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ID: HR23-127
Presenting author: Nick Kent

Presenting author biography:

Nick is a qualified school teacher, a peer educator and policy reform advocate. Nick conducted research in school drug education, facilitates tertiary student activism as the National Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia, and coordinates advocacy for Victorian people who use drugs as Harm Reduction Victoria's Policy Lead.

What’s going on with school drug education? Principles, Principals and piloting “Smarter About Drugs”

Nick Kent
Australian drug policies and programs occur within an overarching context of a “harm minimisation” National Drug Strategy, within which harm reduction and harm prevention approaches take various forms. These tripartite responses to drug-related harm remain inconsistently defined in literature and policy. Meanwhile, school drug education (SDE) has been regularly valourised as a crucial intervention to prevent either, or both, drug use and its potential related harms. However while no academic data exists on Australian community satisfaction with SDE approaches - many are none-the-less routinely acknowledged as insufficient, inappropriate, inconsistent or even comical. So, what’s going on with Australian SDE?

This paper will summarise the findings of several qualitative studies conducted between 2017 and 2020 analysing Australian SDE literature, policy, curricula and classroom practice. A post-structural analysis of the Australian Government’s Principles for School Drug Education found that literature and policy is characterized by the poorly defined and interchangeable use of the key terms harm minimisation, harm prevention and harm reduction. A Survey of School Principals found that school administrators struggled to navigate the complex and incoherent range of resources and services available. Finally, results will be presented from the trial of Smarter About Drugs, an SDE module grounded instead in principles of democratic health education and constructivist pedagogy, piloted at two Victorian secondary schools in 2019, which indicated: facilitating of open discussion about drugs, critical thinking, increased capacity to search for more information, encouraging participation in broader discussions, cultivating more empathetic responses to drug use, engaging otherwise disengaged students, enhancing teacher-student relationships and enabling more open discussions with family.

SDE will then be theorized as a unique site in which individual and community health literacies and harm reducing capacities are formed, encouraged or denied in ways that are poorly measured and understood; justifying a wholesale review of Australian drug education.