`Don't expel pupils for having drugs'

Schools: Heads angry at minister's words
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PUPILS FOUND with drugs at school should not automatically be expelled, Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, said yesterday.

Miss Morris told the annual conference of the Girls' Schools Association that pupils who sold drugs at school should be expelled but drug education within school should be an option for those "simply found with cannabis in their pockets".

She was speaking before a government announcement tomorrow on new guidelines on how schools should deal with drug-taking pupils. Her speech at the Glasgow conference came weeks after two primary-school children turned up at school with heroin.

Heads accused her of undermining their ability to send strong anti-drug messages to pupils. Ministers have asked local authorities to set targets for the reduction of exclusions.

Miss Morris said: "Many schools have had a policy of automatically excluding pupils for any incidents to do with drugs. I understand why this is the case, because it gives a clear message that drugs are wrong. We are saying schools need to make a judgement about the disciplinary action they take. They need to have a range of options. There are those who'd think that when you have a drug-related offence it is about punishment. There are those who think it is about welfare. Neither of these extremes is acceptable or related to the real world."

Miss Morris said there was no question of taking away a head's right to exclude pupils guilty of serious drugs offences and she fully understood the pressure from parents to expel those who took drugs.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said: "Any kind of pressure on heads in this direction is unwelcome. There is a need to give a very strong message to children. It is difficult enough to keep schools out of the drugs scene." He feared heads would be caught between pressure from parents to exclude children found with drugs and pressure from local authorities anxious to meet the Government's targets for reducing exclusions.

As a former head of a large secondary school, he had both excluded pupils found with drugs and accepted pupils expelled from other schools for similar offences.

Miss Morris also pledged extra money for the battle against drugs. The Government would provide pounds 22.5m over three years to fight drugs in schools. The drug menace threatened the Government's crusade to raise education standards, she said. "The Government has standards at the centre of its agenda for education. However, those young people whose lives are blighted by drugs will find it impossible to reach their full potential."

Jackie Anderson, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said all schools had to recognise the "drug culture is part of our society ... all children, sometimes from a disturbingly young age, are vulnerable to the transitory thrill of drugs, which are as available ... as chewing-gum."