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Syringes led to awareness lessons

It was the frequent discovery of syringes, aerosols and foil and matches on the playing fields - and the questions from children - that persuaded Barbara Whitehurst, head of Norbury Hall county primary, to embark on a drugs awareness programme.

When the children were asked what they knew about drugs, staff were surprised by their knowledge of the slang vocabulary and the types of drugs. While they were frequently misguided, Mrs Whitehurst concedes in some ways they know more than many teachers.

It was decided to send some of the governors on a drug education awareness programme run by Stockport, their education authority. It was so successful the rest followed. And last year, the school incorporated drugs education in its lessons under a general banner of "Keeping Safe."

Stockport has helped to devise a teaching programme and provides materials for children. There have also been lessons for teachers and parents about the dangers of drugs, because it was felt they needed to know more.

There was opposition from some staff members. Mrs Whitehurst said: "Some of the staff felt that drugs education was nothing to do with them. There was a view, that at one time I shared, that the children were too young. However, the children have knowledge we are not always aware of. We have to reach them in the primary sector and give them the information to make informed decisions later."

Margaret Morley, deputy head, said children at the school - in a pleasant suburb on the edge of the Peak District - claimed to know where to buy drugs and someone who was using them. They were aware that tobacco and alcohol were part of the drugs equation. Friends and television are the major sources for knowledge.

She said: "The thing we have to grasp is that the drugs issue is not happening somewhere else. It is here with us. There are drug incidents in all secondary schools in Stockport without exception. At one time nobody would have admitted it. Once you recognise the problem, you are half-way to solving it."

Anne Raven, health education advisory teacher for Stockport, said the authority had been successful in its bid for Department for Education money for a drugs project to help young people.

"We are doing work with teachers, parents and governors. We need to talk to young people to find out what is going on."

"If it was Boddington's bitter I could tell them what it looks like, tastes like and its effects," said Allan Simms, head of the Isherwood building at Marple Hall high school, "but we are dealing with something that was unknown to my generation." He added that while the Government may now be saying exclusion should not be a matter of course for drug-related incidents, the majority of parents at his school would expect it.

Marple Hall teaches drug awareness in its PSE classes. The pupils listen to the lessons and say nothing. Mr Simms would be surprised if they did anything else.

So far the school has not had any drugs-related incidents on the premises. "We're not complacent," he said, "it just means we've got some clever kids. "

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