DRUG education in schools has its limits but pupils believe it is valuable if done well, according to the latest study on the subject.
A report from the Scottish Council for Research in Education, which carried out two surveys of 4,400 pupils from P6 to S5 in 1997 and 1999, states that only 23 per cent of secondary pupils owned up to illegal drug misuse. This mainly involved cannabis smoking.
But, while pupils taking illegal drugs were likely to be most critical of drug education, 66 per cent said it had a positive impact on their misuse, including 18 per cent who said it had helped them quit.
Kevin Lowden and Janet Powney, the report's authors, suggest that much more active participation by pupils in drug education would have an even greater impact. Pupils themselves said lessons should be discussion-based.
They also wanted drug education to be delivered by "a mix of credible presenters" - using outsiders as well as teachers to give the facts and help them make their own decisions.
The report notes frequent criticisms that drug education was not telling them anything new and was often repetitive. Pupils also felt it did not reflect their needs.
The researchers call for more extensive investigation of those needs when drug education is being planned. They say akey finding is that pupils who take illegal drugs do not necessarily have low self-esteem. The majority did it "because it felt good".
The content of teaching programmes should not therefore make assumptions about links between drugs and esteem.
The study also found that most older pupils, including those who used drugs, claimed they were not pressurised into taking drugs and could resist attempts by others to influence them.
Pupils in primary 6, however, expressed greater concern about peer pressure.
The report, commissioned by the former Scottish Office, notes that effective drug education depends on teacher confidence and knowledge and warns: "Teachers are experiencing difficulty in developing and providing drug education programmes which suit the needs of all pupils."
Anxiety about lacking knowledge may also conceal stress about "the ambiguity of the teacher's role and legal position".
Although the limitations of school-based drug programmes can be countered by working with outside agencies, the report states, external support "might perpetuate teachers' own reluctance and perceived vulnerability in taking the lead in drug education. It might also pose problems in ensuring external support complements each school's own philosophy and curriculum."