The Amy Winehouse Foundation – formed after the singer’s death last July – is to help spearhead a new national campaign to make drug and alcohol education compulsory as part of the national curriculum, after the government dropped plans to do so.
The late singer’s father, Mitch, will join leaders of another young people’s charity, the Angelus Foundation, to launch the initiative in the House of Commons on Monday amid rising concern over the loss of young lives from “legal highs”, “party drugs” and excessive alcohol.
Angelus is run by two women who both lost daughters at the age of 21 to tragic accidents involving party drugs. The Duchess of Kent, who will attend the event, is patron of the foundation.
Today one of the mothers, Vicky Unwin, in an article in the Observer to mark a year since the death of her daughter, Louise, after an overdose of the controlled tranquilliser ketamine, says she was horrified to discover how plans to embed drug and alcohol education in the national curriculum had been abandoned in favour of a less prescriptive approach that means many schools now do almost none.
The two organisations will launch a national petition on the Downing Street website which could force the government to grant a special debate in the Commons if it attracts 100,000 signatures. Mitch Winehouse, whose daughter died from alcohol poisoning, called on every parent to support the campaign. “We need all the parents in this country to sign this petition to show the government that they have a duty to help the younger generation understand the dangers of drink and drugs,” he said. The campaign will also demand the setting up of a special drugs ministry to conduct tests and assess the dangers.
Angelus’s founder, Maryon Stewart, whose daughter Hester lost her life after taking a mixture of alcohol and GBL, a legal high, said: “Effective interventions, shown to reduce the use of drugs and alcohol by in excess of 50%, have been peer reviewed and published in medical journals and are currently being delivered in schools in Canada and Australia.
“To provide drug education to a child costs £500 but, according to surveys, the cost per drug-using child is in the region of £1m by the time they are 30. Providing effective drugs education would save billions of pounds. I urge all parents to sign the Wise Up! petition and urge the government to put drugs education on the national curriculum so that our children can make wise and informed choices, increasing their chances of staying safe.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said the Labour government had planned to make drug education part of the national curriculum. But a bill before the last general election in May 2010 ran out of parliamentary time. He said the current government decided that while schools would still have to conduct drug and alcohol classes as part of personal, social and health education (PSHE) it would be up to headteachers to decide how to do so – and it would not be made part of the national curriculum. Guidance as to what should be taught has recently been issued but precisely how many lessons are given and who should deliver them are discretionary.
“All pupils should have high-quality lessons to deal with the dangers of drug abuse. Schools have a legal responsibility to promote pupils’ wellbeing – which should include setting out a clear drugs policy to prevent substance misuse,” the spokesman added. “PSHE remains a compulsory part of the curriculum (though not the national curriculum) up to 16. Teachers know their pupils best and have the power to design their own lessons and decide what is taught. We are carrying out a detailed internal review to improve PSHE teaching and will set out next steps in due course.
“We published clear advice on drugs to schools last month setting out how they can address drug misuse – including giving accurate information through the Frank campaign; working with charities and police to prevent it spreading; and providing pupils with clear information.” Angelus maintains, however, that drug and alcohol education in many schools is inadequate. It cites surveys showing that 60% of state schools do an hour or less a year and says 70% of former state school pupils cannot recall any drugs education at all.
Musician and composer James McConnel and Country Life cartoonist Annie Tempest, whose 18-year-old son, Freddy, was a heavy user of mephedrone and eventually died from a heroin overdose, will also attend Monday’s event.
The petition can be found at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/30280