All colleges will need to have a drugs policy with an education programme and procedures for dealing with incidents. Joe Clancy reports.
Every college in the country is required to draw up a drugs policy showing the steps they are taking to combat drug use under guidelines published this week.
Colleges must show they have clear procedures for tackling drug-related incidents on campuses, and a coherent drug education programme.
It is estimated that fewer than half of all colleges have a drug education policy, and fewer than two-thirds have policies relating to the management of drug-related incidents.
The guidance, funded by the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health, is contained in a brochure produced by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern under the title Drugs: Guidance for Further Education Institutions.
The drugs policy, the guidance states, should link with other relevant policies including student discipline, health and safety, and confidentiality.
It says colleges should identify a key person or people with responsibility for the management of drugs and drug education, including planning and co-ordinating and monitoring throughout the college.
Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: "Drugs should not be seen as an isolated issue. Rather, they should be integrated into a holistic approach to student welfare, focusing on the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and education for personal and social development.
This guidance will help colleges to achieve this."
DrugScope says colleges have a crucial role to play as statistics show that more than a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds use illicit drugs, and just under one in 10 in the age group has taken Class A drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy, in the past year.
Drugscope says opportunities for drug education "can be seized across the life of the college" and suggests that health fairs, focus days, advice drop-ins and using drama students to deliver the message can be embraced in the policy.
Hajra Mir, DrugScope's development officer, said a suggested policy framework has been delivered to colleges with the guidance, but that individual colleges should frame their policies to reflect local drug issues.
"It is not just about giving students information about drugs, but giving them the skills to deal with drug problems and to explore the attitudes around their use," she added.
The guidance lists eight challenges that college need to overcome in relation to managing drugs. These include there being too few trained or confident staff to teach about drugs in colleges, and the limited curriculum time and resources.
It stresses the difficulties in achieving a balance between strict codes of behaviour and a supportive ethos for those with drug-related problems.
Another challenge is "the need for effective partnership with external agencies such as the police, Connexions and local drug services".
In many colleges, the guidance states, drug education often falls to tutors with other areas of expertise. "It is not realistic to expect staff to become drug experts.
"Staff should know where to find credible information so that they can help students to access such information for themselves."
It says each drug-related situation "would require a thorough investigation to establish the facts and any student support needs, before deciding on a response".
Disciplinary procedures, it adds, should be proportionate to the offence and consistent with other disciplinary rules in the college.