Education: Excuse me, sir, could you stub that out?: Birmingham has banned smoking in schools - even for teachers, says Haydn Price

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In Birmingham, teachers as well as pupils may soon be seen 'smoking behind the bike shed'. After an unsuccessful voluntary policy requesting schools to adopt 'smoke-free campuses', the city's education authority has banned smoking in all of its 480 schools and staff rooms.

Joe Harvey, the city's health education adviser, said that the ban was introduced because 'a voluntary policy did not work'. Smoking had become a health and safety issue, he explained, because 'research had shown that passive smoking caused death as well as irritation'. Mr Harvey also pointed out that the authority wanted teachers to become positive role models and be seen to practise what they were preaching.

Teachers within the city have generally welcomed the new no- smoking policy. One teacher at the Byng Kenrick Central Secondary School explained that the only time he had taken sick leave from work 'was because the staff room was so full of smoke and I, a non- smoker, had to stay off school'.

Other teachers at the school say that pupils have responded positively to the policy and that there are 'fewer pupils now going into the lavatories for a quick


The school's sixth-formers agree that a smoke-free campus has reinforced health education teaching. Previously, pupils would regularly congregate under the school's external passageway - nicknamed 'the tunnel' - for break-time smoking sessions. 'Today they have all gone,' said one sixth-former. 'It does make a big difference because teachers are there to set an example to the rest of the school and there are now fewer people smoking here,' another student explained.

John Vickers, the school's headteacher, said: 'If teachers want to implement a no-smoking policy, there must be a climate of discussion.

'Heads must tell contractors, job candidates and new parents as well as pupils about the policy and be clear and consistent on how it is to be implemented,' he added.

However, not everyone shares the education authority's enthusiasm for the policy. Chris Tame, of Forest, the smokers' pressure group, claims that the ban is not only unnecessary but also an infringement on the personal liberties of smokers. 'The idea that teachers should be prevented from smoking in the privacy of their own staff room is taking the anti-smoking campaign to absurd moralistic extremes,' he said. 'What pupils don't see, they won't know, and they are more likely to be rebellious against the policy.'

Paul Blake, Midland regional officer of the National Union of Teachers, has said that some members had complained that their personal rights had been infringed by the council's decision and some had called for a room to be set aside for them to smoke in. He added that on this issue, 'the council seems to have acted very quickly'. However, he conceded that 'as teachers, we must be seen to be setting an example to pupils'.

Despite some opposition to the smoking ban, Mr Harvey believes that other authorities are likely to introduce similar policies within their areas. 'We have had considerable interest from other authorities,' he said.

Next month, Birmingham's education authority and ASH, the anti-smoking organisation, will jointly hold the first national conference designed to 'make all British schools smoke-free'. The conference will attempt to highlight and overcome the problems associated with the introduction of no-smoking policies. The conference organisers expect more than 100 representatives from both local education and health authorities to attend.