The proportion of school age children who drink alcohol is falling, according to a new NHS survey of young people.

The latest findings from the annual survey show that 51% of 11- to 15-year-olds have ever drunk alcohol, continuing the downward trend of recent years since the peak of 61% reported in 2003.

As might be expected the figure rises with age, with 81% of 15-year-olds having drunk alcohol, compared with 16% of 11- year-olds. The proportion of pupils who say they drink alcohol at least once a week stands at 12%, down from 20% in 2001. Girls are just as likely as boys to have drunk alcohol in the past week.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, said: "It's a step in the right direction to see the number of underage drinkers decreasing.

"Parents can and should play a key role in educating children about alcohol and its effects. According to Drinkaware research, parents first talk to their children about alcohol about the age of 14-and-a-half a year later than when young people have their first drink."