Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Prevention: time to look at the bigger picture?

DrugScope’s new Director of Policy, Influence and Engagement, Andrew Brown, writes his inaugural blog for us on a subject close to his heart…

I’m now in my third week at DrugScope and I’ve already learnt a huge amount about the work we’re doing and how it connects to other, wider agendas. 

For example, I’ve been hugely impressed by the high quality of the work that we and our colleagues in the MEAM coalition have been doing to improve outcomes for some of the most vulnerable and troubled adults in our communities.  We will shortly take that further through the Voices from the Frontline project which will be – as the name suggests – trying to make sure that the views of service users and those who are working with them are part of policy consideration at national and local levels.

But for this, my first blog for DrugScope, I want to concentrate on an area that has been at the centre of my professional life for the last decade; how do we improve the quality of drug and alcohol prevention for young people through our school system.

Like my fellow members of the European Society for Prevention Research I’m conscious that while school-based prevention can be effective, it often hasn’t been and we have to be conscious that some approaches have been shown to do more harm than good.

As the Education Select Committee start their investigation into Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in schools, there’s an opportunity to reiterate the need for our health education to take account of where evidence is leading us, and to improve the experience that young people get.

My view is that much as in recovery, there’s an increasing recognition that we should be looking to the wider lives of young people and address substance use as part of the complexity of their lives.  That’s why I welcome the recent editorial in the BMJ pointing out that it isn’t a zero sum game when it comes to health education and wider academic attainment.

And interestingly a number of approaches that seem very promising look at the deeper roots that lead to young people developing problems and work from there.  One programme, which is widely acknowledged as having strong evidence, is the Good Behaviour Game, a strategy for teachers to use in primary schools; developed in the US and which will be the subject of the first UK randomised control trial next year.

I have great hopes for the programme, but we know that it takes a long time for evidence to accumulate and for programmes to become adopted in mainstream practice.  In the meantime, there is clear guidance that every school and teacher can take which will improve the quality of the experience of pupils.

I hope that many DrugScope members and supporters will join us in calling on the Education Select Committee to add their voice to the earlier recommendation by the Home Affairs committee, and to those of young people going to school now, that PSHE should be an statutory part of the school curriculum.

The deadline for doing so is 12:30 on 6 June.

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