Drug test momentum grows

4th February 2005 at 00:00
State schools are clamouring for random drug-testing kits in the wake of publicity about the first state head to introduce the controversial checks.

The firm which offers the drug-testing technology reported a flood of enquiries as the head of the Abbey school in Faversham, Kent, said that it had reduced drug use within a month.

The Abbey school began randomly testing pupils for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, and tranquillisers on January 4 using a swab system offered by Altrix Healthcare.

Since then the Warrington-based company has been contacted by more than 20 state schools and a "significant number" of private ones asking about the service.

Chris Snelson, Altrix operations director, said he was considering taking on extra staff to cope with the demand. Prior to January the company had never been contacted by a state school. "It is only since Abbey introduced it that we have been inundated by these enquiries," said Mr Snelson.

"We had never investigated spending much time in the schools market before.

Our feeling had been school budgets were always under pressure so who was going to be able to find money for drug-testing programmes?

"But we have found that there is always a way when schools decide they want something."

The first six months of the Abbey testing programme costs pound;10,000, which is being paid for through sponsorship from a national newspaper.

Peter Walker, head of the secondary modern, said that after three-and-a half weeks he felt the signs were hopeful.

"We have evidence that some young people who have been taking drugs have stopped taking them for fear of testing," he said. "And students are already being heard to say things like 'I am not going to take drugs now because knowing my luck I will get caught'.

"That is quite a significant statement because when you think about it the biggest reason for pupils taking drugs in the first place is peer pressure.

"Maybe they are beginning to say that kind of thing because they have been looking for an excuse to say 'no' without losing face."

Mr Walker asked for parents of all 921 pupils to consent to the drugs tests. Of the 717 who replied, 85.4 per cent agreed. In addition 45 of the school's 150 staff, including 23 teachers, volunteered for the tests.

Every week a computer randomly selects around 20 names from the database which includes pupils whose parents have agreed and the staff volunteers.

In the first three-and-half weeks more than 50 tests have been carried out, including three on staff, and all have been negative.

Pupils have a right to refuse the test even if their parents have agreed.

So far only two have said no and one later changed their mind.

Mr Walker said: "It is early days but we are beginning to think there are signs that this is having some kind of success."

The school is monitoring attendance, behaviour and academic results to decide whether to continue the experiment after the first six months.

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