I'm a member of the advisory group for the Smoking Drinking and Drug Use survey, which publishes the figures on English school pupils' substance use on an annual basis; so it is great to see this short animation telling the story of the way that the data helps policy makers and others understand what's been happening over the years.
Being able to dig into the data that comes with the report is critical to improving our understanding of the earliest use of substances, both in terms of trends and in respect of some of the more subtle correlations that the survey allows us to examine.
Because the same questions are asked year after year the survey really helps give a detailed understanding of young people's behaviours. For example, it has been fascinating to watch the changes in the amount of street drinking that this age group takes part in - which has declined while (among those who do drink) the proportion that say they drink at parties has increased.
One of the roles we have on the advisory group is to try and help the designers to adapt the questions; adding new ones as new issues emerge, and taking out redundant ones where we can. The questionnaire this year will include some new questions about e-cigarette use, something on energy drinks and we've tried to include questions that will help tease out whether pupils are using novel psychoactive substances (NPS sometimes called 'legal' highs).
There are some tricky issues in all of this, for example we know from talking to different services that NPS use can vary substantially between areas and the subtlety of these local differences may be lost in a national survey. We also know that the names for NPS may or may not be recognised by young people - brand names and street names vary. Helpfully the survey designers do test the questions directly with young people before the survey goes out to into the field, so we can try to ensure that we don't make too many mistakes.