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Drink danger taught at six

Youngsters learn about health dangers of binge drinking as primary schools follow lead of experts

More primary schools in Wales are following the advice of experts and teaching the dangers of teenage binge drinking at an earlier age. In one school, six-year-olds are learning the health risks of alcohol abuse after pupils tackled teachers over "drunks" they had witnessed in the streets.

But the increasing problem of binge drinking, a major concern of the chief inspector of education and training in his annual report published last week, has also raised concerns over whether the health risks associated with alcohol abuse should be made a statutory teaching requirement for all under-11s.

Similar calls have also been made for sex and relationships education.

According to Dr Bill Maxwell's report, personal and social education lessons about the dangers of substance misuse were more effective in primaries inspected in 2006-7 than in secondary schools.

At secondary school, Dr Maxwell said the effect of lessons on alcohol abuse in stopping a significant majority who continue to smoke, drink too much alcohol, or use illegal drugs, was largely ineffective. "We found that primary school children take more notice of education about substance misuse than pupils in secondary school," says the report.

His comments are backed this week by a teaching union, which reported an increase in the number of young people being sent home after lunch from school for "having a few too many". Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, acknowledged increased incidents of afternoon drunkenness of pupils, although he also said drinking was a wider problem in society.

New research released on Monday also shows parents in Wales are more likely to let their children drink at home.

A study, undertaken by London-based research body ICM last week, found that of 1,170 parents in Scotland, Wales and England, 71 per cent allowed their youngsters to drink at home before their 18th birthday. In Wales it was even higher at 78 per cent. The rise of the binge-drinking culture is increasingly associated with the advent of the sugary alcopops in the 1990s.

The Blair decade also saw a boom in hospital admissions due to alcohol. According to figures from the Information Centre for Health and Social Care, the number of children under 16 in England admitted to hospital for alcohol-related reasons rose by a third from 3,870 in 1986 to 5,280 last year. In Wales in 2006-07 there were 371 under-16s admitted to hospital with an alcohol related problem - 114 of them were under 14.

Margaret Evitts, head of Gungrog Church in Wales Primary in Powys, said heavy drinking and its link with anti-social behaviour, was discussed with six-year-olds in her school. She said a complete culture change on alcohol was needed.

Dr Maxwell's report also called for a better "joined-up" multi-agency approach for youngsters and families with drink problems. Alcoholics Anonymous self-help groups already send out volunteers to secondary schools in Wales to give first-hand accounts. An AA spokesperson said the talks kept young people "spellbound".

Hardcore teenage drinkers are also being targeted in a strategy, launched this month by the Assembly government, to stop 15-year-olds dropping out of education and becoming NEETS (not in education, employment or training).

An Assembly government spokesperson said schools should not have to deal with alcohol abuse among their pupils on their own.

"The Welsh Assembly government has allocated an extra pound;9.6 million to tackle substance misuse over the next three years. Our new strategy proposes a joint approach to tackling drugs and alcohol. Educational aspects are a key element of this strategy and it is important that all agencies within local communities are involved and that this isn't only left to schools."

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