Raymond Ross reports on a school doing pioneering work in drugs education.
Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire has won pound;6,000 from Scotland Against Drugs to raise the profile of drug education in the school. The money will go towards the completion of a school drug policy, staff training and a drugs roadshow on February 10 in which Paul and Janet Betts, the parents of Ecstasy victim Leah, will participate.
The academy, which has also raised support from 16 local companies, is in the process of completing a school policy on substance use which it hopes to have in place by the new session in August, well in advance of most Scottish schools. "We're seeking to clarify how the school should react to everything from tobacco to hard drugs, says the school's headteacher Ralph Barker.
Most local authorities have not yet decided where they are in the "Just Say No" versus "harm reduction" debate, says the school's head of guidance and health co-ordinator Lorna Donaldson. "All the research is saying that the 'Just Say No' campaign doesn't work. But a lot of people also seem to think that 'harm reduction' means condoning the use of drugs, which it doesn't. I'd like to see the term changed. It's a matter of education, not indoctrination."
For drug-related incidents, Ralph Barker believes "we need a policy to deal with each incident and one which is inclusive, and doesn't necessarily lead to pupil exclusion. We need a policy to involve parents, pupils and police as well as staff. This doesn't necessarily mean punitive police action."
Alloa Academy has experienced no drug-related incidents this session and has no particular history of them. The decision to pursue a comprehensive drug policy was made in 1995 as part of a development planning process involving staff at all levels. "Few teachers ever get drug education themselves," says Ralph Barker. "Our staff wanted it and so it seemed sensible to develop this as part of the general school development plan."
Working in partnership with Forth Valley Health Board, the school set up a special committee comprising Lorna Donaldson, a senior health promotion officer from the health board, another guidance teacher, two class teachers, two parents, two senior pupils and a representative from neighbouring Alva Academy. In its first year, the committee spent time ensuring that everyone was aware of what the school was doing. Since then there have been two half-day in-service training sessions on drug education for all the staff, and parents and the general public were invited to an information evening run by the youth drug agency Fast Forward, and to a Scotland Against Drugs roadshow. Eight hundred pounds per annum has been channelled into improving drug education within the personal and social development programme.
Alloa is also the first secondary school in Clackmannanshire to pilot a "police box" scheme, with the help of the local community policeman (this scheme is already common in many primary schools). The box, which is being used in S1, has topic cards giving information on topics such as tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs.
"The more informed young people are the better they will cope," says Lorna Donaldson. "Indoctrination doesn't work because young people willexperiment. Saying drugeducation will stop drugexperimentation is like saying that teaching history will prevent wars."
Having pupils on the drugs policy development committee has helped the adults keep their feet on the ground. "They give us a realistic picture of the scene out there," says Lorna Donaldson. "We need to involve pupils at all levels and to listen to what they are saying."
She would like to see a national conference on drugs in which young people could speak out and adults listen to what they have to say. "Many pupils who are involved in drugs have a sensible attitude that would surprise parents and adults, " she says. "We have to listen. Many pupils often know far more than you, so traditional methods need to change."
Alloa Academy gets senior pupils to work with S1s on issues surrounding drugs. "S1s seem to listen more to an S6 pupil than to a teacher or policeman. But it's an area you have to watch carefully. We don't leave S6s alone with classes, for example," says Lorna Donaldson.
The cornerstone for the school's pilot development, however, remains the involvement of the local health board. "It would be difficult to develop a policy without the help of a health board in terms of in-service training, help and advice," she says. "I'd advise any school to contact their local health promotion officer to get things going."