Schoolchildren critical of drugs education, says report

THE effectiveness of the country’s main drugs education programme for schools has been seriously questioned in the new National Drugs Strategy (NDS).

The NDS 2009-2016 said the design and concept of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme was in line with best international practice.

“However, its effectiveness at second level was consistently questioned during the NDS consultation process, in particular by school-goers themselves.”

According to the national strategy, the aim of the SPHE is to build the esteem and confidence of young people by developing their life skills and substance misuse is regarded as “an integral” part of the curriculum.

The Walk Tall programme and On My Own Two Feet are key parts of the SPHE curricula at primary and post- primary level respectively.

The NDS said one of the “key concerns” was the level of commitment given to the programme by individual schools and the supports available to teachers.

The report said an external evaluation by NUI Galway found a number of limitations with the programme:

* Support services were crucial for school and teachers that find it difficult to implement SPHE.

* There is little engagement with parents in the planning and development of the programme.

* Curriculum overload, timetable pressures and lack of status for SPHE affect its provision in schools.

The NDS concluded: “School-based education programmes, on which the NDS places particular emphasis, were considered to be very uneven in their delivery and, therefore, in their overall impact.

“The impact fundamentally depends on the commitment of individual schools and the confidence and competence of individual teachers. Young people consulted were highly critical of their experiences of the delivery of SPHE.”

The strategy called for improved delivery of SPHE in primary and secondary levels, taking into account the views of the evaluation.

The NDS said only 72% of schools responded to a Department of Education survey as to whether they had substance misuse policies. Of those, 71% of primary schools and 75% of post-primary schools had policies.

The strategy said the provision of drug education in non-school settings remained “fragmented and uncoordinated”.

It said that the provision of alternative recreational facilities for young people was also “underdeveloped”.

That was despite the provision of facilities under the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund, which had provided e127.5 million between 2002 and 2007 to 500 services and facilities.

The strategy said the Office for the Minister for Children was currently examining the issue of youth cafes.

“During the consultation phase for the new strategy, the need to ensure late night and weekend opening of such facilities was highlighted,” it said.

The NDS regards a stabilisation in recent (last year) drug use among young people and a reduction in current (last month) usage as a key performance indicator in the area of prevention.

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