Teachers face ‘unjustified’ drug and alcohol tests

​​​​​​​New drug and alcohol tests could land innocent teachers in trouble, NASUWT union delegates hear

Henry Hepburn

Some foods, such as poppy seed bread, has the potential to lead to a positive drugs test, NASUWT members were told

Teachers face being subjected to alcohol and drugs testing at work without any justification and without appropriate safeguards, a teaching union conference heard this afternoon.

Even teachers who have simply eaten a bread roll, performed routine dental hygiene or legally taken mind-altering drugs could be affected, union members were told.

The introduction of “random” and so-called “with cause” alcohol and drugs tests is being planned by some local authorities in Scotland, heard NASUWT Scotland members at their annual conference, despite reservations being expressed by the union and other professional bodies about them.

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There is also a lack of information for employees about how the results will be used,  representatives at the conference in Glasgow were told.

Speaking to a motion on the issue, outgoing president Eddie Carroll said that teachers who had legally consumed “more than coffee” in Amsterdam cafes might still test positive a month later and be blamed unfairly if a pupil had an accident in class.

Drug and alcohol testing

He also expressed concern that teachers could fall foul of tests having taken over-the-counter medicines, such as flu remedies, with council policies stating that two positive tests within a two-year period will lead to automatic disciplinary action.

He added that consuming some foods, such as poppy seed rolls, had the potential to lead to a positive drugs test, while mouthwash posed a similar risk. Mr Carroll also cited the case of a bus driver in England who lost his job after handling bank notes that other people had used to take cocaine.

Mr Carroll was concerned that stringent action threatened by local authorities would essentially mean that “you could be considered fit to drive a two-tonne car at 70 miles an hour along the motorway, but yet you couldn’t do face-painting in a nursery class with toddlers”.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Clearly teachers, as with all employees, have a responsibility to meet appropriate professional standards in respect of their conduct in the workplace. However, there are already procedures in place to deal with any situations where teachers are failing to meet these standards or where their behaviour is causing concern.

“The NASUWT has not been presented with any information to justify the introduction of drug and alcohol testing of teachers, and the union is concerned that these tests are being brought in without any clear communication over the consequences for teachers."

She added: “The NASUWT will be opposing the introduction of such tests, which are, in our view, simply designed to be yet another punitive pressure on teachers.”

Jane Peckham, NASUWT national official for Scotland, said: “The introduction of drug and alcohol testing sets a new precedent in policing teachers’ conduct and there are serious concerns about the implications for teachers’ privacy, as well as for their careers.

“Many teachers will no doubt feel concerned that testing could become widespread across local authorities and schools. Such policies threaten to further erode the trust and confidence, which is already at a low ebb, of teachers in their employers.”

The motion from the union’s North Lanarkshire branch stated: "Conference notes with concern that, despite serious reservations expressed by the NASUWT, backed by advice and guidance from numerous professional bodies (including the [Trades Union Congress], the Health and Safety Executive, the Rowntree Trust, the UK Anti-Drugs Coordination Unit, the Drug Scope Charity and Thompsons Solicitors), a number of local authorities in Scotland have pushed ahead with the adoption and implementation of alcohol and drugs testing policies in ‘random’ and ‘with cause’ formats."

It called for delegates to mandate the lobbying of local authorities to ensure that “the adoption of such policies only follows appropriate consultation with NASUWT and other relevant stakeholders to determine, through collegiate negotiations, the clear legal, organisational and procedural aspects of any such policy”.

The motion was passed unanimously at the union’s conference, which concludes tomorrow.

A spokesman for local authorities body Cosla said: "It is for individual local authorities to decide whether it is appropriate to conduct alcohol and drug screening of their employees.

"We would expect any council that determined this was appropriate to progress it within existing legal, contractual and consultative frameworks."

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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