What you said
"You could tackle the behaviour that ensues, rather than accusing them (which you feel you can't without proof). So if they're off-task, silly or talking too much you could raise concerns that way."
"You have a duty to report your concerns to the member of staff in charge of pupil welfare. They will have received additional training on these things and know where to turn for support."
"Pass on exactly what you have noticed. You may be wrong, but you may be right, in which case the school has to do something."
The expert view
There are a few aspects to consider here. First, does the school have a drugs policy, and is there a member of staff responsible for pastoral care? Remember that no teacher, however experienced, should be asked to deal with this kind of situation alone.
While the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act (2009) grants schools powers to search students on the premises if they suspect drug use, school-wide measures focusing on prevention and education are more likely to resolve the issue in the long run. A good policy should challenge student attitudes and be clear about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, including possession and use of drugs. This will empower young people to take responsibility and make informed choices.
If you suspect drug use, any search must be carried out in the presence of a colleague. This will minimise risk and protect you from any charge of possession of a controlled substance, although there is a strong defence if the purpose was to prevent a crime being committed and reasonable steps were taken to destroy the substance or deliver it to a person lawfully entitled to take custody. The headteacher has legal, day-to-day responsibilities for the school site, so teachers must be mindful of drug laws. Responsibility for the journey between home and school is shared with the parents or carers, so even if drug use is off site, the school still has an obligation to respond to suspicions. Again, expectations should be clearly defined by school policy.
Remember that drug use rarely occurs in isolation. A chaotic home life, peer pressure, poor coping skills or parental drug use could all play a part. Consider whether a student has any treatment needs or if there is a child protection issue to flag. You should look at what support can be provided through cross-partnership working, including the drug action team based at the local council.
Harry Shapiro is DrugScope's director of communications. www.drugscope.org.uk. The most recent DfE drugs guidance for schools can be found at http:tiny.ccDFE-Drugs-Guidance. For more behaviour advice, go to www.tes.co.ukbehaviourforum
- Review your school's drugs policy if it has one.
- Consult with someone in charge of pastoral care.
- Search the pupils' bags without a colleague present to protect yourself against any charge of possession.
- Assume drug-taking is the only problem - these pupils could be dealing with problems at home or peer pressure.