I rise to speak as the ambassador for youth drug charity Mentor UK. One of the most important steps we have not talked about so far today is the regulations that will make drugs education mandatory in all primary and secondary schools.
Drug usage permeates society, and it can have a devastating effect on our communities and young people. Children can be exposed to parents’ drug usage, be exploited by criminal gangs through county lines and, ultimately, end up developing life-ruining habits. It is critical that young people know the effects of drugs so that they can rationalise and understand abnormal behaviours related to drug usage and be aware of all the risks, such as addiction and long-term health effects, before they end up taking drugs themselves. Unfortunately, the effect of cuts has been to limit our schools’ ability to train teachers to deliver comprehensive drugs education, and to drive them away from these added-value lessons in favour of core performance-targeted subjects, so there has been a lack of the frequent, high-quality, early drugs education that is sorely needed.
According to charities such as VolteFace, there are a few steps the Government could take to improve the guidance further and make drugs education better across the whole country. Schools should start to build and develop drug programmes—with pupils, parents and local partners such as the police, substance misuse services and youth community hubs—that take local and personal vulnerabilities into account. These sessions should not be one-offs, but the guidance does not stipulate how often these lessons should be delivered, which means that schools could still provide basic lessons as long as they tick the boxes relating to what children should be taught by the end of primary and secondary school. This should be clarified in the guidance to mandate for yearly comprehensive drugs education, with an expansion of what is expected of this education. For example, the current guidance does not stipulate the need to teach awareness of child criminal exploitation, which could be vital in preventing children from falling into extremely dangerous situations.