TEACHERS must recognise they are not going to change every young person's attitudes to drugs, Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said this week at the launch of a major research report on drug education.
Mr Ramsay, a contributor to drug resource packs for more than 15 years, also urged society to recognise the good work schools already do. Almost all primary pupils and four out of five secondary pupils shun drugs.
Although 23 per cent of young people of secondary school age admitted to regular drug taking, mostly cannabis smoking, Mr Ramsay stated: "For too long, schools have felt they could change society by doing things with youngsters in schools. The reality is that schools should be doing things schools are good at, such as engaging young people in the process of learning. We should be building drug education into the process of learning."
Teachers were demanding specialist training, although the study by the Scottish Council for Research in Education showed most had had none in the past two years. "It is no longer good enough to throw resource packages at teachers. It's about preparing them properly for the job they are going to undertake," Mr Ramsay told The TES Scotland.
The research, carried out by Kevin Lowden and Janet Powney, sampled 4,400 pupils in 284 primaries and 318 secondaries. Mr Ramsay said it was invaluable for such "rigorous research" to infom policy and practice.
"We have discovered that children are more receptive to drug education than we originally thought, are generally against drug use and want to have the right kind of drug education which supports these views."
Even among the minority of pupils who take drugs, 66 per cent say they have benefited from drug education.
The study showed health education approaches "were on the right line" in giving information, providing opportunities for young people to discuss issues and allowing them to develop personal strategies for dealing with drugs. Most older pupils have been offered drugs, the survey found.
Mr Lowden said teachers were in a "difficult and demanding position" and needed maximum support and clear guidelines.
"There is a lot of drug education but the quality and nature of it is very variable. Teachers are still nervous, need lots of support in a difficult area and need recognition they are working in a busy curriculum. We know what is effective at a general level.
"The challenge is to adapt these general principles into targeted programmes to meet needs on the ground."
Participative teaching, with role play and discussion groups, is seen as the best approach.
Drug Education in Scotland 1996-99 is published by the Scottish Council for Research in Education and was commissioned by the Scottish Executive. Contact: www.scre.ac.uk