Skip Navigation
Search site

This is our old website. Most information can now be found on our new NHS Digital website. Let us know what you think.

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England

Due to a lack of external sponsorship funding, NHS Digital regrets that there will not be a 2015 survey.

For the next survey in 2016, NHS Digital is piloting a new methodology that will generate a significantly larger sample size than previous surveys. This will enable the inclusion of the in-depth questions on both smoking and drinking and drug use within the same survey year, maintaining the survey's subject matter coverage.

What is this survey?

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England up until 2014 was an annual survey carried out by pupils in years 7 - 11 in participating schools across England to provide national estimates and information on the smoking, drinking and drug use behaviours of young people aged 11 - 15. Due to increasing difficulty in securing public funds there is no survey planned for 2015, however there is guaranteed funding for the surveys in 2016 and 2018.

Why are we doing this survey?

Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people are key public health concerns and this survey provides vital information which is used by central and local government to better understand these behaviours and to develop policies, plan services/new initiatives and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

As well as being used Government Departments (e.g. the Department of Health, the Home Office and Department for Education) and local authorities, the survey data are also used by a wide variety of other organisations, for example, Public Health England, NHS England, other NHS bodies, charities and voluntary organisations. Academic institutions are also key users of the survey data for research purposes.

Who is doing the survey?

The 2016 and 2018 surveys (and any intervening surveys in 2017 and 2019 if external funding is available) are being carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS Digital. Prior to this the surveys have been carried out by NatCen Social Research working in conjunction with the National Federation for Educational Research (NFER). The survey in funded by the Department of Health.

Who has reviewed this survey?

The survey methodology and the information we provide to participating schools and pupils was reviewed and approved by an ethics board at the National Children's Bureau (NCB).

How do you choose who takes part?

For each survey around one in ten secondary schools in England is randomly selected to take part. Nearly every type of school with pupils in years 7 to 11 is eligible for selection and only very small schools and special schools are excluded.

Different schools are chosen each year and schools are never asked to take part two years in a row. Since the survey's been running since 1982, there's a chance some schools will be asked to take part more than once.

What does taking part in the survey involve?

The survey fieldwork takes place during the autumn term and only requires a small time commitment from schools taking part. Pupils are given a self-completion questionnaire to complete in exam conditions which takes no more than 40 minutes. Each stage of the short process - from agreeing to take part to the survey being completed - is organised and supported by experienced Ipsos MORI staff.

A teacher from a participating school provided this feedback from a recent survey:

· "The process was very simple and actually I was surprised at how little we had to do - it felt like minimal effort for maximum return. Having being through the experience, I actually think this could be a great role for a newly qualified teacher; as while organising your school's participation in the survey isn't time intensive, it offers the chance to take on a new task and tick off some of the essential standards."

· "The pupils were fine about taking part when it was explained to them that the responses would be anonymous. They completed the survey in a test environment with one of the NatCen staff, who was very cool with the kids. It took most of them about 35 minutes to complete and I think they were actually disappointed it didn't take longer, so they could have time off from the next lesson."

Poster design competition

For taking part in the survey, we invited pupils to enter a poster competition. The pdf icon winning poster [739kb] was chosen by NHS Digital and Ipsos MORI.

What data items are collected?

The survey includes information on:

  • prevalence of smoking, drinking and drug taking among school children
  • the number of pupils who have never smoked, drunk alcohol or taken drugs
  • types alcohol and drugs taken
  • how often pupils smoke, drink and take drugs
  • where pupils obtain cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and drugs
  • pupils' attitudes to these behaviours
  • predictors of the likelihood of smoking, drinking and drug use among school

What happens to the answers?

Key findings from the main survey are published in a report and tables which are freely available on the NHS Digital website. An anonymised copy of the dataset which will not identify individual pupils, schools or teachers will be held by NHS Digital and will also be made available on the UK Data Archive for the purposes of not-for-profit research, teaching or personal educational development. Other researchers can apply to NHS Digital for permission to use the information collected through the survey. However, it is important to stress that any information from the survey that is used by other researchers will not enable schools, teachers or pupils to be identified and will be used for statistical and research purposes only.

The survey is completely confidential

We do not ask pupils to put their names on the questionnaire and school and pupil names will never be published. This means the information is held in an anonymous form and individual pupils and schools cannot be identified.

Latest findings and report

The latest Smoking Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England report and key findings are available in the NHS Digital publication catalogue.

A full anonymised dataset of this series of surveys is available in the UK Data Services Catalogue.

NHS Digital undertook a public consultation on the future format and content of the survey in summer 2015 to ensure that the survey continues to be relevant and meet users' needs. The findings from the consultation are available in the pdf icon Smoking Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England consultation outcomes report [401kb].

NHS Digital would like to thank all those who took part in the consultation.

Close iCM Form