Getting the DARE treatment

Julie Harris

Nine is regarded as the optimum age to start teaching children about drugs in Nottinghamshire, where an American anti-drugs programme has been adopted.

Around 37,000 of the county's pupils have completed the Drugs Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programme and 98 per cent of primary schools in the county now take part. The aim is to create a drug-free culture for the next century and to cut back on drug-fuelled crime.

From December, West Notts College in Mansfield and the county's DARE-trained police officers will start to train officers from other forces to help the programme go nationwide. The college hopes to attract 15 to 20 students on to the two-week residential course, which will lead to a recognised RSA qualification.

Headteacher Gill Empson believes nine is the perfect age to start drug education. Her school, Ethel Wainwright in Mansfield, was the first in the country to adopt the scheme four years ago.

Mrs Empson said: "It's when they are old enough to understand, but not old enough to be set in their ideas and opinions.

"It's not just about drugs. It gives them the confidence and skills to resist other things that will be harmful to them in the future. There has been a noticeable difference in attitudes towards bullying. The children realise they have rights and responsibilities and can resist bullying without bullying back."

In Nottinghamshire, 21 police officers teach DARE full time. Pupils spend one hour a week with the DARE officers at school during a 17-week course. They complete a work book and use role-play to learn how to say "no" to drugs and to resist peer pressure.

DARE was imported from the US, following a visit to Mansfield, Ohio, by the chairman of Mansfield District Council, Richard Goad.

Mr Goad, also the chairman of DARE, said: "You will always get a hard core of youngsters moving into crime. But there is a whole group of children on the edges. If you can stop them getting into gangs, you are halfway there."

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