Heads back school decision on Straw's son

9th January 1998 at 00:00
While the Home Secretary's son is in trouble over drugs, Diane Spencer finds support for the way his case has been dealt with.

The decision not to expel from school the 17-year-old son of the Home Secretary for allegedly selling Pounds 10 worth of cannabis to a Mirror reporter has been widely endorsed by other headteachers.

Philip Barnard, head of Pimlico school in south-west London where William Straw is a sixth-former, said he would "read the riot act" if allegations of drug dealing were proved. However, he would not suspend or expel him from his school - where his father, Jack Straw, is the newly re-elected chairman of the governing body.

Alan Wayment, head of Woodlands, a grant-maintained school in Derby, thought that Mr Barnard had taken the right approach. "Obviously schools should discuss problems with parents. I think it's too easy to exclude, to expel. It's more useful to keep them in the family - so to speak - rather than putting them on the streets."

Pauline Greaves, head of Avon-bourne school, Bournemouth, said discipline policies should be enforced no matter who was involved.

Frank Callaghan, principal of Applemore College, Southampton, had a slightly tougher approach. He said a pupil would be suspended pending a meeting with parents with the aim of getting him or her back to school as soon as possible under a supervision agreement.

"It is essentially a caring act; we're not washing our hands of them. We have a clear and coherent policy which is understood by students and staff. Fortunately we haven't had to use it for quite a while - but there for the grace of God....."

Tony Richardson, head of Ormskirk grammar in Yorkshire, said: "All schools potentially have a problem. If they bring drugs into school or deal on the premises we exclude them permanently. If it's outside the school it's a different matter - we'd take the same line as Pimlico. If we took the other sort of action there'd be a declining number of sixth-formers up and down the country: there's a sizeable proportion in that age range which uses cannabis. "

Adrian Perry, principal of Lambeth further education college in south London, said he too would remove any students if they were found with drugs on site. "We are very keen to keep our reputation as a drug-free institution."

Cannabis is by far the most widely-used illegal drug with almost a third of Year 10 pupils trying it at least once, according to the schools health education unit at Exeter University.

John Balding, director of the unit, estimates that at least half the students in higher education have tried cannabis and one in five could be regular users. "It is so readily available, by the time they're 15 nearly 70 per cent of children know someone who is on an illegal substance," he said.

While William Straw's place at New College, Oxford, is unaffected by the alleged incident, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is reviewing the wording of Section 11 - the declaration part of its application form which tells applicants that they can disclose additional information such as "criminal convictions of a serious nature" directly to the institutions concerned.

Anthony McClaran, deputy director of UCAS, said some universities thought the wording should be more explicit so that candidates would know what was regarded as serious. He added that UCAS did not have a specific policy on drugs.

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