Almost half of all boys in their final compulsory school year are likely to have used cannabis or another illegal drug, while 85 per cent of 15 and 16 year-old pupils know a drug-user.
Predictions published this week by the widely-respected Schools Health Education Unit at Exeter University from surveys of more than 300,000 secondary pupils during the past six years suggest a recent, dramatic rise in drug use.
Although the survey has been used in different age groups and areas each year, its use in Yorkshire with the same pupils from 64 schools in 1991 and then two years later has confirmed the trends. Not only are pupils increasingly likely to experiment with drugs as they get older, but results show that since the survey began, younger teenagers are becoming involved.
Although the 1995 figures are extrapolations by unit director John Balding of results for earlier years, they appear to be strongly confirmed by the latest results of a three-year cohort study by Professor Howard Parker of four schools in Manchester and Liverpool. Figures just released for 1992 show that 47 per cent of pupils had used illegal drugs, 41 per cent in the last year and 26 per cent in the past week. More than 70 per cent said they had been offered drugs.
Alan Houghton, manager of the Lifeline drug information charity, said the Balding research has become the yardstick by which other studies have been judged because it was a large survey, and ignored truancy.
The findings give increasing impetus to the Government's new strategy, including the Department for Education's draft circular, Drugs Prevention and Schools, which is out for consultation until next month. The last year for which results are available, 1993, shows that 34.7 per cent of boys and 28 per cent of girls in Year 11 admitting having taken an illegal drug, compared to 16 per cent of boys and nearly 14 per cent of girls in Year 9.
Predicted figures for 1995 would be almost 47 per cent of boys and 34. 6 per cent of girls in Year 11, and 20 per cent of boys and almost 18 per cent of girls in Year 9 having done the same.
The figures suggest than 49 per cent of girls and 36 per cent of boys in Year 11 would have used cannabis by this year, which appears at odds with the number claiming to have taken any drug. The report suggests that "The use of cannabis leaf among 15-16 year old boys and girls appears to have more than trebled in the five-year period 1989-93."
The 1993 results show that more than 71 per cent of all Year 11 pupils had been offered drugs, which is likely to rise to 85 per cent this year. The most popular substance in both studies is cannabis, with cocaine and heroin least used.
Mr Houghton said: "The Manchester study showed that a quarter of those who took drugs had used LSD. You can't get more illegal than that - as a Class A Schedule I drug it's more illegal than heroin and cocaine."
Adrian King, contact for the National Liaison Group of Co-ordinators of Health and Drugs Education, said the DFE's consultation paper had gone a long way towards addressing the current situation, which found many young people using cannabis and hallucinogenics to induce a happy mood. However, he was unhappy about the instruction that police should always be called on any evidence of drugtaking, and said this should be left to individual schools.
He said it was important for schools to inform pupils about drugs and drugtaking, fostering a sense of individual responsibility in pupils and leaving them in no doubt what parents, school and society thought of such activities, without in any way giving support to or colluding with them.