Demos education pilot raises awareness of gambling harms in schools

Demos think tank has been piloting lessons in secondary schools to prevent gambling-related harms among school age children.

Despite more opportunities than ever for young people to gamble, particularly online, tools to help prevent gambling harms are not currently being provided in schools. 25,000 children in the UK are currently classed as problem gamblers, and some 2 million adults classed as at-risk of developing a problem, making early preventative education in schools a top priority.

For the past two years, Demos, supported by GambleAware, developed and tested a pilot education programme to teach children about the risks of gambling, and where to go for help and support. The lessons were designed to build up the resilience of teenagers to the tactics that gambling companies use to encourage people to gamble. Educating the pupils about concepts such as “delayed gratification” helped to improve their understanding of the nature of gambling and how to make good decisions when in any risky situation, particularly with gambling.

The four lessons were taught in selected schools across the country, as part of the PSHE curriculum for 14-year-olds, reaching 650 pupils. Prior to starting the programme, just under 40% of pupils surveyed did not agree that gambling was dangerous. This was reflected in the fact that 41% of students said they had participated in gambling within the last year.

The most common form of gambling amongst those surveyed was using money to place bets (21%). This was followed by playing fruit machines (17%) and finally playing cards for money (14%). Yet, only 14% of the pupils Demos surveyed had been taught about gambling in school before the pilot.

To evaluate the pilot Demos observed five lessons, conducted a tracked pre- and post- survey over 12 months for pupils at participating schools and nearby comparison schools where the lessons were not given, and held focus groups with pupils and teachers in participating schools during the Autumn term of 2016.

Over the 12 months Demos observed a statistically significant decline in the proportion of pupils playing cards for money – with a net decline of seven percentage points relative to the comparison group. Demos saw the most substantial changes, relative to the comparison school, in pupils being able to describe ways to help someone experiencing gambling problems, there was a net 20 percentage point increase in the proportion of pupils at participating schools relative to the comparison school being able to do so.

Demos also saw a net 18 percentage point increase in pupils feeling that they know where to go to talk about gambling problems, an 11-percentage point increase in pupils able to describe delayed gratification, and a net 10 percentage point increase in pupils understanding the techniques used by the gambling industry to persuade people to gamble.

Encouragingly, more than 100 schools expressed an interest in taking part in the Demos’ pilot, signalling a significant awareness of the risks posed to young people from gambling harms.

The results were submitted to government as part of a recent consultation on the content of PSHE lessons, and both Demos and GambleAware highlighted the need to include gambling-related harm when teaching children about risky behaviours.

Personal reflections from participants in the research:  

I actually found them quite interesting because I didn’t really know much about gambling and how you can get addicted. But we went into some depth and I learnt some new things. It was quite good how my form tutor presented them. (Male, School B)

At first gambling seemed like quite a rare thing but we didn’t realise how easy it is to get addicted. And how bad it could be, but we learnt that I think. (Female, School D)

Lots of people won’t think about going gambling, or they won’t have it in their family, so these lessons won’t be a lot of use because they won’t necessarily need it in the future. Whereas other people might be looking into it, or gambling regularly, and they can see the effect that might have on them in the future – they can apply what they’ve learnt here to themselves and relate to it. (Female, School B)

If there was someone I knew when I was older then I would know what to do, you could help someone. (Male, School C)

Commenting on the research, Simone Vibert, Social Policy Researcher at Demos, said:

“Given that young people are routinely taught about the risks of drugs, alcohol and underage sex, the fact that so few are taught about gambling is an anomaly. Problem gambling can wreak havoc on people’s lives, not to mention their friends, families and the wider economy. Prevention is clearly preferable to treatment later down the line.  

These lessons encourage pupils to weigh risk, manage impulses and advise others – all things that can help prevent problem gambling and other risky behaviour too. We therefore call upon the Government and schools to use these resources to help develop the skills and resilience of pupils, confident in the knowledge that they have been proven to make a difference.”

Dr Jane Rigbye, Director of Education, GambleAware said:

“There are legitimate concerns about the impact of gambling-related advertising and the normalisation of gambling for children. It is in this context, that GambleAware is pleased to have funded this project to explore what may be effective in helping children to understand the nature of gambling and the associated risks, and to become resilient to the harms that can arise. We hope the success of this project will support that case for gambling and the risks it poses to be included in the PSHE curriculum in schools in the future.”

Richard Ives, who conducted an independent evaluation of the project, said:

“This was a well-designed project that successfully engaged teachers in delivering quality gambling harm prevention lessons covering the potential harms of gambling, exploring ways that people are encouraged to participate, and helping pupils to keep safe. The lessons were embedded in the PSHE curriculum, where they stand a much better chance of being effective than do ‘stand-alone’ gambling interventions in schools.”

For more information about this research project, please contact:      

Caitlin Lambert – Demos| 020 7367 4200 | (Out of Hours) 07826520552

Sarah Evans – Atlas Partners +447523 609 413



Methodological notes:

The lessons were designed by Demos, the PSHE Association, The Mentor Foundation UK (Mentor UK), the National Problem Gambling Clinic and range of independent teachers and advisers. The modelling and survey analysis was conducted by NatCen.

About Demos

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.

About GambleAware

GambleAware is the leading charity in the UK committed to minimising gambling-related harm. As an independent national charity funded by donations from the gambling industry, GambleAware funds education, prevention and treatment services and commissions research to broaden public understanding of gambling-related harm. The aim is to stop people getting into problems with their gambling and ensure that those that do develop problems receive fast and effective treatment and support. For more information, please go to: