Liddell challenges primaries on drugs

5th March 1999 at 00:00
IT IS "not acceptable" that almost 40 per cent of Scottish primary schools surveyed by HMI did not educate all their pupils about the dangers of drugs, the Education Minister has warned.

Commenting in unusual detail on a report into drug and nutrition education, Helen Liddell said the alarming statistic "leaps off the page".

"It is unthinkable in this day and age that some children get as far as secondary school without receiving any education on the danger of drugs. There is no shortage of materials for schools to use for drug education purposes," Mrs Liddell said.

She used the report's publication to flag up the membership of the Scottish Office school drug safety team, which she set up last year following the discovery of heroin in a pupil's schoolbag at a Glasgow primary. The 12-strong team had its first meeting on Wednesday under the chairmanship of Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education.

The group will draw up new guidelines for education authorities and schools, including advice on how to tackle drug problems. HMI found that some 60 per cent of primaries did not have a policy on incidents involving drugs and relied on "insecure, informal arrangements". The figure for secondaries was 15 per cent.

The finding that 40 per cent of primaries - 87 schools out of the 222 inspected - did not provide drugs education for every pupil contrasts with the situation in the 59 secondary schools surveyed where only one school was found wanting. A follow-up survey that looked at 16 primaries in more detail found that drugs education was inadequate in five. Only one of the 13 secondaries surveyed failed the drugs test.

The Inspectorate also found an increasing tendency for primaries to use outside agencies as a substitute for a drugs education programme devised by teachers. "This practice is at odds with national and education authority advice," the report states.

It calls on education authorities to work with schools and says that where there were clear policies schools were more likely to give drugs education its proper place.

David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, commented that he was not surprised by the findings and said it was more important to ensure consistency and quality in teaching.

"Schools vary from the shock horror to a softly, softly approach and kids even in the same school can get mixed messages," Mr Liddell said.

Maire Whitehead, a Glasgow primary head and vice-president of the Association of Head Teachers, said schools reflected parental ambivalence. "Heads have to work to overcome that."

Turning to nutrition, HMI found that its purpose was undervalued in many schools. Around 30 per cent of primaries did not provide nutrition education for all pupils, while almost all secondaries did.

"This report confirms that, although there is much being done, a great deal more could be achieved," Mrs Liddell said.

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