Young people, school exclusion and substance abuse

  • Laura Duncan

    Student thesis: Masters ThesisMaster of Philosophy


    The Northern Ireland Drug Information and Research Strategy highlighted school exclusion as an area in urgent need of research. It would appear, however, that despite a concern about the impact of school exclusion and increased concern about links to substance using behaviours, relatively little research has been completed within this field. This deficit in knowledge is particularly apparent in Northern Ireland. The overall aim of the present study was, therefore, to examine the substance using behaviours of young people aged 14 to 15 who have been excluded from school.

    The data were collected using a semi-structured interview, allowing participants to express views and ideas, alongside capturing specific information on substance misuse. Data collected from the interviews were supplemented by information obtained from questionnaires completed by key-workers associated with the young people. The initial sample contained 64 young people aged 14 to 15 (43 males and 21 females). Following a gap of approximately one year, 25 young people (14 males and 11 females) were re-interviewed to examine how their lives had changed over the final year of compulsory schooling.
    Results from this study found that there were high levels of engagement in substance using behaviours compared to young people within mainstream school. The most popular substances of ever use were cigarettes, alcohol, cannabis and solvents. Other drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamines and LSD were also used but to a lesser extent. Poly-substance use was also found within the sample. For some, substance using behaviours began prior to exclusion from school. The young people self-reported, however, that these behaviours escalated post exclusion. Exploration of the reasons behind substance use highlighted the complex nature of these relationships and implications for how they are tackled.

    Individual experiences of school exclusion were also varied, both in terms of the reason for exclusion and the educational provision available thereafter. Raising concerns about the consistency of approach used to educate these young people and the impact it will have on their development.
    Date of AwardDec 2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorKathryn Higgins (Supervisor)

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