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Schools: Substance Abuse Education

Volume 759: debated on Monday 2 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve teaching in schools about the dangers of substance abuse.

My Lords, drugs education is a statutory part of the new national curriculum for science. Pupils should be taught about the effects of recreational drugs, including substance misuse, on behaviour, health and life processes. Provision in this area can be further strengthened through PSHE education. To support teachers, we have provided funding to the drug and alcohol information service Mentor-ADEPIS to produce resources and guidance.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that evidence was given to the Home Affairs Select Committee that most schools provide drug education on just one occasion in the school year, or even less? Is he aware that the charity Mentor said:

“We are spending the vast majority of the money we do spend on drug education on programmes that don’t work”?

Is he aware that his department told the committee that it did not monitor the programmes and resources that schools use to support their teaching in this very important area? What steps have been taken since the publication of the Select Committee’s report to improve this state of affairs, and does he agree that very much more needs to be done if Education Ministers are to fulfil their proper responsibility to help to protect young people against the dangers of substance abuse in general and the consumption of drugs in particular?

Ofsted tells us that the drugs education in schools is good. There are a great many charities working with schools, not necessarily during formal curriculum time. Attendance is at an all-time high at schools. Absence has fallen substantially. We have strengthened the national curriculum to cater for more drugs education.

Will the Minister support the constructive policies of many European countries, which have been shown to improve prevention; reduce the numbers of young people addicted to drugs; reduce the prison population, particularly of young people; and increase the numbers of young people and others receiving treatment, relative to the performance of this country on all those measures?

We certainly look at what is effective in other countries; I know that ADEPIS has looked at this. We have supported a number of UN resolutions in this respect.

My noble friend may be aware that the Health and Social Care Information Centre found that drug abuse was more prevalent among those young people who had been excluded from school, at something like 12%, than among those in school. What plans do the Government have to reach those pupils so that this problem can be dealt with effectively?

My noble friend makes a very good point. Attendance at school is, as I say, at an all-time high. However, this is one of the focuses of the troubled families programme, which has been so successful.

My Lords, bearing in mind my noble friend’s original Answer, does he have any concern that talking about “recreational drugs” might have the effect of undermining the Government’s very strong desire to deal with substance abuse?

I agree with my noble friend—it is very unfortunate terminology—but I do not think that our determination is any different.

My Lords, many young people in schools have parents who are already drug abusers. Is any special pastoral care—and, in particular, guidance—given in schools to children of these parents?

I mentioned the troubled families programme. Families affected by substance misuse are at the heart of our drugs strategy, which commits to support those with the most complex needs. I think it is true that the troubled families programme has been extremely successful.

In 2013, the Office for National Statistics records a sharp increase of 21% in the number of deaths from drug misuse in England. Among men, deaths from heroin and morphine are up a staggering 32% on the previous year. Given the dangers of substance abuse and that those dangers are clearly growing according to the Government’s own statistics, does the Minister think that the Government should act with more urgency to find programmes that actually work?

Among 11 to 15 year-olds drug use has continued to fall from a peak in 2013. It was down again last year. We are very concerned about “legal highs”, or new psychoactive substances, from which there have been a number of deaths. That is specifically why we have introduced the ADEPIS programme, which has produced a range of resources to support teachers when teaching about legal highs. We have already banned more than 500 new drugs and created the forensic early warning system.

Does my noble friend agree with me that schools cannot be expected to do everything on their own, and that it is vital that parents also play a part not only in monitoring what their children are doing when they are out in the evenings but in discussing these issues with them in an open and frank manner?

I agree entirely with my noble friend that parents have a role to play. We have our CANparent trials. One thing that is very important for parents to instil into their children is a sense of routine, particularly in the evenings and late at night.

Is the noble Lord aware that, according to the latest figures, the number of young people presenting with alcohol problems at A&E has increased? Is he also aware—and this is hearsay—that people who do talks at schools say that when they make approaches to speak on drugs, alcohol and other mental health problems, they often get a warmer reception and greater welcome in the private sector than at state schools, where their approaches do not get a similar response?

It is true that figures show that alcohol abuse among young people of school age is down, but that may not be the case for those in their late teens or early 20s. On the noble Lord’s point about the private sector, we are trying to make sure that all state schools have an active extracurricular programme so that these kinds of extracurricular courses are well attended.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that drugs education is on the syllabus of young offender establishments? Although there may be treatment, there is not much evidence of education, which is just as important.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord. That is not really my brief, but I agree that more education in prisons would be a very welcome thing.