Test for drugs at random

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Parents back searches for weapons and illegal substances in schools. Michael Shaw, Karen Thornton and Jane Davis report on a new TES survey

More than nine out of 10 parents say they would support random searches to detect pupils carrying weapons or drugs, an exclusive TES Cymru poll reveals. Parents also signalled support for a "zero tolerance" policy of automatic expulsion for pupils caught with weapons or drugs.

Eight out of 10 said they favoured permanent exclusion for pupils who deal in cannabis, while more than seven out of 10 favour the same sanction for pupils caught with a knife.

The findings follow a call by the Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this year for headteachers to carry out drugs searches and random tests. The poll of 1,000 parents in England and Wales, carried out by FDS International, also shows strong support for a hard line against pupils who physically assault teachers - although three out of 10 said they did not think it warranted permanent exclusion.

Mr Blair said: "I am pleased to see that our drive to improve behaviour in schools is delivering results, and welcome parents' support for the tough measures we have taken as well as the power to drug-test pupils and exclude and prosecute them for possessing weapons."

Welsh parents take a more liberal approach to some offences than their counterparts across the border. For example, only 67 per cent of the 200 surveyed felt pupils should be expelled for bringing a knife to school, compared to 77 per cent of Londoners. But more Welsh parents (42 per cent) felt heads should be able to exclude pupils for serious breaches of discipline with no appeal, compared to 38 per cent in England.

Donna Brown, 39, whose two daughters attend Llantarnum comprehensive in Cwmbran, believes pupil behaviour has gone downhill desperately. "When I was in school I used to be frightened to death of my teachers. But now there's no respect.

"I teach my own children to respect their teachers, and I'd like to think that they do," she said. "But bad behaviour affects education generally because teachers spend more time controlling the group rather than educating it."

Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, which has been pressing for the introduction of airport-style metal detectors in schools, welcomed parents' support for expelling pupils guilty of serious offences.

But he added: "Improving discipline has to be a joint approach involving schools and parents. Too many parents absolve themselves of responsibility for how their children behave and are prepared to allow schools to be the only disciplining influence."

Moelwen Gwyndaf, general secretary of UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers union, said: "UCAC is pleased that parents are aware that bad behaviour is on the increase and are supportive of suspending pupils for violence."

Overall, parents in Wales feel behaviour in their child's school has got worse rather than better over the past five years, although the figures have improved since another survey for TES Cymru taken in April this year.

In England, more parents say behaviour has improved than declined.

Even so, parents of secondary-aged children believe the biggest problem facing schools today is disruptive pupils. Parents with children of primary age rate bad behaviour third behind under-funding and class over-crowding.

Behaviour and bullying 4-5 leader 26

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