Haringey has devised a model approach to raising drug awareness among vulnerable pupils, reports Stephen Hoare.
GAVIN MACGREGOR is with a Year 12 class in Haringey, north London. He asks them to act out the roles of people in the cocaine supply chain.
Students have drawn up a list of those involved. A hill farmer in South America, then the producer who refines and packages the drug, the smuggler, the supplier, the street dealer, the user and the medic who treats the addict.
"Who do you feel most compassion for?" he asks. The class ponders before plumping for the farmer and the user.
Mr MacGregor, a drugs education support worker, explains what is taking place:
"The class is judging the issues in a non-legal way. We want to try to evaluate their knowledge. Every young person in this community either knows a dealer directly or they know where drugs come from."
The Haringey project takes the line that many young people will already have started to experiment with drugs. They need accurate information to help make informed choices and enough self-esteem to refuse drugs if they are offered. And they need to trust the drugs education worker and respect his knowledge.
"Moralising and preaching at people doesn't work," he says. "They switch off. But if you are telling them things that strike a chord with their own experiences, they'll trust you. We are talking benefits as well as risks."
This session is the second in a four-part series that now forms part of the school's personal, social and health education (PSHE) programme.
Street cred is important because children get easily confused about the slang names for drugs, he explains: "If they've been told at school to avoid heroin and if they hear people on the streets talking about 'brown', they won't relate the two." Words such as horse, skag, junk and gear often feature in the lesson.
Drugs education is high on the agenda as schools draw up plans for dealing with drug-related incidents. Plans will be agreed with a drugs action team, part of a national network that reports to the country's anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell.
Local education authorities are offering advice and support, while government advisers see Haringey's project as a model of good practice for others to follow.
There are three elements in the project: counselling, schoolhome support and youth outreach work, which combine to form a multi-agency support network. Mr MacGregor is part of a team that includes education advisers, school nurses, social workers,youth workers and the police.
He adopts a different approach with primary children. He gives the class a "draw and write" activity and tells them a story about a child who finds a bag of drugs lying in the street. He asks pupils to draw what's in the bag.
The results are telling. "Nine out of 10 draw a picture of crack cocaine," he says. Another popular exercise is the discussion: "What's good for my body?" Classes also discuss alcohol and tobacco, as well as the contents of a medicine cabinet.
"Many of them are realy worried about the effect smoking and drinking are having on their parents' health," says Mr MacGregor.
Evidence supports the view that preventing or delaying youngsters from smoking cuts drug use later. Research at the University of Surrey's Roehampton Institute has shown that young smokers are 22 times more likely to use drugs than non-smokers.
By developing training packages for teachers at key stages 1 and 3, the team hopes to demonstrate the most effective ways of approaching drugs education, but formal delivery and rows of seats are out and informality is in, as pupils are handed cards providing drugs-helpline information.
Mr MacGregor's lessons are watched by the school's PSHE teacher who can gauge which methods are working best.
In the past, drugs education has taken some wrong turnings, including the austere approaches of the police. But campaigns based on health issues in drug abuse have also failed.
The "Just Say No" campaign flopped and made young people keener to experiment and rebel.
For the Haringey team, a key issue for teachers is confidentiality. Once drugs issues are out in the open, pupils will want to talk about their own experiences, which could incriminate friends or family members.
Mike Davis, leader of the Haringey project, says: "We operate a strict confidentiality rule. We say, 'If you do want to discuss anything, we'll see you after the class or put you in touch with someone in the school with pastoral responsibilities - or an outside agency'."
HOW SCHOOLS SHOULD DEVELOP A DRUGS POLICY
Provide a drug education programme for pupils aged five plus.
Make sure drugs education forms part of your school's personal, social, health and citizenship curriculum.
Train staff in drugs education.
Have a policy for managing drug-related incidents. Local authorities will advise.
Ensure messages to pupils are consistent and relevant. Consider: What disciplinary measures will you take? When do you contact parents? Will you arrange for pupils' counselling? Will you report incidents to an outside agency? If you discover drugs on the school premises, will you call the police?
Appoint a member of staff who can be approached by pupils if they have concerns about drugs. This person should be a good listener and have contacts with health or social services professionals..
Contact your local drugs education outreach workers and the relevant agencies who will take pupil referrals and offer help to individuals at risk.
The National Drugs Helpline, run by the Health Education Authority, offers 24-hour advice and information. Tel: 0800 77 66 00
Other useful contacts include: The Drugs Education Forum. Contact Susan Kay, information officer 0171 843 6038
For advice on writing a school drugs policy, see The Right Response: Managing and Making a Policy for Drug-Related Incidents in School. Also, The Standing Conference on Drug Abuse (SCODA). Copies can be ordered free from the Department for Education and Employment's publications order line. Tel: 0845 602 2260