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Dillon, Lucy (2018) Lifeskills 2015. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 65, Spring 2018, p. 26.

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The Lifeskills survey is carried out by the Department of Education and Skills in primary and post-primary schools1. Data have been collected in 2009, 2012, 2015 and a fourth round is expected to be carried out in 2018.2 The findings of the 2015 Lifeskills survey were published in July 2017.3

The survey

The Lifeskills survey focuses on skills being taught in schools that ‘are for life’ (p. 64), including physical activity and healthy eating; aspects of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE); anti-bullying; substance use; and road safety. In 2015, extra questions were added on: links between primary schools and early years’ settings; education for sustainable development; and, interaction with the entrepreneurial sector – both business and social. Survey questions focus on school policies, programme content and delivery. The findings are predominantly descriptive of outputs in the areas of interest (see Table 1). However, the survey attempts to deal with some more complex issues that may be beyond the scope of its design. For example, it asks ‘do students in your school know what to do, if bullied?’ with response options ‘yes/no’. While 99% of post-primary schools responded ‘yes’ to this question, it is unclear what this assessment is based on (p. 22).

Lifeskills is an online survey of schools and participation is voluntary. It is unclear from the report who completes the survey and whether or not this is consistent between schools. However, the survey is described by the authors as representing the ‘perspective of the school community’ (p. 54). In 2015, there was a response rate of 53% from the primary schools, down from 68% in 2012; and, 33% from post-primary schools, down from 52% in 2012. In relation to the post-primary school response rate, the authors noted the drop in participation as ‘very significant and a concern for the Department’ (p. 28).

Substance use

Substance use is one of the topics covered in the report. Schools were asked about whether a substance misuse policy was in place; whether parents contributed to its development; which topics were covered in related lessons; how challenging the school found it to teach in this area; and which outside agencies were involved in the delivery of work on this topic.

The findings for primary schools were:

  • 88% of schools were either in the process of developing a policy or had one in place, while 12% had none. This is the same level as 2012. It is unclear from the report what proportion of the 88% of schools was only ‘in the process’ of developing a policy.
  • Of those schools that had a substance misuse policy in place, 66% reported that parents were consulted on the development of the policy.
  • 90% of schools reported that they address the topics of ‘awareness of and combating drug abuse’, ‘awareness of and combating alcohol abuse’ and ‘awareness of health risks of smoking’ with pupils. In addition, over 97% of schools reported that they addressed ‘resisting peer pressure’ and ‘making sound decisions’. These findings are all similar to 2012.
  • 56% of schools described substance misuse as challenging or very challenging to teach, while 44% reported that it was not challenging to teach.
  • 94% of schools used the Walk Tall4 programme to support teaching pupils about substance misuse. Twenty-two per cent used an external agency to help them to deliver their substance misuse programme. The main agencies used by primary schools were An Garda Síochána and the local drugs taskforce.

The findings for post-primary schools were:

  • 95% of schools either had a substance misuse policy or were in the process of developing one. As with the primary schools, it is unclear from the report what percentage actually had an active policy.
  • 87% of schools had consulted parents in the development of their substance misuse policy, 13% had not.
  • All of the schools reported that they address the topics of ‘awareness of and combating drug abuse’, ‘awareness of and combating alcohol abuse’ and ‘awareness of health risks of smoking’ with pupils.
  • Three-quarters of schools reported using On My Own Two Fee4 to support them in their work in this area.
  • 56% of schools found it a challenging topic to teach; 49% reported it as somewhat challenging, and 7% as very challenging. Forty-four per cent of schools reported that it was not challenging to teach.
  • 48% of schools reported bringing in external agencies to support the delivery of their work in this area. The main agencies used were An Garda Síochána and the Health Services Executive.

Concluding comment

In its introduction, the report is described as providing ‘evidence of the very good work being undertaken by respondent schools/centres in helping their learners to develop the key skills and resilience necessary to cope with the many demands and pressures they face both within and outside their learning environment’ (p. 12). However, the methods used do not allow for any insights into the quality and effectiveness of, for example, the policies and what is being delivered to pupils. These are critical considerations when exploring schools’ delivery on addressing pupils’ needs in this area.

The authors identify a number of issues that need to be addressed to improve and support the delivery of life skills in the school environment. In relation to substance use, the focus is on providing staff with continued professional development to make the delivery of sessions ‘less challenging’. It is beyond the scope of the survey to reflect on the content and mode of delivery. However, some findings would suggest the need to explore further how the Department of Education and Skills can best facilitate schools in delivering programmes in line with the current evidence of best practice. For example, the finding that An Garda Síochána is frequently involved in the delivery of classroom sessions is not in line with international best practice guidance.5

1    In 2015, the Lifeskills survey was carried out in Youthreach Centres and Community Training Centres for the first time. The findings of this element of the report are not covered in this article. The report recommends that these centres develop and carry out their own version of the survey for the future to facilitate a more appropriate set of questions.

2    Department of Education and Skills (2014) Results of the Department of Education and Skills ‘Lifeskills’ survey, 2012. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21391/


3    Department of Education and Skills (2017) Lifeskills survey 2015. Report on survey findings. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28560/


4    The ‘Walk Tall’ and ‘On My Own Two Feet’ programmes are substance misuse prevention programmes, which have been integrated into the national Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum for primary and post-primary schools respectively.

5    As reported on in an earlier issue of Drugnet Ireland, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found that programmes that use police officers to deliver classroom sessions have no or negative prevention outcomes. See Dillon L (2017) ‘What works’ in drug education and prevention? A review, Drugnet Ireland 61: 17‒19. Available at: www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27211/1/Drugnet_61_final.pdf

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