What do we do?
Making Safer Choices: drug and alcohol education for students
Our evidence-based drug and alcohol education programme incorporates a spiral curriculum of age-appropriate planning and resources for teachers to deliver drug education to students for each year group from Year 7/S1 to the end of secondary school or college. This is organised into lessons and also shorter form-time sessions for schools where PSHE/PSE is delivered these slots.
Our team of drug educators deliver workshops for students in schools and colleges, and in community youth settings, workshops and online webinars for parents and carers, and training for staff and other professionals working with young people.
A range of topics are covered according to the audience and time available, but broadly the starting point is to cover Dan’s story, general risks of illegal drugs, risks of specific drugs (starting with alcohol and vaping), choices and decision making (with a focus on peer pressure), general staying safe advice and signposting. For older students, workshops usually also feature information on cannabis, adolescent brain development, specific staying safe advice including harm reduction, and first aid. Older students are usually surveyed before a workshop to tailor the workshop to their context and requirements, and our bespoke approach means we are open to discussing with settings any specific topics they want included.
Everything we do is mapped to the international evidence base of what is most effective in drug and alcohol education, and on European standards of best practice, and is evaluated, reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis, to ensure it’s all current, relevant and addresses the priority issues for young people.
“It felt like the sessions talked to us not down to us”
“The true story as we was able to see the risks from a real life perspective.“
“The whole presentation and content was very powerful. The students were totally engaged throughout, with just the right balance of serious and humour. This session was extremely popular and rated very highly by the students in our own feedback.”
“Very informative sessions, relevant to students, updated research, well paced, opportunity for questions,”
“It was extremely powerful and from having spoken to a number of pupils they found it really sad but VERY informative. One said the best drugs talk they have heard.”
“Really well pitched for students and staff have commented that they were discussing the usefulness of the session afterwards.”
Interactive workshops for young people
Our team of trained and experienced drug educators deliver assemblies, talks and interactive drug and alcohol education workshops to young people, which will ideally be integrated into the drug education planning across the school or college, alongside delivery of DSMF Making Safer Choices drug education or other evidence-based materials in PSHE/PSE. We deliver workshops to schools, colleges and community groups in person generally within reasonable reach of our regional bases of London and the South East, Scotland, and Greater Manchester, depending on capacity. We also via live-stream or pre-recorded sessions, and this flexible approach was invaluable during Covid-19 restrictions and continues to be welcomed by many settings, with feedback from students and teachers showing that our virtual delivery sessions can be as effective and impactful as our direct delivery.
Our drug education team will plan delivery in discussion with key staff to make sure it meets the needs of students and the priorities of the setting, and fits best around timetables, prior learning and other commitments. We also survey students from Year 11/S5 upwards ahead of visiting their setting, to find out what they see any issues as being for their year group, and what they’d find most beneficial from the time we have with them. We’re as flexible as we can be and want to plan something that is effective for each individual school, college or community group.
“I overheard many saying that previously they were in the ‘likely’ to try drugs sort of category, whereas now they would class themselves as part of the ‘unlikely’ category, which you can obviously see is a massive impact on a room full of teenagers.”
PSHE/PSE drug education resources for teachers – free to download
Our full programme of PSHE/PSE resource packs is available free-of-charge to all schools and colleges, and can easily be downloaded from our webshop. Each pack provides everything busy teachers need to deliver effective, interactive and engaging drug and alcohol education as part of PSHE/PSE, either in lessons or in shorter, bite-sized form time sessions. Planning and resources for programmes of 2-3 sessions are available for each secondary year group up to sixth form. Sessions are also organised in longer programmes of 4 sessions for Years 7/8 (S1/S2) and 6 sessions for Years 9/10 (S3/4). Years 12 and 13 (S6) are combined and their programme consists of six form time sessions.
Sessions combine age-appropriate information about:
- the effects and risks of drugs and alcohol
- legal risks and consequences
- practical strategies for staying safe
- harm reduction advice (for older students)
- where to find more information and support.
Sessions also include discussion around issues such as:
- the teenage brain
- peer influence
These resources are all adapted for the curriculum, year groups and context for both England and Wales, and for Scotland.
Mini resource packs for schools including: cannabis edibles and vaping
This developing suite of resources will be added to on an ongoing basis, in response to national issues and priorities that arise in schools. They consist of a short pre-recorded assembly for students (approx. 10 minutes), a follow-up lesson plan and slides for teachers to use, and a short pre-recorded staff briefing (approx. 15 minutes) explaining the issues and risks to students, and what schools can do to support them to make safer choices. We have two options available currently, on cannabis edibles and vaping, both of which are aimed at years 9 and 10 (S3 and 4), but lessons could be adapted for older or younger students as appropriate.
Making Safer Choices for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Students with SEND can be especially vulnerable to taking risks with drugs and alcohol, and need a different approach to drug education. We deliver drug education workshops to students with a range of abilities, planned and developed in discussion with the setting to ensure they meet students’ needs.
In addition to this we have been working with SEND teacher and author Mark Harrington to develop creative specialist resources for students and teachers:
‘What Could Go Wrong’ is a simple graphic novel, based on Dan’s story, and written for students with lower abilities. The novel is beautifully illustrated by Eve Yarnton.
‘What’s The Worst That Could Happen?’ is a short play, based on Dan’s story, from the perspective of his friend Jack, who worked closely with Mark and his students to develop the script.
Both of these have a six-week scheme of work for teachers, and resources for students, which cover the key elements of information and understanding young people need to make choices safely. Both are available from Autumn 2022 here (add link when it’s done).
‘Drugs, Decisions and Difference: Neurodiversity and Drug Use in Young People’ (Sheldon Press 2022), is the one of three sets of materials written by DSMF Director Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, to supplement her award-winning book for parents, ‘I Wish I’d Known – Young People, Drug and Decisions: A Guide for Parents and Carers’ (Sheldon Press 2021)
This short e-book includes information and practical advice for parents, teachers and professionals working with neurodiverse young people, especially those with autism or ADHD, or both:
- the context for neurodiverse teenagers
- differences in the risks and effects of drugs and alcohol
- ways in which neurodiversity can affect decision-making and managing risk
- vulnerabilities relating to grooming and exploitation
- differing approaches to conversations about drugs
- differing support needs and challenges
- delivering effective SEN drug education
Transition to secondary school
Our Mission Transition programme for Year 6 and 7 (P7 and S1) is available free of charge as a comprehensive resource pack for delivery by class teachers.
The programme focuses on resilience, choice and risk, contextualised to drugs and alcohol, in preparation for secondary school. Through games, research and discussions, pupils are given opportunities to explore and identify their core values, which in turn will help strengthen their resilience. There is also an activity that introduces them to the risks of some of the most commonly used drugs – alcohol and tobacco, for example - in an age-appropriate way, so they are able to explore their own and each other’s beliefs and gain sensible insights, as well as understand peer pressure and decision making. Through these activities, pupils start to develop a toolkit of ideas and techniques to make good decisions, choose friends wisely and be a positive role model for others – all so important as they face the sometimes difficult transition to secondary school or during the early weeks and months there.
“Dan’s story made it real”
The story of Dan is woven into everything we do, giving a relevance and context to the information and life skills included in the PSHE/PSE programme. This is always told in a sensitive and age-appropriate way, either by drug educators, or directly by Dan’s mum, Fiona, or through a powerful short, commissioned docu-drama, which is sent to schools ahead of booking to check it will be suitable for their students. Dan’s story is always moving and powerful and has a huge impact on its audiences. Storytelling can be an incredibly engaging and effective means of communicating an important message, and the story of Dan, a young person like any of them, helps the important information, understanding and skills they are learning to be better embedded and retained.
A trauma-informed approach
We are very mindful that although the real-life story of Dan is highly beneficial to most, and the content of workshops and lessons is evidence-based and important, it might be difficult and potentially triggering for some students, and for some staff present. As a trauma-informed education provider, we offer schools and colleges ideas to help them prepare ahead of working with them, through our booking process and, if needed, individual discussion. This includes alerting schools to the content, and the possibility that children and staff involved may need extra pastoral support before, during and after the sessions. We provide a checklist which asks a series of questions settings can use to identify vulnerable individuals. We also prompt schools to let us know that they’ve identified students and staff at risk, spoken to students as appropriate, let staff present know so they are aware of individual students’ needs, and made sure pastoral support is available. Our drug educators don’t need to be aware of specific details or individuals, but it’s beneficial all round to know whether there are any issues we need to be sensitive to when we’re speaking to students, as well as any additional needs within the cohort.