One of the ways the findings are used is to shape services and regulation that help to support and protect young people, including recent laws banning smoking in cars and plain packaging on cigarette boxes.
The SDD publication Series
Latest public consultation findings - After the 2016 Survey we undertook a public consultation on the survey, to ensure that any future survey continues to be relevant and still meets user needs.
Why we do this survey
Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people are key public health concerns. This survey provides vital information, which is used by central and local government to better understand these behaviours and to develop policies, plan services and new initiatives, and to monitor and evaluate their impact.
As well as being used across government departments (such as the Department of Health, the Home Office and Department for Education) and local authorities, the data is also used by a wide variety of other organisations, including Public Health England, NHS England, other NHS bodies, charities and voluntary organisations. Academic institutions also use the data for research purposes.
Managing the survey
The 2016, 2018 and 2020 surveys are being carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS Digital. Prior to this NatCen Social Research, working with the National Federation for Educational Research (NFER), carried out the survey.
Before each survey, the methodology and information provided to participating schools and pupils is reviewed and approved by an ethics board at the National Children's Bureau (NCB).
Participants are aged between 11 and 15. For each survey, around 1 in 7 secondary schools in England is randomly chosen 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.
What the survey involves
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 about 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.
The survey includes information on:
- prevalence of smoking, drinking and drug taking among school children
- Use of e-cigarettes and emerging drugs
- types of 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
- From 2018, the survey also collects some information about well-being, and the relationship to risky behaviours.
What we do with the answers
The survey is completely confidential and the information is anonymous. We don't ask pupils to put their names on the questionnaire and it is not possible to identify a pupil from the published results.
Findings from the main survey are published in a report and tables which are freely available on our website. An anonymised copy of the dataset is available on the UK Data Service (UKDS) for the purposes of not-for-profit research. Access is restricted to registered users of the UKDS within UK higher education or further education, central and local government, NHS, research companies and charities.
Other researchers outside of these categories can apply to NHS Digital for permission to use the dataset. However, the purpose must be for not for profit research that would benefit the UK health and social care system or patients.