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New efforts to kick habit

Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency is to play a key role in schools' drugs education

DRUGS EDUCATION is to be "revitalised" in Scottish schools after yet another major official report* exposed shortcomings in teaching.

It noted failures to engage pupils sufficiently, to make lessons relevant to their everyday experiences and to avoid repetition as pupils move from primary into secondary.

Having studied 928 returns to a questionnaire from schools and watched 100 drug education lessons, researchers concluded that credibility in teaching about drugs was critical, and that outside experts were frequently seen as more "credible" than teachers. Where teachers were seen as effective, it was because they already had a good relationship with their pupils.

Teaching was found to be "largely passive" and reliant on simply passing on information, especially for older pupils, despite evidence that this was not effective. But it was seen as a "safe" approach for teachers who might be uneasy with "open-ended, participatory and activity-based learning".

Now Hugh Henry, the Edu-cation Minister, wants educationists to get together with health and crime agencies to ensure "high-quality drugs education", which is "more than just informative". He is calling for "a more targeted approach, identifying the trigger factors that can lead youngsters into all forms of substance abuse".

The Government's renewed efforts will concentrate on making links between under-age smoking and alcohol consumption and subsequent drug misuse, giving teachers greater confidence in handling drugs education and identifying vulnerable youngsters who may be at risk of becoming drug abusers.

A key role is to be played by the Scottish Crime and Drug En-forcement Agency whose DVD Get Real will be adapted for use by teachers and parents.

It highlights the impact which abuse of all drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, can have on individuals, their families and the community.

These steps will attempt to address the weaknesses highlighted in the report which noted the need to make more connections between drugs education lessons and pupils' lives, as well as between what they are learning and key messages such as changing behaviour, assessing risks, coping with peer pressure and making informed choices.

The drug enforcement agency will also work with Learning and Teaching Scotland on training to plug gaps in teachers' knowledge and confidence. A key member of staff in each council will be trained in delivering the Get Real DVD and they will then train teachers.

The executive is considering the use of recovered drug addicts to visit schools and share their experiences with pupils "in controlled circumstances". Young offenders on drugs education programmes could also be allowed to talk to secondary pupils using video-conferencing.

* Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Drug Education in Scottish Schools, by a team from the Institute for Social Marketing, the Open University and Stirling and Edinburgh universities, can be read on www.tes.co.ukscotland

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