School sniffs out scent of trouble

17th December 1999 at 00:00
Wilnecote high in Staffordshire went to the dogs in a controversial attempt to stop drugs being brought into school. Clare Dean reports.

AFTER rumours that drugs were circulating in his school, headteacher Phil Prettyman took the controversial decision to call in police sniffer dogs - now he recommends other schools follow his lead.

Lockers, toilet blocks and classrooms were searched during a joint investigation, code-named Operation Tandem, between county police and Wilnecote high in Tamworth, Staffordshire.

Three bags were identified by dogs and searched. Exciting the dog's interest was one containing a mouldy cheese sandwich, another, a spam sandwich and the other, a pipe. A boy was detained and later released after no drugs were found.

Both the police and the school hailed the investigation a success.

But Mr Prettyman said: "It was a risky business as it could have turned up anything.

"However, I did have confidence in the overwhelming majority of pupils."

Inspector Carl Humphries said he would now consider requests from other schools in Tamworth for help from the police.

"This was not about securing successful prosecutions but more about how the school could take long-term preventative action. It was very positive."

Just one parent complained to the 11-18 mixed comprehensive and around 20 have applauded Mr Prettyman's efforts.

He said: "We have a small number of kids with a drug problem but I don't think we are alone in that. You would be hard pushed to find a secondary school anywhere that doesn't have a problem with a very small minority of pupils."

The police investigation took place during a special assembly for Year 11 pupils and only a handful of the school's senior managers knew about it.

It was initiated by Wilnecote after rumours about drugs in the school. Names circulating around the school coincided with those known to police.

"By the very nature of the problem, drugs don't take place when teachers are around, it's taking place in those private corners of the school, if it's happening at all," Mr Prettyman said. "Using dogs takes away any chance of false accusations about individuals. A dog does not have bias."

Mr Prettyman is considering a follow-up operation and said: "It is worth any amount of drugs lessons. I think it is appropriate for schools not to be frightened to do whatever they think right to meet their professional responsibility for the protection of the children in their care."

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