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The Children’s Commissioner has called for schools to stop excluding young people who use alcohol and other drugs. Speaking at the Tūturu Summit in Wellington, Judge Andrew Becroft said that a problem excluded is not a problem solved.

“The problem has merely been relocated,” he said. “It becomes a problem for our whole community.”

Judge Becroft told the gathering of school leaders, pastoral care staff, health educators,  and alcohol and other drug workers that keeping young people at school was the best way to ensure a positive future for them.

“All the research tells us that,” he said. “We have to do everything in our power to keep students engaged in education and that means having the best quality health education and counselling in every school.”

The Tūturu Summit was held to give secondary schools opportunities to share learnings about how they could prepare students for a world where alcohol and other drugs exist. Many of the schools and agencies attending had worked together to create Tūturu, which is a project led by the NZ Drug Foundation, and overseen by the Ministries of Education and Health, the Health Promotion Agency, and the NZ Police. 

Over two days, Summit attendees shared approaches to student wellbeing, as well as resources and systems that help all young people engaged in schooling. There was a focus on building students’ knowledge about alcohol and other drugs, while at the same time giving the students the skills to make responsible decisions.  

Speaking to the group, NZ Drug Foundation Deputy Director – Programmes, Ben Birks Ang said that simply telling young people to say ‘no’ to drugs and alcohol did not work.

“We know what works in every other area of the curriculum and we need to apply it to alcohol and other drug education,” he said. Students learn best through progressive exposure to skills and ideas, not through one-off or short term presentations designed to frighten. Through regular opportunities to engage with data and critique societal norms around drugs and alcohol, young people are more likely to develop the attitudes and resilience to keep themselves safe.”

Most of the schools represented at the Summit are teaching students about alcohol and other drugs from Year 9, believing that early exposure to information and ideas helps students develop responsible attitudes about drug and alcohol use, before the ‘party years’ begin. 

Tūturu believes that the most successful alcohol and other drug education occurs when it is not limited to Health Education classes. Health Education expert Dr. Jenny Robertson says that whole school programmes give students more opportunities to build knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. This is important because young people get much of their information and attitudes to alcohol and other drugs from family, peers and an array of media. Some educators at the Summit reported teaching units that covered alcohol and other drug issues in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Geography classes. 

While schools involved in the Tūturu pilot have increased their teaching of alcohol and drugs, they have also grown their capabilities around pastoral care and support for students. School leaders and Guidance Counsellors described how their schools have built new systems to monitor and assist student wellbeing. Many are giving additional professional development to staff, including classroom teachers. Most schools reported having strong partnerships with outside agencies to work with students.

On the first day of the Summit the Children’s Commissioner expressed strong support for Tūturu and the general direction that schools are heading on student wellbeing.

“I know wellbeing has become something of a buzz word but it’s actually the key to student success, achievement, and resilience, he said. “What we are seeing here is a paradigm shift that has long been required. It’s great that it’s finally happening.” 

-By John McRae

 

 

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