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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 17:44 GMT
'Facts not fears' curb drug use
Anna Montagna, Danielle Barrett and Natasha Turner
Thirty students gave lessons to 180 Year 7 pupils
By BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren

Telling children not to experiment with drugs will not work, teenagers involved in drugs education are warning.

Students at Copthall School in Barnet, north London - who have been involved in giving drugs awareness lessons to younger pupils - say children must be shown the facts and left to draw their own conclusions.

Danielle Barrett
Danielle: "Children won't listen to an order"
"I don't think that does any good - 'Just say No' - it's too much of an order and kids aren't going to listen," said Danielle Barrett, 16.

The claim came as Education Secretary David Blunkett urged schools to hammer home the message that all drug abuse was wrong.

Announcing details of an extra 10m funding, Mr Blunkett said all secondary and 80% of primary schools must have an anti-drugs initiative in place by 2003.

Students do the work

At Copthall School, such a programme is already in full swing - but its approach is far from disciplinarian.

Last year the scheme involved about 30 Year 11 pupils (15 - 16 year olds), who planned and prepared lessons to give to a class of Year 7 pupils (11 -12 year olds).

Anna Montagna
Anna felt her work had made a difference
The lessons ranged from a Jerry Springer-style production highlighting the effect using illegal drugs could have on family and friends, to a homemade video about a girl who was pressurised into taking drugs by her boyfriend.

Other aspects included the use of a "drugs suitcase" full of mock illegal substances, which showed how drugs could often look like something children might find in the first aid cabinet at home.

"The aim of the lessons wasn't to say 'you must not take drugs'," said Anna Montagna, 16.

"We just showed them the effects, told them what can happen and let them see if it's worth it. But you can't stop them."

Pupils were encouraged to ask questions and were reassured that everything would be dealt with in confidence, Natasha Turner, 16, said.

Lack of awareness

"They weren't scared to ask us questions," Danielle said. "I ended up making friends with one of the girls in my lesson.

"She wanted some advice - she didn't want to talk to a teacher because she thought she would get into trouble.

Natasha Turner
Natasha: Pupils were assured of confidentiality
"She asked me if having a meningitis jab could show whether someone had taken drugs or not - so that just shows how unaware she was!"

Lindsay Currie, who was taught by a group of Year 11s, said she and her peers had enjoyed the class.

"They told us what to be aware of and they went into it all more than teachers do. They probably gave us a more honest view."

As Anna said: "A teacher can hardly go into a classroom and say 'I went to a party the other night and I drank too much and this is what happened' can they?

"But a fellow pupil can and it hits home more because we're the same age."

Self-esteem

The students said they were very nervous at the thought of standing up in front of a class of 11 year olds.


I felt really good, I felt like I had done something

Anna Montagna
"When I first walked in, I thought 'Oh my gosh', but then it was just such a friendly atmosphere and the room was just so calm," Anna recalled.

"I felt really good, I felt like I had done something," she added.

The children in the class even disciplined those who started chatting during the course of the lesson, Danielle said.

"Some of them said 'Shut up, this is interesting, listen to what they're saying' - it was great."

Callum Jacobs - the teacher behind the project - said improving the educators' self-esteem and communication skills was as much a part of the scheme as promoting drugs awareness throughout the school.

While it was difficult to evaluate how many pupils would refuse drugs on the grounds of such lessons, the feedback was very positive, he added.

Buckinghamshire

A similar scheme is run in Buckinghamshire by the Drugs Prevention, Education and Awareness Project.

It gives sixth formers a day's intensive training about illegal drugs, before they deliver lessons to younger students.

"It's really beneficial because I go into schools as a bit of an old geezer, but they are seen as role models and have more street cred," said project co-ordinator Jonathan McDonnell.


I go into schools as a bit of an old geezer, but they are seen as role models and have more street cred

Jonathan McDonnell
"If they give lessons about the dangers of drugs it has a lot more power so the younger children pick it up. It's not like us coming in to preach."

The other benefit is that the scheme gives the sixth formers themselves information at a time when they are likely to be starting to go to pubs and clubs and come across drugs.

It was about life skills - not just "drugs are bad", but what they are, what the short and long-term effects of using them are, what to do if offered them.

"It's about choices and consequences," Mr McDonnell said.

See also:

07 Nov 00 | UK
Britain 'winning drugs war'
07 Nov 00 | Education
Anti-drugs education compulsory
07 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Labour confusion on drugs
06 Mar 00 | Education
Pupils' drug use 'has peaked'
17 Aug 00 | Scotland
Pupils kick drugs out of school
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