Data released by the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) today confirms a continuing downward trend in underage drinking among schoolchildren.

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England – 2013 release found that last year fewer than one in ten pupils aged between 11 and 15 years of age (9%) had drunk alcohol in the last week, compared with a quarter (25%) of schoolchildren surveyed ten years ago. The report found that the decline over the last decade in the proportions of pupils drinking in an average week occurred across all age groups, even among older pupils approaching the legal drinking age; just over a fifth of 15 year-olds had drunk alcohol in the last week in 2013 compared with nearly half (49%) of them in 2003.

Pupils who had drunk in the last week had drunk an average (mean) of 8.2 units, markedly less than in recent years. Boys and girls drank similar amounts (8.4 and 7.9 units respectively).

The overall proportion of pupils who had ever consumed alcohol is also falling. In 2013, around two-fifths (39%) had drunk alcohol at least once, down 3 percentage points on 2012 (42%) and a reversal on ten years ago, when 61 per cent of 11 to 15 year-old pupils reported having had a drink.

However, pupils’ attitudes to alcohol in 2013 saw the majority of 11 to 15 year-olds believe experimenting with drink to be socially acceptable.

Just over half (53%) said it was OK to try drinking alcohol to see what it’s like and just over a fifth (21%) said it was OK to try getting drunk to see what it’s like. These numbers add to 5-year trend data that suggest pupils’ attitudes towards drinking and drunkenness have not changed in recent years (see table below).

Pupils’ attitudes to drinking, 11–15 years of age, England

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Source: HSCIC, ‘Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England

The figures also confirmed that pupils perceive drinking alcohol to be more acceptable than smoking (31%) and taking drugs such as cannabis (9%).

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England surveyed 5,187 pupils in 174 schools in the autumn term of 2013. You can access the report in full from the HSCIC website.