Inspectors are to scrutinise school drug policies and report on how incidents of drug-taking are dealt with under a new Government strategy to tackle abuse, writes Susan Young.
The initiative, launched in a Government White Paper, Tackling Drugs Together this week, puts schools at the forefront of an inter-departmental campaign.
As part of the Department for Education's contribution, copies of a circular, Drug education and schools, will this week go out to every primary and secondary along with a curriculum guidance booklet and advice on what teaching resources are available.
Schools are being encouraged to liaise closely with their local police force to agree a policy for dealing with incidents which might involve illegal drugs. The circular stresses that the police should be informed if illegal drugs are found on the pupil on school premises, and if a teacher learns of possible criminal activity outside the school.
The circular also says schools should consider the response of teachers approached by pupils for individual advice on illegal drug misuse. The teacher should make clear he or she can offer no guarantee of confidentiality and might point to sources of advice or treatment which would be confidential.
Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, said the stigma of schools tackling drug education had already begun to disappear.
In the year until next April the Department for Education will make available an extra Pounds 4.3 million for drug education-related staff training and Pounds 1.6 million to encourage the development of innovative programmes of drug prevention under the Grants for Education Support and Training scheme. There is no promise that such funding will continue for the whole three years of the White Paper plan, but the DFE will "continue the possibility".
Schools will be asked to consider preparing, reviewing, or revising drug policies by the start of the 1996 spring term which will then be studied by the Office for Standards in Education to report next summer. OFSTED will also study provision in the youth service.
The cycle of inspections will also include drug education and school management of drug-related incidents on their premises.
Next summer the DFE will use the OFSTED research and schools' responses to its circular to consider what further action is necessary.
The new curriculum guidance to schools from SCAA stresses that drug teaching is best done by classroom teachers. In science at key stage 1 pupils must learn "about the role of drugs as medicine"; at KS2 "that alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs can have harmful effects" and in more detail for older pupils. However, SCAA suggests that the subject could also be tackled through English, religious education and design and technology.
The new circular differs little from the draft. It stresses that exclusion is just one response to evidence of drug activity among pupils. "The Secretary of State believes that schools will want to develop a repertoire of responses, incorporating both sanctions and counselling." It says the fact that certain behaviour could constitute a violation of the criminal law should not in itself be taken as automatically leading to the exclusion of a pupil.