William Flew and Gambling

December 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pupils should learn that studying the form can improve their chances of winning a bet, an industry-funded body has advised

Children as young as 12 should be taught in school how to gamble, a government education review has been told.

Pupils should learn that studying the form of race horses, dogs and sports teams can improve chances of winning a bet, an industry-funded body has advised. They should also play the dice game craps, learn about fruit machines and how to calculate betting odds.

The proposals won immediate support from Labour, who said that children needed to “understand when the odds are stacked against them”.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: “This is something that shouldn’t be left to chance.

“With the rise of online gambling, there is clearly a need for children and young people to be given good advice. It is right that, just like drug and alcohol addiction, teenagers and children are given information to prepare them for the adult world. The Government should listen to concerns.”

Gamcare, which runs a problem-gambling helpline and receives about £3 million a year donated by the gambling sector, put forward the plan to a government review of personal, social and health education (PSHE). It said that children should be taught “responsible gambling” in secondary schools.

Detailed lesson plans have been prepared, some of which state as their objective “to enable students to increase their knowledge and understanding about gambling”.

One proposes a class discussion in which pupils are asked to identify “some of the more positive aspects of gambling” as well as negative points and to understand why people bet.

Education experts warned that the move risked creating a new generation of gamblers, and said schools should focus on their core purpose of learning.

Graham Stuart, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: “I am generally nervous of trying to make schools the cure-all for society’s ills. Their primary aim is to equip children with the basic skills of a decent education.”

Gamcare argues that many teenagers are already aware of gambling and that 2 per cent of young people aged 12-13 are classed as “problem gamblers”. It says that they should be taught how to approach gambling responsibly and wants secondary schools to use two sets of lesson plans designed by Tacade, a charity that develops life skills for young people.

One set, called You Bet!, is for use by teachers in schools and pupil referral units, with separate plans for 11 to 14-year-olds and for pupils aged 14-16. In one lesson plan children could toss coins and throw dice and work out the odds for the outcome. One says: “Ask the students ‘How much control over winning does the punter have in different types of gambling?’ The answer and fact is generally ‘very little,’ although this varies. For example, studying the form of horses, dogs and sports may have an influence.”

A second set, Just Another Game?, is intended for 14-19-year-olds in more informal educational settings, but Gamcare said it could also be used in schools. This includes a simplified version of the casino game craps in which students learn the link between gambling and arithmetic, lessons on fruit machines that help students to develop strategies for “safer gambling” and a game in which students begin by being told that they are the “lucky winners” of an island complete with a casino.

In its submission Gamcare admits that a previous initiative in Canada, the “It’s Your Lucky Day” project, was judged a failure that left students more aware of how gambling works but in most cases “not more likely to know about the signs of problem gambling”.

Gamcare does not use money from its central allocation of industry funding for educational projects, but the materials were developed using money from the Responsible Gambling Fund, which is industry-sponsored.

Alan Smithers, an educational expert at the University of Buckingham, said: “The Government is right to want the curriculum to focus on essential learning. I am sure that the motives of Gamcare are of the highest but I have a fear that the proposal may not only be a distraction from essential learning but might easily teach children how to gamble. What is forbidden or discouraged is often more attractive.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “There is a very fine line teachers would be reluctant to cross between raising awareness of the danger but not doing anything specifically likely to encourage gambling.”

A Gamcare spokesman said: “Gambling is becoming more mainstream. If there are going to be risky activities, young people should be informed about how to do this safely.”

A spokesman for Ladbrokes, the bookmaker, said: “Ladbrokes supports the principle of increasing awareness about problem gambling, and educating schoolchildren about risk may have a role.

“It would have to be carefully implemented with the advice of experts and in consultation with Government before the industry would commit to funding an initiative of this kind.”

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