Letter to schools warns against using alcohol industry funded educational programmes

Letter to schools warns against using alcohol industry funded educational programmes

School children during a Year 5 class at a primary school in Yorkshire. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 27, 2019. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The Government has explicitly warned schools not to use alcohol industry-funded programmes like Drinkaware’s in the classroom after angry calls for them to be banned. 

“There is no place for the alcohol industry in schools,” a letter sent by the Department of Education and the HSE to schools today and seen exclusively by the Irish Examiner, states.

As first reported by the Irish Examiner, Drinkaware, an organisation with charity status funded by donations from the alcohol industry, had continued to offer training for secondary school teachers on alcohol despite advice against doing so from the HSE, Department of Health, and Department of Education.

But this new letter from the Department of Education and the HSE will likely block this from happening in future.

The letter said: “it is not appropriate to use resources or materials produced or funded by the alcohol industry for education and awareness on alcohol in schools, or for teachers to attend, in their professional capacity, associated training which may be offered by organisations funded by the alcohol industry."

The Department of Health advised in the letter that organisations funded by the alcohol industry which provide such resources in schools represents "a distinct conflict of interest" and that "there is no place for the alcohol industry in schools.” 

The letter said that teachers are encouraged to “question the origin and funding” of resources.

“If, for example, resources are funded by parties with conflicts of interests, such as alcohol resources produced by Drinkaware, which is funded by the alcohol industry, then in line with the clear advice of the HSE and the Department of Health they should not be used in schools."

'Welcome news'

This week, the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network (ICAAN) had called on the Government to give a “clear and unequivocal” message to schools that alcohol industry-funded programmes should not be delivered in the classroom.

Following news of the letter, ICAAN spokesperson Paula Leonard from Alcohol Forum Ireland said that the news would be “a beacon of hope” for others struggling internationally to keep the alcohol industry out of childrens' education.

“The Irish community action on alcohol network is delighted to hear today that the HSE and the Department of Education are to issue a joint circular to all secondary schools across Ireland indicating that it is not appropriate for them to use resources or materials produced or funded by the alcohol industry, including those from Drinkaware.

"This really welcome news is a big step forward in ensuring that any alcohol or other drug prevention work in school settings is quality assured and free from conflicts of interests.

“We believe that many schools were acting in good faith and were unaware that Drinkaware is funded by the alcohol industry and, therefore, unaware that a conflict of interest existed."

“Today’s announcement is hugely important to the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network, to Alcohol Forum Ireland and to everyone concerned about the health, well being and education of our children.

“We are so grateful to all of those elected representatives who have raised the issue in both houses of the Oireachtas, who have met with us, worked with us and listened to the voices and concerns of communities.

This small victory will be a beacon of hope for others struggling across the globe who are campaigning on this issue and who believe, like us, that the alcohol industry has no place in the education of our children.

Approximately 15,000 students are estimated to have been educated with resources from the Drinkaware schools’ programme.

Although the organisation has charitable status here, 99% of Drinkaware’s funding last year came via corporate donations from the alcohol industry.

The letter sent to schools recommends that schools use independent and trusted sources of information when engaging with students on issues around alcohol.

Evidence-based resources on alcohol and drugs for schools have already been developed by the HSE with the support of the Department of Education and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) including the 'Know the Score' substance misuse programme for Transition Year or 5th-year pupils.

‘Making Healthy Choices’ resources are being developed for Junior Cycle and Unit 1 is currently available on the NCCA’s online toolkit to support teachers in addressing issues of alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Units 2 and 3 of this programme are due to be published in 2023.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats who have campaigned on the issue said: “I’m pleased that the Minister for Education has at last acted, although it’s regrettable that it took her so long to ban so-called educational programmes funded by the alcohol industry.

Drinkaware has been contacted for a response.

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