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Ignorance is not an option;Coping with ...drugs;Briefing;Governors

Governors must ensure that a school's policy is working. reports Hilary Strudwick

Have You Noticed and On The Board will return after Christmas. Suggestions for governors to be profiled should be sent toKaren Thornton, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, Fax 0171 782 3202, e-mail

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, care of the above address, or e-mail For previous articles from Agenda and the governors' page, see "Everyone knows how to get hold of drugs. I'd probably been in secondary school for about three weeks. By then I knew who to go to for different drugs - everyone did."

This is a student from a high-achieving school. He doesn't smoke and has never tried illegal drugs. If Year 7 pupils have that information then it's highly likely that older students could be somewhat more involved. After all, trading needs both suppliers and purchasers.

Even if drugs are not actually on school premises, many pupils will have used them elsewhere. Half of all teenagers report having used an illegal substance. Many will be aware of their parents' usage (alcohol and tobacco are the most common drugs) and of the effects of misuse.

A school can no longer ignore drug education fearing that this might imply it has a problem.

Drug education, as part of a broader personal, social and health education curriculum, has been shown to have an impact on the first use of drugs by young people. They need to make informed choices.

They also need social skills training, such as ways of resisting peer pressure. And that calls for programmes to help develop self-awareness and self-esteem.

As governors we have a responsibility to ensure that the pupils in our schools (both primary and secondary) have access to drug programmes.

This may be through our involvement in curriculum matters but we also have an overall strategic role in policy-making. Having a clear policy on drug education and knowing how the school will deal with drug issues gives confidence to staff, parents and pupils alike. The Office for Standards in Education looks for policies that include these elements:

a clear statement of aims and objectives;

how the school will provide drug education;

drug education in the curriculum, including reference to teaching;

responsibilities of all staff in dealing with related issues;

liaison with other agencies;

resource implications (both materials and staff time);

how confidential matters will be dealt with;

how parents are involved;

how and when the policy will be monitored and evaluated - and who will undertake this responsibility.

Because pupils spend far more of their lives at home, it is vital that schools work closely with parents over drug education. It is hard for governors to deal with the distress of a parent facing, for the first time, evidence of their child's involvement in drugs.

Few schools now exclude a pupil for possessing a small amount of a soft drug such as cannabis. Drug-dealing is a different issue.

For the former it is important that the pupil has the opportunity to talk through, with trained personnel, why they have been taking drugs.

The youth service, police, health education or social services may form part of the appropriate drug education programme and counselling team. Trained multi-agency teams can do much to strengthen pupils' self-awareness and self-esteem.

These external agencies have a valuable part to play as part of a school's broad drug education programme within the drug policy. But governors have the responsibility to make sure that the policy is in place and, often more important, that it's working.

Hilary Strudwick is a governor training co-ordinator with the London borough of Hounslow

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