"Discussing the drugs issue is not an admission that your school has a problem which will harm the school's reputation in the community. On the contrary . . . addressing the issue is a sign of a responsible school and governing body" according to Action for Governors Information and Training, the organisation for governor trainers. And to help, AGIT has produced a challenging and helpful guide in its "Do-it-better" series entitled Tackling Drugs Together: Governors' Action.
It is part of a government initiative to reduce drugs misuse among young people in which "action teams" will co-ordinate the response of local authorities, schools, health professionals, voluntary bodies and the police. Continuing the theme of partnership, governing bodies, representing as they do parents, staff and the wider community, are well placed to raise awareness and support for a constructive approach to an ever-increasing problem.
"Whatever type of school, wherever the school is, you will have to deal with drug-related incidents" warns the guide, and reinforces this message with statistics from the Study of Drugs Dependence and a Mori survey which show that 15 per cent of 15-year-olds have taken an illegal drug, and about 12 per cent of children aged 11 to 15 smoke and drink alcohol on a regular basis.
David Smith, chair of AGIT said "Governors need to acknowledge that drugs issues are important and that their schools need to address them. Headteachers and staff will be more confident to tackle the issue if they are sure of support.
"Governing bodies should be playing an active role in drawing up school policy in partnership with staff, pupils, parents and the community. They should support the implementation of the policy and ensure that it is monitored and evaluated."
Governors may find themselves involved in drugs-related matters as part of their responsibilities for pupil discipline (possibly involving exclusions), health and safety policy, and delivery of the curriculum where drugs education forms part of the science national curriculum. It is helpful to have a clearly-defined drugs policy which draws all these aspects together, and the AGIT guide tells governors how to go about it.
The AGIT Guide sets out a plan for the stages of producing a policy and the general principles which should underpin it.
Two distinct areas need to be covered in the policy: education about drugs and procedures for dealing with drugs in school.
Drugs education should be seen in the wider context of health education, with the emphasis on equipping pupils with the knowledge and skills to make sensible decisions about their lifestyles, the guide suggests. This needs to be supported by good staff-pupil and home-school relationships, and it is essential that it begins at primary level. Children not directly in contact with drugs may nevertheless be aware of a problem within their family or local environment.
Dealing with incidents includes having a clear policy on pupil discipline which balances the interests of the reputation of the school, the need to protect other pupils and the need to help those who misuse drugs.
It suggests a distinction must be drawn between the use of drugs and supplying them to others. Governors must ensure that pupils and parents know what the policy is, and that it is always applied fairly. As with all incidents that might attract the attention of the media, it should be clear who may and may not talk to the press on the school's behalf.
Procedures for dealing with drug-related medical emergencies should form part of the policy and governors have an important role here in ensuring that staff receive adequate training in counselling pupils, recognising problems and coping with emergencies.
A total of Pounds 6 million has been allocated for training and support for schools in the Government's Tackling Drugs Together initiative, under which education authorities will be organising courses for staff and governors. Help and advice is also available from local health authorities, the police and voluntary agencies.
Governors have often felt over the last few years that they are expected to take responsibility for issues outside their experience, competence and knowledge. In the area of drugs education, most parents and many teachers have the same feeling of inadequacy, but we have a duty and an opportunity to take positive action. There are many calls on governors' time and financial resources, but this one may be a matter of life or death.
Tackling Drugs Together: Governors' Action costs Pounds 15 for a pack of 15 copies and is available from AGIT (tel: 012203 638660)