Background to drug education
Drug education is mandated in Victorian schools through the Health and Physical Education curriculum area of the Victorian Curriculum F-10 and effective drug education is important because young people are faced with many influences to use both licit and illicit drugs. Education can play a counterbalancing role in shaping a normative culture of safety, moderation, and informed decision making.
A harm minimisation approach aims to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drugs by minimising or limiting the harms and hazards of drug use for both the community and the individual without necessarily eliminating use.
Schools are best placed to provide young people with the skills and knowledge to make sound choices and decisions and teachers must be adequately trained in drug education.
Why do we need school drug education
Engaging students in drug education activities assists them to make healthy and safe choices, identifying risky situations, and developing strategies to prepare them for challenging situations.
What effective school drug education looks like
Evidence suggests that effective drug education programs should:
- increase student’s knowledge, social and life skills, and refusal skills towards licit and illicit drug use
- include content relevant to young people’s experiences and interests
- contain highly interactive pedagogies that engage students in problem-solving and critical thinking
- be provided to students before initial experimentation and continue as young people mature
- provide significant coverage of relevant issues complemented by follow up booster sessions
- position drug education within the broader Health and PE curriculum that focuses, amongst other things, on mental health and wellbeing
- respond to cultural and social needs of the school community
- engage parents where possible.
Alcohol and other drugs are one of the twelve focus areas of the Health and Physical Education curriculum area of the Victorian Curriculum F-10 and must be addressed in each band of learning from Foundation to Level 10. The focus area addresses a range of drugs, including prescription drugs, bush and alternative medicines, energy drinks, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and performance enhancing drugs. The curriculum supports students to explore the impact drugs can have on individuals, families and communities.
How schools should incorporate drug education into their curriculum
The model for drug education in Victoria is based on a whole-school approach that utilises research and evidence-based practice, effective pedagogy and encourages a positive school climate and strong partnerships.
Schools that are approaching drug education in a broadly defined curriculum appear to be making a greater impact on students.
In these schools, there is recognition that drug education is more than teaching essential information in a discrete subject such as Health. Drug education includes an emphasis on:
- developing students’ life skills and protective behaviours
- promoting the range of relationships in which students can engage
- ensuring that students are connected to their schooling
- external influences such as media, family and peers.
School leaders provide the overall support for the drug education program. Generally this is through:
- endorsing the development and ongoing provision of a program that best meets the learning needs of the student population
- ensuring appropriate consultation through the school council
- committing the necessary staff time and resources
- supporting staff training to ensure teaching staff have the ability to teach and assess drug education aligned to the Victorian Curriculum F-10
- advocating for the importance of drug education within the school and school community
Alcohol and Other Drugs — Students: Policy provides schools with information on supporting a whole school approach to:
- reducing alcohol and other drug use
- responding to drug or alcohol related incidents
- supporting students involved in alcohol and other drug use.
Smoking and Vaping Ban: Policy supports public health objectives and ensures there is no smoking or use of e-cigarettes (commonly known as 'vaping') on school premises (buildings and grounds), within 4 metres of school entrances or at school sanctioned events held off-premises.
Syringe Disposals and Injuries: Policy | education.vic.gov.au sets out the requirements for schools to safely manage used/discarded needles and needle stick injuries.
Schools Mental Health Fund and Menu
The Victorian Government has invested $200 million in the Schools Mental Health Fund, designed to support Victorian government schools to select programs, staff and other support from an evidence-based Menu that best meets their students’ mental health and wellbeing needs.
The fund has been rolled out to all Victorian government schools based on location. The Menu provides schools with opportunities to purchase support for initiatives that promote mental health and wellbeing, enable schools to intervene early to support students, and provide targeted support for individual students who need it.
The Schools Mental Health Menu includes 13 categories, one of which is Alcohol and Drug Education. There are currently three programs offered to schools under this category:
- Achievement Program by the Cancer Council – a health and wellbeing framework which supports schools to create a positive and healthy environment in 7 key health areas, including tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs
- Blurred Minds Academy by Griffith University – a learning platform that helps teachers to deliver an engaging, relevant, and effective curriculum on alcohol and drug education
- Schools of Substance– comprehensive support for school-based alcohol and other drug education by 360Edge.
In addition, there are health and wellbeing staff within Victorian government schools that can provide direct support to students if required, including:
- Student support services officers
- Mental health practitioners in secondary schools
- Doctors in secondary schools (in 100 schools)
- School nurses.
Engaging parents and carers in drug education
A significant body of research indicates that when parents participate in their children’s education, the result is an increase in student achievement and an improvement of students’ attitudes. Productive partnerships between schools, family and the community also provide a strong network of connections that can help protect young people against a range of harms including those associated with drugs, emotional distress and problem behaviours.
- Drug and Alcohol Education Resources for Teachers - Positive Choices - Positive Choices 'is an online portal to help school communities access accurate, up-to-date drug education resources and prevention programs'. Development was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care
- Get Ready – evidence-based drug and alcohol education program and Curriculum resources for Years 7-9. Each teacher manual provides contextual advice for teachers on the use of the material with their students. It is recommended that the 10 lessons be delivered sequentially, as research supports this as the most effective delivery method. Opportunities for reinforcement of student knowledge are supported in the resource.
- The Alcohol and Drug Foundation - Alcohol and Drug Foundation (adf.org.au) - the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) is Australia’s leading organisation committed to inspiring positive change and delivering evidence-based approaches to minimise alcohol and drug harm.
- QUIT– was established to provide information, support and resources to reduce tobacco use in society.
- The Principles for School Drug Education – produced by the Commonwealth, provides a framework of core concepts and values for effective drug education practice in schools. The principles draw on drug-prevention research that focuses on effective drug education programs and the critical components for effectiveness.
- Taking an Evidence-based Approach to Classroom Drug Education (DOC, 98KB) – addresses the question ‘What constitutes effective school drug education?’. It draws on research that has identified the characteristics of those classroom drug education programs that have demonstrated reductions in the harmful use of drugs.
Family support services:
- Alcohol and other drug treatment services (health.vic.gov.au)
- DirectLine alcohol and drug counselling and referral in Victoria - provides 24-hour, seven-day counselling, information and referral services to alcohol and drug treatment support services in Victoria. Phone: 1800 888 236.
- Parents Victoria– provides parents with a voice, presenting an organised parent perspective to State and Federal governments, educational bureaucracies and institutions, community organisations and the media. Phone: (03) 9380 2158.
- Raising Children Network – free, reliable, up-to-date and independent information that answers hundreds of parenting questions, where and when needed, including on drugs and alcohol.
- Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS)– provides a range of youth-specific outreach, treatment, withdrawal, rehabilitation and support programs across Melbourne and regional Victoria. Phone: (03) 9415 8881.