Page last updated at 07:50 GMT, Thursday, 21 July 2005 08:50 UK

Why drug education starts early

By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter

child's school work
Will deterrence be enough when primary school pupils are older?
When should children start learning about drugs?

West Kidlington Primary School in Oxfordshire put that very question to parents.

The answers they received varied from the first to the final year of primary school.

"You can see that parents hold very different views on the subject," said the head teacher, Eugene Symonds.

"But I think starting in Year 5 when pupils are nine or 10, as we do, is about right."

Stereotypes

The school has been praised by Ofsted, which inspected drug education programmes in 60 primary and secondary schools and evaluated 200 more from Ofsted school inspection reports.

Assistant head Katie Rhys-Jones teaches drug education to 10 and 11-year-olds in Year 6.

"It's about introducing them to the concept of drugs, informing them and making them aware before they go to secondary school."

It was also aimed at debunking stereotypes - how and where they might encounter the drugs and who might take them.

The school begins teaching children in Year 5 about smoking and alcohol, and children in Year 6 have lessons on illegal drugs.

The concept of drugs is not limited to the recreational variety. Children are also taught that drugs may have a legitimate medical purpose.

Katie Rhys-Jones said for many children the word drug initially represented heroin and hard drugs.

"One lesson asked children to imagine they had found a carrier bag of drugs in the street. I asked them what might be in the bag and who might have dropped it."

After discussing the possibilities, many were surprised to hear at the end of the lesson that the bag contained prescription drugs dropped by a woman who had picked them up from the chemist for her young child.

Assistant Head Katie Rhys-Jones
Katie Rhys-Jones says her pupils are remarkably mature

Saying no

As well as providing an overview, lessons also encourage children to find out what different drugs do to the body.

The school dedicates at least one 40-minute lesson per week to personal, health and social education (PHSE), of which drugs is a part.

But children learn about drugs through science, religious education and school assemblies.

Eleven-year-old Gemma said she originally thought only down and outs used drugs, and classmate Ross said he had thought a typical drug user would be male.

But school work has helped them to see that people in many sections of society can encounter drugs, and they come in different guises.

"Some teenagers I know asked me if I would smoke when I'm older," Gemma said.

"I said no.

"But they told me they didn't think they would start smoking when they were younger either."

Drug education at Key Stage 2
Effects and risks of alcohol, tobacco, volatile substances and illegal drugs
Basic skills to manage risky situations
How to make informed choices about their health
How to resist pressure to do wrong and to take more responsibility for their actions
Source: DFES report "Drugs: Guidance for Schools 2004"
West Kidlington Primary has a detailed drugs policy, drawn up by PHSE co-ordinator, Linda Heptemstall.

As well as providing knowledge of drugs and their role in society, it emphasises the development of related skills such as assertiveness, decision-making and helping others.

But learning empathy and tolerance are important too, said Katie Rhys-Jones.

Deterrent

Guidance from the Department for Education and Skills in 2004 highlighted a need for greater emphasis on drug education in primary schools.

Ofsted welcomes the fact that more than four fifths of primary schools now have a drug policy compared with two fifths in 1997.

But it says many primary and secondary schools are not assessing the effectiveness of their drug education programmes adequately.

At West Kidlington Primary School internal assessment of drug education continues through teacher discussion of feedback and new resources.

Katie Rhys-Jones says parental support for their work on drugs is strong and they tend to trust the school to deal with the issues sensitively according to the pupils' age.

Yet young children retain the ability to surprise with their knowledge.

"Some children at this age are aware of cannabis. I think it's partly through youth culture and music, and there is certainly more information on television."

The school's drug policy also states the procedure for dealing with a drug-related incident.

West Kidlington Primary School
The school has been praised for challenging stereotypes
But this is unlikely to be put into practice, since the school says drugs are not a problem.

Ross and Gemma said learning about the health consequences of smoking was enough to put them off trying it.

But some primary school children will undoubtedly begin smoking and may experiment with drugs at some point during secondary school.

Does that mean the good work accomplished at primary school will be lost?

Ofsted says starting preventive programmes in primary school is yielding results.

Gemma, Ross and their classmates will at least be prepared for the pressure they might come to face.

SEE ALSO
Drugs education is 'improving'
21 Jul 05 |  Education
School considering drugs testing
06 Jul 05 |  Cornwall
Teachers to attend 'drugs school'
15 Jun 05 |  West Yorkshire

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