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Beat peer pressure with positive messages

Working together: the drugs educator. Cat Sneath talks about helping primary children to make informed choices

Is it appropriate to give drugs education to primary pupils?

Most people assume drugs education happens in secondaries. But we help pupils to make informed and positive decisions before the age when peer pressure is likely to start.

In most cases, saying "Don't do it" isn't the way to go. We give information and make sure children are referred to the right agencies.

What age group do you work with?

We start in reception, looking at the healthy body and at medicines and safety. We use a large rag doll.

We look at smoking in Year 3, alcohol in Year 4, and in Years 5 and 6 move on to cannabis and volatile substances. We have a model body and we look at the effect of different drugs. Then we use role-play to look at issues such as peer pressure.

How do pupils respond?

We take a very non-judgemental approach, so children are relaxed about asking us questions. Often pupils may not be willing to confide about drugs to their teachers, because they know their families.

The younger ones worry mostly about a person in their family who smokes. They want know if this means that grandma is going to die.

Older children might ask about classification. They say, "You're saying it's illegal, but my dad says it's a painkiller" or "My brother says cannabis isn't a drug."

Can you teach effectively during a once-a-year session?

Children seem to remember what we've taught them. Because you're a visitor, you're more memorable.

We were called in once when two 10-year-olds were caught smoking cannabis on school premises. We did a workshop with other pupils who were involved in the incident. The main concern was that the pupils who were caught weren't glorified.

What is the biggest challenge working with schools?

Teachers are under a lot of pressure with regards to targets in numeracy and literacy. So sometimes it's very hard to get them to return paperwork so that we can go in. And health education is often the first subject to go at Sats time or whenever there are time constraints.

How could this be remedied?

If the Government gave higher priority to PSHE. Every Child Matters is meant to underpin our work with children. So it's ironic that PSHE is still not compulsory.

- Cat Sneath is programme manager for the charity D-Side, which conducts drugs awareness lessons for primary pupils in Leeds and Southwark, south London


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