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One in 7 downs two pints a night

Survey shows that alcohol, cigarette and drug use is prevalent in public schools, reports Biddy Passmore

MORE than one in seven boys in the sixth forms of leading public schools drinks 14 pints a week, or the equivalent in wine and shorts, according to a report published on Wednesday.

This is more than the recommended weekly maximum (28 units) for a grown man. Half as many girls exceed the total for an adult woman (21 units).

Even at 15 (Year 10), one in three boys and one in four girls drink more than seven units a week. A unit is a glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a measure of spirits.

Nicotine also has a large minority in its grip. Nearly 30 per cent of sixth-form boys and a fifth of sixth-form girls smoke regularly.

These figures, from a survey of 2,400 pupils at 20 schools belonging to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), are every bit as disturbing as the statistics on drug use among pupils.

These show that nearly half of pupils have been offered and nearly a third have taken illegal drugs by the age of 14 or 15 and one in 10 uses them regularly - nearly always cannabis.

The survey was carried out for the HMC, which represents the 240 leading boys' and co-educational independent schools, by the Health Education Unit at Exeter University. It was accompanied by a survey of member schools, which found that boarding school heads worried more about drugs and day-school heads about alcohol but both saw family break-up as the greatest threat to their pupils.

The great majority of pupils in both Year 10 and Year 12 think that heroin, solvents, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens and ecstasy are always unsafe. But a clear majority (more than 60 per cent of Year 10 pupils) think cannabis safe if used properly.

Their headmasters do not agree. The HMC report firmly rejects any liberalisation of the current legal position. "In particular," it says, "we see no adequate grounds for the legalisation of cannabis, and believe that the decriminalisation lobby is very confusing to young people."

But the authors also point out that the "zero option" of simply banning drugs and drink in schools may have helped to stop their use spreading but will not by itself solve the problem.

Many HMC schools are choosing to abandon the policy of automatically expelling pupils caught with illegal drugs. Only a fifth of day schools and less than half of boarding schools now do so; a further 18 per cent of day and 30 per cent of boarding schools suspend the pupil and then re-admit with a regime of testing. Where this is done it has been found helpful, says the report, but it does not recommend random testing.

The report recommends that all senior pupils be encouraged to carry an identity card and that pubs and off-licences be urged to ask for ID before serving them.

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