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New drugs role for schools

Schools can expect more of a front-line role in combating drug misuse after the appointment of one of Scotland's most experienced health educationists to head the Government's Scotland Against Drugs campaign.

Alistair Ramsay, aged 50, will be seconded from his job as health education adviser with Glasgow's education department to be executive director.

Sir Tom Farmer, chairman of SAD, described the appointment as "an important next step" in raising the profile of the problem drugs misuse poses for children.

Mr Ramsay, who has been involved in drug-related education since 1985, is likely to find himself more in tune with educational thinking than David Macauley, his controversial predecessor. Mr Macauley resigned from the Pounds 40,000 a year post because he claimed ministers were refusing to support his hard-line anti-drugs message.

Mr Macaulay was also unhappy that the campaign's budget was slashed from #163;2 million to #163;500,000, which he thought would undermine SAD's public information role. Mr Ramsay said money was never enough, but he hoped businesses would contribute to the anti-drugs campaign because they had a vested interest in its success.

Two hundred companies have already given support in cash or kind and Mr Ramsay is hoping for more. Shortly after his appointment, Morrison Construction announced it was pledging #163;45, 000 over three years to a primary school initiative, which is backed by Marks and Spencer, ScottishPower and Mace.

Mr Ramsay says the initiative has had a mixed response, although he put this down to schools awaiting a slot in their development plans and ensuring they had the right materials before going ahead.

The new anti-drugs messenger told The TES Scotland it was now time to complement the message that drug-taking is dangerous with a more upbeat celebration of youngsters who do not take drugs.

"When I was in New York people kept referring to a 'lost generation'," he says. "I thought they were talking about the kids who had succumbed to drugs. But no, they were pointing to youngsters, very many of them from the same areas and backgrounds as the others, who had remained drug-free but were never praised or congratulated for their achievement."

A recent Glasgow University study which found that one in 10 primary pupils had taken drugs was a "horrendous statistic", Mr Ramsay said. "We cannot ignore the fact that these young people are at risk. But we need to celebrate the fact that nine-tenths from the same group of kids living in the same communities are saying no to drugs. There is a huge opportunity through drug education programmes to say: 'Brilliant, well done, that's the way to do it.' "We need to switch the emphasis from what is going wrong to what is going right. There has to be a culture change where it is not taking drugs that becomes cool."

Mr Ramsay has been an outspoken critic of "shock-horror, scare 'em young" tactics, a view shared by education authorities. They favour approaches which use health education and personal and social education to increase self-esteem, especially among vulnerable youngsters. The theory is that this will give them the confidence to reject a drugs lifestyle and avoid being sucked in by peer group pressure.

Mr Ramsay also wants to tap into the self-interest of the business community. He cites US research which shows that employees taking drugs are likely to be a third less productive, three times more likely to turn up late, four times more likely to have an accident at work and 10 times more likely to miss work.

He also intends establishing links with school boards, local communities and groups such as the Cranhill-based Mothers Against Drugs in Glasgow.

Mr Ramsay was principal physical education teacher at St Mungo's Academy in Glasgow when he first became aware of the drugs problem. "My entry into health education came in the late seventies because a pupil I taught died sniffing solvents," he recalled two years ago. "I opened the paper one day and I saw the photo of one of my pupils staring out at me. He had been sniffing for about 18 months and I did not have a clue."

He subsequently led the Strathclyde teams that produced the highly regarded Drugwise teaching pack for primaries and secondaries, subsequently distributed to schools across Scotland. Mr Ramsay's contribution was further recognised in 1990 when he was appointed to sit on the Home Secretary's UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and later to membership of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Drug Misuse.

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