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. 2010 Nov;21(6):452-8.
doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2010.09.009. Epub 2010 Oct 29.

"We Don't Have No Drugs Education": The Myth of Universal Drugs Education in English Secondary Schools?

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"We Don't Have No Drugs Education": The Myth of Universal Drugs Education in English Secondary Schools?

Adam Fletcher et al. Int J Drug Policy. .

Abstract

Background: Despite concerns regarding youth drug use and 'standards' of drugs education in British schools, little is known about young people's routine experiences of drugs education at school, or schools' other priorities, policies and practices relating to drugs.

Methods: Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews with students aged 14-15 (N=50) and teachers (N=10) at four schools in England. We used thematic content analysis to explore: young people's accounts of drugs education at secondary school and what they have learnt from this; and students' and teachers' accounts of schools' wider policies and practices relating to drugs.

Results: A recurring theme was that students reported having received little or no drugs education; the majority could not remember having had any at their secondary school. These students were not the 'drugwise' youth described in the normalisation thesis and young people wanted their school to provide them with more information. Teachers recognised that schools' drugs policies were rarely implemented in practice and that drugs education was not a priority. Schools also appear to be adopting new strategies based on surveillance and targeting to control students' drug use. In some cases referrals to a drugs counsellor were coercive and appeared to merely replace classroom-based drugs education.

Conclusion: This study provides further evidence of the gap between drug policies and practice. It may be possible to increase the priority given to comprehensive drugs education and supportive drugs policies by modifying the incentive structures that schools work within. New targeted responses are unlikely to be effective at reducing drug-related harm at a population level because of the small number of students reached, and can be stigmatising. Further research is needed to explore schools' focus on surveillance and targeted control rather than universal education, and to examine interventions that might ensure schools implement adequate drugs education.

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