Choices for Life exits stage and steps over to Glow

4th March 2011 at 00:00
Scotland's biggest drugs education programme, Choices for Life, is moving out of live venues, like Glasgow's massive SECC, and going online instead.

The hard-hitting event, which promotes healthy choices, is aimed at P7 pupils and has traditionally been delivered on stage by pop stars, a drama company and DJs in a fast-moving concert-style format.

This year, however, the target audience is to be extended to include pupils up to S6 and will involve a two-day online conference delivered via the schools intranet, Glow (some of the islands will get a smaller live show).

The new approach, to be run in November instead of May, will almost certainly be less expensive. But money is not behind the change, insists Detective Superintendent Alan Cunningham, head of investigation services at the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, and the man charged with delivering the programme.

The ability to reach a wider audience is at the heart of the decision, he says.

Detective Superintendent Cunningham says: "We will all miss seeing the kids at the venues, but we are confident we can do something bigger and better and something more suited to 21st-century Scotland.

"There are 60,000 P7 children in Scotland and through Choices for Life we were managing to reach around 42,000 of them. With the new approach we are looking at reaching 386,000 P7-S6 pupils."

Organisers also hope the new programme will move beyond the classroom and be embraced and tapped into by parents and community groups, from youth clubs to sports clubs.

The move is likely to disappoint many primary heads and teachers who have been enthusiastic supporters of the programme.

Irene Matier, past president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland and headteacher of Jordanhill Primary, says Choices for Life was highly popular with pupils and staff at her former school in the east end of Glasgow.

"My first thought, on learning it is to move to Glow, is that it will depend on whether a school has access to Glow. I don't think the same number of children will be hit by it if it goes online," she says.

"My first instinct is to ask, `Is this a cost-cutting exercise?' Teachers have used Choices for Life as a stimulus - it will be more difficult to do that if it is online."

Choices for Life was first staged in 1999 as a pilot in Strathclyde and was subsequently made national as a result of its popularity.

The two-hour multi-media themed show set out to contribute to the youngsters' wider personal, social and health education by increasing their knowledge and understanding, so they could make their own decisions as they made the key transition from primary to secondary school. It covered bullying, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

More recently, the SCDEA adopted the Colombian government's education programme, Shared Responsibility, which was launched in 2005 to highlight the environmental impact of cocaine. Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world but 2.2 million hectares of rainforest (an area slightly larger than Wales) have been razed for coca cultivation.

In 2008, the Shared Responsibility programme was piloted at Girvan Academy in South Ayrshire and has subsequently been adopted by Portobello High in Edinburgh. Last year, the headteachers of both schools and five pupils spent a week in Colombia. They met the victims of drug trafficking and visited schools in south Bogota to see the country's own drugs education programme being delivered by its anti-narcotics unit.

Andrew MacKinnon and Andrew Dove, the Portobello High pupils who took part in the visit, are now in S6 and with the help of a dozen other senior pupils are spreading the Shared Responsibility message to other Edinburgh secondaries through a specially-designed workshop. In February they also spoke at a Learning and Teaching Scotland citizenship conference about their experiences and the Shared Responsibility programme.

In West Lothian, meanwhile, there are plans afoot to use the programme as a transition project for P7 pupils moving up to secondary. Schools in the authority have also been working with Alcohol Focus Scotland to help develop substance misuse programmes suitable for youngsters from P1-S3 as part of the Community Action - Blackburn (Changing Attitudes to Alcohol) project.

Rory, the primary resource, tells the story of a dog neglected by its heavy-drinking master, to highlight the harm caused by alcoholic parents to their children.

The other resources are at an earlier stage of development and are still being tried and tested at St Kentigern's and Bathgate academies. Live Wise for Young People will be aimed at S1 and S2, and Choices, which has at its heart a specially-commissioned short story called Leathered, will be aimed at S3.


Phyllis Harley, head, Balornock Primary, Glasgow

Advice: I'm a firm believer that if you raise children's self-esteem they are less likely to damage themselves. Often children in poorer areas don't have the level of self-worth they are entitled to and don't have the confidence to say no. We have to give them that confidence. The minute they walk through the door we focus on personal and social development.

Challenges: There are none for teachers in Glasgow who have the council's health materials and have been trained to use them.

Sian Oliver, principal teacher guidance, Trinity Academy, Edinburgh

Advice: Young people often think, "What does a teacher know?" and have more respect for specialists like the police, youth workers or nurses who can talk to them about the effects they see on young people who have misused alcohol or drugs.

Challenges: The growing number of legal highs and keeping up-to-date. You don't want the young people in front of you knowing more than you do, so we keep in touch with the police and other agencies and are vigilant about following what's in the media.

Claire Reilly, trainee forensic psychologist, Kibble Secure Centre, Paisley

Advice: Young people don't want to hear from someone who knows the theory about the harms and the dangers but has never been in the situation themselves. That's why we chose to go down the peer educator route. A lot of the time, our youngsters have heard about the harms and dangers of drugs and alcohol many times before, but hearing it from each other was different.

Challenges: Getting the young people to relate the information they are being given back to themselves and ensuring they don't dismiss it by thinking, "That'll never happen to me" or "I know someone and they're fine". It's getting them to make that link between behaviour and consequences.

Carla Ellis, operations manager, Crew 2000, Edinburgh

Advice: Make sure you are listening to them and including them. It's got to be an active experience - if not, there is a real danger of you standing there talking and them sitting there looking out the window.

Challenges: You have to be seen as credible. Young people will switch off if you don't refer to an experience they are familiar with.


- Poor concentration;

- teeth grinding;

- problems focusing eyes;

- poor short-term memory;

- hallucinations;

- delusions;

- erratic behaviour;

- dilated pupils

Other effects include: Changes in temperature, increased heart rate, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, increased sweating, anxiety, paranoia and depression. When snorted it can also cause nosebleeds and burns.


- Know the Score, Scottish Government drug awareness campaign,

- Frank, UK Government drug awareness campaign,

- Scottish Drugs Forum, drugs policy and information agency,

- Alcohol Focus Scotland, national charity for alcohol issues,

- Re-Solv, dedicated to the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse,

- Crew 2000, drugs information and advice,


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