Heads 'too busy' to provide addiction data

12th June 2009 at 01:00
Charity concerned that chance to discover habits of young people is being squandered

Secondary heads in Wales are too busy to take part in a survey that analyses their pupils' alcohol and drug habits, a charity has warned.

The recreational habits of 60,000 young people in Wales have been investigated by Communities that Care since 1997. The UK-wide charity, now called Catch 22, uses the information it receives to launch regeneration projects and help young addicts in crime-ridden and deprived communities. The anonymous surveys give heads valuable data about the social habits of their pupils and their attitudes towards school and teachers.

But the charity's directors are concerned they are not getting a detailed enough picture in Wales because heads are overworked.

The anonymous surveys ask pupils a series of searching questions about themselves, their families, schools and communities. One section asks detailed questions about pupils' attitudes towards school, including whether they get enough help and support from their teachers, whether they feel noticed and appreciated, and whether there is bullying or truancy.

Schools in eight local authorities in Wales have taken part in the surveys, but the charity wants to see more getting involved.

Pat Dunmore, the charity's director in Wales, said it had become difficult to persuade schools to take part because heads are "inundated" with paperwork.

She also admitted that some heads think a few of the questions are too personal and intrusive.

The results of each survey are fed back to heads, who are encouraged to use them to develop their school policies.

Ms Dunmore said: "Generally, heads aren't shocked as they know what's happening in their school and the community. But there will be trends that they haven't spotted or weren't aware of, such as what drugs are `in' at the moment."

Mike Pickard, head of Blackwood Comprehensive in Gwent, which last surveyed its pupils in 2002, said it was a "serious opportunity" to learn more about pupils and what could lead to them failing in school.

"It confirmed our suspicions that there were some quite serious threats to young people in their communities, such as under-age drinking, heavy smoking and drug abuse," he said.

Blackwood started support programmes and special personal and social education lessons, including plays and workshops on the dangers of under- age drinking, to address the problems the survey revealed.

But Mr Pickard said he understood why some heads did not want to take part.

"You can place too much emphasis on these sorts of things and you have to remember that, at the end of the day, schools should be mainly concerned with education," he said.

Wayne Newton, head of Morriston Comprehensive in Swansea, surveyed pupils 18 months ago and three times in his previous headship at the nearby Cefn Hengoed Community School. The results, he said, proved "invaluable" to understanding more about his pupils and setting up support schemes.

"I can understand heads feeling overloaded by being asked to survey this and survey that, but if they really want to know about their pupil population, they should take part," he said.

www.catch-22.org.uk.

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