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A national drug education programme for children as young as five is offering in-service courses, reports Raymond Ross

Scotland Against Drugs is now running staff development courses to help primary schools with their drugs education programme for five-to-12 year olds.

Scotland Against Drugs's primary school initiative was scheduled to be launched in Glasgow today (Friday) at a "business breakfast" hosted by Education Minister Brian Wilson and chairman of SAD, Sir Tom Farmer. The national staff development programme aims to enhance the quality of drugs education in all 2,500 primary schools, through new in-service training courses and resources funded by the private sector.

A pound;1 million target to fund the initiative has been set for June. So far SAD has raised a quarter and wants to encourage the private sector "to make a financial contribution to help tackle the drug misuse problem in Scotland".

The first pilot teachers' two day training programme began at the end of February in Argyll and Bute.

"Argyll and Bute has given priority to health promotion and this initiative fits into the idea of the school and its inter-relationship with the wider community," says Sheila Walker, the authority's education development officer. "In conjunction with headteachers, we chose the programme to be delivered and each school represented brought their head and one staff member."

The freedom of each local authority to determine its own needs in relation to the training being offered by SAD is seen as a key factor to success.

"It's very much a partnership approach," according to Joan Forrest, chair of the initiative and head of health education at Strathclyde University.

"The steering group, which includes two primary heads and a depute, drew up a set of guiding principles and a core menu from which each local authority can choose in order to determine the programme we will deliver."

The support offered by SAD is designed to be flexible and to build on schools' current good practice.

"This means that schools can come in at the level that suits them," says Forrest. "We want drug education to be seen as part of a general approach to health education and personal development."

In response to critics of drug education for five year olds, she says: "Drugs education is something more than talking about illegal substances. It's issues around medicine and working hard to promote children's self confidence, to help them deal with negative situations.

"We're not saying that the teacher will become an expert after two days. What we are saying is that this is a significant springboard towards professional development on the subject."

SAD is also producing a booklet, a "Quick Facts Guide", to be delivered to every Scottish primary.

"The huge amount of drugs education resources available can be confusing for the individual teacher. That's why we think a 'Quick Facts Guide' will prove so useful," says campaign manager Fiona Rose. "Through this and the training programme we aim to have had a major impact in every primary classroom within two or three years."

The options for the two-day course include: school and community working together; dealing with sensitive issues; drug education in the curriculum; dealing with incidents; knowing about drugs; attitudes and values; involving parents and a whole-school approach.

The initiative is being evaluated by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, whose senior researcher Janet Powney says: "The pilot has gone well. One of the things that is tremendous is the staff getting out of school for two days to focus entirely on the issues involved with colleagues."

The final evaluation will include a sample of the 32 local authorities to provide a balanced perspective as to content, delivery and outcomes generated.

Reactions from participants on the pilot scheme have been positive. Joan McDonald, headteacher at St Ronan's Primary in West Dunbartonshire, describes her two-day in-service as "very beneficial as to how I will review our health education programme. At present it incorporates drug education mainly at upper school level. It will now be incorporated at all stages.

"From my point of view, it's ideas about the management of the curriculum and about staff development that I'll take back to the school. It was reassuring that we already have some of the recommended sources. This is an ideal course for anyone developing a health education plan. I only wish I'd come to it earlier in the session, but I'll now adapt and develop a few sections."

Harry Mulvenna, depute head of St Peter's, Dumbarton, says: "It's certainly made me think about drug education in a different way. It has developed my knowledge and understanding of the problems. I'm more informed now."

Lorna Renwick, a health promotion officer with Greater Glasgow Health Board, says the course "provides teachers with resources and shows how they can be used in the 5-14 curriculum".

Members of the initiative's task group include private sector representatives, such as Scottish Power and Marks amp; Spencer, from whom Fiona Rose has been seconded for a year. "The idea for the initiative actually came from Mamp;S," she says. "The company wanted to look at something we could really affect and decided that to augment the work already being done in primary schools would have the biggest impact."

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