capacity of the Drug Education Forum declines, we are determined to maintain our influence and our advocacy of quality drug education as an entitlement of all children and young people. There has been a decline over the last 10 years in the number of young people drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs. Can we be confident that this trend will continue when so much expertise and experience is in danger of being lost?

We have been waiting for eight months for the announcement of the remit of the DfE internal review of PSHE education. The Schools Minister was told unambiguously how urgent this is by the outstanding House of Lords Select Committee on HIV and AIDS, which made it clear that any attempt to marginalise PSHE education would be very poorly regarded.

We agree with the Prime Minister that there has been an insufficient emphasis on drug education within recent drug strategies, and we urge him to ensure that its place is given due prominence in the school curriculum. He has also said that we need to make sure that school provide good drug education. We agree.

Restoring the position of the Drug Education Forum as the national reference point for drug education would be a start. In the meantime, we shall do all we can to ensure that drug education has its proper place within the PSHE curriculum. 

To put what Brian says in context and as readers may know the Forum from its conception has been funded in large part by the Department for Education.  This arrangement will end at the end of November this year.  As of the moment there we have not been able to source funding to replace the DfE grant.

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