Mentor UK backs report calling for urgent evidence-based drugs education

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19 September 2018 | Mentor News

Last week Mentor’s CEO Boris Pomroy spoke on a panel inside Parliament to mark the launch of The Children’s Inquiry cannabis report by think-tank Volteface, and this is what he said:

First I’d like to thank the team at Volteface, not just for inviting me here this evening – though that was very kind – but for producing such an important and timely report.

In the time I have, I want to pick up on one issue highlighted in the report. That of drug education within schools.  I’ll start with what we know.

Mentor’s own research shows that almost half of secondary school children have drug education once per year or less. And young people are aware of this absence, with two-thirds of this group labeling their drug and alcohol education ‘insufficient’.

Picture Copyright: Twitter/VoltefaceHub

And to be clear this is not the fault of teachers. Who often are hard-working, passionate and committed to giving young people the best start in life. But they are overworked and overwhelmed. Teachers here have some of the lowest time dedicated to professional development of all developed countries. In China, for example, teachers are given 40 days per year. In Singapore (an outlier for sure) up to one hundred days. In Japan, teachers have a maximum of 17-hours contact time per week. In England? Five-days per year. It simply isn’t good enough.

And so, what happens instead? Young people speak of the inconsistency of drug education in their schools. This is backed up by an Ofsted report in 2012 citing that 40 percent of schools were delivering poor or inadequate PSHE. A figure so scarily high that Ofsted has not measured it again since.

Teachers under pressure to deliver something and without guidance, support or budget, look outwards to consultants and other groups – particularly those who will come in and deliver education programmes for free. Without a nationally recognised ‘quality mark’ in place, this is like pulling a ticket from the tombola at a school Christmas fair – you might get lucky and bag yourself a bottle of vintage champagne, but more likely it’ll be the bottle of homebrew made by little Jonny’s dad 5 years ago – unpalatable and likely to cause to long-term harm.

Is there any good news? Yes. Earlier in the summer, the Government did announce that health education, including drugs and alcohol, will form a mandatory part of the syllabus from September 2020.

Now let me be clear. It is a long way from perfect. But it is a start. And a rare opportunity to get in the mix and really shape drug education for the next generation.

Picture Copyright: Twitter/VoltefaceHub

Complementing the recommendations made within The Children’s Inquiry, here are the central themes we’d like to see in any future drug education strategy.

  • That all young people are given high quality, evidence-based drug education regularly throughout their school life – education that gives them not just the knowledge of what specific drugs might do and the potential consequences of taking them, but also gives them the skills and self-confidence to know what to do in those challenging moments – perhaps in the moment where they are offered drugs for the first time, or when one of their friends is taking them

 

  • And this means supporting teachers. They need to be given the training, tools, budget and time in the curriculum to deliver this. This is in the power of the DfE and I would love to see them use this opportunity to put a marker in the sand and commit to giving teachers the support they deserve and need.

 

  • Organisations such as my own also must take a hard look at ourselves. Could we do more to make our materials accessible? Could the content and structure better reflect the reality of what teachers are facing inside (and out) of the classroom? Could we shout louder and put ourselves in places where teachers are able to more easily discover us? The answer is, obviously, yes.

 

  • Quality counts. Drug education delivery must absolutely be better and more consistently monitored and evaluated going forwards. This is particularly important when it comes to schools bringing in outside consultants to support drug education. If you’ll allow me a small plug, earlier this year Mentor launched its own Quality Mark – it aims to give schools, commissioners and others involved in this space confidence and choice when it comes to searching for and selecting third-party consultants and practitioners (you can find details of it on our website). We’d love to see the Mentor Quality Mark widely adopted and for it become the symbol of evidence-based, high-quality drug and alcohol education in the future.

 

It goes without saying that central to our work at Mentor is the belief that timely, age-appropriate and regular drug and alcohol education is the key to giving young people the best chance of facing their future with the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence they need to make the right choices for them.

The Children’s Inquiry is essential in helping take that debate forward and I’d like to thank Volteface again for facilitating it. Thank you.”

 

Boris Pomroy is Chief Executive of Mentor – The UK’s leading drug and alcohol prevention charity. Through our work with children and young people (and those that care for them) we help them build the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to make positive choices even in the most challenging situations.

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