Call for pupils to face compulsory drug tests

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The Independent Online

Schools should be allowed to test pupils for drugs even if their parents refuse permission, the Tories argued yesterday.

A Kent secondary school began random drug-testing this week, thought to be the first state school to do so. Abbey School in Faversham will test 20 students chosen at random each week, but will only select candidates whose parents have given permission for them to take part.

Tim Collins, the Conservative education spokesman, said yesterday that schools should be able to test children without their or their parents' consent. "Headteachers should have the power to require their pupils to do it or to face disciplinary action if they refuse," he said. "If we are serious about excluding drugs from our schools ... we can't just operate on a laissez-faire and voluntary basis."

Anti-drug charities have cast doubt on the Abbey School scheme, arguing that only youngsters who know they are in the clear will opt to take part.

Mr Collins told yesterday's Radio 4 Today programme that compulsory testing would send out a clear signal that schools had a "zero tolerance" approach to drugs. "Teachers should have the power to require all pupils to be tested, and backing up that, if a pupil is found to fail, headteachers should have the right to expel that child without any form of appeal [being available]."

The samples taken at Abbey School will be tested by specially trained non-teaching members of staff and the samples sent to a laboratory to be analysed. Pupils found to be taking drugs will not necessarily be excluded. Their parents would be asked to discuss the situation with staff to determine what action should be taken.

Mouth swabs were taken from the first batch of pupils on Wednesday from among the school's 960 girls and boys. Peter Walker, the headteacher, argued that children were often looking for a reason to resist peer pressure to take drugs, and that the testing programme would give them that excuse.