National conference highlights best practice for evidence-based prevention
Educators, professionals and policy-makers were called upon to take an evidence-based approach to drug education and prevention at the National Alcohol and Drugs Education Conference 2016, hosted by Mentor and The Alcohol Education Trust at Middlesex University London on October 19.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Sarah Newton delivered her first public speech in a keynote address at the conference, saying: “Not all [young people] have the confidence to resist drug use, so it is critical that we provide them with the tools to tackle life’s problems.”
The Minister added that policy-makers were becoming increasingly aware of charities like Mentor and The Alcohol Education Trust, whose work targets adolescent risky behaviours and challenges misconceptions about social norms regarding substance misuse.
“It’s about building skills that develop confidence and resilience in young people,” said Mentor’s Chief Executive Michael O’Toole. He added there is a need for consistent ‘good practice’ in Personal, Health, Social and Economic (PSHE) education to help prevent and reduce alcohol and drug misuse.
O’Toole went on to say that young people need to learn skills in healthy decision-making. This opinion stems from a body of evidence that indicates increased independence and self-confidence act as protective factors in preventing substance misuse.
Mentor and The Alcohol Education Trust organised the conference to promote evidence-based practice around building resilience in young people. Years of research has found that many commonly used approaches, such as the abstinence-based ‘Just Say No‘ campaign from the 1980s, as well as the use of scare tactics or solely providing information, are ineffective at preventing substance misuse. Instead, these charities advocate that professionals should take a holistic approach in helping young people improve their resilience and self-efficacy skills.
Chief Executive of The Alcohol Education Trust Helena Conibear said a life skills approach to PHSE was “essential” before the age of 11. The AET claims that the most effective PHSE lessons are taught in 15 minutes, followed by an outdoor activity that reinforces the learning objective. The charity has engaged with approximately 4,000 pupils in 34 schools across England through their programme Talk About Alcohol, with positive results – only 8% of pupils who engaged with Talk About Alcohol misused alcohol, compared to 20% of pupils who did not.
At the conference, speakers argued that education is a powerful tool that can influence culture by challenging normative beliefs. This could be done by serving young people in a positive manner through an evidence-based approach that identifies local needs and fills gaps in knowledge.
Peer van der Kreeft is at the forefront of European harm prevention, changing the drugs narrative through the life skills programme Unplugged.
Delivering a workshop, he provided evidence on how Unplugged had improved assertive skills, self-esteem and decision-making in young people. Unplugged has been shown to prevent early experimentation, having the greatest impact on male pupils who show developmental delays. This schools-based programme for 12 to 14 year olds is available through Mentor – click here for more information.
Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, one of the conference exhibitors, has also taken a new educative approach to drugs education through their school programme, Life Skills Training, which has a body of evidence spanning 30 years. It was originally created for American pupils but has been adapted to the cultural needs and skills of UK students. Its replicability makes it a successful global project that has shown to reduce cannabis use by 75%.
Conference delegates were encouraged to adopt new approaches towards PHSE in the classroom and beyond. The use of evaluated education and prevention programmes based on evidence is crucial in the education of young people, many of whom become disengaged from outdated, ineffective alcohol and drugs education.
Michael O’Toole reminded delegates, “It’s an important refresher to say what doesn’t work [in alcohol and drug education]. In my experience, it’s sad to say these things still happen – teachers using non-interactive methods and fear arousal.”
For more information about the conference, or to read the conference report, click here: https://mentoruk.org.uk/national-alcohol-drugs-education-conference/
Delegates can access presentations from the 2016 conference by following this link (password protected): http://www.alcoholeducationtrust.org/2016-conference/