Why should teachers face drug and alcohol tests?

Mandatory drug and alcohol testing for teachers shows the hypocrisy of our political masters, writes Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns

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Aspiring prime minister Michael Gove might feel that he doesn't have his troubles to seek after he was forced to reveal that he occasionally took cocaine in his pre-political life. However, if he had chosen a different path from politics 20-odd years ago, he would be judged on higher moral standards.

Had Mr Gove become a teacher somewhere, the discovery of his nocturnal activities may have cost him his job. Luckily, he is only seeking the highest office in the land and won't be subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing, as is being introduced in a number of Scottish local authorities.

Of course, his hypocrisy has caused general outrage. As Westminster education secretary, he introduced legislation to sack teachers in England and Wales caught in possession of illegal drugs, considering, as he did, drug-taking to be "fundamentally incompatible with being a teacher". The legislation created a rather unfair scenario for a group of young people together on a night out clubbing and taking the same illegal pills: only the teacher would need to worry about losing their job, regardless of whether what they ingested on Saturday had an effect on their ability to teach on Monday morning.

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It is not only in drug use where teachers are judged more strictly than others. The tabloids love to use the language of outrage if a “sex-shame Miss” gets caught doing something unsavoury and, if a teacher is caught speeding, the newspaper articles always begin with the profession of the culprit – “Tax analyst clocked doing 100 in a 30mph zone” is something you will never see.

Drug tests for teachers?

Why are teachers expected to behave to a higher ethical standard than the general population when their behaviour has nothing to do with how they perform professionally?

Perhaps it is something to do with the collective perception everyone has of their teachers from their own schooldays. Our teachers are the first adults we fully interact with who are not members of the family, and I wonder if we subconsciously dress those early role models in the clothing of our parents and look up to them in the same way. Just as young schoolchildren are shocked to see their teacher at the shops, away from their usual habitat of the classroom, maybe discovering that Mr Chips takes drugs every weekend is equally unsettling for adults.

Why else would mandatory drug and alcohol testing be introduced by our local authorities? This is making a judgement on whether someone is morally fit to teach –procedures are already in place to discipline teachers if their substance abuse has an impact in the classroom.

It is certainly not about upholding standards or child protection. Perhaps there is a side benefit for local authorities who are struggling to get rid of troublesome teachers through the usual channels, as a random drug and alcohol test might create an alternative method to get rid of that problem.

Generally, the thought process seems to be this: teachers should be held up as paragons of virtue. But dig a little deeper, and how much sense does that make?

Gordon Cairns is a teacher of English in Scotland

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Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns is a forest school and English teacher who works in Scotland

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