Findings from our survey into drug and alcohol education

Many thanks to the PSHE Association for carrying out this research for us, the 288 teachers who took part in the survey, and in particular the 20 who gave up their time for in-depth interviews. The key findings are set out below, and more can be found in the full report.

The information from the research will help us plan how we best use our resources to support schools. If you’d like to comment, have your say below or in our mini-follow-up survey.

Key findings

  • Drug and alcohol education provision remains inconsistent in delivery across educational establishments within England.
  • Primary school settings remain less confident in their ability to access effective resources and to provide best practice in drug and alcohol education provision. A fifth of respondents from primary schools (19%) felt they had little access to effective resources for teaching drug and alcohol education.
  • Four-fifths (81%) of all respondents said they would like more classroom resources for drug and alcohol education.
  • While elements of good practice exist throughout educational settings, assessment and evaluation, continuity in learning and quality assurance of resources and external support remain weaker areas.
  • While there are numerous examples of excellent PSHE/drug and alcohol education teaching, overall many practitioners continue to feel constrained by a lack of curriculum time to build continuous learning, and gaps in finance for resources and staff training.
  • Staying up-to-date on information and resources around drugs represents a particular concern for teachers, especially in secondary settings.
  • Interview discussions reveal that practitioners continue to require advice on how to interact with parents around drug and alcohol education, particularly in primary settings.

Limited curriculum time is available for drug and alcohol education

Pupils generally receive 1-2 hours of drug and alcohol education a year or less.

graph curriculum time

A lack of curriculum time was also noted by interviewees as an important constraint. The hours allocated depended on the importance placed on drug and alcohol education.

“The most important aspect which could be improved would be curriculum time… it’s about having enough time to build effective teaching and experience.”

Provision is inconsistent

Respondents noted that drug and alcohol education, and PSHE more generally was often delivered by non-specialist teachers resulting in varying levels of confidence and preventing continuous learning for pupils and development of teaching experience for staff:

“The real barrier that effective (drug and alcohol) teaching faces within the school is that it is not delivered through a PSHE team which leads to a huge variety in delivery. There are 8 tutors in a year team so the delivery can be varied even within one year. Also tutors move with the year group so every year they confront something new and have to teach a new topic.”

Many primary schools lack basic resources; secondary teachers want help addressing complex issues in young people’s lives

Four-fifths (81%) of all respondents said they would like more classroom resources for drug and alcohol education. A fifth of respondents from primary schools (19%) felt they currently had little access to effective resources for teaching drug and alcohol education, compared to just 4% from secondary schools. When asked to identify the classroom resources which would be most useful, primary schools focused more on substance-specific needs. The most popular resources requested were alcohol (50%), illegal drugs (44%), tobacco (43%) and practising assertiveness skills (43%).

In interviews and comments from secondary school teachers, a common complaint was that resources were not up-to-date, or not relevant for their pupils. Media coverage of ‘legal highs’ in recent years was reflected in the 65% of secondary respondents who wanted classroom resources on these.

Otherwise, the main desire from secondary teachers was for resources which placed drug and alcohol use in the context of other issues in their pupils’ lives. The most popular requests were to cover links with sex and relationships (56%), links with mental health (55%), coping with stressful situations (52%) and how many peers use (countering myth that ‘everyone does it’).

Teaching, evaluation and informing provision

Underlining Ofsted’s recent finding that assessment of pupils’ learning, and evaluation of teaching and learning continued to be weaknesses in PSHE education,  over half of schools responding did not take into account assessment of pupils’ learning in planning drug and alcohol education.

In a separate question, resources to help assess pupils’ needs were requested by 44% of secondary respondents and 33% of primary respondents. In planning drug and alcohol education, anecdotal evidence appears to be drawn on more than structured needs assessment.

graph support

The school drug policy also does not seem to inform provision: although 86% of respondents said that their institution had a whole school drugs policy, the majority of interviewees suggested that this focused on drug-related incidents and safeguarding rather than drug and alcohol education.

Sources of support

Three-fifths of all respondents (60%) cited support from their local authority advisor, however in comments and interviews there were references to this support being cut back or removed. Local authorities were said to provide support across all the areas asked about: general advice, classroom resources, factual information on drugs and alcohol, advice on the school drug policy and staff training. There were some references to teachers not having the confidence to provide services which had previously been directly provided or funded by the local authority, such as drug education for primary pupils or workshops for parents.

The PSHE Association also emerged as an important source of support (unsurprisingly given that over half of respondents were paid members). The FRANK website was used by almost four-fifths (79%) of secondary schools, and the police provided support to three-fifths (60%) of secondary schools and a fifth of primary schools. Other sources of support were also reported but 11% of primary schools did not report receiving any support with drug and alcohol education.

Meeting the needs of schools

Mentor’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS) will help give teachers more confidence in providing effective drug and alcohol education to their pupils by providing good practice guidance and signposting to effective resources. To ensure this is grounded in wider PSHE education which gives children and young people the life skills they need, ADEPIS is working closely with the PSHE Association.

In a challenging financial context, schools’ access to local support and advice varies widely. ADEPIS will work with key players such as Public Health England to raise the profile of drug and alcohol prevention among competing local priorities. Partnership with networks such as the Drug Education Practitioners Forum will help equip local advisors with the latest research and good practice, and raise standards among external providers of drug education.

Read the full report.