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Classroom bobbies steal a lead

TEACHERS in Aberdeenshire have voted Grampian Police's education liaison unit their most popular resource in the fight against drugs. In a survey by a drugs education and prevention working group, almost three-quarters of 176 schools said they had used liaison officers and the Police Box teaching package.

The figure is double the percentage of schools reporting the use of health board promotion staff and materials and four times more than those using established national packages such as TACADE and Drugwise.

The education liaison unit comprises 12 trained officers who work full time for a minimum of three years in schools across Grampian. The pioneering service is unique in Scotland if not in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Dawn Tuckwood, health promoting schools co-ordinator for Aberdeenshire, says regular links with the officers have contributed greatly to their popularity and to the success of Police Box - a resource developed by the unit consisting of 160 activity cards. These challenge pupils to structured group discussion and role play within the topics of not only drugs but bullying, vandalism, safety, law and order and citizenship.

"The officers have personalised Police Box in a way that has not been possible with other packages," Ms Tuckwood says. And at a time when the public perceives a dearth of officers on the beat teachers and pupils have warmed to having "their own local bobby".

Education unit officers have gone through a rigorous selection process and undertake a three-week course at Northern College to familiarise themselves with the curriculum and its methodology. During term, apart from time spent travelling, they work the same hours in schools as teachers. Wilma Gillanders, the unit's education adviser, says officers are taught to produce programmes suited to each individual school.

This scenario is the oppoite of that depicted 10 years ago in a report on police liaison by the Scottish Council for Research in Education peppered with damning comments such as "little evidence of collaborative planning", a "lack of consistency in liaison as beat officers have to mix regular duties with schools work", "meagre training" and "a limited range of teaching methods."

That report led to Grampian Police taking a hard look at efforts to translate into reality its belief that education is the key to crime prevention. It also led to Ms Gillanders, then a depute primary headteacher, being seconded to the force as an education adviser.

Ms Gillanders, who is now a permanent police employee, helped develop Police Box to promote multi-agency working. The police feature directly in only 41 of the cards, while others deal with the school nurse, pharmacists, Customs officers and health promotion staff.

Police Box links with and contributes to values education. "Just what are rules?" Ms Gillanders challenges. In drugs education, "consequences are emphasised".

The theme is that drugs will change behaviour and values. That calls into play the cards on vandalism, which in turn links into aspects of citizenship, law and order and safety, "both your own and others', say if you drive a car under the influence of drugs".

Last year a CD-Rom package called Learning For Life introduced the amiable character of PC Big Bernie to encourage individual interaction with the ideas and issues presented in Police Box. A second CD-Rom on safety, citizenship and law and order is being launched this month, complete with a section on Internet safety. The sponsors are Shell, the Gordon Cook Foundation and the Scottish Executive.

Details on Police Box and the Learning For Life CD-Roms are available from Grampian Police's community development department on 01224 709970

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