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Time to open our eyes

Ian Clements reports on the Government's draft circular on drugs Drugs have been placed firmly back on the education agenda by the Department for Education, with the recent launch of the draft circular, Drugs Prevention and Schools.

In truth the issues surrounding drugs and schools never went away and it was only the DFE interest and funding that disappeared for a while. The number of schools affected by drugs incidents has grown in all parts of the country and for those who haven't been touched, it is more a case of when, rather than if. So these draft guidelines will be seen as both timely and welcome by most people in education.

"There are no 'no go' areas for illegal drugs" states the circular and there is a clear attempt to encourage schools to either develop new policies for curriculum and pastoral responses to drugs, or review existing ones. There is no obligation to have a school policy, although the Secretary of State hopes that all maintained schools will have one by the spring term 1996 and, in addition, OFSTED will be asked to monitor the policies.

The circular covers drugs education in the curriculum, the management of drug related incidents on school premises and issues surrounding the misuse of other substances like tobacco, alcohol, solvents and steroids.

The guidance concerning the curriculum will be especially welcomed in highlighting that drug education should be contained in a properly planned health education programme with the emphasis on skills, knowledge, informed choice, etc. Equally important is the recognition that young people need accurate information about drugs which gives a realistic account of their attractiveness, as well as any negative implications. The advice that "one off" sessions and "scare tactics" are not a good idea and that using ex-drug users could glamorise drug use, should finally spell the end of these types of ineffective and dangerous approaches. There is much support for teachers and other professionals training and working in partnership.

The advice on dealing with incidents and discipline rightly supports the head's role in making decisions about sanctions, but does suggest that the use of exclusions should be carefully considered, depending on the seriousness of the situation.

The recommendation that pupils involved with drugs should have access to professional advice and support, including early intervention services is extremely encouraging.

Schools are being asked to deal with pupils' use of drugs, but there might be confusion about confidentiality. Staff are instructed that they cannot offer confidentiality to pupils where illegal drugs are involved and this linked with advice for heads to contact the police when they have knowledge of illegal activity, even though there is no legal obligation to do so, could discourage pupils from seeking help when needed.

This document is out for consultation until next March, and it should promote the most detailed debate about young people and drugs in recent years. It's time to face facts; closing one's eyes and hoping it goes away, or waging ineffective drug wars, have so far been disastrous policies.

Ian Clements is director of the Early Break drugs project

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